After meeting Michael at the age of 20 and getting engaged just six months later, Toni from Norfolk assumed it would only be a matter of time before a baby came along.
Toni had to wait more than ten years before her first child arrived, following successful fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic, and is now finally, at the age of 32, a proud mum to son Thomas, aged two, and baby William.
PCOS: a common cause of infertility
“When we first started trying for a baby we were young and felt as though there was no pressure,” says Toni. “At the back of my mind I was a bit concerned that nothing was happening but we just carried on trying and got on with our lives. After a couple of years friends started making jokes, asking us if we were ‘doing it properly’ and whilst laughing it off we did start to question privately whether something was wrong.”
Their GP referred them to their local hospital for tests but shortly before they were due to go Toni cancelled the appointment. “I chickened out,” she says. “All I had ever wanted was children and I was absolutely terrified that someone was going to tell me that it would never happen. So we said that we would try for a bit longer and see if we could do it on our own.”
The couple tried for another year but still nothing happened. “In the August of 2008 I finally gave in and said to Michael that if we needed help then we should find out what was wrong,” she says.
The hospital tests revealed that Toni had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition which is a common cause of infertility.
“I had been on the pill for a number of years and so hadn’t previously displayed any of the typical symptoms of PCOS,” recalls Toni. “But when I came off the pill after we married my weight had ballooned and I had gone from a size 10 to a size 18 in less than a year. My weight had become uncontrollable so I had to do something.”
After a concerted effort to lose weight Toni was put on a number of medications by the hospital to try and boost her fertility and also had laparoscopic ovarian drilling to regulate her cycles. She still didn’t fall pregnant and so was referred for IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.
Starting treatment at Bourn Hall
In 2011 the couple had their first round of NHS-funded IVF treatment. “Our first treatment was traditional IVF,” says Toni. “After seven days I started to bleed and so it was over before it had begun.”
The second time around Bourn Hall decided to use a process called ICSI, which involved injecting Michael’s sperm directly in to Toni’s eggs. The couple were absolutely delighted when Toni found out she was pregnant but their joy was short-lived when she miscarried at seven weeks.
“I was absolutely devastated,” says Toni. “It was a real shock as up until that point we had been trying for seven years to get pregnant and we had finally done that but it was not good enough – it had been such a massive hurdle actually getting pregnant that I hadn’t thought about getting through the actual pregnancy. Now I was going to worry that I might miscarry again and that was a whole new emotion”.
Despite the latest setback Toni says that she and Michael did not consider for one moment giving up.
“As horrible as it had been having the miscarriage I had actually managed to get pregnant which proved to us that the IVF had worked,” she says. ‘It showed us that it was possible and we had just been unlucky.”
In the meantime Toni had turned 30 and says: “I had put so much pressure on myself to have children by the time I was 30, I decided to take back control and wait until after my birthday so that the pressure had gone. In that time I lost more weight than I had ever lost and reduced my BMI right down. I did loads of exercise and both of us really watched what we ate and took loads of vitamins.”
Third time lucky
Third time around Toni’s chances of success looked good. Eight eggs fertilised and four developed into blastocysts, with the Bourn Hall embryologist telling her that one of them looked “exceptional”. The “exceptional” one was transferred to Toni whilst three were frozen.
Toni fell pregnant and whilst the couple were delighted Toni didn’t allow herself to get too carried away. “I was terrified during the pregnancy,” she admits, “it felt like a dream. When Thomas finally arrived I didn’t believe it and it took a little while to sink in that we had actually done it. It had taken me so long to become a mum but after all of those years Thomas made it worth it. He was a bit of a miracle really!”
Having waited so long to be parents Toni and Michael wasted no time in getting the ball rolling to try for a brother or sister for Thomas. “He was just three months old when we signed the paperwork for me to have treatment using the frozen embryos,” she reveals.
In June 2015 Bourn Hall went ahead with treatment using the remaining frozen embryos and one was transferred to her womb.
“When I got pregnant again we couldn’t believe we had been so lucky twice with the same cycle,” she recalls. William was born in March 2016.
Gazing adoringly at her two sons, Toni says:
“I feel very lucky to have had this experience, which sounds odd, but 40 years ago this kind of treatment wasn’t available and if you couldn’t have children you just had to accept it. Bourn Hall is the most wonderful place in the world, it doesn’t feel like a hospital, there is such a relaxed atmosphere and everyone is so wonderful. I feel sad that I won’t be going there again.”