Donated eggs a precious ‘gift’ after Premature Ovarian Failure at 16

Premature Ovarian Failure

“I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure at about 16, after my mum took me to the doctors. She was worried that my periods hadn’t started and I was sent for all different types of tests,” says Elle. “I was told that I wasn’t producing any eggs. I was still young and so at that point it didn’t really sink in. But maybe it was a blessing that I knew what was wrong at an early age, because sometimes when people are trying for a baby without success it can take a while for them to get answers.”

Open about the issue

Elle met Tim when she was 20 and was open with him straightaway about her infertility.

“I have always had a strong maternal instinct” she says. “I’ve always wanted to have a family and I wanted the opportunity to carry a baby but it wasn’t going to be possible through the ‘traditional’ way which could be a really big thing for someone, but Tim has always been incredibly supportive.”

Needed an egg donor

After the couple got married, they approached Bourn Hall to enquire about donor treatment.

“We had our bloods taken and I gave our characteristics – hair and eye colour, ethnicity,” explains Elle. “Then Katie, Bourn Hall’s egg bank coordinator, looked to see if there were any eggs in the bank that would be appropriate. It wasn’t long after that she got back in touch and said she had found a match!

“Everything moved so quickly after that, it is now all a bit of a blur! We had to do a ‘mock cycle’ at Bourn Hall to prepare my body to receive the embryo. I was put on medication to thicken my womb lining and then, when the time was right, the embryology lab thawed the donor eggs. Tim had to go in and ‘do his thing’ so that they could fertilise the donor eggs with his sperm.

“After the embryo transfer, we tried to remain positive but realistic at the same time, IVF isn’t guaranteed to work, but we were incredibly lucky that it worked first time. There are no words to describe what it felt like seeing that positive pregnancy test. It still makes me want to cry when I think about it now. We were in complete and utter shock!

“We went into Bourn Hall for the seven week scan and I just remember the nurse saying ‘there is the heartbeat’ and I had tears in my eyes it was just the most amazing thing.”

Eternally grateful

“We had a really wonderful experience at Bourn Hall, I am so glad we chose to go there. Katie the donor coordinator and Julie our nurse made sure everything ran really smoothly and all the staff always made us feel so comfortable and relaxed at the clinic.”

Elle says she is ‘eternally grateful’ to her altruistic egg donor.

“I don’t think you can quite put into words the amount of gratitude that I feel for my egg donor,” she says. “It’s an incredibly selfless act that someone does for someone they don’t know.

“I wanted to try and experience pregnancy if I could. It was incredible to be pregnant and feel my baby kicking in my tummy and it was a wonderful thing that an egg donor gave me that chance.

“When our baby was born, I just couldn’t stop saying ‘they’re here, I can’t believe they’re here, our baby is here!

Dedicated Donor Team at Bourn Hall

Bourn Hall now has a team dedicated to supporting patients that need donated eggs, sperm or embryos and also to encourage other to donate their eggs and sperm.

More information is available here.

Embracing the story

“There’s never once been anything that crosses my mind like ‘they’re not mine’ or anything that. People quite often say ‘so who do you think the baby looks like?’. And I say, ‘they look like themself!’

“As our child grows up, we will really embrace the story behind how we had them and make sure that they are aware of the lengths we went to have a family, how wanted they were and how loved they are. Our baby is everything to us.”

Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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What is premature ovarian failure also known as premature ovarian insufficiency?

Many women naturally experience reduced fertility when they are about 40 years old. They may start getting irregular menstrual periods as they transition to menopause. For women with POI, irregular periods and reduced fertility start before the age of 40. Sometimes it can start as early as the teenage years.

When a woman has POI her ovaries are not working properly and stop producing eggs many years before they should. In addition, the ovaries are unable to produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

Research shows that POI is related to problems with the follicles. These are small sacs in your ovaries where eggs grow and mature. It is thought that the follicles are not working properly. The cause can be natural or it can be a disease, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation but in most cases of POI, the cause is unknown.

Some potential causes include:

  • Genetic disorders such as Fragile X syndrome and Turner syndrome
  • A low number of follicles
  • Autoimmune diseases, including thyroiditis and Addison disease
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Toxins, such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, and pesticides

Approximately one in every 100 women under the age of 40, one in 1000 women under 30 and one in 10,000 under 20 experience POI.

Sources: The Daisy Network and


Precious gift from egg donor makes a family complete

Louise was determined that a diagnosis of premature ovarian failure and a waiting list for egg donors wasn’t going to prevent her and husband Richard from starting a family.

Louise was just 15 when, in 1996, her consultant told her she had premature ovarian failure and would need an egg donor if she ever wanted to have children. At the time she decided she would prefer not to have children than to use a donor’s eggs.

