Surrogacy helped Amanda achieve her dream of having her own child after cancer

Amanda and Jason were childhood sweethearts, they got married in their twenties and started trying for a baby six years later. After trying to conceive for two years they were referred for fertility tests. It was during this time Amanda had devastating news: she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer

Amanda, who had not had any symptoms, explains: “It was a total shock, I wasn’t ill and felt fine. Luckily the cancer was grade 1a, meaning it hadn’t spread and was completely contained in the womb. The fertility testing had caught it at a very early stage but as a hysterectomy was part of the treatment, it meant I’d never be able to carry a baby.”

It was her surgical oncologist that suggested the possibility of using a surrogate for IVF treatment. As the cancer hadn’t spread and chemotherapy was not required, Amanda’s ovaries were not removed during the hysterectomy. However, as the cancer had been oestrogen dependent (one of the hormones the ovaries produce) the ovaries had to be removed after a year as delaying any longer increased the risk of the cancer returning leaving the couple just a small window of opportunity to make a decision.

Embryo freezing

The couple decided they did want their own child and were given an emergency appointment at Bourn Hall Clinic. “The staff at Bourn Hall were incredibly kind,” says Amanda. “They explained that as my womb had been removed I had to be anaesthetised for every egg collection. After the collection the eggs were fertilised by Jason’s sperm and then frozen. The clinic told us that freezing embryos (the egg and the sperm combined) gave a better chance of a successful pregnancy than eggs alone, and after three rounds of treatment, 14 embryos were frozen.”

Bourn Hall had helped Amanda and Jason hold on to their dream of having a child that was genetically theirs. They now needed to find a surrogate who was willing to carry their baby. For legal reasons this had to be independent of the clinic.

Surrogacy UK

They joined Surrogacy UK, an organisation that believes in surrogacy through friendship and it was here they met Annie. “We were friends with Annie for over a year before she offered to be our surrogate. Trust and a good relationship were the main factors we needed to embark on this journey and we definitely felt this with Annie,” explains Amanda.

Annie had always wanted to experience pregnancy but without the ‘consequences’. “I’m a little bit unusual as I never wanted my own children,” says Annie. “The idea of being a surrogate started off as a bit of a joke, but a few years ago I started researching into the possibility. I met Amanda and Jason at one of the Surrogacy UK socials and we naturally formed a friendship. At the time I was pregnant and on my first journey with another couple. Six months after the birth, I wanted to help another family and Amanda and Jason were the obvious choice.”

In January 2014 the frozen embryos were moved to a clinic nearer to Annie for treatment and she got pregnant on the first try. “It didn’t seem real,” says Amanda. “After all we’d been through we couldn’t believe it was finally happening, we didn’t buy anything for the baby until after the 20 week scan. We saw Annie every two to three weeks, went to every midwife appointment and got to feel our baby kick.”

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Effie is born

“When Effie was born Jason cut the cord and we had our first cuddle. We feel incredibly lucky. She is such a good baby, even sleeping through the night!”

Annie thinks this is the best thing she’s ever done, “To make people’s dreams come true is such a privilege and being able to see the children grow up, knowing I helped, is incredibly rewarding.”

Amanda and Jason are extremely grateful for the gift Annie gave them. “Annie is the most amazing woman and has changed our lives. We still regularly meet up, both at the Surrogacy UK socials and as friends. She is definitely part of our family.”

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Seek fertility advice sooner rather than later urges Norfolk mum

When friends asked Jessica from Norwich what she would like for her 40th birthday she replied: “I don’t want anything, I already have the only present I ever wanted.”

The early ‘birthday present’ which Jessica is referring to is her new baby daughter, Elisabeth, born after fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic Norwich.

10 year wait

Jessica and husband Marc first started trying for a baby more than ten years ago when Jessica was still in her twenties but they delayed seeking advice. Jessica says: “with hindsight one of our biggest regrets is that we should have asked for help sooner than we did.”

According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority over 90 per cent of couples conceive naturally within two years. If you haven’t conceived for a year however, or you know you have a condition which affects your fertility, you should go and see your GP to discuss next steps.

After finally going to their GP and being referred for hospital tests Jessica and Marc were told that Jessica had a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which is one of the most common causes of fertility issues in women. “I had been on the contraceptive pill for years before we got married and it had masked many of the symptoms,” she says.

