Being kind to myself helped me when I was struggling to conceive

Beth’s periods became erratic when she came off the contraceptive pill, this was the first indicator that the Beth and Rob might struggle to conceive.

“It wasn’t something I had experienced before,” says Beth. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

Beth had wanted to be a mum ever since she was a teenager. “I remember getting that urge of wanting a baby and I thought that it would pass and it never did.” she says. The couple met when she was 19.

“I was training to be a nurse and we decided to wait until I had got my career sorted before we had a family. I qualified when I was 24 and a year later we started trying for a baby.”

“I had just turned 25 and didn’t think I would have any issues getting pregnant, I don’t think anyone does really,” she says.

Struggle to become pregnant took over

Beth admits that she began to struggle emotionally.

“I started tracking my ovulation using an app on my phone and the whole process of trying to track my ovulation just completely took over,” she says.

“I don’t think that I was in a very good place, it completely took over and was constantly on my mind. I would take my ovulation kit in to work and then if it looked like the right time I would contact Rob and say ‘we will have to have sex tonight’ and it just took the fun and joy out of being together, it was not a nice time.”

When Beth wasn’t pregnant after a year later she went to see her GP.

Beth and Rob were sent for tests which revealed that Beth had polycystic ovaries and a lower than average egg store for her age whilst Rob’s sperm tests also indicated a low morphology – or movement.

“There were a number of factors affecting our ability to conceive as a couple,” says Beth.

Rob needed to lose weight

The couple were told that they would need IVF treatment but Rob needed to lose weight before they could be referred for NHS-funded treatment. “I also did what I could during that time, taking vitamin supplements and doing more exercise,” says Beth. “It became all-consuming. I hadn’t expected to be told that we would need IVF but I just thought, if this is what we need to have a baby I will do it.

“I never allowed myself to think that I would never have children, I just kept thinking about the next step to try and stay positive.”

Once Rob had reached his target weight the couple were referred to Bourn Hall Clinic in Wymondham, near Norwich and attended an Open Evening to find out more about the treatments available.

NHS funded IVF

“I didn’t know anyone who had gone through IVF and it was a comfort to see other couples in the same situation as us,” says Beth.

The couple’s first treatment didn’t result in a pregnancy. “I felt very deflated,” says Beth.

One embryo had been frozen after their first treatment and Beth and Rob returned to Bourn Hall for a Frozen Embryo Transfer. “It was nice because it was a shorter protocol, “ says Beth. Two weeks later Beth found out that she was pregnant but sadly she had an early miscarriage.

Despite their setbacks the couple were determined to try again. “It was never a case of not having IVF again,” says Beth. “But I did want to let my body recover and to deal with as much as I could for myself to increase my chances next time around. I exercised, ate healthily and took diet supplements as well as having acupuncture and fertility massage which both really helped me.

“I just tried to do all I could to be kind to myself because I wanted to feel that I had done everything I could to help my body.”

Determination  

Next time around and Beth did feel different. “I was definitely less stressed,” she says. “I knew the whole process much better and what to expect with injections and scans. I was in a much better place mentally and wasn’t Googling every symptom either.”

For all of their treatments at Bourn Hall the couple’s IVF treatment had also included ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) which involved directly injecting one of Rob’s sperm into each of Beth’s harvested eggs.

For their next treatment the couple had three embryos which went to the blastocyst stage and had two frozen whilst one was transferred to Beth.

Beth took time off work after embryo transfer to try and relax as much as she could. “By Day 3 I had a hunch that I was pregnant,” she says.

“When it came to test day I was so sure I was pregnant that I would have been more surprised if the test had been a negative than a positive,” says Beth. “We were both so excited when we saw the positive test result.”

Son Henry was born in May 2019 at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Beth is loving every minute of being a mum.

Focus on one step at a time

“Being a mum is everything I thought it would be,” she says. “When you are in the thick of trying to have a baby events like Christmas and Mother’s Day can be difficult when they should be a happy time and so it is nice now to look forward to those dates and them not be a negative.

“What I would say to anyone else starting out on their fertility journey is that we all think that we have life planned out and that we will meet someone, settle down and have a baby, but it doesn’t always work like that. Expect the unexpected and if you do need help with getting pregnant look after yourself. Don’t look too far in to the future, just focus on what you need to do to get to the next step.”

struggling to conceive
Beth advises take each step at a time

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Double celebration for man who thought he would never be a dad

Steven will never be sure of the exact reason for his infertility. He did have mumps as a teenager and this can impact the fertility of one in ten males who contract the viral infection. Other common causes are sporting injuries and underlying medical conditions.

Infertility can put a huge strain on relationships.  Steven’s first marriage ended in divorce following three failed rounds of IVF treatment in Yorkshire. “I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never be a dad,” he says.

The impact was so devastating that when he moved south to Norfolk and met Joanne, he told her on their first date that he couldn’t have children.

“I don’t know what he expected,” laughs Joanne, aged 25. “I think he thought that might mean the end of the road for us, but within eight weeks we were living together and got engaged a year later.”

NHS fertility advice and testing 

Coincidentally Joanne, who runs her own hairdressing salon, had also been told she might have difficulties conceiving having been diagnosed with mild polycystic ovaries at the age of 21, after experiencing irregular and painful periods.

“It hadn’t really bothered me at that point,” she says. “It was diagnosed early and my ovaries had not deteriorated too much. I always knew that I wanted to be a young mum and if I met the right person I would get started quite soon trying to get pregnant.”

After their engagement the couple decided to get advice and booked an appointment at Bourn Hall Clinic, which provides NHS-funded fertility testing, diagnosis and early-stage fertility treatments in Norfolk and is also the only fertility clinic in East Anglia to provide both NHS and self-funded IVF treatment.

In Norfolk Bourn Hall helps 30% patients get pregnant naturally

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Regional Lead Clinician at Bourn Hall Clinic, comments:  “Giving good advice at an early stage supplemented by minimal interventions helps 30% of the couples we see in Norfolk conceive naturally.  Of the remaining patients some will require surgery and the others IVF treatment.”

The couple had blood tests as well as semen analysis for Steven, which confirmed a low sperm count of which many were of good quality. The couple decided to proceed with IVF treatment including Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) where the sperm is injected directly into the egg.

The couple were delighted when the IVF treatment at Bourn Hall worked for them first time but suffered a potential setback when Joanne had a bleed four weeks in to the pregnancy. “We thought we’d lost everything,” says Joanne.

Massive bleed

The couple were offered an early scan at 5 weeks at their local hospital on Steven’s 31st birthday.

“I had suffered a massive bleed and we thought we were going along to hear the worst news ever,” says Joanne. “But we were told that we were expecting twins and we could see two perfect embryos sitting there.

“It was too early to see a heartbeat but we could see them and they were safe. I went really quiet.”

Steven was lost for words.

“I couldn’t speak for a while,” he says. “I was just crying with joy.

“Jo asked me if I was going to phone my brother to let him know but I couldn’t speak. It was probably the best day of my life, and on my birthday as well.”

mumps can impact fertility
Steven with his twins

The twins Jasmin and Quinn have just celebrated their first birthday and Steven, who runs his own SMART car repair business, is loving every minute of fatherhood.

He says: “It is amazing being a Dad. Every day I have a smile on my face. Every morning, every evening, every time I get home. It is beautiful. Having been at the lowest point I could be I sometimes just can’t believe my luck.”

Bourn Hall provides free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist – do take this opportunity to get good advice.

Norfolk’s first ‘test-tube’ baby becomes mum

Amy and her twin sister Katie, both aged 35, made history as Norfolk’s first ‘test-tube babies’ and were conceived when parents Lesley and Brian were amongst the first patients to be treated by Patrick Steptoe at Bourn Hall, which was the world’s first IVF clinic.

When the girls grew up and met their partners Katie fell pregnant very easily and so it came as a real surprise to Amy and her husband Neil when they struggled to conceive.

“When I still hadn’t fallen pregnant after we had been trying for over a year it was really upsetting,” says Amy. “Everyone around me was having babies, including friends who had only been with their partners for a short time. People were saying to us ‘why are you not pregnant yet?’ I kept thinking ‘why me?’

“Katie had no problems at all getting pregnant, in fact, both her pregnancies took one month of trying. My mum knew how it felt to struggle to conceive, having been through it herself, and that really helped me.”

Proclactin can impact fertility

Amy went to her GP to get some advice and tests revealed that she had high levels of prolactin, which can affect fertility. The couple were referred for treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic in Norwich, where Amy was put on the fertility drug Clomid for six months to boost her ovulation. When Amy still did not fall pregnant she and Neil began NHS-funded IVF at the clinic.

Grandma one of first to have IVF

“Mum drove me to some of my appointments at Bourn Hall during my work lunch hour,” says Amy. “She found it really interesting how things had changed. When she had her treatment patients were treated as invalids and used to have to stay at the clinic for days on end, now women are in and out the same day. I would always be in a hurry, but my Mum used to talk to all the nurses for ages!”

Physical and emotional wellbeing is important infertility treatment, including managing the stress which can result from infertility. Amy found complementary therapy helped her manage her stress levels and she had both reflexology and acupuncture as well as attending the gym regularly and doing classes such as body balance and yoga. My mother-in-law also bought me some gift vouchers for massages which helped as well,” she says.

Two generations of IVF babies
Lesley Smith with IVF daughter Amy Harris and IVF grand-daughter Olivia

Amy and Neil’s treatment at Bourn Hall Norwich was IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) which involved injecting six of Neil’s sperm into six of Amy’s eggs in the embryology laboratory and culturing the resulting embryos to go to the ‘blastocyst’ stage. Only one embryo was of a good enough quality and it was transferred to Amy’s womb.

The couple’s treatment worked the first time and they celebrated Amy’s pregnancy with a last-minute holiday in the sun. “It had been really emotional having IVF and so we flew to Majorca and just chilled for a week which we really needed,” says Amy.

