“Our love and Bourn Hall’s dedication made us a family” say Katie and Ali

“We both knew that we wanted children but being in a same-sex relationship we just didn’t know how you went about it,” says Katie. “We knew that women used sperm donors but we didn’t realise you could do it ‘officially’ and assumed it was all a bit of a taboo thing and that we would have to go ‘underground’ to find a sperm donor and try and get pregnant.“

Our impression at that stage was that having treatment at a UK clinic, which I assumed was going to be IVF treatment, would be really expensive for us and so we thought we would give the ‘DIY option’ a go,” says Katie.

Self-insemination 

“We didn’t like the idea of asking a male friend or using a random stranger who advertised on the internet because we very much wanted any baby to be ‘ours’ and not end up with a male figure in the background who potentially could make some kind of claim over them as they grew up.”

The couple, who live in Harwich, knew from the beginning that they wanted to use an anonymous donor and had seen a TV documentary which featured women who had self-inseminated at home using sperm bought from a company in Denmark.

“We had decided that it would be me who would carry any resulting pregnancy and we had three tries using the ‘DIY’ kits at home with the donor sperm shipped from Denmark but we had very little knowledge of what we were doing.

“We tried to monitor when I was ovulating but home ovulation tests can be very inaccurate especially for someone like me who we later discovered ovulates much later than when my hormone levels peak. We spent around £3000 trying to get pregnant this way but looking back now I just wish we had gone straight to Bourn Hall.”

Regulated clinic for IUI

Katie played football with a friend who is also in a same-sex relationship who told her about her successful treatment using donor sperm at Bourn Hall Clinic Colchester. Katie and Ali made an appointment at Bourn Hall where they were told about a treatment called IUI – Intrauterine Insemination – which Katie describes as ‘the most natural fertility treatment there is’.

IUI in a fertility clinic involves placing specially prepared sperm high in the uterus at the time of ovulation at exactly the right time, so when the egg is released from the ovary the sperm is as close as possible to where they need to be. The treatment is straightforward, painless and relatively inexpensive.

IUI using donor sperm may be the most appropriate treatment for many same-sex couples and single women with functioning fallopian tubes who are under 35 years old.

IUI is also appropriate for other patients using the male partner’s sperm or donor sperm on medical advice..

“We had tests done at Bourn Hall, including checking that my fallopian tubes were clear, and they all came back fine. However, it did pick up on the issue of my ovulation hormone peaking early which made me realise that there would have been no way that we would have ever got pregnant using the home kits,” says Katie.

Implications counselling to help answer difficult questions 

Before Katie and Ali embarked on treatment they were offered ‘implications counselling’ – which is available, free of charge, to all Bourn Hall patients going through treatment using donor gametes.  Katie says they found it to be incredibly useful. “It was really nice to speak to someone with an external perspective who has spoken to many couples in our position and it forced us to examine possible scenarios and what might happen in the future if any resulting child decided to find out who their sperm donor was when they reached 18.

“It was really good to prepare for all the things which might happen in the future, especially if we had more than one child, and opened our eyes to any questions our children might have. Children are naturally inquisitive and will want to know where they have ‘come from’ and our position was very much that we hoped that any children we might have would get enough love and support from us and our wider family and that they wouldn’t necessarily feel that it was a part of their life which they needed to go and look for. We also felt that if it was something any resulting child wanted to do then it was completely their choice and we would support them in whatever decision they chose to take.”

Finding a sperm donor

Katie says she and Ali really wanted their children to be biologically related if they had more than one child. “It was really important to us that we used the same sperm donor because at that stage we didn’t know if Ali might also carry a child,” says Katie.

To find a sperm donor Bourn Hall facilitated a very straightforward process says Katie. “Before our treatment Bourn Hall put together profiles of each of us, our heights, weights, eye colour, hair colour, likes, dislikes, hobbies etc and then ran it through their database and came back to us with two donors who were a good match for us. From that shortlist of two we were able to pick the one which we felt was the best mix of us.”

Just popped out for treatment 

Patients who undergo IUI at Bourn Hall are usually given fertility drugs to stimulate their egg production and ovulation and to prepare their uterus to receive embryos. They are closely monitored by regular ultrasound scans and blood and urine tests. Sometimes an injection is given to induce ovulation. The donors are rigorously screened and the sperm is carefully washed and prepared before IUI takes place.

“For me IUI was really simple,” says Katie. “It was no more invasive than a smear test really. They inserted a really long ‘straw’ into me and I was literally in and out of the clinic within an hour. In fact the first time I had the treatment I went back to work in the afternoon and all my colleagues just thought that I had been for a routine medical appointment!”