PCOS disrupts the release of a woman’s eggs and common symptoms include: irregular periods or no periods at all; excessive hair growth, such as on the face; weight gain; oily skin/acne and thinning hair.

Jessica was told that she would need to lose weight before the hospital would put her on ovarian stimulation drugs to try and boost her chances of getting pregnant naturally and it was at this point that she decided to go for a complete lifestyle change.

“I had always been active but I basically switched from doing a bit of walking to running three times a week and hiring a personal trainer,” she laughs. “Every time I had a setback and wondered what I was doing I would remember what my ultimate goal was. I lost a stone and a half and competed in the Great North Run. A few days after I did the Great North Run I was told that I had lost enough weight to be put on fertility drugs.”

Over the next two years Jessica underwent two courses of ovulation induction treatment. The couple were disappointed when Jessica still didn’t conceive naturally and eventually they were referred for IVF treatment at  Bourn Hall Clinic.

“By this point I was in my mid-thirties and I really did feel as though my body clock was ticking. I really had begun to think that perhaps being a mum just wasn’t going to happen to me,” she says.

Conceived naturally

Jessica was devastated when her first attempt at IVF had to be cancelled half-way through because she only produced one follicle. “That was a massive low point,” she admits.

She then fell pregnant naturally but was devastated when she suffered a late miscarriage. “That took quite a while to get over,” she says. “I went to an excellent group counselling session with an organisation called Time Norfolk Pregnancy Loss and it was good to talk to other people in the same situation.”

The couple decided to have another try at IVF and it was at this point that they met Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Clinical Lead for Bourn Hall clinics in Norfolk.  He gave them the option of trying a radically different approach.

New approach

Jessica was given a higher dosage of  drugs to stimulate her ovaries and then the eggs, which were retrieved and successfully fertilised, were all frozen instead of the usual practice of a ‘fresh’ embryo transfer happening simultaneously. “The idea was that my body would have time to recover from the stimulation drugs before transfer” says Jessica.

The couple went on holiday for three weeks before Jessica underwent a frozen embryo transfer which resulted in a healthy pregnancy and the birth of Elizabeth, who Jessica describes as “the most beautiful baby girl.”

Elisabeth (Lizzie) was named after Jessica’s mum who passed away suddenly 15 years ago. The response to her birth from family and friends has been enormous. “When Lizzie was born we had around 150 cards and presents,” smiles Jessica. “We had been very open about our journey to have a child. Lots of my mum’s friends and relatives sent us cards and gifts. It was amazing.”

Jessica and Marc are now settled in to family life with their daughter but Jessica says she kept pinching herself for the first few months and remind herself that she was really a mum. “It took us a couple of months to believe that it had really happened,” she says. “Over the years I used to have dreams sometimes that I had a baby and would wake up and it wasn’t true. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t still dreaming. Meeting Dr Papathanasiou was life-changing. I cannot thank Bourn Hall enough, we are totally in awe and in love with the little baby girl they gave us.”

 

Only a small number of people require IVF and there are many ways that natural fertility can be boosted and other assisted conception treatments can be offered at Bourn Hall’s fertility clinics. Bourn Hall Clinic is offering free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist to anyone trying to get pregnant until Easter 2018. The consultations are available at Bourn Hall’s Norwich, Colchester and Cambridge clinics and advice will be given on a range of measures that can be used to help people become parents.

 

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Fertility preservation gives cancer patient hope of parenthood

While losing weight to improve her chances of having a baby, Fiona was devastated to discover a lump in her breast.  To protect her dream of a family, Fiona didn’t hesitate for a second when asked if she wanted to delay her first round of chemotherapy so that she could have some embryos frozen for future fertility treatment.

Chemotherapy affects both female and male fertility: in women it can stop the ovaries from working and can cause an early menopause; in men it can reduce the number of sperm produced or affect the sperm’s ability to fertilise an egg.

Fiona and her partner Ian knew that Fiona’s fertility could be destroyed once she had begun her chemotherapy and were in complete agreement about what to do next.

Delaying chemotherapy

fertility preservation

“I discovered the lump as I started to lose weight as we wanted to start a family, so it was a double kick to find that not only had I got cancer, my chance of having a baby was threatened,” says Fiona. “My consultant said early on that as this was a hormone-led cancer that I had to be pushed into a menopause and that the only way that I could get pregnant was with IVF.

