It was like history repeating itself when Claire’s endometriosis meant that she struggled to get pregnant. Her mother had similar problems 40 years earlier, but unlike Claire she didn’t have the option of using IVF. Claire, her partner David and baby Mia had the chance to meet the first ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Brown at Bourn Hall. Louise’s birthday gave couples the world over the chance of a new treatment for infertility.
Louise, was at Bourn Hall to celebrate 40 years of IVF, she said: “Every time I meet a family that have a child through IVF I appreciate more and more how important my birth was. The work of the pioneers and the courage of my parents Lesley and John Brown is still giving families hope and joy today.
Struggled to get pregnant
Claire and David tried to get pregnant for five years before they sought help. Claire says: “I was in my late twenties when we first started trying for a family and we didn’t really imagine that we would have any issues. My younger sister already had two children and she hadn’t had any problems at all getting pregnant.
“My mother also struggled to get pregnant. She was 22 when Louise Brown was born and was eventually given hormone injections, which helped her to conceive. When I told the GP this we were referred for tests.”
Claire was really shocked when hospital tests revealed that she had severe endometriosis, especially as she had been unaware of any symptoms. “I didn’t have any pain, which some people have,” she says. “I had always had heavy periods but I thought everyone did. Even the hospital was surprised when they saw how badly I had it.”
Endometriosis cause of infertility
Endometriosis, where the endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, is an important factor in infertility as it can cause tubal blockages and ovulation problems. It affects around one in ten women in the UK and it is estimated that up to 50 per cent of infertile women have it.
Endometriosis wouldn’t have been known about when gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe, research scientist Robert Edwards and nurse Jean Purdy first started to collaborate. It was their work at Bourn Hall, just outside of Cambridge, that created interest in reproductive medicine and transformed IVF from an experimental technique into a robust medical therapy. Of the world’s first 2,000 IVF babies, 1,000 were conceived at Bourn Hall.
Improving fertility for those with endometriosis
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Bourn Hall’s Regional Lead Clinician, comments: “We now know that endometriosis is a common cause of infertility. The benefit of 40 years of experience has enabled us to understand how to improve the chances of natural conception as well as tailor treatment to gain higher IVF success rates.”
Claire and David were told that they would be eligible for three cycles of NHS-funded IVF treatment because their GP surgery had a Hertfordshire postcode: “If we had chosen a GP surgery slightly closer to our house in Bedfordshire we would have only been entitled to one cycle of treatment,” Claire say
The couple were dealt an initial blow when their first cycle did not produce any viable embryos, but second time around they had ICSI, which involved injecting a sperm directly into an egg.
Again Claire’s hopes were dashed: “When I took my pregnancy test nothing showed up so I assumed that the treatment hadn’t worked and felt really deflated,” says Claire. “Ten minutes later I went to put the test in the bin and noticed a faint line so I thought, to be doubly sure, I had better go and buy another pregnancy test.”
The couple were delighted when the digital pregnancy test confirmed that Claire was pregnant and nine months later, in February 2018, she gave birth to daughter Mia.
Supporting Claire and David along the way was Claire’s mum, who knew first-hand how it feels to badly want a baby and not be able to get pregnant.
“David couldn’t be at the embryo transfer so my mum was there instead, which was a bit weird!” laughs Claire.
Claire’s mum is now a devoted grandma thanks to IVF.