After a textbook pregnancy, Amy went into labour two weeks early – just as she was about to go on maternity leave.

“I worked right up until two weeks before my due date and I left the office early because I had a dull ache in the tops of my thighs,” says Amy.

Amazing 

“When I got home I had a bath and my contractions started and then when Neil got home he cooked me a meal and I couldn’t eat anything and I normally eat like a horse so we knew something was happening!”

The next morning, on February 1, 2019, Amy gave birth to daughter Olivia who she describes as “an amazing baby.”

Amy says: “Being a mum is just incredible. I have wanted this for so long and so every day I think how lucky I am!

Bourn Hall provides free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist – do take this opportunity to get good advice.

Marathon man celebrates fatherhood

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.

50:50 male and female factors

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.”

NHS fertility treatment

Hannah and Luke were referred for fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Cambridge and were lucky to be eligible for one round of NHS-funded treatment before funding was withdrawn for NHS IVF in Cambridgeshire.

“Living so close made everything more straightforward for us,” says Hannah. We didn’t have to stress about the travelling or 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’s NHS-funded 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 and then we went on holiday before going back to Bourn Hall.”

The second time – as with the first – 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.

low sperm count and PCOS can contribute to infertility
Luke with Adeline and Max

Two weeks later and 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.”

Bourn Hall provides free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist – do take this opportunity to get good advice.

Norfolk mum celebrates her miracle IVF baby

Cradling ‘miracle baby’ Riley in her arms, Lauren says that she just doesn’t have enough words of praise for Bourn Hall, the fertility clinic which made his birth possible.

Lauren and husband Stephen from Norfolk, were one of the first couples to be treated at Bourn Hall’s full-service Wymondham clinic.

A local clinic makes the difference

“When you are undergoing fertility treatment you need a very flexible boss,” explains Lauren. “The woman, in particular, has to be available for lots of tests and scans in the beginning, so if you are having to travel further afield that can make it very difficult to arrange around your job and can really add to your anxiety levels.

“Having all of my treatment on the doorstep was perfect and cut down on juggling with work commitments”.

Visit to GP set wheels in motion

Lauren met Stephen through work and having realised that Stephen was her Mr Right, Lauren says that they started trying for a family almost immediately.

“We tried for a baby for a couple of years but nothing was happening,” she says. “We thought we were doing all the right things, checking the dates and buying all the kits, but I just didn’t get pregnant”.

A visit to the couple’s GP set the wheels in motion and both Lauren and Stephen underwent tests which revealed that there was an issue with Stephen’s sperm motility (the ability of the sperm to ‘swim’).

“We were entitled to NHS treatment and luckily for us Bourn Hall had just opened their clinic in Wymondham, so we went along to an information evening which was really interesting,” says Lauren. “The presentation took us through the whole treatment journey and was really realistic about the whole process in terms of how emotionally draining it can be and what the chances of success are.”

Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome

Lauren was treated at Bourn Hall using a process called ICSI where an individual sperm is injected into each egg to fertilise them.

Unfortunately, Lauren developed Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which happens in only around two per cent of patients undergoing fertility treatment, so her embryos were frozen until she had recovered.

“Bourn Hall were brilliant and once my periods started again my body went back to normal,” says Lauren.

Treatment restarted and ten of the embryos were thawed prior to transfer to Lauren’s womb. The cells in the embryo’s weren’t dividing vigorously and it was thought that they would not survive to the five day blastocyst stage, so after two days two embryos were selected and transferred.

Miracle baby

The couple were delighted when both of them took and Lauren became pregnant with twins. Sadly she suffered an early miscarriage and went for a scan at Bourn Hall.

“That was when I fell in love with Bourn Hall,” says Lauren. “We were not sure if I was still pregnant when we went in for the scan, so we were very worried. We were delighted to be given the good news that one had survived and some of the other staff came in to the room to celebrate with us. It was absolutely lovely!”

sperm motility

In October 2014 Lauren gave birth to son Riley and she says that he is just the perfect baby. She gave up her job to spend as much time with him as she can and was so impressed with Bourn Hall that she plans for another round of treatment, this time self-funded, in the hope of a brother or sister for Riley.

“We are moving down to Sussex with Stephen’s job,” says Lauren, “and I wanted to have my fertility treatment at Bourn Hall before we go. I wouldn’t have my treatment anywhere else. I cannot recommend them highly enough, we are so grateful to Bourn Hall, everyone there is brilliant.”

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Struggling to conceive? You are not alone says Royston mum

Lucy from Royston still vividly remembers the deflation and gnawing disappointment she experienced every month at not being able to conceive – and then having to put on a brave face to the outside world.

Lucy, aged 39, says: “The really hard part for me was when friends were falling pregnant. I would be really pleased for them and go to the baby shower and share in their excitement but then I would go home, shut the door and shed a few tears before picking myself and carrying on.”

Now a busy mum to three-year-old Benjamin and six-month-old twins Oliver and Chloe following fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic, Lucy says the subject of children came up pretty quickly when she met her husband Andrew ten years ago. “It was something each of us had always seen in our future but up until that point neither of us had met the right person,” she says.

The couple got married four years later and started trying for a baby straight away. After 18 months they went to see their GP. “I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right,” says Lucy. “We had months and months of trying and nothing happening and getting disheartened and then other people telling us to relax and not think about it which is virtually impossible.

“It really takes a strain on a relationship, it takes all the fun out of things when you are trying for a baby for months and months. It was getting us both down, we had read every book on the subject, were eating all the right foods and had even gone organic, we were taking supplements and still nothing was happening. We wondered what we were doing wrong.”

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.

“By the time we went to see the GP I was 35 and had reached an age where I thought we really needed to get a move on,” says Lucy. “I had spent years being careful to avoid getting pregnant and so hadn’t expected it to be such a challenge when I actually wanted it to happen!”

Lifestyle changes

When Lucy started opening up to people about their situation she discovered that a number of people around her had encountered problems conceiving or had their children through IVF. “People tend to keep fertility issues to themselves but once I started telling people about our situation I was surprised at how many people I knew had experienced similar problems,” she says.

The couple’s GP referred them for hospital tests which revealed that Andrew had a low sperm count. “It can be hard for a man but actually for us we were pleased that we finally had an answer,” says Lucy.  “Andrew tried changing his diet and even wore loose underwear and I was advised to lose some weight to get my BMI down but we still didn’t conceive and so we were told that our best chance of a baby was with IVF treatment.”

Lucy and Andrew opted to have their treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic just outside Cambridge and were told that they could be treated using a procedure called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). Very few sperm are needed for this particular fertility treatment and it involved injecting Andrew’s sperm directly in to eggs retrieved from Lucy before transferring one of the fertilised embryos to her womb (uterus).

The couple’s treatment worked first time but they had an anxious few weeks wait before the pregnancy was finally confirmed after their first scan was inconclusive. “We were desperate to tell family in time for Christmas if it was good news and so the nurse at Bourn Hall fitted us in for a scan on Christmas Eve,” Lucy reveals. “I still get really emotional thinking about it. We went in and on the screen we saw the little flicker of a heart. I remember phoning my mum and sister on the way home to tell them the good news, it just didn’t seem real!”

Son Ben was born three years ago after what Lucy describes as a “textbook pregnancy” and he is now a happy and healthy toddler.

When Ben celebrated his second birthday Lucy had further treatment at Bourn Hall and was delighted when she discovered she was expecting twins. Oliver and Chloe were born six months ago and Lucy cannot believe how much her life has changed in the last few years.

“I have gone from thinking that I would never be a mum to having three little people in my house. It is completely surprising and I feel really blessed,” she says.

Lucy’s advice to other people finding it difficult to get pregnant is “trust your instincts.”

“I knew that something was not quite right,” she says. “It was such a relief when we did seek help because it felt as though we were not alone anymore.”

 

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Support through our IVF journey made all the difference

Emma (33) delightedly texts her husband Wayne (33) that their four month old son, Jake, has laughed for the first time. When they began trying for a baby back in 2010 this milestone was incomprehensible to them.

Childhood sweethearts

Emma begins: “Wayne and I have known each other since the age of five, when we started school together, but it wasn’t until we were 17 that we became a couple and then finally in 2009 we decided to tie the knot and think seriously about starting a family.

“For over three years we were on tenterhooks: every month hoping that the next month I would conceive. It was devastating not getting pregnant, especially when everyone around us seemed to be conceiving so easily.”

Referred for fertility tests

In May 2013 the couple went to see their GP and were referred for fertility tests. The results showed that Wayne had abnormally shaped sperm. They were informed that this could possibly be affecting their chances and so their consultant referred them to Bourn Hall Clinic. As the couple lived in Essex, they attended the satellite clinic in Wickford.

Emma says: “In advance of our initial consultation I was apprehensive at the prospect of IVF and imagined it being very invasive, even aggressive, but the Bourn Hall staff put us at ease.

Good chance with IVF

“The consultant we saw was very positive and despite our fertility test results thought we had a good chance of success with IVF.”

Wayne adds: “I have always wanted to be a dad, looking forward to when we had our own little family. So when we were told we had to go for fertility treatment it was a lot to take in. I was of course worried about what lay ahead for Emma and I, not really knowing what to expect. But once we had gone for our first consultation there seemed to be hope.”

Taking it one step at a time

The couple began their NHS funded treatment cycle in January 2014.

Wayne says: “All the way through the IVF treatment the staff at Bourn Hall were professional and friendly. They explained each stage of the process which helped ease my fears. I felt the best way to go through the process was to take each stage one at a time. I never wanted to look too far ahead in case things didn’t work out. I guess it was my way of coping.”

ICSI and blastocyst transfer

Seven eggs were collected from Emma and six were successfully fertilised by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). All of the six embryos made it to day five blastocysts, of which one was transferred into Emma’s womb and another was suitable to be frozen.

Emma adds: “We took each step at a time; never quite daring to believe that I might become pregnant and ultimately us having a family.”