“We both wanted a family and knew that if I started my chemotherapy straight away we might not get the chance to have children at all,” she says.

The specialists treating Fiona for her cancer completely supported her decision to delay chemotherapy and the couple went along to Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester for tests. Fiona was then given drugs to stimulate her egg production.

“The team at Bourn Hall had to monitor me closely because my cancer was oestrogen-driven and I could be affected by the extra hormones in my body,” Fiona explains.

Fertility preservation

Eight of Fiona’s eggs were harvested and fertilised with Ian’s sperm using a process called ICSI and then frozen for when Fiona is well enough for fertility treatment.

Fiona’s original diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer had already resulted in a mastectomy on her left breast followed by reconstructive surgery.

“Within three weeks after egg collection I was receiving chemotherapy and then after three months started the anti-cancer drugs tamoxifen which I had to take for two years and need to have been off it for 6 months before the next IVF stage,” explains Fiona. “During the same time I celebrated turning 40.”

In the last 18 months Bourn Hall Clinic has collected and frozen sperm, embryos or eggs for more than 100 cancer patients before they embarked on a course of chemotherapy.

“Fertility treatment can be a very emotional journey,” says Sarah Pallett, Clinic Manager at Bourn Hall in Colchester, “so to throw the curve-ball of cancer in to the mix makes it even more so. We find that many of the cancer patients who come to us for sperm, embryo or egg freezing get a reassuring sense of asserting some control of one aspect of their life when they might be facing some really tough times ahead.”

Optimistic for the future

Fiona is grateful that the cancer team treating her encouraged her decision to briefly delay her chemotherapy so that her eggs could be collected, fertilised and frozen for her future use.

Fiona has just returned to Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester with the view to starting her fertility treatment shortly and is looking forward to what may lay ahead:

“We have always held onto the hope of a “normal” life after cancer, and to be blessed with a baby would be the fantastic positive after the hell of last three years, but I am aware that it could be a lot worse,” she says.

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Told he wouldn’t be a dad, Matthew proved them wrong

Gemma and Matthew knew from the beginning that having a family wasn’t going to be straightforward for them, as Matthew suffered a football accident when he was younger.

“At the age of 14 my GP told me that I would not be able to have children,” explains Matthew. “At the time it didn’t really matter to me – I was so young – but having become an adult and seeing our friends become parents my perspective has changed.”

Having been introduced by a friend, Gemma and Matthew started seeing each other in 2010 and after a year began trying for a baby. However, Matthew thought the likelihood of being a father was nearly impossible.

A visit to the GP

Gemma says: “Initially we were optimistic and hoped we might conceive naturally so we tried for eight months, but looking back, that time was more about us realising we needed to see our GP and get help if we ever wanted a chance of having a baby.”

Usually if a young woman has not conceived naturally within 18-24 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, she and her partner would be advised to see their GP to initiate tests. If there is a definite cause for the infertility, such as identified male infertility, then a couple can be referred sooner.

Gemma continues: “It was upsetting to realise we needed help but our GP was good and referred us straight away for investigation.”

The couple’s tests showed that Matthew was not infertile but had a low sperm count with low motility and so they were referred for NHS funded infertility treatment.

“From the list of clinics we were offered we chose Bourn Hall for its great reviews, experience in dealing with male infertility, and location,” says Gemma.

ICSI procedure

The couple’s first consultation was at the Cambridge-based clinic in autumn 2013. Their consultant discussed the various male infertility procedures available to them, including intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where a single sperm is injected into the centre of each mature egg to help fertilisation occur. Of the resulting embryos one or two are then transferred to the womb in the same way as during an IVF cycle.

“Our consultant talked us through our options and showed a slide show, which was very helpful as before we didn’t know what was involved, especially with ICSI”, recalls Gemma; “it made the whole process much clearer.”

Gemma subsequently began a course of hormone injections to help stimulate her egg production and went to the local hospital for the routine scans of her growing eggs, as this was nearer to visit when  fitting in around work. Her results were then passed on to Bourn Hall where the specialist fertility nurses would advise Gemma on the dosage of her hormone drugs.

Disappointing first cycle

In December 2013, at the Cambridge Clinic, Gemma’s eggs were harvested and fertilised with Matthew’s sperm using the ICSI procedure.

