“People are well-meaning when they ask you if you are going to have children,” says Gemma, aged 32, who has an over-active thyroid that can affect fertility.
“But as more and more of my friends got pregnant, I just knew that if anyone asked me that question, I would burst into tears and started to avoid social situations where that felt likely.”
Over-active thyroid diagnosis
Her partner Colin already had two teenage children from a previous marriage, so the couple discussed children early on, as Gemma knew having a baby of her own was important to her and wanted to know that Colin felt the same.
“I always felt there was a question mark over my fertility because over the years I had struggled with periods so painful that I had been hospitalised on several occasions,” she says. “I was investigated for PCOS and endometriosis, but no cause had ever been found.
“Then shortly before we got married, I was diagnosed with an over-active thyroid. The endocrinologist at Ipswich Hospital said to me that I had the worst thyroid levels that he had seen in his whole career…
“I had a thyroidectomy to remove the thyroid, and following the green light from my endocrinologist we started trying for a baby.”
Fertility Health and Wellbeing Check
With Gemma’s concerns over her fertility – and the knowledge that they would not be able to get NHS support as Colin already had children – the couple decided to pay for a Fertility Health and Wellbeing Check at Bourn Hall when they had not fallen pregnant within the first 7 months of trying to conceive.
“We’d spoken to friends who had said there were quite lengthy waiting lists for NHS fertility testing at that point, so we decided to go ahead to have the tests and a consultation with a fertility specialist.”
The couple were advised that with Gemma’s medical history and Colin’s semen having reduced motility their chances of success would be increased with fertility treatment, and they were given the option of IUI or IVF.
“We made the decision to just go straight to IVF,” Gemma explains. “We arranged a refund package with Access Fertility that gave us three cycles of treatment with a 75 percent refund if we were unsuccessful. It was really straightforward to set up, all further administration and payments were dealt with between Access Fertility and Bourn Hall which meant that my focus could be on the medication schedule rather than worrying about payments and things like that.”
The couple’s treatment was interrupted by the lockdown, and then when treatment resumed Gemma caught Covid.
“I hadn’t really told anyone other than my sisters that we were having IVF and during that time I had quite a few friends who had got pregnant,” she says.
“I tried to be positive and take the attitude that I didn’t know their journey and they too could have struggled. But at times I found it difficult and would just sit at home with Colin and sob.”
Advised a freeze-all cycle to recover
Once back in treatment, ovarian stimulation resulted in 19 eggs and five embryos that made it to blastocyst. The clinic advised a freeze-all cycle to allow time for Gemma’s body to recover.
“I tried to be as positive as I could throughout the journey and just take every step at a time, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted at that point.
“When we came in for the embryo transfer, they said the lining of my womb wasn’t thick enough and I needed to keep moving to help the blood flow. So, I took a day off work and went for a 9-mile walk, this seemed to help and they said it had thickened to a good level.
“When we got the call to say the embryo had thawed successfully, we were really excited. But I was so nervous afterwards that I didn’t want to stand up in case it fell out!”
Began to bleed
The couple then had to wait for 14 days before testing with a pregnancy test. By this time Gemma was “climbing the walls”. The test was positive but just before she rang Bourn Hall, she began to bleed. Her thyroid condition meant that she was at a high risk of miscarriage and needed regular blood tests until she was 12 weeks.
“They were very sympathetic but said ‘right there’s not a lot we can do at this stage do another test in another week and we will take it from there…’ so that was very nerve-wracking waiting to find out whether we were losing the baby or not. But I did the pregnancy test a week later and it was still fine.”
Gemma says that it was only when they had the viability scan at Bourn Hall at seven weeks and saw the heartbeat that they began to relax. It was shortly after this that they were discharged to their GP.
“I kind of felt like I was ‘letting go’ of something,” she says. “It was nice to have that comfort blanket if I had any questions at any point throughout the IVF cycles, I could drop an email to the nurses or give them a call. Suddenly it felt like I was on my own although obviously the NHS stepped in, and I started seeing a midwife.
“Our daughter Lottie-Ann was born in February 2023 at Ipswich Hospital.
“When she came out, they put her on my chest and me and my husband just absolutely sobbed like the happiest tears. To have a very healthy nine-pound baby plonked on my chest and to look at Colin’s face as well, he was crying next to me and saying how proud of me he was, it was the best moment of my life, it was amazing.”