Wayne admits: “I never discussed any of the IVF process when we were going through it with friends. It seemed to be difficult to bring up in conversation. I think it was hard enough going through it without having people knowing and asking how it was all going.”

“We are so lucky to have Jake”

Emma’s pregnancy went smoothly and on 8th November 2014 baby Jake was born.

Emma enthuses: “He’s a wonderfully cheeky chappy, who’s very alert and loves to chat. We are so lucky to have him that it is beyond words.”

Wayne adds: “I have waited a long time to become a dad, and now it has finally happened I couldn’t be happier.  Sometimes it can be challenging but just seeing my little boy happy and smiling makes it all worthwhile. I love spending time all together as a family. I am looking to the future and all the adventures it will bring.

Bourn Hall staff were reassuring

“I cannot thank Bourn Hall enough, without all their knowledge and hard work we may not have our little family.”

Emma concludes: “And certainly if we do decide to have any more children we would return to Bourn Hall Clinic as the staff have been so supportive and reassuring.

“Any early fears about IVF have long gone and we would wholeheartedly encourage other couples that find themselves in our predicament to have hope and visit Bourn Hall.”

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Crohn’s Disease overcome with help of ICSI

As three-year-old James runs around excitedly with his cousin Bella at pre-school, mum Kelly cannot praise Bourn Hall, the fertility clinic which made his birth possible, highly enough.

Crohn’s Disease

“We always knew that we might have problems conceiving,” explains Kelly from Norfolk, “My fiance Paul has Crohn’s Disease and when he was very unwell he was admitted to hospital and treated with a medication that we were told may affect his fertility”.

The couple first met when Kelly was 17 and Paul was 22 and decided early on that they would like a family. After trying unsuccessfully for a baby when Kelly was in her early twenties they went to their GP and explained the background to Paul’s Crohn’s treatment.

ICSI

“Our GP was lovely,” says Kelly, “and immediately arranged for Paul to have a sperm test. The test revealed that there were problems with his sperm and we were referred for treatment in London.”

The treatment in London resulted in a pregnancy but Kelly was devastated when she had a very early miscarriage. “I did have a feeling though that something was wrong,” she says.

“The staff at Bourn Hall are amazing”

Kelly and Paul were then told that their hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn, had established a satellite service in partnership with the world-famous fertility clinic, Bourn Hall, and they jumped at the chance of NHS treatment closer to home.

The couple had their routine appointments at the hospital and then went to Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge for egg collection and embryo transfer. “The staff at Bourn Hall are amazing,” says Kelly. “We were greeted warmly from the moment we walked through the door.”

IVF with ICSI 

Kelly had IVF with ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) where one of Paul’s sperm was individually selected and injected into one of her eggs. After the first round of treatment the couple faced disappointment when the pregnancy test came back negative.

“We were upset,” says Kelly, “but we accepted that it was one of those things, just another hurdle along the way. We stuck together and our families were very supportive. We decided to try again.”

Second time around at Bourn Hall and Kelly says her treatment was textbook. “I was driving home from Bourn Hall in December 2010 and I just knew that it had worked,” she smiles. “I took a pregnancy test on New Year’s Day 2011 and it was positive!”

ICSI

Proud parents to James

After a stress-free pregnancy, which she enjoyed with her sister-in-law who was expecting a baby at the same time, Kelly gave birth to son James in September 2011, who topped the scales at over 9lb.

Since baby James was conceived, Bourn Hall has opened a full service fertility clinic at Wymondham near Norwich, and a dedicated satellite clinic at King’s Lynn.

The King’s Lynn clinic provides continuity of care for patients who need fertility investigations or treatment. This means that testing is in one place with one team of staff and couples can be treated together. For the specialist egg collection and embryo transfer, patients can choose to go to Bourn Hall clinics near Norwich or Cambridge which ever is more convenient.

Kelly welcomed the news that Bourn Hall was opening a new fertility clinic: “It will be so much better for people in this area of Norfolk” she says. “I cannot praise Bourn Hall Clinic enough. They are brilliant.”

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Success with ICSI after tests reveal PCOS and a low sperm count

Hannah and Chris were childhood sweethearts who assumed after they got married that a family would follow shortly after, but their hopes were dashed early on.

“I had always wanted children,” says Hannah, “and assumed we would have a honeymoon baby. We started trying for a baby straight away but nothing happened.”

Eventually she went to see her GP who referred both of them for hospital tests.

Tests reveal PCOS

“The tests revealed that I had polycystic ovaries, which came as a complete surprise as I had none of the more common symptoms,” she recalls.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects 5–10% of women and a common cause of infertility. It has only recently been determined that a large proportion of women with PCOS are suffering from insulin resistance. In some women, raised insulin levels have a knock-on effect on the ovaries, preventing them from releasing mature eggs, and so leading to infertility.

Low sperm count

The couple were then dealt a further blow when tests on Chris uncovered a low sperm count caused by a childhood condition.

“We had to do some battling after that as all of the proposed treatments seemed to focus on me rather than Chris but then a different hospital consultant looked at both of our histories and took five seconds to decide that we needed IVF. It was the best day of my life,” says Hannah.

ICSI treatment at Bourn Hall

The couple were referred to Bourn Hall in Cambridgeshire, and started treatment in January 2013.

“I really thought ‘this is our year’” says Hannah, “but my first treatment failed and we had to wait a few months before trying again.”

Hannah was treated at Bourn Hall using a process called ICSI which involved directly injecting one of Chris’ sperm into one of her mature eggs before transferring it to her womb.

Second time around Hannah knew she was pregnant even before she had taken the pregnancy test.

Baby Ewan arrives

“I just knew because I felt different,” she says. “It was amazing. The only way to describe how I felt is that before I was pregnant I felt broken and that on that day I felt as though a small piece of me was put back together. Gradually throughout my pregnancy I was pieced back together and now I am fixed!”

Baby Ewan arrived in May of this year after Hannah had a trouble-free pregnancy and Hannah and Chris cannot thank Bourn Hall enough for their treatment:

“Bourn Hall is just amazing,” says Hannah. “I don’t know if the people there realise just how appreciated they are. They are such special people. There was a nurse who held my hand when I was being treated and she really sticks in my mind, she and all her colleagues made me feel as though I was the only one who mattered.”

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NHS funding gave Kelly and Andy a baby miracle

With baby Grace playing in the background Kelly (43) recalls how her own and her husband’s, Andy (46), fertility problems were not going to stop them from becoming a family.

“In 1990, we met at a carnival in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and were married a year later. We started trying for a family soon after. To begin with we weren’t too worried about time but as the years passed we began to panic. Our initial hope of me easily becoming pregnant was soon seen as a dream and so we went to a clinic in Ipswich for investigation.

“We had endless tests and investigations and I was given the fertility drug Clomid to help improve my chances of conceiving but it didn’t work.”

ICSI treatment recommended

The tests revealed that as well as Kelly having (PCOS), a condition that affects the way the ovaries work, Andy had a medical condition which affected his ability to produce a sperm sample, and this would require surgical sperm retrieval.

“Eventually we were told in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) was our only option if we wanted a baby.”

ICSI involves carefully injecting a single sperm directly into an egg in order to fertilise it. The fertilised embryo is then transferred to the woman’s womb.

Entitled to one cycle of IVF on NHS

In 2007, and living in Suffolk, the couple were entitled to one cycle of IVF on the NHS.

Following successful surgical sperm retrieval Andy’s sperm was frozen and put into storage until needed.

In January 2008, Kelly had her eggs collected. A total of seven were collected and four eggs were suitable for ICSI.

Kelly continues: “Devastatingly none of eggs fertilised. As it was our only NHS funded IVF cycle we thought our chance had passed; never again would we be able to try for a child as we simply couldn’t afford the treatment ourselves.

A gift from Andy’s parents

“Andy’s parents amazingly surprised us and generously offered to help fund our second IVF cycle. We were so grateful and with renewed hope we returned to Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge but this time as private patients.”

The couple started their second cycle of IVF in September 2008, but unfortunately it was not to be and the pregnancy test was negative.

“Again our hopes were dashed and we started to wonder if it would just be the pair of us forever. Then my Dad heard that the NHS funding criteria was changing and that we might be eligible for further fertility treatment.

“I was worried we might not meet the requirements as we’d already had one NHS funded treatment as well as a privately funded one but that didn’t stop us from trying.

Dad’s determination pays off

“My Dad was fantastic; making initial phone calls of enquiry and then helping with the follow up paperwork and letter writing. Ultimately due to his hard work we were entitled to two more NHS funded cycles of IVF. This news was a big weight off our shoulders and gave us the chance of becoming parents.”

The couple started their next cycle of treatment in April 2010.

“Tragically another negative pregnancy test: we were heart-broken yet again but luckily we did have one more fresh cycle available to us. This was to be our final attempt so we were incredibly nervous.”

The final attempt

In late September 2010, three eggs were collected from Kelly and using frozen sperm retrieved from Andy, two embryos developed. At blastocyst stage, they were then carefully transferred into Kelly’s womb.

“I was due to take the pregnancy test on my Mum’s birthday, the 16th October, but I was too nervous, so I naughtily took it two days early. I didn’t want to spoil my Mum’s birthday if it was another negative, but, amazingly we got our first ever positive pregnancy test! It was the best news ever; I screamed with excitement yet knew we still had a long way to go until we held him or her in our arms.”

At the 20 week scan the couple discovered that they were having a girl.

“We knew this was going to be our one and only child so we wanted to be able to buy the appropriate colour clothes and nursery stuff, which is why we chose to find out the sex.”

The couple welcomes Grace

On 22nd June 2011 baby Grace was born weighing 8 lb 3 oz.

“We thought long and hard about what we would call our miracle. We named her ‘Grace’ after the fertility goddess and for gracing us with her presence and ‘Hope’ because we never gave up!

“She completes the world for us and is everything we ever wanted. It showed us that miracles can happen.

“We know we were lucky to get further NHS funding. It made all the difference to us being able to have a family and we are eternally grateful to everyone at Bourn Hall who helped make our dreams come true.”