Harry and Oliver
Image credit: VB Photography

Two weeks after their first IUI treatment Katie took a pregnancy test. “The two-week wait seemed to last forever,” laughs Katie. “The little line showed up that I was pregnant and we couldn’t quite believe it. It felt like it had been too easy it can’t have just worked first time! We hadn’t gone through any of the heartache you sometimes associate with fertility treatment. For us nothing had gone wrong, it had all fallen in to place, we had done everything the clinic had asked of us and they had done everything we asked of them – it had all fallen in to place like a big jigsaw puzzle with nothing missing. We still had to go out and buy eight more pregnancy tests to keep checking that we weren’t dreaming though!”

Son Harry was born four years ago and the three of them settled in to a routine before two years later Katie and Ali decided to go back to Bourn Hall for further treatment, again with the intention that Katie would carry any pregnancy.

Now it was Katie’s turn!

“We still had some vials from the sperm donor left and I know this probably sounds really selfish of me but not having experienced any problems with our first treatment I just waltzed in to Bourn Hall rather naïvely assuming that I would have another IUI treatment and two weeks later, wham, I would be pregnant. Because of the way it happened with my pregnancy with Harry I just assumed it would work.”

Sadly for Katie and Ali their second IUI treatment didn’t result in a pregnancy.

“It felt like a complete kick in the teeth and I found it quite hard to take,” admits Katie. “But obviously heterosexual couples can try for years to have a baby and it doesn’t happen so why did I think that even with having ‘the most natural form of fertility treatment’ that it was going to happen straightaway? I felt like I had let Ali and Harry down and that my body had failed.

“We phoned Bourn Hall and explained that I hadn’t become pregnant this time around and they told me that we had been incredibly lucky to have Harry at the first attempt and that it was okay to be disappointed. They told me that we could just try again as soon as I got my next period and so we did that.”

Using the last vial of the donor sperm, the couple were thrilled to achieve a second pregnancy. “I had tried to take the pressure off myself and went into it trying to feel as relaxed as I could,” says Katie. “We were so happy when we found out the treatment had worked again and we had our second son, Oliver, at the beginning of June during lockdown.”

Unlike Harry, who Katie gave birth to after a long labour and was a waterbirth, Oliver arrived 13 minutes after Katie arrived at the hospital. “The midwives didn’t even get a chance to examine me, by the time I had got on the hospital bed my waters had broken and his head was coming out,” laughs Katie.

Advice to others

Now that Katie and Ali have got the family they have always wanted, Katie says that she cannot recommend Bourn Hall enough and says:

“I would say to any same-sex female couple looking to start a family, do your research. There are people who go down routes which are not ethical or safe and spend thousands of pounds on things trying to get pregnant at home which don’t work and you can do yourself damage. We had three goes at home which didn’t work and three goes at Bourn Hall and have two children, it speaks for itself really.

“As for the staff at Bourn Hall I cannot express how lovely all the team at Bourn Hall Colchester were. Our two nurses Jackie and Kate were amazing, just so supportive and lovely. Our two gorgeous boys are the product of the love and dedication they put into their jobs.”

to find a sperm donor Katie and Ali with Harry and Oliver 1
Image credit: VB Photography

More information about treatment for same-sex couples “IUI or IVF” 

More information about legal parenthood

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Hannah and Jemma’s fertility journey to complete their family

“When we first discussed becoming parents using a sperm donor it was so exciting,” says Hannah. “I proposed to my partner Jemma on New Year’s Eve four years ago and presented her with an engagement ring and the date of our first appointment at Bourn Hall. We both wanted to have treatment so that we could have the shared experience of carrying a baby and had no reason to suspect that one of us would have fertility issues.”

Hannah first met Jemma over ten years ago through work but they only got to know each other properly a few years later, finally getting together as a couple five years ago.

“We had both always known that we wanted children but hadn’t really known what options might be open to us,” says Hannah. “After we got serious Jemma got the ball rolling and started exploring the possibility of us having a baby using a sperm donor.

“We talked about it and the only route we were prepared to consider was going through a fertility clinic. I know that some female couples look at alternative routes such as sourcing sperm donors on the internet but as far as we were concerned we wanted everything to be above board and legal. We wanted both of our names on any birth certificates and to protect any children we had so that as they got older they could ask us any questions they wanted and we could give them an honest answer.”

The couple, from Ipswich, heard about Bourn Hall Colchester through friends and Hannah booked an appointment as a surprise engagement gift for Jemma.

