Paul feared he would never be a dad, so imagine his delight when fertility preservation ahead of cancer treatment resulted in successful IVF many years later. His toddler Sophie was invited to meet the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown.
Louise Brown (now Mullinder) came to Bourn Hall, the fertility clinic established by the IVF pioneers, to unveil a new memorial to Jean Purdy, the world’s first embryologist and met with some of the families that are Jean’s living legacy.
Still giving joy
Louise said: “Every time I meet a family that have a child through IVF I appreciate more and more how important my birth was. The work of the pioneers and the courage of my parents Lesley and John Brown is still giving families hope and joy today.
“My mum always spoke highly of Jean Purdy so I was delighted to come to Cambridgeshire and join in the tributes to her as she contributed so much in the early days of IVF. She kept in touch with mum after my birth. The best part of being the first IVF baby is that I get to meet so many babies!”
Sophie celebrates birthday week later
Louise was 40 on 25 July 2018 and ‘Bourn Hall Baby’ Sophie Simms celebrated her second birthday just a week later.
Sophie’s conception was made possible with IVF using sperm her father, a cancer survivor, had frozen many years before, a technique pioneered at Bourn Hall.
Paul was just 24 years old when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer which had already spread to his bladder and pelvis. He was told that he would need several rounds of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and major surgery – and whilst still reeling from this news he was given the option to freeze some of his sperm.
“At the time I was single and to be honest being a father was the last thing on my mind,” confesses Paul, now aged 35. “But cancer treatment can often lead to infertility and so preserving my sperm seemed the right thing to do.”
Four years later and fully recovered from his cancer, Paul met his future wife Kayleigh and was open with her about the likelihood of him having fertility issues.
“In the back of my mind I always hoped it wouldn’t be an issue, that everything would be fine,” he says. “But then deep down, I knew that there would probably be a problem. It was difficult to face the reality that having a child may not happen naturally.”
After trying to conceive for a while without success, the couple consulted with doctors and fertility specialists and learned that their chances of having a baby without assisted conception techniques would be slim. They were referred for IVF and chose Bourn Hall Clinic just outside Cambridge.
Pioneered fertility preservation
Bourn Hall Clinic is the world’s first IVF clinic, set up by Dr Patrick Steptoe, Professor Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy, the IVF pioneers behind the birth of Louise Brown. It was there that IVF was transformed from an experimental technique into a robust medical therapy and Bourn Hall was also the first to freeze sperm and embryos.
Jean Purdy sadly died just before her 40th birthday in 1985 and her work has never received the recognition that many feel she deserved. Her meticulous approach to science provided the foundations such as semen preparation for IVF treatment, and her living legacy is over 20,000 babies born as a result of treatment at Bourn Hall.
Paul and Kayleigh were delighted when their second round of treatment was successful and Kayleigh became pregnant. On 31st July 2016, their daughter Sophie was born.
Male infertility still an issue
For Paul, confronting the issues around his fertility has been a complicated journey in itself: “It was quite tough. I am a man with an ego and it’s really hard to face up to that kind of thing. There is a lot of pride there. I’m quite good at blocking things out; sometimes it’s the way I deal with things.
“I didn’t want to talk about it, even with my wife really to a certain extent, and certainly not with friends and family.
“When we went through IVF, we didn’t tell many people, but as time went on I became less and less embarrassed. Although at the time I wasn’t, I’m now quite happy to talk openly about my experience.
“Fatherhood is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m grateful to be in this position now, because for a time it didn’t feel like I’d be able to.”