Melanie was devastated when a doctor told her she would never have children biologically, as she knew her wife Laura had always wanted to be a mummy. The couple are sharing their fertility journey in a webinar during PRIDE month to help other same-sex couples have safe and successful treatment.
As a same-sex couple Melanie and Laura always knew they would need donor sperm to start a family but were unprepared for the results of a fertility test.
Melanie explains that, as Laura has multiple sclerosis, it would have to be her that carried the pregnancy: “I had always had irregular periods, so we decided to go for fertility blood tests at the GP.
“He told me on the spot that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and my egg count was so low that I would never have children. I walked out stunned and then broke down in tears. I actually said to Laura that I loved her so much that I would walk away from her, because I knew how important it was to her to be a mummy.”
IVF for lesbian couples
When the couple met they immediately hit it off. “The subject of children came up fairly early on in our relationship,” says Laura, aged 35, who had always imagined herself being a mum. “But it wasn’t until a couple of years later that we started looking at what the options were for us.”
Lesbian couples know they will need donor sperm and their own health and fertility issues can also impact the decision over which type of fertility treatment is appropriate for them.
As Laura had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 21, the couple had decided Melanie should be the one to carry a baby. However, tests revealed that Melanie was having irregular periods due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common factor in infertility, and that she was not producing any eggs.
IVF for lesbian couples is rarely funded, but as both Laura and Melanie had fertility issues the couple were told that they would be eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment, but only once Melanie lost weight, as there are strict NHS criteria about BMI limits for funding IVF treatment.
“In 12 months I got my weight down from 15 stone to 12 stone and Laura lost three and a half stone too,” remembes Melanie. ” Laura was a brilliant support for me; every time I was tempted to reach for the fast food she would say ‘how much do we want this baby?’ and that would be my motivation.”
When Melanie reached her target weight the couple were told they could be referred for IVF. “We were given a choice of clinics,” she says, “and we chose Bourn Hall because of its success rates and its connection with Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby.”
Choice of donor sperm
Bourn Hall has its own sperm bank that is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). All donors are asked about their medical and family history and Bourn Hall performs a medical examination and screening tests. By using a licensed UK IVF clinic lesbian couples are assured that the correct procedures are followed to ensure they both have legal parenthood of resulting children and the donor has no legal status.
Another advantage of using a clinic is that donors are anonymous at the time of treatment. They are invited to write a short goodwill message for any resulting child, who is able to request identifying information about the donor once they are 18 years old. Non-identifying information is provided to assist selection of the donor.
Melanie explains: “We filled out the forms detailing the general things we were looking for in terms of physical appearance and character. Because we were using my eggs we wanted the donor to reflect as much as possible Laura’s side of the family. We were given three profiles to choose from. The nurse said if we were not happy with any of them we could have another three to review. We were told about hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, hobbies, occupation and education and one of them really stood out for us.”
The couple cannot praise Bourn Hall highly enough: “I would strongly recommend other lesbian couples about the safety aspect of using a regulated clinic,” says Melanie. “The sperm donor has no legal rights over a child born through a UK fertility clinic. You have that security that no one is going to knock on your door or ring you and say ‘that child is mine and I am going to fight you for it’.
Life under lockdown
Twins Isaac and Jasmine were born in September 2016, and the couple describe parenthood as ‘life-changing, incredible and amazing’.
“I cannot remember life before them,” laughs Laura. “Isaac is an explainer – whatever he does he will explain it in so much detail, and he is just the right amount of cheeky. Jasmine is a ‘let’s just do this and think about it later’, and she has just the right amount of sass. They are both amazing little people and now their personalities are showing and growing you can see how different they are and how differently their minds work, which is so interesting to see.
Melanie adds: “They are so close as siblings. We feel blessed every day to have them in our lives, and that’s thanks to everyone at Bourn Hall!”