After attending their first consultation at Bourn Hall the couple both underwent fertility tests, which all came back fine for Jemma but Hannah was surprised to learn that she had two underlying fertility issues.

“My blood tests were okay but it turned out that I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS),” says Hannah. “I’d always had painful and heavy periods but to be honest I just thought everyone had periods like that. I also had a HyCoSy test, which revealed that I had a blocked fallopian tube. I was really taken aback and just hadn’t been expecting to be told that I had any conditions which would affect my fertility.”

Counselling can help prepare for the future

The couple decided that Jemma would undergo fertility treatment first and the couple were offered implications counselling, which Hannah says they found ‘invaluable’.

“The counselling sessions were amazing,” says Hannah. “It was really personal and helped us realise that we were not the only couple on this journey and were not alone. The counsellor took us through every step and made us ask ourselves questions which we hadn’t really considered before. We were so lucky to have the chance to think about these things beforehand, it made sure that we were really prepared.”

Using a licensed UK clinic ensures legal parenthood status and peace of mind

Bourn Hall has its own sperm bank, which is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). All donors have a medical examination, blood tests and their family history is checked. All sperm donors are rigorously screened.

By using a licensed UK clinic, the couples are assured that they both have legal parenthood of resulting children. Although no identifying information is provided at the time of treatment, the donors are invited to write a short goodwill message for any resulting child.

Hannah and Jemma wanted to both have treatment in due course and were keen to use the same sperm donor for any children resulting from their IVF treatments.

“The sperm donor we chose had written a really warm message and that was one of the reasons we shortlisted and ultimately picked him,” says Hannah.

There are two types of fertility treatment available with donated sperm: IUI (intrauterine insemination) where the sperm is introduced close to the opening of the uterus, or IVF where the ovaries are stimulated with medication to produce more mature eggs at the same time, these are mixed with donor sperm and the resulting embryos transferred to the uterus.

The couple had done so much research and wanted the best chance of success, so although either option was available to them, they chose IVF.

Jemma describes her treatment as ‘all a bit surreal’. “I produced a lot of eggs,” she says. “A number were fertilised and we had two embryos frozen and one transferred to my womb. I can’t really explain it but I was confident that the treatment had worked. I knew I was pregnant before we took the test.”

First-time IVF treatment success

Jemma’s hunch proved correct and they were delighted when the pregnancy test confirmed they were to be parents. Daughter Robyn was born 4 weeks early in December 2016. “We were so excited to be a family,” says Jemma.

Buoyed by the success of their first treatment, the couple were keen to have a sibling for Robyn using Hannah’s eggs and for her to experience pregnancy and birth of a brother or sister – ideally so they could be close in age – and booked an appointment for Hannah to start her treatment at Bourn Hall.

“We had been so lucky with Jemma getting pregnant at her first attempt and this meant that we still had plenty of donor sperm left,” says Hannah. “We weren’t in a rush because we had Robyn but I did wonder if it might take me a little while longer to have a baby.”

Setbacks and a step back

Hannah was initially treated using IUI (intrauterine insemination) which is a less invasive treatment than IVF and as it requires less medication it is cheaper. This was not successful so for her second treatment the couple decided to go with IVF.

“I didn’t conceive after my second treatment either and I was really despondent,” says Hannah. “I wasn’t producing many eggs and I was blaming myself for the fact it hadn’t worked.”

The couple decided to take a step back before deciding what to do next but Hannah took solace in the fact they already had daughter Robyn. “When my treatment hadn’t worked and I felt down, I would look at Robyn and be so grateful we already had her,” says Hannah.

Fresh approach to funding treatment

For couples that are self-funding the cost can be an obstacle to fertility treatment. To support its patients, Bourn Hall has partnered with Access Fertility to offer pre-payment packages some of which offer a money-back guarantee if treatment isn’t successful.

“We were really lucky that my mum, who really adored Robyn and wanted her to have a sibling, stepped in and helped us to buy an Access Fertility Package to enable us to have further treatment at Bourn Hall,” says Hannah.

Hannah’s first treatment covered by the Access Fertility package was unsuccessful but Hannah admits that she hadn’t felt hopeful even before treatment began.

“Every time I had treatment I was producing less and less eggs and I just started to doubt and blame myself,” she says. “I just always had it in my head that my treatment wasn’t going to work.”

As part of her next treatment Hannah also opted to have a supplementary treatment called EmbryoGlue, which is a culture media which has been developed to mimic the conditions in the womb and may help the embryo to implant after transfer. Although this adjuvant treatment has little medical evidence to support its use for some people it can help ‘tip the balance’.