“At the time it didn’t really have an impact on me,” says Louise. “I was just 15. My mum was more affected by the news, she burst into tears in the consultants’ room.”

A change in outlook

However nine years later, at a BBQ in 2005, Louise met Richard and soon found herself wanting to settle down and start a family. “That is when it finally hit me and the prospect of not having a family of my own made me very sad,” she says.

They married four years later and knowing that they’d need donated eggs they went to their GP to ask about fertility treatment. They were referred for NHS treatment and given a list of possible providers and chose Bourn Hall Clinic as it has its own egg sharing and donation programme.

Egg sharing programme

“As well as the Cambridge clinic being such a calm, peaceful environment, we knew Bourn Hall Clinic had its own egg sharing programme, which some of the other providers didn’t have,” says Louise. “We signed up immediately to the waiting list knowing that it could be two years or more before we got our chance.

“Due to the uncertainty of how long we might have to wait and terrified that our one chance might fail and we’d find ourselves back again at the bottom of the waiting list we began looking into other options to finding an egg donor.”

One of which was an egg donor website. The couple were contacted by a woman who said she’d be happy to help them. “The email came out of the blue,” says Louise. “We were over the moon”.

Donor tested for eligibility

The potential egg donor then had to contact Bourn Hall independently and it was arranged for her to be tested for eligibility.

“It felt like ages whilst we waited to get confirmation that our altruistic egg donor was clear to help us but in reality it was only a few weeks rather than years,” remembers Louise. “We were on cloud nine when we got the ‘ok’ and couldn’t wait to start the IVF process.”

Embryo transfer

Eggs were collected from the donor in 2012. Having been fertilised by ICSI using Richard’s sperm the couple then had to wait until they got the telephone call to come in for the embryo transfer procedure.

“The egg collection and fertilisation stage were nerve wracking but the embryo transfer was really straightforward and easy,” says Louise.

“Bourn Hall Clinic was very good and rang us every day to update us on the embryos’ development. Six fertilised successfully, however, we were terrified that something would go wrong with these and we’d have zero to be transferred and need to start all over again.”

Pregnant with Joshua

On day six, and following a discussion with their consultant, two blastocysts were transferred into Louise’s womb and the other four frozen.

Two weeks later it was confirmed that Louise was expecting a baby and after a ‘lovely pregnancy’ she gave birth to Joshua in December 2012.

“We fell in love with him more and more each day,” says Louise. “He was a beautiful baby and now he is a very chatty, bubbly toddler.”

Baby Samuel arrives in 2014

Joshua is also now a big brother to baby Samuel, born in November 2014 after Louise and Richard had self-funded treatment at Bourn Hall using the embryos which had been frozen two years before.

“We wanted a small age gap if possible,” says Louise, “and the process was even easier the second time around. The eggs had already been collected and the embryos were frozen ready and waiting for us.”

After another smooth pregnancy Louise gave birth to Samuel in November 2014 and says that he has just slotted in to their family life perfectly. “It feels as though he was always meant to be here,” she laughs.

Praise for Bourn Hall

Louise and Richard are full of praise for the care and treatment they received at Bourn Hall:

“Bourn Hall Clinic offer a phenomenal service,” she says. “We always knew that if we had a query someone would get back to us the same day. We just wouldn’t go anywhere else.”

Louise is also keen to emphasise to other women thinking of using an egg donor that her own fears about not being biologically related to her children were quickly allayed by her deep maternal instinct and overwhelming love for them:

“I would say to anyone facing the same situation to be open to what the options are,” she says. “In the beginning it was a big concern to me about how I might feel not being biologically related to my children. But I can honestly say that it has not mattered. I have not considered the boys anything other than ours.

“We cannot express how grateful we are to our egg donor. We have been so blessed to have our two boys.  They give us and our families so much joy.”

More information about egg donation.

Also visit our virtual Fertility Fair to find out more and discuss your options.

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Julie becomes a mum at 40 with sperm and egg donation

Single and 40, Julie from Ipswich knew the chances of her dream of becoming a mum were slim, especially as NHS funding for IVF was out of the equation. Then her parents came up with an offer and Julie’s life was to change for the better.

Julie begins: “I’ve always had a strong desire to have children of my own but my partner didn’t; sadly we split up and I began to review my options, which were very limited.”

Julie’s parents offer their support

One possibility was to try IVF with donor sperm. Understanding Julie’s strong desire to be a mum, her parents offered to help support her in getting self-funded IVF treatment.

“Having Mum and Dad offer me this opportunity was amazing. Their support and financial help made IVF a possibility. We researched IVF clinics and based on its reputation and location I arranged to visit Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester on 24th December 2013.”