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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.”

CS090

One scan and we knew he was ours

With baby Freddie gurgling away in Lisa’s arms, she recounts the emotional journey she and her husband John have been on, including John overcoming cancer and three unsuccessful IVF attempts, to get to this happy stage in their lives.

“We’d known each other for a while but John and I had our first date two days before Christmas 2007 and our relationship took off from there. Due to our ages, John 38 and I 32, we started thinking about trying for a family quite soon, especially as we knew it would be difficult.

“I’d always had irregular ovulation and this was impacting our chances of getting pregnant. We went down the route of seeing our GP and getting referred for tests and fertility drugs. We eventually got referred to Bourn Hall for IVF treatment on the NHS but this was to be delayed.

sperm donor

Diagnosed with testicular cancer

“On Valentine’s Day, of all days, John was diagnosed with testicular cancer and basically told he was infertile. This put a real spanner in the works.

“John hadn’t been well for a while so we knew something was wrong but it still took a while for his cancer to be diagnosed and when it was it was already quite advanced. As John was so ill at the time the medics couldn’t retrieve any sperm from him and our aim shifted focus to getting him better and we’d think about anything else after that.

“At the time Bourn Hall wrote a really supportive letter; hoping John’s treatment went well and to get in touch when the time was right. We really appreciated that letter and glimmer of hope.

“Miraculously six months later John was given the all clear and we got married. We also felt the time was right to think again about having a family and so we approached Bourn Hall.

Sperm donation 

“We particularly spoke with Dr Kay Elder, who was very helpful and gave us some good advice. We also spoke to Oliver Wiseman a specialist in sperm retrieval.

“Unfortunately following John’s cancer the chances of sperm retrieval were very low. The specialist did offer us the procedure as well as the option of donated sperm.

“John had already kind of come to terms with the fact that he might not be able to provide sperm and father a child when he was diagnosed with cancer but the choice wasn’t to be taken lightly.

“After a week’s agonising we decided that because of our lives and circumstances that the best route was to use a sperm donor as we wanted to give ourselves the best chance to have a family.

“Once we had made that decision and told the Clinic, they were brilliant and told us to come in for a consultation and offered us counselling. This was great as it gave us an insight into the process of IVF, the implications of donated sperm and the process of selecting a sperm donor.

“Following blood tests to check that I was compatible with several potential donors we were sent five profiles to review. We went through their descriptions and selected the one that we thought seemed the best for us and the one that John also liked the sound of, which was very important to us.”

Lisa was given a course of fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation and her eggs were collected. Her first cycle was very successful and she produced 18 eggs of which 16 were mature enough for treatment and 10 resulted in embryos, of which five were frozen.

IVF with ICSI 

The couple had IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which involves injecting a single sperm into each mature egg, to help fertilisation to occur.

One or two of the resulting embryos can be transferred to the womb in the same way as in a conventional IVF cycle. Any additional suitable embryos not transferred in this cycle can be frozen for future use.

“I had one embryo transferred but unfortunately it didn’t work so we decided to try again. The next cycle also had a negative result. For the third time we hoped our luck might have changed and we’d be lucky.

“I did become pregnant and was so excited but it was short lived. When we tested the second time it was negative. It seems it was just a chemical pregnancy.

“Following three failed attempts I was emotionally drained and on the brink of a break down and so we decided to take a break from trying. I even gave up work to reduce the stress in our lives and then a few months later we were ready to try again.”

Pregnant with the fourth attempt

sperm donor

The couple returned to Bourn Hall for their fourth attempt and Lisa began a fresh cycle in August 2013. She successfully fell pregnant and baby Freddie was born on 15th April 2014.

“During the pregnancy I did have a few concerns about whether we would both feel Freddie was part of us. However from the moment we had our first scan he was definitely ours.

“We are ecstatic about Freddie and can’t believe our luck. It is the best thing in the world when John walks in the room and you see Freddie smiling at him.

“It’s been worth every moment for us as it was about being parents and loving our child. Thanks to our sperm donor and hopefully telling our story will help others experience the joy we have.”

Ref CS063

Mum with multiple sclerosis overcomes obstacles with IVF

“Being a mum is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it is absolutely worthwhile.  Sometimes I just sit and stare at my beautiful boy Alexander and think ‘how did this happen?’  It’s amazing!”, says Victoria. The 35-year-old conceived her son after IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.

Victoria can well remember the feelings of frustration that come when trying to conceive: “Every month, if my period was a couple of days late, I would think, ‘is this it?’. Then I’d experience the rumbling pain in my stomach when meant my period was on the way and would know another month had passed without success.”

Multiple Sclerosis

Victoria suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition which affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision. While the condition does not cause fertility problems, Victoria had to stop taking some of her medication and wait a year before she and husband Neal could start trying for a baby.

After a further two years with no success, the couple went to see their GP who referred them for tests at their local hospital.  While the tests were ongoing, Victoria was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night with suspected appendicitis.  It was discovered that she actually had a 6cm cyst on her ovary which needed emergency surgery to be removed.

endometriosis

Endometriosis

Victoria picks up the story: “Along with the cyst, the doctors discovered I had serious endometriosis which also had to be removed.  I always had painful, heavy periods and just thought it was normal, until I discovered it was due to this condition where bits of my womb lining grow outside by womb.

“At this point, we thought the odds were stacked against us ever having a child.  Our consultant told us we could try IVF on the NHS and we chose to be treated at Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester”

IVF with ICSI at the Colchester Clinic

Victoria had to wait for her body to recover before starting IVF treatment.  While the treatment was going on, Victoria remained stoical about their chances of having a child.

She explains: “My MS is made worse by stress, so trying to keep calm was vital, and I didn’t want people asking about it all the time.  We didn’t tell anyone we were having IVF other than our parents and one person at each of our places of work.

“I tried to stay as emotionally detached from the treatment as possible so I viewed each trip to the clinic as just another appointment and took everything a step at a time.”

The couple had IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), a procedure where a single sperm is injected into the egg to fertilise it. Two weeks later, Victoria snuck off to the bathroom to take the pregnancy test that was to signal a change to their lives.

The couple welcomes Alexander

endometriosis

Baby Alexander was born on 4 August 2013 at Colchester General Hospital weighing 7lb 11.5oz after a quick hour and a half labour.  Victoria and Neal are delighted with their little boy and say everything they have been through is worthwhile.

Victoria adds: “The staff at Bourn Hall were so helpful and reassuring that it made everything easier to cope with.  Nothing was too much trouble from them… I just can’t thank them enough!”

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IVF success on the fifth and last attempt

After getting married at the age of 21, Emma thought she had her whole future mapped out. Enjoy life as a couple with husband Russell for a few years and then start a family when she was in her late twenties. In fact, Emma had to wait until she was 36 to become a mother.

Emma, from Norfolk, says: “As newlyweds we were in no hurry to have a baby.  I just assumed, like most people do, that we’d leave it a while and then I would come off the pill and get pregnant. It would be as simple as that.”

Unexplained infertility

The couple started trying in 2003 when Emma was 26. She recalls: “My sister-in-law got pregnant really easily and that was difficult for us. You feel like you are the only ones having problems but actually there are loads of people out there in the same boat.”

“We went to our doctor after trying for a couple of years, but tests revealed that nothing appeared to be wrong with either of us. We were perplexed.”

A visit to Bourn Hall 

In 2009, new NHS funding rules were put in place, meaning the couple were given the opportunity for three fresh cycles of funded IVF treatment. They jumped at the chance and went to visit Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge on one of its open days.

“We wanted to go to Bourn Hall as that is where IVF all began,” says Emma.

The couple were told that IVF with ICSI, when a sperm is injected directly into the egg, would give them the best chance of having a baby.  As no reason had been found for their infertility, Emma was very optimistic about her first cycle of treatment.

Five attempts at IVF

On the first round she thought she might be pregnant but the test was negative. The worst thing about it was that all their family knew they had had the treatment and she felt bad telling everyone it hadn’t worked. They decided they would keep any future treatment dates just between themselves and their parents.

Over the next two years the couple had five attempts at IVF. “We had always been prepared to give it as many goes as we were allowed,” says Emma. “We had been given such a fantastic opportunity by the NHS.”

unexplained infertility
© Si Barber

Keeping busy with hobbies

The couple remained stoical throughout their treatment, which spanned a couple of years, throwing themselves in to their hobbies; Emma has horses and Russell enjoys motorcycling.

Emma says: “We got ourselves out and about at weekends and kept ourselves busy and that helped to take our minds of it.

“The staff at Bourn Hall were brilliant we felt as though we could ask them anything, they were really helpful and talked everything through with us.”

The NHS funding allows three cycles of egg stimulation.  The eggs are fertilised and any embryos not needed for that cycle are frozen for future treatment.  If these first three cycles of IVF are not successful, couples can have up to three further attempts using the previously frozen embryos.  In Emma’s case, her third cycle of stimulation had produced relatively few eggs and so the couple had only been able to freeze embryos for two additional attempts. Emma therefore knew that her fifth treatment was their last opportunity.

The last opportunity

“After treatment I just stopped. I took three days off work and put my feet-up. I don’t know if this made the difference but I wanted to give it every chance I could.

“When I took the pregnancy test and it was positive I just couldn’t stop smiling. I rang my husband and then I went to the pharmacy and bought loads more pregnancy tests. I kept testing myself again just to double-check it was true!”

Pregnant with twins

At Emma’s first scan at Bourn Hall they confirmed what she had secretly suspected; she was expecting twins.

“We were just so happy”, says Emma. “I had a great pregnancy and at the 18-week scan we found out that the twins were a boy and a girl. I just let nature take its course after that and really enjoyed my pregnancy.”

In July 2012, Edward and Evie arrived in the world to the absolute delight of their parents.  “We were over the moon,” says Emma. “We felt so lucky.”

As the twins grow up they are becoming little companions for each other.