“I really felt like we had given it our best shot and worked really hard to have everything in place,” says Hannah. “I only produced five eggs and went home really upset not knowing what our chances would be. I was really surprised when the clinic phoned me up after day 2 of the embryos being in the lab and told me to go back in for an embryo transfer.

“I was quite weary by this stage and just told myself to hope for the best. I tried to stay calm and channel positive thoughts which hopefully can go a long way.”

Positive news….

Hannah knew early on that something was different this time around. “I knew I was pregnant because I started getting morning sickness really early on,” she laughs. “When I did take the pregnancy test and it was positive I was in shock, it was such a nice feeling! Jemma had to run out and buy a load more tests for me to take so that I could actually believe it!”

Last August Hannah gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, Frankie, and they couldn’t be happier.

“Our family is complete,” says Hannah. “My advice to other same-sex couples wanting to have a family is go for it and if money is a barrier there are options out there. The Access Fertility package was amazing. No amount of money can replace your desire to have children and once you have your family you forget about the financial side of things.”

Lasting legacy and a dream for the future

Hannah and Jemma’s personal journey to parenthood has had a lasting impact on the couple and inspired Jemma to pursue a dream of working in embryology herself. Currently working as a medical lab assistant in a hospital she has just completed her first year of a distance learning part-time degree in biomedical sciences and hopes to do an MA specialising in embryology when she has graduated.

“Those very special people in the Bourn Hall embryology lab gave us our two precious little babies and I would really love to do the same for other people,” says Jemma.

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Rachel and Clare have sons Clayton and Clark thanks to Bourn Hall sperm bank

“I met Clare through work in 2011. Both of us had only ever gone out with men before so it took a number of years to accept where our relationship was heading and to admit to each other how we felt,” remembers Rachel.

Once the couple had got together and come out to all their friends and family, Rachel had to confront her fears that being in a same-sex relationship was going to stop her having a child of her own.

A baby was a deal breaker

“Once we got together properly we had an awkward conversation about children,” Rachel explains. “Clare already had a teenage son and we both knew that having children wasn’t something that was ‘just going to happen’, but I had this massive maternal instinct.

“I just hadn’t prepared myself for a journey of not having a baby in the way I had expected. As far as I was concerned it was a deal breaker, I really wanted to be a mum.”

As the relationship grew serious Rachel and Clare started investigating what options were open to them.

“We knew that the NHS might offer us something but we had heard that there was a huge waiting list,” says Rachel. “We then looked at the online donor route. I even signed up for a specialist website aimed at lesbian couples but we decided very early on that it was all a bit seedy. I had also heard a lot of stories where it can all get a bit confusing further down the line with the legalities of parenthood and it led us to make a pretty quick decision that we wanted to do things properly.”

IUI or IVF? Read our myth buster for same-sex couples

Not ‘token lesbians’ 

One morning the couple heard a radio advert for fertility clinic Bourn Hall. “We said to ourselves ‘let’s go and have a look round’ but we were laughing as we said it as we just assumed that we wouldn’t be able afford it,” says Rachel.

“We went along to an open day and thought we would have to pretend that we were loaded and then were pleasantly surprised when we found out that the treatment was nowhere near as expensive as we thought it was going to be!”

They also assumed that they would be the ‘token lesbian couple’. “We went in and looked around and it was really exciting,” smiles Rachel. “There were so many people there and we weren’t the only gay couple. It was actually really eye-opening.”

Didn’t need IVF

The couple had already agreed that it would be Rachel, being the younger of the two, who would carry the baby, which meant that only she had to undergo fertility tests.

“It actually turned out that I was extremely fertile,” says Rachel. “This meant that I didn’t need IVF and could be treated using a procedure called IUI with donor sperm.”

IUI stands for Intrauterine Insemination, where prepared sperm is introduced into the uterus at the time of ovulation. Fertility drugs might be needed to stimulate egg production and ovulation and to prepare the uterus to receive embryos. It is a form of treatment that is straightforward, painless and relatively inexpensive.

Athletic donor

The first step for Rachel and Clare was to choose their sperm donor.

By using a licensed UK clinic couples are assured they both have legal parenthood of resulting children and the donor has no legal status. They can also reserve sibling sperm for further children and there is a maximum number of families that the donor can help.

The donor is encouraged to write a short goodwill message to share with the child, who is able to request more information once they are 18 years old. Non-identifying information is provided to the potential parents to assist the selection of the donor.

