“It was incredible, almost surreal, suddenly holding her. This is the little family we wanted for so long,” says Laura from Welwyn Garden City, who will be celebrating her first Mothers’ Day on 22 March. Baby Elle was born after IVF treatment at Bourn Hall and Laura is sharing her emotional journey to raise awareness of some of the misconceptions that still exist around fertility and give hope to others struggling to have a baby.
Laura and her husband Matt’s fertility journey began six years ago after they got married and started trying for a baby. When Laura didn’t get pregnant she admits she was surprised. “We didn’t have a clue that we would have a problem,” she says.
“When you start looking into it, you appreciate how remarkable it is that anyone gets pregnant. The tiny percentage chance that it’s going to happen started to become a fixation. Also you realise that the assumption is that infertility is a woman’s problem. I was looking at what I could change and what to do differently, trying to get fit and lose weight.”
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Medical Director at Bourn Hall Clinic, says that eighty per cent of couples will become pregnant within one year of trying so couples who have been trying for longer than this should seek advice.
“Whilst there are a number of steps which couples can take to improve their natural fertility this won’t work for everyone – fertility tests can reveal blocked tubes, endometriosis, issues with sperm count or morphology and other underlying conditions which compromise the chances of natural conception,” says Dr Papathanasiou.
When Laura still hadn’t got pregnant after a year she and Matt sought advice from their GP in Welwyn Garden City and were referred immediately to the local hospital for tests – the results took them completely by surprise.
“At the consultation we were both completely stunned,” recalls Laura. “We hadn’t thought for a moment that there was going to be a problem with Matt’s sperm. The results were pretty bad, and it came as a shock.
“Matt had been a heavy smoker but had given it up some years ago and he had lost a lot of weight. There was nothing more he could do. It was a really tough time for us.”
Many people don’t realise that 40 per cent of infertility cases are due to male factors, 40 per cent are due to female factors and the remaining 20 per cent are either a combination of both partners’ factors or are unknown/unexplained.
Laura and Matt were referred for NHS-funded IVF treatment and chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire. Bourn Hall Clinic was the world’s first IVF clinic and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
At Bourn Hall Clinic Laura and Matt were treated using IVF and ICSI – stimulating Laura’s ovaries with medication so that she would produce many mature eggs at the same time and then injecting selected high quality sperm from Matt directly in to each egg to form an embryo. ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) can help overcome the problem of having only a few good sperm available.
Elle was born following the couple’s third cycle and this also produced other good quality embryos that have been frozen for future treatment.
Sadly, although the couple’s first two treatments both resulted in pregnancies, Laura miscarried within a few weeks.
She says that was when she realised how people still consider fertility a ‘woman’s issue’. “Everyone was lovely, looking after me but no one asked how Matt was. Matt was devastated too, he had always wanted to be a dad.”
Laura thinks that more openness would help men to talk about their feelings and make people more aware of male factor infertility.
The 34-year-old distinctly remembers the overwhelming emotions she felt at holding her daughter for the first time: “I was amazed, over the moon; it was incredible.”
The family are already looking forward to celebrating Elle’s first birthday on 18th April.
Bourn Hall provides free fertility nurse consultations for people concerned about their fertility.