IT specialist Luke from Cambourne is young, healthy and fit and runs marathons in his spare time, so it was a surprise to him and his partner Hannah when it was revealed that both of them had fertility issues.
The couple first started trying for a baby in 2015 but when they hadn’t conceived after 12 months Hannah went to see her GP. “I knew that there was potentially a problem with me because I had irregular periods as a teenager and my periods took ten months to start again after I came off the pill,” says Hannah.
Only half the story
Hannah and Luke assumed Hannah’s irregular periods were the reason that she wasn’t falling pregnant – but it transpired that this was only half of the story. Tests revealed that Luke, aged 33, had a low sperm count which, coupled with Hannah’s subsequent diagnosis of polycystic ovaries, significantly lowered the couple’s chances of conceiving naturally.
“We were really surprised when it turned out that Luke had fertility issues too,” says Hannah.
Luke agrees: “It was very hard to deal with as it was just something which had never crossed my mind,” he says.
“I remember feeling helpless and not knowing what I could do to change things.”
One third of couples who are tested for infertility will discover that there are contributory factors on both sides. For Hannah and Luke the news hit them hard: “When we found out that we both had fertility issues it was pretty devastating,” admits Hannah, aged 32.
“Seeing adverts for pregnancy tests and baby products on TV was just one small way we were reminded of our difficulties and it was a really hard time for us. We just had to get on with it really and keep ourselves busy. Luke tried a few of the tips suggested for improving sperm count such as wearing loose underwear, exercising and not drinking, but it didn’t help particularly.”
Funding for IVF
Fortunately, this was just before Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG cut funding for IVF and Hannah and Luke were among the last to be eligible for one round of NHS-funded treatment before it was withdrawn.
When NHS funding was available in Cambridgeshire – and the full National Institute for Heath and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines of three cycles of IVF implemented – eight out of ten NHS patients had a baby following treatment at Bourn Hall, the NHS provider for the east of England.
Hannah and Luke choose Bourn Hall’s Cambridge IVF clinic, so they didn’t have to go to London for part of the treatment. “Living so close made everything more straightforward for us,” says Hannah.
“We didn’t have to stress about being late for appointments. If the car had broken down on the way we could probably have finished the rest of the journey on foot so we were very lucky!”
The couple had IVF using a procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) which is commonly used where the sperm needs a bit of ‘extra help’ to achieve fertilisation. Hannah’s eggs were collected and then Luke’s sperm was directly injected in to her eggs in the laboratory before transferring two embryos to her womb.
Heartbreakingly, the couple’s first round of treatment was not successful. “I only produced three eggs and we had one viable embryo for transfer. The embryo didn’t take and I had a period after two weeks. It was very sad,” says Hannah. “We had saved up in case we needed more treatment and we knew that we wanted to try again. We gave it a few months and I did a 10k run whilst Luke did another marathon before going back to Bourn Hall.”
Two weeks after embryo transfer a pregnancy test confirmed that the treatment had worked. “We were grinning like maniacs. It never crossed our minds that both embryos might have taken,” laughs Hannah.
When a scan revealed that the couple were expecting twins “It was beyond good news,” says Hannah. “We were shocked but ‘happy shocked’!” Twins Max and Adeline were born eight months ago – “it was surreal when they were born, it was amazing,” says Hannah.
“Now the twins are here it is hard to imagine our life without them,” says Luke. “I look forward to all the new experiences we will have together. They are just a constant source of happiness.”
Note: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG will review its decision to cut funding for IVF in a meeting on 2 July. The eligibility criteria is however very strict and before it was withdrawn only about 150 couples a year benefited from funded treatment.