Gemma returned a few days later for the embryo transfer but unfortunately she did not become pregnant on the first ICSI cycle.

“We were devastated,” recalls Gemma, “but thankfully we had two embryos frozen so we could try again.”

Matthew and Gemma welcome Ava

Worried that their second attempt might also fail, Gemma took her pregnancy test at 5:00 am so Matthew could be present to support her and know the result before leaving for work.

Fortunately the test was positive:

ICSI

“19th May 2014 is etched in my mind as the result was positive!” says Gemma. “I was overwhelmed with happiness and excitement as well as disbelief that we might become parents.”

Matthew adds: “I felt unbelievably happy and shocked. It was an incredible feeling seeing the positive pregnancy test and knowing I was going to become a dad.”

After suffering some initial morning sickness the rest of Gemma’s pregnancy went well and Ava was born on 31st January 2015.

“Having Ava is absolutely amazing,” says Gemma. “To go from thinking you can’t have a baby to then having your own in your arms is incredible. The journey was scary at moments, such as when I had to take the injections, but it was totally worth it!

“The staff were lovely and I can only say positive things about Bourn Hall. We would certainly choose them for any future treatment which would now be self- funded as we are no longer eligible for NHS funding now we have a baby.”

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Endometrial scratch helps improve the chances

When the results from the fertility tests came back as ‘unexplained’ Felicity and her husband Benjamin began to despair of ever having a baby. She says: “It was really frustrating, especially as all my friends seemed to be getting pregnant at the drop of a hat.”

The couple had been trying for a family for over three years before they went to their GP for advice. Both in their early thirties, they were concerned about leaving it any longer before they went for help.

Their GP referred them to the local hospital for fertility testing and the results came back as unexplained. This is not uncommon and sometimes means that there is subfertility on both sides which means the chances of a pregnancy are reduced.

Consultation was helpful

The couple chose to go to Bourn Hall in Cambridge because they had read about the excellent success rates.

There is no waiting list for treatment at Bourn Hall so the couple soon had their initial consultation. Felicity says: “The consultation was very helpful; we talked about what IVF is, the process for men and women and how everyone is different so the treatments are tailored for each patient.

“With little knowledge about the reasons for infertility and its treatment we found the talk really helpful.”

It was a difficult road

The couple’s first cycle of treatment was IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). Following egg collection a single sperm is injected directly into the mature egg, which can improve fertilisation rates. One of the resulting embryos is then transferred to the womb.

Sadly the first cycle was unsuccessful and the couple took a break before returning later in the year for a second cycle of treatment.

This time Felicity became pregnant but tragically miscarried in the early stages of the pregnancy. The couple were shattered. Felicity remembers the pain: “After the delight of finally becoming pregnant it was devastating to learn I’d miscarried. It did put a strain on our relationship but we talked through it and came out stronger as a team.”

Felicity and Benjamin returned to Bourn Hall to discuss their options and it was agreed that a frozen embryo from each of the two previous fresh cycles would be used for the next treatment.

“I was incredibly anxious after miscarrying, so a different approach gave us hope,” says Felicity.

Endometrial Scratch brings success

For their third attempt an endometrial scratch was discussed. This is a relatively new procedure that involves a very fine catheter making a small scratch in the lining of the womb.  It is thought that this procedure can help make the womb more receptive to the successful implantation of embryos and increase the chances of pregnancy

“When this was discussed I was keen to try it. Especially if there was any chance the procedure could improve our chances of having a baby,” recalls Felicity.

The couple appreciated being able to ring the clinic for reassurance at any time or to ask questions in person when they came for an appointment or scan. “The staff were really good,” Felicity says. “They looked after us so well that you felt able to put your trust in them.”

Their trust was to prove well placed when a scan confirmed that Felicity was pregnant.

Delighted to have Zachary

As the weeks progressed the couple celebrated each developmental milestone and, as she overcame her initial fears she might miscarry again, Felicity enjoyed being pregnant – before Zachary was born on 18th January 2016.

For anyone thinking of starting IVF treatment Felicity reassures: “It does take an emotional and physical toll on you and your partner and it can be a long process – it took us three attempts to have success but now we have Zachary. We are delighted and so lucky to have now to be in our position with a family!”

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