I spent years thinking I would never have children

Surgery at 23 revealed that Claire had blocked fallopian tubes and she was told that her chances of having a baby were virtually zero. She spent years thinking she would never be a mum until she went for advice. Now a mum-of-two at 37, she wishes she had been told earlier that IVF was an option, and is sharing her story ahead of Fertility Week (30 October – 5 November 2023) to encourage couples to seek specialist advice if they are struggling to conceive.

Woke up from surgery and told the news

“Since I was 12 I’d been prone to water infections,” says Claire. “As I got older, I was getting them more often and was in a lot of pain.”

When she was 23 Claire was referred to hospital. Initially the doctors thought it was a cyst and planned to remove it but further examination revealed a swollen fallopian tube. This is the tube that takes the eggs from the ovary to the womb.

“When I came round from surgery I was told that one tube had been removed and the other was blocked, and so I had little chance of ever having children,” she says.

“I just remember crying – in fact I cried for a long time, it was awful. I had always imagined I’d have a family when I was older. I felt as though all that had been taken away from me. I just felt sad and thought ‘why me?’

“Looking back now,  I don’t remember being told about IVF.  So, from that point onwards I just assumed that I couldn’t have children.”

"Our first ever embryo transfer day"
"Our first ever embryo transfer day"

A future without children?

Five years after her surgery Claire got together with her partner Dan and, despite the couple planning a future without children, she still felt despondent.

“I was 28 and most of my friends had children, and deep down I was hurting.” says Claire. “I started to question things because I still had a womb and ovaries, so I investigated what might be possible. I went along to see my GP, who told me that we could try for NHS-funded IVF.”

“By that time most of my friends had children, and to be honest, deep down I was hurting. I know they were wary of telling me when they fell pregnant, but I was always really pleased for them. I had started to plan a future without children, but still felt really sad.

“I started to question things because I still had a womb and ovaries, so I looked into what might be possible. I went along to see my GP, who told me that we could try for NHS-funded IVF.”

Reaching the right BMI for IVF funding

The couple were referred to Bourn Hall for NHS-funded IVF.

“Bourn Hall didn’t need to do as many tests because we already knew what the problem was, although they did do a HyCoSy to confirm my remaining tube was blocked,” says Claire. “They tested Dan and he was fine.”

But Claire had to overcome one final hurdle.

“I have always been a really slim person, no matter how much I eat, and the guidelines for NHS-funded IVF are really strict – you need a BMI of between 19-35. My BMI was too low, so I had to gain some weight – but then we started treatment,” she says.

Dan helps with the injections

“I don’t like needles so Dan had to inject my medication. We had a few instances where he would be stood in the kitchen ready to give me an injection and I would back away! But I think he was glad to be able to help with that and take that part of the burden away from me.

“We got five eggs at egg retrieval; I have a photo of me in the clinic saying ‘five’ with my hand up in the air.

“While I was undergoing the egg retrieval Dan was in the clinic at the same time ‘doing his thing’ in a different room. I can’t even imagine what the man goes through – it is quite a pressure having to ‘perform’. I know I was under pressure as well but all I had to do was lie down!

“Then there was the wait to hear how many of the eggs had been fertilized, which was quite scary. We had three embryos, and one was put in whilst the other two were frozen.

“I was so emotional at the embryo transfer. I felt nervous but then afterwards I felt a kind of relief because by that point there was nothing else we could do, we just had to wait.

“Two weeks later we found out I was pregnant! It was the first pregnancy test I had ever taken; I had never had to do a pregnancy test before and it came up positive straight away. It was 6 o’clock in the morning but I rang my mum and dad; we were so shocked, we couldn’t believe it, we hadn’t expected it to work first time.”

I just sobbed

The couple’s son Dylan was born in January 2019. “When he arrived I just sobbed; he was such a beautiful baby. Dan never cries over anything but he cried too, it was really special; it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.” says Claire.

Two years later Claire and Dan welcomed a second child, their daughter Millie, after further successful IVF treatment at Bourn Hall which they paid for themselves.

"Wearing mummy's homemade baking sets"
"Wearing mummy's homemade baking sets"

Wished I had questioned more

“Dylan is four now and just started school and Millie is one and a half. Now I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t had children; my life revolves around them,” says Claire.

“When I think back about all those years I spent thinking I had no chance to have a baby it makes me wish I had questioned it more. I would recommend that anyone worried about their fertility talks about it to a health professional.”

“At our next attempt we were delighted when I fell pregnant but we waited a while before telling people because we were worried something might happen again and we didn’t want to announce anything too early.

“The pregnancy was a bit of a rollercoaster so I started up my own little business called Dilly Bugs making children’s clothes, which was a welcome distraction. Millie was born on 30 December 2021 and when she arrived, she looked identical to Dylan as a baby – it was like going back in time! It was lovely and such a relief that she had arrived safely.

“Dylan is four now and just started school and Millie is one and a half. Fifteen years ago I thought I would never be a mum and now I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t had children; my life revolves around them. Everything we have been through feels worth it.”

"Our first Christmas as a family of four"
"Our first Christmas as a family of four"
Dr Nausheen Mawal

Treatment for blocked fallopian tubes

Fertility expert Dr Nausheen Mawal is Lead Clinician for Bourn Hall in Norfolk, which provides NHS testing and fertility treatment. She explains that IVF can be an effective fertility treatment for women with blocked or no fallopian tubes.

“The fallopian tubes are very delicate and can be blocked by infections or damaged by conditions such as endometriosis or by surgery. The HyCoSy Test, where dye is inserted in the tubes alongside a scan, can reveal a blocked tube.

“In many cases the ovaries may be unaffected so IVF can offer an effective treatment, as the ovaries are stimulated to produce mature eggs which are then collected and fertilised in the lab.

“We would recommend anyone with cause for concern about their fertility to talk to their GP and to consider egg freezing if an upcoming surgery may damage their ovaries. We also offer free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist without the need for a GP referral.”

More information

Bourn Hall hosts a Fertility Support Group open to anyone struggling with infertility

Find out more about NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall.

Read more about Fertility Week 2023, which takes place from 30 October  – 5 November.

Fertility Week (30 October – 5 November 2023) is organised by Fertility Network UK, which provides patient support and information. Find out more here.

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