“Motherhood is hard work but it is what I have wanted for so long. We waited such a long time to become parents and the twins are definitely worth it.”

Ref CS031

Baby joy after 12 years trying to conceive

“It’s true what they say, IVF is one huge emotional rollercoaster” says Anastasia, who spent 12 years trying to conceive.

For Anastasia (41) and her husband Thomas (45), from Peterborough, that rollercoaster was a long and complex journey which spans over 12 years.

Anastasia begins: “We started trying to have a baby as soon as we got married in 2002. After a year with no success we went to our GP and were referred to our local hospital for some tests.”

“I really struggled with it being unexplained”

The tests revealed that Thomas’ sperm had slow motility (movement) but that it shouldn’t affect the couple’s chances of conceiving. The hospital concluded it was unexplained fertility and they were referred for one cycle of NHS funded IVF treatment in 2007, which they chose to have at Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge.

“I really struggled with it being unexplained infertility” recalls Anastasia. “I think it was harder not knowing what the problem was. It would have been easier knowing and having something to focus on and a hurdle to overcome. I found it really difficult and frustrating.

“Being referred for IVF treatment it felt like we were actually doing something and we were full of optimism. Looking back on it now we were quite naïve.”

IVF with ICSI 

The couple had their first appointment at Bourn Hall and after some more tests and another semen analysis the consultant decided Thomas’ sperm motility could be the cause of their infertility and that IVF with ICSI would be the best treatment for them.

ICSI stands for Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection and is when a single sperm is injected into the centre of a mature egg, to help fertilisation occur.

Anastasia had her egg collection in 2007 and produced six eggs, which resulted in several good quality embryos, one was frozen and two were transferred to her womb after the second day of incubation.

“Then it was the horrible two week wait before you can take the pregnancy test” recalls Anastasia. “You want to do it early! My heart was saying do it and my head was saying don’t because the result might be false. It was so difficult to control my emotions.

“When we finally took the test it was negative. We were devastated. At the time there was only NHS funding for one cycle of treatment and we couldn’t afford to self-fund so the decision was made for us. We had to save up and wait till we could afford further treatment.”

A glimmer of hope

However, in 2009 the funding criteria for IVF in the East of England changed and the couple were entitled to a further two fresh and a further three frozen cycles of treatment.

“We were absolutely delighted when we heard the news. We thought this was our chance. This time I produced more eggs at the collection and they were left to develop until blastocyst stage. One embryo was transferred and another four were frozen.

“The two week wait was no easier this time but I took reassurance from a forum called Fertility Friends where I could see that other women were going through the same thing and feeling the same way.”

Unfortunately when Anastasia took the test it was negative again. The couple were disappointed but decided to keep on going and booked in for their next treatment which was a frozen cycle, using their five frozen embryos. Two were transferred to Anastasia’s womb but when she took a pregnancy test after two weeks it was negative.

Considering alternative methods

At this point the couple had been trying to conceive for over eight years and so Anastasia started to look into alternative ways to boost their chances of conceiving.

“I’d done some research on immunology and thought that prednisolone, a steroid that reduces the immune response, would help us, but at the time the drug hadn’t been researched enough for Bourn Hall to prescribe it. Our consultant recommended clexane instead which is a blood-thinning drug that helps implantation and increases blood flow.

“I produced quite a few eggs this cycle and the embryos were top grade. Two embryos were transferred to my womb and at this stage we were quite hopeful because we had two transferred and they had both been such good quality.”

The couple were right to be optimistic. Two weeks later Anastasia took a pregnancy test which showed she was pregnant.

“We were ecstatic!” exclaimed Anastasia. “I was so happy that it worked. It was the first time I’d be pregnant since we started trying nine years ago.”

“We were devastated”

Thrilled that things finally seemed to be going their way the couple booked in for a seven week scan, but a couple of days before the appointment Anastasia started to bleed. After a visit to A&E she was told to continue taking the medication, but that it might be a miscarriage.

Looking back, Anastasia says “I think we were holding on to a thread of hope and when we had the scan a few days later there was no heartbeat. We’d had our hopes built up so much, only for them to be ripped apart. We were devastated. I shut myself off from the world and just wanted it to all go away.”

This cycle marked the final NHS funded IVF treatment the couple could have so Anastasia and Thomas took some time to grieve and think about their future. It was during this time the couple renewed their wedding vows and had their wedding blessed in a church.

Support from mum and dad

Anastasia’s mum and dad offered to pay for one more cycle of IVF treatment, but Anastasia had mixed emotions about having more fertility treatment.

“I was so grateful to mum and dad for giving us another chance, but it took about three years before I thought I was ready. I think I was scared, I kept on making excuses to not go through it again.

“One day I saw on Fertility Friends that someone had been prescribed prednisolone at Bourn Hall. I was convinced that the prednisolone would help and when I rang the clinic and they said it was something they offered now I was thrilled. We were so happy we could go back to Bourn Hall for our final chance at having a baby.”

Anastasia and Thomas started treatment in 2013, knowing this was their last chance.

“I’d let my mum and dad know how much it might cost but they said that this was the final shot and to do anything that would give us a better chance of success.”

Prednisolone and Clexane

Anastasia was prescribed prednisolone and clexane during her treatment and was also given a course of intralipids. Intralipids are known as an adjuvant treatment, something that seems to work in practice but doesn’t yet have a scientific evidence-base. Bourn Hall has achieved good pregnancy results using intralipids before conception and during pregnancy. It is thought the treatment stops the immune system attacking the embryo.

“I’d convinced myself that our problem was to do with my immune system so having the intralipids and prednisolone made me feel much more confident.”

Opting for IMSI and EEVA

The couple decided to have IMSI (Intracytoplasmic Morphologically Selected Sperm Injection) which has been known to boost success rates for cases where implantation hasn’t worked on several occasions following ICSI treatment.

IMSI involves the assessment of sperm at a very high magnification, allowing embryologists to identify any defects or abnormalities. Once a sperm is selected it is injected into a mature egg in the same way as standard ICSI.

The couple also opted to use EEVA (Early Embryo Viability Assessment) which takes pictures of the developing embryos inside the incubator every five minutes. This information together with a software analysis helps the embryologist to select the best embryo.

Anastasia continues: “We thought we’d use EEVA because it was something new and it made sense. The consultant explained to us that every time an embryo is assessed traditionally, it is disturbed when it is removed from the incubator. Using EEVA the embryos could develop in the incubator without any disruption.

“I only produced five eggs, but all of them went to the day five blastocyst stage. Because of my age I was able to choose two embryos to be transferred. We didn’t have any frozen so this was it, our final chance.

A nervous wait after 12 years trying to conceive

“After 10 days we came back to Bourn Hall for a blood test to see if I was pregnant. Afterwards we had to sit in the café and wait for the results. I remember I had three cups of tea and sat pretending to read a magazine. I think Thomas was doing the same thing too – it was a horrible wait!

“The nurse called us over and I burst into tears, I was overcome with fear. I tried to compose myself but the nurse smiled and said she couldn’t have me crying any longer. She told me I was pregnant and I burst into tears of absolute joy and relief.”

trying to conceive

Understandably the couple were delighted, but once they calmed down the nerves set in.

“I had another three intralipid infusions once every four weeks and each time I felt like I’d achieved another milestone and we were that bit closer to success.

But it wasn’t over yet for the couple.

“At about nine weeks I started to bleed and my heart sunk. I thought here we go again. I went for a scan the following day but everything was ok! We could see him there and it was so reassuring. Throughout the rest of my pregnancy I had quite a few scans which helped comfort my nerves.”

Proud parents to Hugo

Thankfully this time Anastasia and Thomas had no need to be nervous. On the 28th May 2014 baby Hugo was born.

Anastasia says “It took 12 years to have him but he is so worth the wait. He is lovely. Dark hair and dark eyes just like his parents. I love being a mum. I’ve worked with children my whole life, but this is completely different and everything I’ve always wanted.”

“Be there for your partner, to support every aspect”

Thomas adds “No one really thinks the men go through anything, but every setback and every emotion is felt as hard and as much as the women. We are always on the side lines as we only have ‘one job’ to perform but my advice to every other man about to embark on such an important journey, is to just be there for your partner to support every aspect. Try and attend all appointments and scans and above all, don’t take things personally and just believe that your life will be enriched when you succeed.

“I adore being a Dad to our beautiful baby boy Hugo. He was definitely worth the wait. I can’t wait to get home from work to spend time with him and I enjoy giving him his bath which we call ‘Barry Bathtime’ as we listen to Barry Manilow! Hugo makes us feel complete.”

Ref CS059

Baby Jack arrives after years of unexplained infertility

“Chaotic” laughs Lisa as she reflects on how it feels to be a mum. But Lisa and her husband Miles’ journey to become parents took longer than either of them expected.

Unexplained infertility provides no answer 

“After trying for a year to get pregnant we decided to go to our GP to see what we could do. They referred both of us for tests at our local hospital, but they came back and everything seemed fine,” recalls Lisa.

Lisa was prescribed Clomid, a fertility drug used to stimulate ovulation, but unfortunately this wasn’t successful.

“It was heart breaking every month, soul destroying even, when another period came. You see people everywhere pregnant or with babies and it becomes overwhelming.

“Our GP said we had unexplained fertility and referred us for NHS funded IVF, which we chose to have at Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge.”

Unexplained infertility is the reason given for around one third of couples seeking IVF treatment in the UK. It simply means that, following investigative tests, no direct cause can be identified.

Through the IVF journey 

“As soon as we were referred things started to happen really quickly! We went for our first consultation before Christmas and started treatment in February 2013.

“It was really lovely at Bourn Hall. The clinic is in a beautiful setting and feels really tranquil. When you arrive you are usually worried and stressed, but because the building is so beautiful it just relaxes you a little bit and that helps with the whole process.

“I’d done a little bit of research about IVF and what was involved. As far as I could see IVF was our only option. We were just pleased and relieved that we had the opportunity to have NHS funding for our treatment.

