I found myself single, in my thirties – and my eggs were running out

My eggs were running out

“I parted from my ex-husband in 2011. We had been together a long time, since our teens, and had never tried to have children, it had just never been on the agenda for us. I am very career orientated and had buried myself in my work. But then I suddenly found myself heading towards 30 and single and my body clock was ticking….

“I booked myself an appointment at Bourn Hall Norwich for an AMH test, basically to get an idea of what my egg count was. That was five years ago and my ovarian reserve was actually quite low so I knew that time wasn’t on my side fertility-wise.

“I started having a discussion with Bourn Hall about having solo IVF treatment using donor sperm. I had a good conversation with the consultant and we spoke about what donor treatment would look like, the IVF and egg collection and how you select the sperm donor and all the legalities around that.

“I was seriously considering it….then I met James!

I told him I wanted to be a mum on our first date!

“James is nine years older than me and already had grown-up children – his daughter Alex, who I knew through work, had played matchmaker and introduced us. I thought that me being so upfront about wanting children might put him off, especially as he had had a vasectomy, but he was receptive.

I told him I wanted to be a mum on our first date!  

“It is a running joke that on our first date I said to him ‘I want to be a mum’ and my friends said ‘you can’t say that on a first date!’ I said ‘well actually I can because I know what I want’.

“So after I told him I said to him ‘I will leave that with you then….on the basis of whether you want to see me again’.  Thankfully he did want to see me again and eight months after we got together he had a vasectomy reversal!

“The vasectomy reversal at a private hospital in Norwich was initially a success and we were told to start trying naturally for a baby. Nothing was happening and a couple of subsequent semen tests revealed that there was no sperm.

“The consultant at the hospital said that the tubes had probably blocked up again, perhaps with scar tissue, and that he could attempt the reversal again but suggested that we might be better off going to Bourn Hall to see what our options were.

Sperm retrieval was a success

“I found myself back at Bourn Hall Norwich, but with a partner this time, and the recommendation was for James to have a sperm retrieval operation at Bourn Hall’s Cambridge clinic. We now wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that we had gone straight to surgical sperm retrieval rather than attempting the vasectomy reversal, both from a cost point of view and also because the experience was initially quite traumatic for James.

“James’ surgical sperm retrieval operation was in December 2020 and was successful. They managed to get five vials of sperm, which were then frozen, so that was kind of James done with really and then they started with me in the January 2021.

“We had had to pay for our IVF, James was already a Dad  so we were not entitled to NHS treatment.

“I am not going to lie, IVF is probably the hardest thing I have ever been through. Injecting the drugs was quite hard, as was how the drugs made me feel. It was an emotional rollercoaster of wanting a baby so much and a massive drain on our relationship.

“Our first round of IVF failed, I had quite a nasty bleed which felt different to a period, more like a miscarriage, and when I did the ten-day pregnancy test it was negative. I was really upset and quite despondent actually. I also felt anxious because I knew that time was probably not on our side and there was the financial pressure too.

We kept our treatment under wraps 

“I was desperate to have another go and just get started again. We did have another round pretty quickly but this time we went to the Cambridge clinic so that I could have my egg collection under a general anaesthetic. Second time around I had seven eggs retrieved, four of which fertilised and two were put in.

“Our embryo transfer took place on 12 May 2021 and then we had that horrible wait, which feels like a lifetime, until our test date. I felt like I was going crazy.

“Our test day was a Saturday morning and I’d got up quite early and done the test as you do because I couldn’t sleep. We did the test together and it was positive. James was in a state of shock and so I did another one and that was positive too. James then jumped in the car and went to the local supermarket and came back with a stash of more pregnancy tests and they were all positive too so then we jumped in the car at 7am to go over to my parents to tell them!

“That was great, but then of course we had the nine-week wait to see if it was a viable pregnancy – that was torture. During that time I had James’ eldest daughter’s hen do and wedding; I knew that I was pregnant for both but we had kept our treatment under wraps and I had to do the whole ‘pretend I was drinking’ thing. A lot of people said afterwards ‘I don’t know how you kept it quiet because you quite like a glass of wine!’

“We had a nine-week scan at Bourn Hall and our nurse Gemma got the screen up and then quickly turned it round to us and said ‘yep you are pregnant and there is one’ because we didn’t know if there was going to be one or two because two embryos had gone in.

“Hearing the strong heartbeat at the scan was just the most amazing feeling ever because it was like ‘I really am pregnant’.

The team at Bourn Hall have given me everything I ever wanted

The team at Bourn Hall have given me everything I ever wanted 

“We told James’ children and his dad and obviously my mum and dad but we didn’t actually ‘announce’ anything until after my 20 week scan.

“I loved being pregnant, in fact I really miss being pregnant!

“When Hattie arrived we both just sobbed. We felt overwhelming love and contentment, it was an experience that I can’t really describe.

“By the time I had Hattie most of my friends already had children, my best friend’s eldest is nearly 18 and in fact I was a nanna to James’s son’s little girl before I was a mum…

“Hattie is phenomenal, we are just so lucky, she is always smiling and is a little redhead. James’ late mum was redheaded so I think she has got nanny in her…

“We have got a lovely blended family. James’ son’s daughter is now two and a half and they have just had a baby boy. James’ daughter Alex, who set me and James up, recently had a little boy so Hattie will grow up with them and they will all be like little cousins. I have got a great relationship with James elder children and they absolutely love Hattie.