Rachel explains how they chose the donor. “We wanted someone who was a bit athletic and health-conscious along with having similar characteristics to our eldest son so that the children could look similar. We were given a choice of three donors based on the characteristics we had prioritised and we chose our donor based on the really nice little message he had written at the bottom of his profile as we felt that he had gone the extra mile.”

Moment of conception

Being ‘extremely fertile’ is still no guarantee of a woman falling pregnant, either naturally or during fertility treatment and Rachel fell pregnant after her third IUI treatment. She still remembers the moment her first son was conceived as she saw it happen on a screen at Bourn Hall.

CS150 body“Clare was sat right next to me holding my hand during the procedure and we watched the sperm swimming in my uterus on the screen after the injection. We actually have a picture of that moment which is not something that most people can say they have!” she laughs.

Rachel really enjoyed being pregnant. “Pregnancy was amazing,” she says. “I think I shocked everyone around me as I was one of those annoying people who glowed!”

IUI with donor sperm gives second baby

On 21 September 2017 son Clayton was born to the delight of both Rachel and Clare and his extremely proud big brother who is now 15. Just over a year later the couple went back to Bourn Hall and Rachel had IUI with donor sperm from the same person. Second-time-around their treatment worked first time and on 12 June 2019 son Clark was born.

Meeting Louise Brown – world’s first test-tube baby

Rachel reflects that the advances made since the birth of the world’s first IVF baby Louise Brown over 40 years ago in fertility treatments, associated legislation and positive changes in attitudes to same-sex couples have enabled her and Clare to become parents. “This opportunity wouldn’t have been available to us a few years ago,” says Rachel. “Bourn Hall has meant that I can be with the person I want to be with and I get to have a family too, I cannot thank them enough.”

More information about support for same-sex couples.

IUI with donor sperm
Rachel, Clare and Clayton with Louise Brown (right) and Dr Thanos Papathanasiou

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Double the delight for Kerry and Stacy with IUI

When twins Rorie and Logan from Norfolk celebrated their first birthday surrounded by family and friends, it signalled the end of an emotional rollercoaster for their parents Kerry and Stacy.

Kerry (aged 33) and Stacy (25) met at work four years ago and after deciding to start a family, approached Bourn hall Clinic to investigate fertility treatment using donor sperm with IUI.

Selecting a sperm donor

The couple agreed that Kerry would carry the pregnancy. Nationally there is a shortage of sperm but Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, was also one of the first to freeze and store sperm. It has its own sperm bank so it is possible to select your donor and reserve ‘sibling donor sperm’ so that further children are genetically related.

Kerry says: “Following initial consultations we had to select a sperm donor. Kerry and I reviewed the description details we’d been given for a few anonymised sperm donors, including eye colour and hair. We selected one, which we are grateful for, but to be honest we didn’t really want to know much about the donor so we were fine with it being anonymous. For us what was important was to have a child.”

The couple funded their own treatment and Kerry started taking a course of fertility drugs to help stimulate her egg production.

Third time the charm with IUI

Bourn Hall used Intrauterine Insemination, otherwise known as IUI, which is a delicate process which involved sperm being injected into Kerry’s womb, close to the time of her ovulation.

Unfortunately Kerry’s first and second IUI treatments were unsuccessful so Kerry and Stacy were absolutely delighted when in February 2013 Bourn Hall confirmed that after their third attempt Kerry was pregnant.

Stacy explains: “Our journey to have a child had been a real emotional rollercoaster. To begin with we seemed to have no luck but thank goodness for Bourn Hall and their support.”

IUI and donor sperm

“When the specialist told us we were expecting twins we couldn’t believe our luck!”

A welcome surprise

A week after the couple found out that they were finally to become parents they returned to Bourn Hall for a check-up scan – and were delighted to be told Kerry was carrying not one, but two babies!

“We were so excited to know we were going to have a baby and then when the specialist told us we were expecting twins we couldn’t believe our luck!” says Kerry.

Stacy confirms: “Yes, we were over the moon and our luck had literally doubled.”

Proud mums to Rorie and Logan 

On 27th September 2013 Kerry was admitted into Norwich Hospital and twins Rorie and Logan were successfully delivered by caesarean section.

Kerry reflects: “Amazingly a year has now rushed by and we’ve just celebrated the twins first birthday. We had all our family and friends around to eat cake and we even had a bouncy castle.

“It has been a real emotional roller coaster to get here and we certainly count our blessings. It was definitely a case of third time twice lucky!”

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