Tests reveal few eggs were left

Julie began her first IVF treatment in January 2014; initial tests including one for the anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) revealed that she had few eggs in her ovarian reserve. Even with medication she was unlikely to produce many eggs and the egg collection was unsuccessful.

“I was prepared for this, having been fully briefed by my consultant, but it was still disappointing.

“Bourn Hall was brilliant at offering a measured approach, explaining the process and my options. They made things so clear it gave me confidence to try.”

Donated sperm and eggs

Having already elected to use donated sperm from Bourn Hall’s sperm bank, Julie decided to join the waiting list for donated eggs.

“Choosing a sperm donor from the anonymous details provided was straightforward and luckily I didn’t have to wait long on the egg donor list before I was paired with a potential donor.”

The other lady was having IVF treatment herself at Bourn Hall and offered to donate her spare eggs.

An egg donor may choose to donate for altruistic reasons and/or for a free cycle of treatment.

Julie adds: “It is an absolutely huge decision for a donor to make and so very generous of her to share her eggs; I’m so grateful she did.”

The treatment for the lady donating her eggs and for Julie was synchronised to ensure embryo transfer at the right time for both patients. The donated eggs were successfully fertilised using ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection) with the donated sperm and the resulting two embryos were transferred into Julie’s womb.

“I was slightly nervous on the day of transfer but it was incredibly quick.

Double the delight

“Then ‘9th July 2014’ was an amazing day as it was the date I saw the cross on my pregnancy test. I wrote the date down as it meant so much and I wanted to celebrate this wonderful day even though I was aware that it might not become a baby.”

However Julie had nothing to worry about as 38 weeks later she was cradling twins: Sabine and Sebastian.

“I absolutely love being a mum and seeing the world through their eyes. I’m 44 now but for them everything is new and wonderful.

“My parents – the twins’ grandparents – have been fantastic all the way through my journey to have children and I’m so lucky to have such amazing people in my life.”

“The counsellor gave me confidence”

Bourn Hall offers all its patients specialist counselling and having decided to have treatment at the Colchester Clinic Julie was keen to make the most of this valuable resource.

“The counsellor gave me confidence and reminded me that there are many different types of families. That the key thing for children is to know they are loved and wanted. Having the opportunity to discuss these matters and the potential questions that might and will be asked of me was definitely very helpful.”

Julie concludes: “With the financial support of my parents and the expertise of Bourn Hall I was given the chance to be a mother, which I’m so grateful for.

“I nearly missed out, so I consider myself very lucky.”

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Dads have double reason to celebrate

Matthew and Gary began looking into what options they had available for having a family, including investigating adoption.

Matthew begins: “Having children is a very big decision and for various reasons we thought that the adoption path wasn’t right for us.”

Gary adds: “It was around Christmas time 2011 with my family, including my brother Jason and his wife Ollie, when we told them that we were going to take some time to reevaluate our options.”

Ollie offers to be a surrogate

In January 2012, Ollie contacted the couple and suggested being a surrogate for them.

Gary says: “Ollie said that she and Jason had discussed the matter; that she’d be honoured to be a surrogate mother for us and happy to help if she could.”

Matthew adds: “We didn’t know how to react as it was such an amazing gift.”

Ollie’s offer meant that Gary and Matthew were a major step closer to their dream of having a family and they started researching clinics that would support them.

An anonymous egg donor


Matthew says: “We chose Cambridge’s Bourn Hall because of its location and because it felt right. We came with Ollie and Jason for a meeting with Doctor Thomas Mathews and instantly knew we would be treated well here and looked after.”

Following their initial consultation, tests and checks, Gary and Matthew were provided with anonymised information on possible egg donors.

An egg donor’s profile includes information about the donor’s physical appearance, interests, skills and reasons for donating but it is non-identifying. The donor is also able if she wishes to provide a pen-sketch of themselves with a message, which the child can request when he or she becomes 18.

The donor is also able to contact the Clinic, at least a year after the donation, to find out if there have been any successful births resulting from the donation.

Matthew continues: “When we got the information we felt that they were all appropriate and we didn’t have any concerns so we put our faith into the hands of Bourn Hall Clinic and took it from there.”

Pregnant on the first attempt

The egg from the anonymous donor was fertilised with sperm and the embryo transferred to Ollie’s womb.  This meant there was no biological link with Ollie or her husband.  She became pregnant on the first attempt in February 2014.

Matthew says: “Every scan during Ollie’s pregnancy has been a point when we have felt reassured and more excited, especially when we discovered we were expecting twins.

Gary adds: “A real rollercoaster of emotions as we got closer to their birth: you start to get more confident but it is not until the babies are in your arms that you really believe it.