“I remember being apprehensive about the treatment because I don’t like needles. I just had to keep telling myself that it would all be worth it and hopefully we’d have a baby at the end.”

During their treatment eggs were collected from Lisa and fertilised using Miles’ sperm through a process called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) where a single sperm is injected into a mature egg to help fertilisation occur.

The embryos were then left to develop for five days until they reached the blastocyst stage. Two embryos survived, one of which was frozen and the other was transferred to Lisa’s womb.

Unexplained infertility

“Being a mum is incredible”

Two weeks later Lisa discovered she was pregnant and on the 30th November 2013 baby Jack was born.

“We felt so lucky to have been successful on our first cycle of IVF. Being a mum is incredible. It is totally different and has completely changed my life. It is stressful in a way I have never experienced before but when little Jack looks into my eyes and smiles at me…it’s just such a wonderful thing to be a mum.

“It meant everything to us to be able to have IVF funding on the NHS. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise and would probably still be trying to conceive naturally now. We were desperate to become parents and the funding was a god send.”

Unexplained infertility

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Toni has two children after PCOS diagnosis

After meeting Michael at the age of 20 and getting engaged just six months later, Toni from Norfolk assumed it would only be a matter of time before a baby came along – but she soon found out that being relatively young was not a passport to motherhood.

Toni had to wait more than ten years before her first child arrived, following successful fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic, and is now finally, at the age of 32, a proud mum to son Thomas, aged two, and baby William.

“When we first started trying for a baby we were young and felt as though there was no pressure,” says Toni. “At the back of my mind I was a bit concerned that nothing was happening but we just carried on trying and got on with our lives. After a couple of years friends started making jokes, asking us if we were ‘doing it properly’ and whilst laughing it off we did start to question privately whether something was wrong.”

Their GP referred them to their local hospital for tests but shortly before they were due to go Toni cancelled the appointment. “I chickened out,” she said. “All I had ever wanted was children and I was absolutely terrified that someone was going to tell me that it would never happen. So we said that we would try for a bit longer and see if we could do it on our own.”

The couple tried for another year but still nothing happened. “In the August of 2008 I finally gave in and said to Michael that if we needed help then we should find out what was wrong,” she says.

PCOS diagnosis

The hospital tests revealed that Toni had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition which is a common cause of infertility.

“I had been on the pill for a number of years and so hadn’t previously displayed any of the typical symptoms of PCOS,” says Toni. “But when I came off the pill after we married my weight had ballooned and I had gone from a size 10 to a size 18 in less than a year. My weight had become uncontrollable so I had to do something.”

After a concerted effort to lose weight Toni was put on a number of medications by the hospital to try and boost her fertility and also had laparoscopic ovarian drilling to regulate her cycles. She still didn’t fall pregnant and so was referred for IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.

Determination despite the setbacks

In 2011 the couple had their first round of NHS-funded IVF treatment. “Our first treatment was traditional IVF,” says Toni. “After seven days I started to bleed and so it was over before it had begun.”

The second time around Bourn Hall decided to treat Toni using a process called ICSI, which involved injecting Michael’s sperm directly in to Toni’s eggs. The couple were absolutely delighted when Toni found out she was pregnant but their joy was short-lived when she miscarried at seven weeks.

“I was absolutely devastated,” says Toni. “It was a real shock as up until that point we had been trying for seven years to get pregnant and we had finally done that but it was not good enough – it had been such a massive hurdle actually getting pregnant that I hadn’t thought about getting through the actual pregnancy. Now I was going to worry that I might miscarry again and that was a whole new emotion”.

Despite the latest setback Toni says that she and Michael did not consider for one moment giving up.

“As horrible as it had been having the miscarriage I had actually managed to get pregnant which proved to us that the IVF had worked,” she says. ‘It showed us that it was possible and we had just been unlucky.”

In the meantime Toni had turned 30 and says: “I had put so much pressure on myself to have children by the time I was 30, I decided to take back control and wait until after my birthday so that the pressure had gone. In that time I lost more weight than I had ever lost and reduced my BMI right down. I did loads of exercise and both of us really watched what we ate and took loads of vitamins.”

A happy ending


PCOS diagnosis

Third time around Toni’s chances of success looked good. Eight eggs fertilised and four developed into blastocysts, with the Bourn Hall embryologist telling her that one of them looked ‘exceptional’. The “exceptional” one was transferred to Toni whilst the other three were frozen.

Toni fell pregnant and whilst the couple were delighted Toni didn’t allow herself to get too carried away. “I was terrified during the pregnancy,” she admits, “it felt like a dream. When Thomas finally arrived I didn’t believe it and it took a little while to sink in that we had actually done it. It had taken me so long to become a mum but after all of those years Thomas made it worth it.  He was a bit of a miracle really!”

Having waited so long to be parents Toni and Michael wasted no time in getting the ball rolling to try for a brother or sister for Thomas. “He was just three months old when we signed the paperwork for me to have treatment using the frozen embryos,” she reveals.

In June 2015 Bourn Hall went ahead with treatment using the remaining frozen embryos and one was transferred to her womb.

“When I got pregnant again we couldn’t believe we had been so lucky twice with the same cycle,” she recalls. William was born in March 2016.

Gazing adoringly at her two sons Toni says:

“I feel very lucky to have had this experience, which sounds odd, but 40 years ago this kind of treatment wasn’t available and if you couldn’t have children you just had to accept it. Bourn Hall is the most wonderful place in the world, it doesn’t feel like a hospital, there is such a relaxed atmosphere and everyone is so wonderful, I feel sad that I won’t be going  there again.”

To find out more about PCOS and improving your fertility do come to one of our Fertility Awareness Events.

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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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Couple achieve dream family after successful ICSI

Callum grew up in a large family and had always wanted to have lots of children of his own – but faced the prospect of not having any at all.

He married wife Suzannah in 2008 and was delighted that she shared his dreams. “We both wanted a big family,” he says. “But there was a real worry about how we were going to make it happen.”

Male infertility issues are commonmale infertility

It was after several years without success that the couple went to their GP for fertility advice. They were referred for tests, which revealed that although Callum’s sperm count was perfectly normal there was an issue with his sperm motility, which was affecting the rate and ability of the sperm to move forward. The couple were advised that their only chance of conception was by IVF with a process called ICSI (intracyto-plasmic sperm injection), which involves injecting a sperm directly into an egg.

Around 3.5 million people in the UK have some difficulty conceiving and half of these will involve a male factor issue. Dr Babbur Vijayalakshmi, Consultant at Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, says: “The majority of healthy couples having regular intercourse will conceive within two years. There are many causes for infertility and often these are treatable by the GP or local hospital; IVF is only required for a very small minority of people.”

Being a dad

The couple now have three boys following IVF treatment, with Boyd arriving in August last year.

“I am so proud to have my three boys,” Callum smiles. “I just love the time I spend with them and doing all the weekend stuff, football, golf, swimming. Before we realised about the fertility problem we had thought long and hard about how many children we wanted. We are so lucky that we ended up with the size of family that we dreamt of.”

Men encouraged to talk fertility concerns

Dr Babbur encourages people (especially men) to talk more about infertility. She says: “For me the saddest situation is when someone has put off talking to a health professional about their fertility concerns only to find out when they do that they have left it too late.”

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Proud mum lost 4 stone after being told to lose weight for fertility treatment

Jakub is a typical three year old – “a little terror” his mum Sabrina laughs. He was conceived after she was told to lose weight for fertility treatment.

As he plays happily at their home in Bedfordshire, Sabrina explains what it feels like to be a mum after years of waiting and hospital tests to establish why she couldn’t get pregnant.

“I married my husband Carl nearly ten years ago,” she says. “I had always known that I wanted children so for me, once we got married, because you try for all of those years not to get pregnant, it was time to start trying.

“We tried for a good three years and nothing happened, so I went to my GP and had some initial tests and everything seemed okay. My best friend had had a baby and there were babies being born all around me and I wondered when it would be my turn. People had always said to me that I would be a fab mum and at that stage I didn’t say what we were going through; it is only after the event that I started telling people.

“Carl had his sperm tested at the hospital and there was an issue with their movement, they were going round in circles, the doctors said they would never be able to make the journey needed for conception.

“I was absolutely relieved when we were given a possible cause. All along you are in an unknown, wondering why. Is it me? Is it him? What is it?”

Lose weight for fertility treatment

Sabrina admits that she was overweight and was told by the hospital consultant that they couldn’t be referred for fertility treatment until she had drastically reduced her Body Mass Index (BMI) which is used to indicate that someone is a healthy weight.

“We were told that I needed to lose weight for fertility treatment,” says Sabrina, aged 38, “so then it was me needing to go out and work at it, and I did. I signed up for Weightwatchers online and started going to the gym at work. And because I knew that I wanted a child more than I wanted a slice of cake or some chocolate; that was my motivation. I knew that if someone offered me something I shouldn’t be eating I would say ‘No’ because I knew what my goal was at the end of the day. Over the next nine months I lost four stone.”

Fitness regime successful 

Following Sabrina’s impressive weight loss and new fitness regime the couple was rewarded by being referred to Bourn Hall Clinic for fertility treatment. Bourn Hall used a procedure called ICSI which involved removing some of Sabrina’s eggs and directly injecting one of Carl’s sperm in to each egg to help fertilisation occur. The best quality embryo was then transferred to Sabrina’s womb. Most typically ICSI is appropriate when there is a male factor to a couple’s infertility and can be used in instances including poor sperm motility (movement).

“At that stage we didn’t know how my body would accept it,” says Sabrina. “I guess until they put the embryo in they just didn’t know.

My work were really sympathetic, giving me time off after treatment, I had really good support. I didn’t find the experience stressful at all, for me it was a really lovely time because I knew what I was aiming for.” The couple were delighted when the pregnancy test a fortnight after treatment confirmed that Sabrina was pregnant. “We were over the moon,” she recalls, “but it wasn’t until we went for our first six week scan at Bourn Hall on New Year’s Eve in 2012 that we both thought ‘oh my goodness, this is happening.'”

