It took Angela ten years before she conceived her twins Nikki and Becky through IVF in 1990. So, when one of her teenage daughters didn’t have any periods, she wasted no time in getting her checked. Nikki now has a Bourn Hall baby of her own and all three generations recently met Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby, at Bourn Hall.
Louise was at Bourn Hall to celebrate the living legacy of Jean Purdy, the world’s first clinical embryologist and co-founder of the clinic. Through Jean’s tireless work with Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards a whole generation of women have become mothers and grandmothers. Louise unveiled a plaque to Jean ahead of Mother’s Day.
When asked by Louise what IVF means to her, Angela became tearful: “It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I would never have got pregnant if I hadn’t had IVF and would never have had a family.”
Infertility wasn’t something that was discussed when Angela was struggling to have a baby in the 1980s, and IVF was not available as a treatment through the NHS in Bedfordshire. It was fortunate that she had heard about Bourn Hall from her cousin Jenny, who had become a nurse at the clinic.
“When I was 21 my appendix had burst, and I had got all these adhesions from the peritonitis, but I didn’t know that was the reason I wasn’t getting pregnant. It wasn’t until I actually had the twins by caesarean that the doctor told me ‘there is no way you would have conceived naturally’.”
The twins were both healthy, but there was a delay before daughter Nikki started her periods – she didn’t have her first one until she was 17.
Nikki remembers: “My mum had first taken me to the doctor when I was 16 because she suspected something must be wrong with my hormones. When I started getting one period a year at 17 the GP said, ‘well, obviously something is happening’ and it wasn’t investigated any further at that point.”
When Nikki was older her periods stopped completely, and she was referred to hospital to have her ovaries scanned. The nurse doing the scan suddenly called to her colleague to ask for a second opinion.
Nikki says: “I thought something was wrong and was wondering what on Earth she had found. She turned to me and said, ‘did you know you were pregnant?’ and I said ‘Oh My God!’ I didn’t have a bump or anything and it turned out I was around 19 weeks pregnant by that point!
“I don’t know if I was ready to be a mum at 21 or not; I was thrown into it, and I just got on with it,” she says. Her son Finn is now eight.
Nikki was 25 when she met Liam and they decided they wanted a baby together quite early on in their relationship. She says: “Although I knew that in theory I might be able to get pregnant as I already had Finn, I was still having hardly any periods and so we knew it wouldn’t be straightforward.
“We went to the GP and were referred to our local hospital where I was put on Clomid for a year to regulate my ovulation, but nothing happened.
“As I already had a child we were not entitled to any NHS-funded fertility treatment beyond the hospital stage and so we started looking into our options of having fertility treatment privately. My mum said to me ‘Go to Bourn Hall, they are brilliant!’”
Nikki and Liam went for an appointment at Bourn Hall and assumed that they would also have IVF.
“The doctor suggested that we try one or two cycles of IUI because I was young and Liam’s sperm quality was good. It is a lot less invasive and cheaper than IVF,” says Nikki.
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Bourn Hall’s Medical Director, says a couple should seek advice if they have been trying for two years without success, as being younger offers more options for treatment, with IVF being the last resort.
Nikki continues: “With IUI you still have to inject medication like you do with IVF. I injected every day while my eggs were maturing; in fact sometimes my sister Becky did my injections for me, which was nice.
“I went into Bourn Hall for regular scans, before one final trigger injection which released an egg, and then we had a window of time when I needed to go back into Bourn Hall for the IUI.
“The actual IUI involved a fine straw being inserted into the entrance to my womb and then the sperm being injected in. It is the most ‘natural’ form of fertility treatment really. The staff at Bourn Hall had to guide the sperm in so the nurse put an ultrasound on my belly, and the doctor was working the straw to make sure the sperm got as far up as it could to swim up the fallopian tube.
Sadly, the couple’s initial round of IUI failed. “When I got my period it was just awful, really upsetting and I wasn’t sure if I could really face starting again, injecting again every day and the pressure of it, but in the end, we decided to go back for another try pretty quickly.”
Strangely, the couple’s dog knew Nikki was pregnant before she did. “I was due to take the test on the Sunday, and on the Friday he wouldn’t leave me alone and kept sitting on me. It was really weird; they do say that dogs know these things… When the test was positive, I just cried.”
Nikki and Liam’s daughter Cleo was born in May 2021.
“My mum was right when she said that Bourn Hall is brilliant,” says Nikki. “IUI was a really good treatment option for us as it was cheaper and much less invasive than IVF.”
“It is lovely that my parents’ successful IVF treatment enabled them to have a family 30 years ago, and the Bourn Hall legacy has continued with grandchildren both natural and assisted.”
All the family will be celebrating this very special Mother’s Day.