With early menopause in the family I decided to go it alone

World Menopause Day is held every year on 18 October. Whilst the menopause (when the ovaries stop releasing eggs) happens for most women between the ages of 45 and 55 it can also happen much earlier. Premature Ovarian Failure sometimes run in families and as Shelley’s mum and grandmother had both experienced an early menopause she felt that time was of the essence if she wanted to have children of her own. 

Concern over premature ovarian failure 

“I have wanted to be a mum for as long as I can remember,” says Shelley, aged 31. “In fact I think it is what prompted me to become a midwife and share the joy of so many families as they welcome their babies in to the world. 

“I qualified as a midwife in 2011 and once I had a good income I was thinking ‘well a man isn’t coming along and I know what I want and even if I start a relationship now it would be at least a couple of years before we started thinking about children’ and so I decided that I would go for it on my own. 

“I have not had any major long-term relationships and so it was something that I always half expected to do on my own anyway. It was always at the back of my mind. My nan had a very early menopause, in her late 30s, and my mum was in her 40s, so with the risk of premature ovarian failure, I didn’t want to wait too long to have children as I knew that I wanted more than one. 

Shelley with Vinny and Rowan premature ovarian failure

Friends and family started to have babies

“I had originally had it in my head that I would be around 25 when I started having children so that I would be ‘done’ by the time I was 30 but actually when I hit 25 I wasn’t quite ready. It did prompt me though to move out of my mum’s and buy my own place because she had said to me ‘well if you are serious about having children on your own you need to know that you can afford to do that and manage your own bills.’ 

“Then friends and family started to have babies and it got more upsetting each time because I was thinking that I wanted it to be me. 

“When I told people that I was going to have fertility treatment on my own using donor sperm it sparked a lot of interest. I wanted to be open and honest with people about it because they knew I was single and if I suddenly got pregnant I didn’t want people to think I had had a one-night stand or something. 

“I took my mum along with me to an open day at Bourn Hall for moral support because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worried there would be couples there who might look at me and think ‘what the hell are you doing here on your own, why do you need to have a child and go through the whole process?’ I think I was also expecting to have to defend my choices with staff but they couldn’t have been lovelier, I was put at my ease straightaway, and everyone has always been really nice and positive about it. 

When the pregnancy test was positive I was stunned!

“Once I had decided to go ahead with treatment at Bourn Hall I had to have tests and a scan but it couldn’t have been more straightforward really. Everything came back fine and then I went through the process of choosing the sperm donor. 

“I was given a ticklist of physical preferences and characteristics. With me not having a partner I could be quite flexible so I just followed the kind of colouring and looks that would fit in to my family and I was able to be quite broad. Bourn Hall then sent me an email about two weeks later with two potential matches and I knew which one I was going to pick straightaway because he had written a really nice goodwill message and I got a feel for what kind of person he was. 

“Once I had chosen the sperm donor I was given the drugs to take at home to promote my egg production and follicle development and when the time was right I went back to the clinic for IUI – intrauterine insemination. 

“The IUI involved inserting a thin straw-like tube containing the sperm directly in to my uterus and I could see it all happening on the screen. It all felt really surreal. 

“I went home and laid on the sofa and then after that I just carried on as normal. I didn’t expect it to work first time but it did! I took the pregnancy test two weeks later and when it was positive I was stunned. 

My dream had become a reality

“My mum was able to come along to some of my scans and appointments with me during my pregnancy which was nice and she was there with me when I gave birth too. 

“When Vinny was born in January 2018 my dream had become a reality. It was like ‘wow he is here, he is a real person!’ I had done it myself and I had a baby of my own. I remember saying to my mum in hospital a couple of days later when it had hit me that I was actually a mum ‘I am so used to helping mums manage their babies and doing nappy changes but I get to keep this one, he is mine and I get to hold him and kiss him!” 

Return to Bourn Hall for sibling treatment

In the Summer of 2020 Shelley returned to Bourn Hall for sibling treatment using the same sperm donor. 

“It was quite a quick process for me because I had had all the checks done previously and I still had donor sperm left so it was just a case of one appointment and then getting me started on my medication.” 

Unfortunately Shelley had two unsuccessful attempts of IUI. “I was very aware that the donor sperm was running out and had a conversation with the consultant about possibly going down the IVF route because it was important to me that my children would be fully related siblings. I had a short break from treatment before embarking on one more round of IUI with some adjustments to my medication regime and thankfully third time was my lucky charm.” 

In August 2021 Shelley gave birth to her second son, Rowan – and again her mum was by her side for the delivery. 

“It is lovely being a mum to two little boys,” she says. “I am an only child and my parents have been so supportive of my choice to be a solo parent and both love being grandparents.”

More information

Premature ovarian failure can occur naturally as well as after surgery to remove the ovaries – and for a woman with no eggs IVF with donor eggs can be an option to have a baby. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can also bring on an early menopause and freezing eggs prior to a course of treatment leaves the option open in the future of trying for a family with IVF treatment using your own eggs.

A fertility check can give you an indication of your egg store for more information visit our blog What happened to my eggs?

Read Paula’s story about her own premature menopause.

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