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“I wanted a child more than I wanted a slice of cake or some chocolate; that was my motivation”

Maintaining her weight loss

After an uneventful pregnancy son Jakub was born in August 2013 and Sabrina hasn’t looked back. She has managed to keep her weight down and has taken time off work to look after Jakub: “I love being a mum, I embraced it from the start,” she says. “Because we don’t know where our future will be with regards to having any more children I have really enjoyed the last three years off with Jakub. I took maternity leave, had a career break and then unfortunately I got made redundant and I am now getting myself back to work as Jakub is going to nursery”.

NHS-funded IVF

Sabrina and Carl were entitled to three cycles of NHS-funded treatment and their treatment worked first-time round but Sabrina is acutely aware of the stress on people in Bedfordshire who are now only entitled to one cycle of treatment – and face the possibility that the funding might be cut altogether.

“I remember that when I went for my embryo transfer I met a woman at Bourn Hall and we kept in touch, and she wasn’t successful in her first treatment. If that had been today that might have been her only chance to go there. If ours hadn’t worked that would have been our only chance. I know that fertility treatment is expensive to fund and that funding is a big issue across everything but if people prove that they are going to give it their best shot, like I did by losing weight, surely they deserve a chance?”

Get checked early

Sabrina is full of praise for Bourn Hall. “I had a lovely experience at Bourn Hall,” she says. “Everyone is so friendly. We did go back with Jakub to see everyone afterwards and took them chocolates and a thank you card. Chocolates and a card seem nothing compared to what they gave us, but it was just a little bit of appreciation of what we’d got, this little boy, this amazing little thing. ”

Sabrina’s advice to anyone worried about their fertility is to go and get themselves checked out.

“I would definitely say to people that they should seek advice if they have been trying for a baby for a while,” she says. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing to be ashamed about, there is such a stigma attached to infertility. I have had nothing but praise from friends for what we’ve been through and how we’ve dealt with it.

“I would encourage people to get themselves checked and not be embarrassed about it, and be quite open about it. It is not until you start talking about it that you realise how many people go through the same issue. Don’t put it off.”

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Rare genetic disease overcome through donation

When Charlotte fell in love with bus driver Ian nearly ten years ago, he explained that as he had already had a vasectomy she might have to choose between him and having children.

“Ian carries a rare gene and had the vasectomy for medical reasons,” explains Charlotte, from Ipswich. “He already had three children and two have severe special needs. “I was 26 when I met him and I had always wanted to have children. When he explained the situation I just thought he was so wonderful that I would accept that by being with him I may never have a child of my own.”

The couple met when Charlotte got on Ian’s bus every day to go to work. “We had a mutual friend who gave me his phone number,” she laughs. “I invited him out for a drink and the rest is history!”

They got married, but as Charlotte reached her thirties she began to think again about starting a family.

“I asked Ian what he thought about the idea of fertility treatment using a sperm donor and he was completely behind the idea,” says Charlotte.

“We were not entitled to treatment on the NHS but my parents offered to pay for it so we got things moving very quickly. Bourn Hall had been recommended to us by a colleague of my mum’s so we went along for an appointment.”

Fertility Check gives reassurance

First Charlotte had a Fertility Check which included a HyCoSy (a tubal patency test using an ultrasound dye). Her tests came back clear, so initially Bourn Hall treated Charlotte using donor sperm with a procedure called IUI (intra-uterine insemination). This is a less invasive treatment for patients than IVF.

Unfortunately Charlotte did not fall pregnant after the IUI so the second attempt was by IVF. This requires medication to control the cycle and stimulate the ovaries. Disappointingly, she ovulated too early and there were no eggs available for treatment.

The third time, Charlotte and Ian went to Skegness for a holiday while she was going through treatment, and travelled to Bourn Hall’s Cambridge Clinic every other day for check-ups. She thinks this helped her to relax as this time she produced four eggs. These were fertilised using ICSI, where a single sperm is injected into the egg, resulting in two embryos that were transferred to her womb.

Stunned by result 

“The day before I took the 14-day pregnancy test my breasts started to feel swollen but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. On test day I did the Bourn Hall pregnancy test and also one I had bought from the chemist and then handed one of them to Ian so we could watch them at the same time. When they both showed up positive we were absolutely stunned!”

The couple had another pleasant surprise when they went to Bourn Hall for a seven-week scan and were told that they were expecting twins.

“We had been hoping for twins,” reveals Charlotte, “so we were really pleased. Ian started crying when the nurse broke the news to us; it was lovely.”

After a smooth pregnancy Charlotte gave birth to Hattie and Anthony in January 2016 and has found looking after two babies much easier than she thought it would be. “They are such relaxed babies,” she says. “We have got into a really good routine with them – they are just a joy.”

Rare genetic disease risk overcome by sperm donation

Charlotte, now aged 35, and Ian, aged 50, cannot thank their anonymous sperm donor enough: “We are both huge advocates of sperm donation,” she says, “and really want to promote it.

“I would like to reassure anyone thinking of using a donor that they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about it or worry that they might feel differently towards their children. “My husband is 100 per cent the twins’ dad and it is wonderful. He is not remotely bothered that we used a sperm donor. People even comment on how much Hattie looks like Ian!”

The couple have nothing but praise for Bourn Hall Clinic and even gave their children middle names after two specialists who treated them.

Named after consultants that brought hope

“One of Hattie’s middle names is Valentina after consultant gynaecologist Dr Valentina Mauro and one of Anthony’s middle names is Gideon after consultant gynaecologist Dr Gideon Verwoerd,” Charlotte laughs.

Rare genetic disease risk overcome by sperm donation

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Need to speak more openly about miscarriage

Over a five-year period Abi had eight miscarriages – her longest pregnancy lasting just ten weeks – before eventually being referred to the world-famous Bourn Hall Clinic.

Abi and husband Scott, who live in Bedfordshire, first started trying for a baby in 2009 when Abi was 29 and they were ecstatic when she fell pregnant.

“When I found out I was pregnant it felt as though everything had fallen in to place,” recalls Abi. “We both really wanted children and as far as we were concerned that was that. We would be having a baby in a few months time.”

Sadly just a few weeks later Abi miscarried and it was a real shock for the couple. “Most people around us were either pregnant or having children so we hadn’t really expected something to go wrong. We were devastated,” she says.

Reasons for recurrent miscarriage 

It is estimated that one in six pregnancies where the woman knows she is pregnant will end in miscarriage. Many more occurring amongst women who have not realised they are pregnant. It is thought that most miscarriages are caused by abnormal chromosomes in the baby.

The majority of miscarriages cannot be prevented. However, the NHS Choices website lists a number of steps which women can take to try and reduce the risk: avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs whilst pregnant. Maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy and eating healthily.

Abi has always been very careful to look after her health and body, having suffered a bout of ME when she was in her twenties after contracting glandular fever. She is a healthy weight and is a keen follower of alternative health therapies. It is very rare for a woman to experience more than three miscarriages – only 1 in 100 women do – but Abi went on to lose seven more pregnancies.

Always a fear

“Every time I got pregnant we got excited, but there was always this fear at the back of our minds,” says Abi.

“And because everyone else we knew had started their families it was quite hard to sometimes mix with them. They would make veiled comments about why we weren’t having children. Even when we did start to tell people about what was going on, a few asked why we didn’t look in to fostering and adopting. When you have been in a situation where you have actually lost a pregnancy that is quite a hard thing to hear someone say to you.”

Recurrent miscarriage is not something which should be swept under the carpet, believes Abi, and she strongly believes it should be talked about more openly.

More difficult to cope with 

“It was only when we started to talk about what we were going through, that other people would tell us they had suffered miscarriages in the past,” she says. “Unfortunately it is one of those things which doesn’t get talked about but it really does need to get talked about more. As with anything else if you are going through something which is different to other people you can feel isolated.”

Abi admits that she and Scott delayed going to see their GP. “I wouldn’t say exactly that we didn’t know how to deal with the situation but we just found it extremely hard. Everyone else had their children around them and each year went by and we weren’t getting any closer to having a family,” she says. “It took us a long time to get our heads round what was happening. We had to accept to ourselves that something was wrong, rather than keep trying on our own and hoping it would all work out.”

“Everyone else we knew had started their families – it was quite hard to sometimes mix with them.”

IVF not an easy choice

The couple were referred to Addenbrookes Hospital who advised them that they had two options. Either Abi could go on a course of drugs to increase her egg production or they could be referred for IVF treatment.

Abi and Scott opted for IVF treatment but Abi wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea.

“I wasn’t 100 per cent okay with going down the IVF route,” she says, “as I knew that I would have to let go of being in control of things, but that was a lesson I needed to learn.”

The couple chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire for their treatment and were NHS-funded. The clinic treated Abi using a procedure called ICSI.  This involved removing some of Abi’s eggs and directly injecting one of Scott’s sperm in to each egg to help fertilisation occur. The best quality embryo was then transferred to Abi’s womb.

Help on the IVF journey

Abi employed the services of two alternative health therapists to help her on her IVF journey, complementing the medical intervention with reiki reflexology and visualisation, energy balancing and healing techniques.

When the couple found out Abi was pregnant after the ICSI treatment. Abi stayed off work for a few weeks to rest and then went back to work on reduced hours to ensure her body and mind were not overstressed.

Getting past being ten weeks pregnant was a big hurdle. Abi had a number of scans throughout her pregnancy. Happily she went to full-term and son Elliott was born in March 2015.

“Being a mum is a total learning curve and he keeps me on my toes!” she laughs.

Natural conception 

When Elliott was 11 months old Abi fell pregnant again naturally but because of her history of miscarriage welcomed the news with ‘cautious optimism’. Happily her pregnancy has gone very well and in just a few weeks she is due to give birth to a little girl.