“To prepare for their birth we had arranged a birthing plan with the midwives at Portsmouth Hospital: that we would be present and get to hold them immediately.”

Elliot and Verity are born


On 1st November 2014 Elliott and Verity were born.

Matthew says: “Gary got to hold Elliott instantly but Verity’s birth was a bit more complicated because she was a breach. The next few minutes were an emotional roller coaster and we were quite frightened if our baby girl would be alright.

“Once Verity gave her first cry and the nurse had checked her, we knew she was fine. I then got to hold her, which was lovely; a very special moment.”

Inundated with well-wishers

Both Gary and Matthew initially received time off work to spend with the twins and since having Elliott and Verity home have been inundated by well-wishers and family members keen to help and see them.

Gary says: “I think at the beginning of the process for our older generations it was a bit alien and a slight concern as to how others might react, but it has been all positive. I think also they didn’t want to get too excited in the early days but as soon as Ollie was pregnant it all became very real. My mum has been incredible, so proud and a very doting Grandmother.”

Matthew adds: “My family is also all really close and my sister-in-law has two small children so we’ve got a good family support system. Plus Gary’s parents will also be around to see their grandchildren grow up which will be great.”

Gary has subsequently returned to work while Matthew is at home with the babies.

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From despair to joy for new mother told she had no eggs

Paula will always remember the day she was told she had no eggs: “I was absolutely devastated, I cried all night in despair.”

When she was 28 Paula had the Mirena coil fitted. This contraceptive device releases a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone and is often recommended for women with heavy periods as it can reduce or stop periods entirely. In Paula’s case it masked the fact she was going through an early menopause.

Premature Menopause

“I was in my mid thirties when we agreed to remove the coil and try for a baby. At first my periods were very irregular but I assumed my cycle was settling down after the coil and thought I should wait at least a year before asking for help.”

When Paula went to her GP she was referred for blood tests and had her Fallopian tubes checked via a procedure called hysterosalpingogram (HSG).

“No problems were found with my Fallopian tubes and although my Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level was low (12) I was told it had to be below 10 before I would be considered for IVF. Therefore, I was put on Clomid and had 3 cycles in 9 months and although the doctors kept saying they could see a follicle swelling in my ovary nothing happened.

“I was beginning to wonder if they were just seeing a cyst rather than a follicle and wanted to know if I had any eggs left. I had read about the AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) test but the consultant couldn’t offer me this, instead they did another blood test for hormone levels.”

Paula waited over five weeks for the results of the test and was told just after her 40th birthday that she probably had Premature Ovarian Failure; she was unlikely to conceive naturally and was too old for NHS funded treatment.

GP recommends Bourn Hall 

Paula went back to her GP and was recommended to go to Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic. Here she was given the AMH test.

A baby girl is born with all the eggs she will have for a lifetime. These are released gradually and when they are gone this triggers the menopause. The AMH test gives an estimate of the remaining egg supply, or “ovarian reserve”. It cannot be used to predict fertility as it provides no measure of the rate of loss, but it gives a snapshot of how many eggs remain.

“At Bourn Hall I was told for the first time that I had no eggs left and had all the symptoms of the menopause. I went on a real downer; I was still young but felt I wasn’t a woman anymore. I kept asking myself ‘what if I had done this, what if I had done that’. I thought I would never have children it was so hard to bear.”

The Egg Donor programme

Paula was put on the waiting list for an egg donor. Bourn Hall Clinic has an active donor programme, inviting altruistic donors and also encouraging patients to share eggs or sperm where the quality is particularly high. There is no obligation to share but the clinic has found that empathy is a powerful motivator and treatment is offered free of charge to acknowledge this support.

Paula went on the waiting list and got her body ready for pregnancy. She gave up caffeine and alcohol, improved her diet and fitness in the hope of a donor being found. Two years later the call came.

“The donor produced twenty eggs, ten for her and ten for me, and I got pregnant first time. I was over the moon; I had not expected it to work on the first attempt. You are not told about the other person but I so hoped that she was pregnant too.”

Gary and Paula welcome Aidan and Ethan 

The twins, Aidan and Ethan, were born in March 2011 and Paula and her husband Gary still can’t believe the babies are here.

“I call them my little miracles. I think of the donor all the time and just couldn’t thank her enough. We owe her so much for the joy she has given us.

“To anyone considering donating I would say, ‘be very sure that it is what you want to do’, it is not an easy decision. To give someone who craves a baby with her whole being the chance of being a mother is probably one of the most generous things you could ever do.

“I can still remember the pain when I was told I had no eggs and now I have these beautiful babies; I can’t begin to describe the joy.”

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