“We had a good experience at Bourn Hall and I popped in to the Norwich clinic recently with Hattie and some cupcakes for the team. I can’t thank them enough, they have given me everything I have always wanted.”


He told me to leave him and find someone who could make me a mum

Having met the love of her life Emma thought ‘being together was enough’ but deep down she wanted to be pregnant and have a child of her own.

Emma was 22 when she met Sean, who was in his early forties; they soon realised they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together and Emma knew from the outset that this probably wouldn’t include children.

“From the moment I met Sean I was head over heels in love but as he had children from a previous relationship, and a vasectomy, I was happy with things as they were.

“However later on my Mum died. In her dying days we’d discussed children and I then realised how much I wanted a child myself and found I couldn’t suppress my feelings anymore.

“Sean and I discussed it and as he had had a vasectomy we considered IVF using donor sperm.”

sperm donation

A visit to the Cambridge Clinic

As Sean already had children the couple weren’t eligible for NHS-funded treatment. Knowing of Bourn Hall the couple decided to visit the Cambridge Clinic to learn more about their options.

“When we were there we learnt about the egg sharing programme, which seemed ideal for us. It would help cover the cost of our treatment and help someone else, like the sperm donor was doing for us.”

To donate eggs or sperm you need a health check and tests revealed Emma was a carrier of the Cystic Fibrosis gene and so unable to share her eggs.

“It was devastating to find we couldn’t continue with the egg sharing programme.  This information was a shock too so we decided to take some time to reflect.

“This was a very difficult time for me. Wherever I looked there seemed to be mums or pregnant women. If anyone asked me about having babies I’d just reply ‘being together was enough’ but inside I was in a state.

“Sean even suggested I leave him and find someone else who could make me a Mum but that was beyond my comprehension. Yes I wanted a child but with him as the Dad.”

Failed reverse vasectomy

Sean began researching into other options for them, such as adoption or vasectomy reversal, which seemed an option. Sean found a well-respected surgeon in the Midlands and booked an operation. However, during the procedure Sean’s heartbeat fell dramatically.  The surgeon was concerned and cancelled the operation.

“It was a very worrying time,” recalls Emma. “Thankfully Sean turned out to be alright but our trip had been wasted. The surgeon did say that from his examination of Sean it looked hopeful so we were optimistic and started saving again.

“We never told our families in case they worried and we found out afterwards that they thought we were going away on lovely holidays!”

Unfortunately the second attempt of a reversal was also unsuccessful.

“It was devastating. Sean was left in pain from the operation and it had all been for nothing.”

Again Sean suggested Emma leave him but she refused believing that somehow they could have a family together.

Sean makes a change of plan

Sean says: “It really hit us hard the second vasectomy reversal failing. We were so sure it was going to work. We both agreed to have a holiday and Cuba was the intended destination. In the meantime Emma was working hard at our fruit shop and everything appeared to be back to normal, but I knew she wasn’t happy.

“One day when I was at home looking online at holidays, I just knew it wasn’t right to spend our savings going abroad. Although I was older and have children I wanted her to have a chance.

“Emma was born to be a mum!

“So I got every bit of money we had, put it in an envelope and gave it to Emma – it was all we had in the world. I thought let’s have a go at IVF. Then we would know we had explored every avenue and tried everything.”

Donor sperm for IVF treatment

The couple decided to go back to Bourn Hall to discuss IVF, and by now the Wymondham Clinic had opened.

Emma says: “We saw an amazing consultant who discussed all our options and what would give us the best chance of success. We agreed to try using donor sperm for IVF treatment.”

All Bourn Hall patients are offered complementary counselling but for those involved in the donation programmes it is a requirement.

“This was helpful to confirm we had made the right choice and to address questions that we might have later on.”

For the couple it was important they had a good match to Sean, which is done by completing a form with the desired characteristics. The donor also provides an anonymous pen picture and a message for any future children resulting from the treatment.

“Sean filled out a characteristics form and we were provided with three choices. The nurse talked us through them and we were provided with letters from each of the anonymous donors. We chose the one we felt was the best match for Sean, which happened to be the first one.”

One embryo survived

In May, following egg collection, seven of Emma’s eggs were fertilised using the donor sperm.

“We got the call from Bourn Hall to come in for embryo transfer and only one embryo had survived. I was so sure it wouldn’t work. I lay on the medical table crying. One of the nurses came over, held my hand and reassured me that one embryo was all that was needed for a baby.

“Unbelievably it worked! Of all the routine scans, seeing my baby in the eight week scan was the best day of my life. Couldn’t believe I was pregnant and there was my baby inside.”

Emma and Sean welcome baby Kathleen

On 23rd January 2015 Kathleen was born.

“Kathleen is amazing!” says Emma. “She completes us.”

Sean agrees: “Our world is complete.

“I believe every woman – if she wants to – deserves the chance to be a mum. Emma only had one embryo but what a beautiful embryo it was!”

Emma continues: “Throughout our treatment at the Wymondham Clinic the staff were brilliant.So welcoming and you felt as if they gave a bit of themselves. We are a strong couple and love each other very much but Bourn Hall and the nurses made it possible, helping us through the ‘down’ days.”

Emma admits that when she wrote invites for Kathleen’s first birthday party she had tears rolling down her cheeks: “I’ve waited all my life for Kathleen and certainly doubted if this moment would arrive.

“Sean and I will be celebrating Kathleen’s first birthday with family and friends and most certainly having a cake.”

donor sperm

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