“She was a complete surprise but throughout all the years of anguish I always knew that I was going to have a little girl so it felt like the right thing,” she says.

Abi firmly believes that alternative health therapy played an integral role in her personal fertility journey:

“Susie and Beth, my alternative health therapists helped me to remove my fears, They gave me confidence and trust in my body’s ability to maintain a healthy and successful pregnancy, despite our history,” she says. “It enabled me to maintain a positive mindset. And was totally invaluable before, during and after my IVF as well as during my current natural pregnancy.”

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Get fit for fertility couple advised

As Chelmsford mum Jo proudly wraps her arms around her one-year-old son Alfie, she says with utter conviction: “he is the most amazing thing in the world.”

Alfie’s arrival last year marked the end of a long wait for Jo and husband Ben, who had been trying unsuccessfully for a baby for six years before deciding to seek help. “We just assumed, perhaps rather naively, that one day I would fall pregnant,” says Jo, now aged 40,”but we got to the point when we realised that we needed to talk to someone.”

Low sperm count

On average 80% of couples will get pregnant within a year if they have sexual intercourse every two to three days and do not use contraception, so couples that are unsuccessful after two years should seek help.

The couple went to see their GP, who referred them for tests. Jo says: “Ben was told that he had a low sperm count and slow sperm motility which was quite hard for him to accept at the time, but at least we had a reason.

“I wasn’t getting any younger and most of my friends had already had children and that was really difficult.”

Lifestyle changes to get fit for fertility

The couple were referred for fertility treatment and were also advised to make a few lifestyle changes. Ben took up mountain biking and lost an impressive four stone leading up to their treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic whilst Jo took up running and lost a stone.

“I wasn’t classed as overweight but everything I had read about increasing our chances of having a baby pointed to having a healthier lifestyle,” says Jo. “When Ben was told about his low sperm count he thought ‘what I can do to improve that?’ He wasn’t obese but he was carrying a bit of extra weight. We had been given a real wake-up call that we needed to help our situation. We were just so desperate to have a family we wanted to do everything we possibly could.”

Ben’s weight loss produced tangible results, reveals Jo. “Every time Ben went back for tests while he was losing weight the volume and quality of his sperm increased, so it definitely made a difference.”

The couple were treated at Bourn Hall Clinic using a process called ICSI which involved removing some of Jo’s eggs and directly injecting each of them with one of Ben’s sperm to help fertilisation occur. One embryo was then transferred to Jo’s womb.

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Treatment at risk

Her first two cycles of treatment did not work and the third cycle of treatment was nearly put in jeopardy when Ben had a mountain bike accident and ended up in hospital. Luckily he was let out in time for treatment to go ahead as planned.

“We knew that the third cycle was our last attempt,” says Jo, who works as a hairdresser, “but I was so worried about Ben having fallen off his bike I think it helped to take my mind off worrying about whether the treatment would work. The whole process had become all-consuming, we were so desperate for a child. Both of us are only children and any baby would the first grandchild in the family.”

Third time lucky

It was definitely third time lucky for the couple because two weeks later they found out that Jo was pregnant. “I kept staring at the blue line on the pregnancy test,” Jo remembers. “I couldn’t believe it!”

After a trouble-free pregnancy (“I loved every minute” says Jo), baby Alfie finally arrived in August 2015 and Jo says that she felt a complete sense of elation – “I have never cried so much in my life!” A year on and Alfie is a happy-go-lucky toddler who is doted on completely by his besotted parents and grandparents.

Ben says: “I can honestly say that this journey was a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish. However with every effort we made and never giving up hope we couldn’t have wished for a more wonderful outcome.

“Alfie is our pride and joy and I am absolutely besotted by him. I still stare at him and cannot believe he is here sometimes.”

Don’t delay like we did 

Jo’s advice to anyone worried about their own fertility is to not delay seeking help.

“Go and see your GP,” she says. “We left it a long time before going to our doctor and we could have been helped earlier if we had sought help sooner.

“Most of my friends’ children are at primary and secondary school; I don’t have any close friends with children Alfie’s age. If you get a fertility test then at least you know if there is an issue.

“Bourn Hall Clinic was absolutely incredible; having Alfie is the most amazing thing I have ever done.”

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Pregnant at 40 after repeated loss

Recurrent miscarriage is one of the most heartbreaking and painful experiences a woman and her partner may endure. For Elsa, it not only meant the loss of three babies, but resulted in the breakdown of her marriage.

First loss 

Elsa, now 41, first fell pregnant 20 years earlier. She recalls: “I was young and I felt I was invincible. I was also naïve; I couldn’t contemplate anything going wrong.”

The pregnancy progressed as normal, until at 36 weeks, Elsa felt some unusual twinges. She went to the hospital for tests and received the devastating news that the baby had died.

“When we got to the hospital, the doctors couldn’t find a heartbeat. The baby had inexplicably died. Looking back, I realised the baby hadn’t moved for a couple of days before the pain started,” she says.

Elsa and her ex-husband called the baby Wilbur. The strain of the still birth led to the failure of the marriage, and Elsa moved back home with her family.  She described the sense of loss as like falling into a black hole.

PCOS diagnosis: the start of the fertility journey

Years later, Elsa met her partner Ashley, now 39. They started trying for a baby, and for three years were unsuccessful.  They were referred by their GP to their local hospital in Ipswich for fertility testing.

Elsa had previously found out she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects about one in every five UK woman,  Tiny, harmless cysts develop in the ovaries meaning the ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulate). Other than the PCOS, the test showed neither of them had any obvious fertility issues.

Elsa was given fertility drugs to stimulate her cycle and given a booster injection to encourage ovulation. Doctors hoped she could get pregnant without the need for IVF treatment.

Elsa says the stimulation treatment put her on an emotional rollercoaster: “I was flitting between despair, hope and back to despair. The treatment takes up a lot of your time and puts a lot of pressure on your relationship.”

After two rounds of drug treatment, Elsa fell pregnant.  She recalls being “deliriously happy – we weren’t supposed to tell family and friends but we were just so excited.”

Repeated grief

However, early in the pregnancy, the couple realised something was wrong. Tests revealed Elsa had miscarried. They were upset but determined to continue.

A further two cycles of stimulation treatment failed to work, and the couple decided to opt for IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge. It was an obvious choice; Elsa had done some design consultancy work at the clinic and knew it was a place she could trust.

The couple first tried IVF, and then IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), in which a single sperm is injected into each egg to fertilise it. After five days growing in the laboratory an embryo is transferred to the womb.

Unfortunately, the first two attempts did not lead to pregnancy. The third cycle did however, bring them the news they had been waiting for; Elsa was pregnant.

She says: “At first, everything was fine. The initial six week and 12 week scans showed the baby was developing normally.

“I noticed a few weeks later that I was losing fluid from my womb. I was so frightened; I thought my cervix had opened. I went to hospital for my 20 week scan and asked the consultant to check. He confirmed our worst fears; my cervix had completely dilated. They immediately put a stitch inside me to try and close it.

“Our baby girl was born prematurely at 24 weeks old. We called her Eloise. She died five days later in intensive care. We were heartbroken; devastated just didn’t begin to cover it.”

The last chance

Still deep in mourning for the loss of baby Eloise, Elsa and Ashley knew they could not delay. Elsa was just over six months away from her 40th birthday, the cut-off point for NHS-funded IVF treatment.

“We went to our GP for help, and he managed to convince the NHS decision-makers to consider us an exceptional case and fund one final cycle.  We were so grateful to all involved. I think they realised we’d already been through so much, that they gave us one last chance,” Elsa explained.

Only a fortnight before Elsa turned 40, the experts at Bourn Hall Clinic transferred another embryo to her womb. The couple had to wait two weeks for the pregnancy test that would keep their dreams of becoming parents alive.

Elsa remembers: “I was under enormous pressure that I’d created for myself.  This was my last chance as I knew we weren’t going to get any more funding. Ash and I had been through a lot already, and now I was entering the last chance saloon.”

The perfect 40th birthday present

On 20 February 2012, Elsa’s 40th birthday, she took the test that was to change her life forever. She was pregnant.

“To say emotions were mixed was an understatement. There was joy and optimism about the future, mixed with guilt, sadness, and a huge sense of loss.

“At no point in my pregnancy did I feel safe. I was trying to balance the fear of losing the baby with staying calm. I knew I had a weak cervix and I had a stitch put it at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge. It helped, but it wasn’t a fait accompli.

“I rested a lot; from about 20 weeks onwards I worked from home and in the end I stopped work early. We knew we really had to fight for this baby.

“It’s really difficult to put into words just how brilliant the staff at Bourn Hall were during this period. The empathy they have for you is amazing, just so gentle and caring. You can tell their entire energy is focussed on helping you. At no point did I feel they’d taken their eye off the ball. The care we received at the Rosie maternity unit in Cambridge was also first class.”

Three weeks prior to her due date, Elsa was admitted to hospital so mother and child could be closely monitored. Regular scans revealed the baby wasn’t moving as much as the specialist doctors would like, and Elsa opted for an elective caesarean.

pregnant at 40

Baby Howie arrives 

Baby Howard was born in Cambridge on the 4 October 2012 weighing 8lb 2oz.  He was taken to the NICU, the intensive care unit for babies, in case he had water on his lungs.  Thankfully, he was fine, and the family was allowed to return home a few days later.

Just over a year on, Howie is doing well and Elsa and Ashley couldn’t be happier. She beams: “He’s massive, absolutely huge, completely cool and developing how he should. Looks wise, I think he got the best bits from both of us.”

“I cannot describe how important it was to me to receive NHS funding for my IVF treatment. Losing three babies broke my heart, but since I’ve had Howie it feels like it’s beginning to mend. Without the funding, Howie wouldn’t be here.”

After everything Elsa and Ashley have been through, Elsa has this message: “ despite all the pain and the heartache, having Howie is absolutely worth it.”

Bourn Hall provides a range of support for patients that have experienced loss.

pregnant at 40

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