Struggle to conceive puts ‘life on hold’ for couple

Call it women’s intuition, but 34-year-old Helen from Essex always knew having a baby might not be straight forward for her.

“I don’t know what it was, I guess I just know my body, but I always had an inkling something wasn’t quite right,” Helen recalls.

Helen and her husband Adam (30) first met when they were temporary Christmas staff at a book store.  They moved in together in 2007 and married two years later.  Right from the start, the couple knew they wanted a family.

Adam takes up the story: “When we got married we moved into a bigger house, in anticipation of starting a family.  The months went by and I wasn’t worried – it was only after a year I started to wonder if something was wrong.

“It felt like life was on hold”

“As time went on, we got increasingly down in the dumps.  The longer it took, the more pressure built up and the situation put our relationship under a bit of strain.  It was just frustrating; it felt like life was on hold.”

Helen adds: “It was tough, but we always felt we were on the same team.  The problem was, we felt we were on the losing team, which became very disheartening for both of us. Although neither of us wanted to apportion blame, we ended up blaming ourselves for our perceived failure.”

No definite cause of infertility

After three years of trying to conceive naturally, the couple decided to take action.  They were referred by their GP to a gynaecological consultant at the Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for fertility tests.

Helen says not all the tests were pleasant: “I had a procedure called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), where a dye was injected into my womb and fallopian tubes to see if they were blocked.  I remember it was quite uncomfortable, but it had to be done to try and discover if there were any physical problems.”

The tests did not reveal any specific reason why the couple couldn’t have a baby without medical help.  Adam says, while they were relieved, they were also frustrated: “We were desperate to find out why we couldn’t conceive, but the tests showed no definite cause.  When you know what’s wrong, you often know how to fix it. It felt like we had no clues to go on.”

blastocyst transfer

Good first impression of Bourn Hall

The couple were offered NHS-funded IVF treatment and after looking at the options, chose Bourn Hall Clinic because of its high success rate and legion of satisfied clients.

The couple attended an open day at the Cambridge clinic, and instantly knew they had made the right choice.  Adam recalls: “The first time we drove up the road onto the country estate, we knew it was somewhere we’d feel comfortable. The grounds are lovely; it doesn’t feel like a clinic at all.”

The couple had IVF with blastocyst transfer, where an embryo is allowed to develop in the laboratory before being transferred to the womb.  After just one cycle, the couple got the news they were waiting for.  Helen was pregnant.

“Abigail is the light of our lives”

Their much-longed for daughter Abigail was born on the 29 March 2013 weighing 6lb 15oz.

Helen was thankful for a short, uncomplicated labour and says things have gone smoothly ever since: “Abigail is absolutely lovely and sleeps well most nights. She never really cries and we love showering her with attention.”

The couple have one frozen embryo stored at Bourn Hall Clinic and have not ruled out having another IVF baby.

Helen says: “We’re going to give it some time and some thought, and considering there’s nothing physically wrong with us, we’re hoping we might have another baby naturally.  We’re so incredibly grateful to Bourn Hall and delighted for now to have our beautiful baby Abigail, who is the light of our lives and we wouldn’t be without.”

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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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Katherine has twins after test revealed blocked fallopian tube

Katherine and Daniel from Essex are delighted to have twins George and Thomas.

blocked fallopian tubes

The couple first started trying for a baby in 2011 but when Katherine hadn’t conceived after more than a year they went to see their GP. “The doctor put me on Clomid and when I still didn’t fall pregnant we were sent to our local hospital for tests,” reveals Katherine.

A dye test showed that one of Katherine’s fallopian tubes was blocked. “It was actually a relief to begiven a reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant,” says Katherine. “I hadn’t had any symptoms and we led a pretty healthy lifestyle so I had no idea what the problem was.”

Referred for IVF

Katherine and Daniel were told that they could be referred for IVF treatment and they opted to go to Bourn Hall Clinic.

Over the next couple of years Katherine sadly had three miscarriages, twice following IVF treatment and once after a surprise natural conception but despite their setbacks Katherine says that she and Daniel did not give up on their dream of having a family.

“I changed my hours to part-time at work to reduce my stress levels,” says Katherine, who is a PE teacher, “and we went back to Bourn Hall for further treatment using two frozen embryos from previous treatment”.

Intralipids to help immune cells 

This time around the couple also had intralipids, which is a source of fat and energy normally injected. It is thought that intralipid is able to change the immune cells in the uterine lining, making the environment in the uterus friendlier towards the embryo.

The couple were ‘cautiously optimistic’ when Katherine fell pregnant for a fourth time but tried not to get their hopes up too much because of the previous miscarriages. Happily the pregnancy went full-term and George and Thomas arrived on 27 March 2016.

“Since the boys have arrived it has been a whirlwind,” laughs Katherine. “We have had lots of support from our parents and we have to be very organised but I can honestly say that it has been worth it. We are loving every minute of it.”

blocked fallopian tubes

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Miracle baby ends mum’s years of fertility doubts

Growing up in a large family, Gemma from Essex had always imagined having children of her own one day – but couldn’t shake off a feeling that it might never happen.

Gemma, aged 33, gave birth to “miracle baby” Matthew in November 2014 following fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic. She says: “I don’t know why I constantly felt that something was not quite right, but I think that because I wanted a family so much I just put too much pressure on myself.”

unexplained infertility

When she was in her mid-twenties Gemma was diagnosed with fibroids and hospital scans also revealed that she had a number of cysts. “I was told by the doctors then that the fibroids and cysts shouldn’t affect my ability to have children but it made me more nervous about my prospects,” she admits.

A couple of years later, after getting engaged to Kirk, the couple started trying for a baby.

“I came off the pill so that we could start a family but my periods just didn’t come back properly,” Gemma reveals. “We consulted a doctor quite early on but were told that we needed to have been trying for longer before seeking help.”

Referred for IVF after unexplained infertility

Hospital tests proved inconclusive, with Kirk’s sperm count varying between tests and no definitive evidence that Gemma’s fibroids were causing the problem, the couple were given a diagnosis of unexplained infertility.

“Eventually we were referred for IVF treatment and it was such a relief!” says Gemma.

“I was already over 30 so it was important to me that we didn’t have to wait too long for treatment. We looked at the options available to us and chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Wickford because it was convenient.”

Appointments at Wickford and Colchester

All of Gemma and Kirk’s appointments were at Bourn Hall’s satellite clinic in Wickford apart from two visits for egg collection and embryo transfer at the full-service clinic in Colchester. Bourn Hall is to open a brand-new full-service clinic in Wickford and Gemma says that if she had been able to access all of her treatment under one roof it would have been fantastic.

“If we had been able to have all of our treatment at Wickford it would have been absolutely brilliant,” she says. “It would have put us at our ease. I was nervous enough on the day when the embryo was implanted so it would have been nice to have it done in Wickford where we had all of our other appointments and which had become so familiar to us. We had got to know the receptionist, we even sat in the same seats each time when we visited; it would have been nice to have had that familiarity.”

The perfect embryo

Gemma’s treatment at Bourn Hall began in January 2014 and the couple were absolutely elated when Gemma became pregnant on the first attempt.

“The previous few years had been such a roller coaster emotionally,” says Gemma, “and after my eggs were harvested and fertilised at Bourn Hall we had to go back in for embryo transfer earlier than expected because there were only three viable embryos by the third day. Of those three we were told that one was ‘absolutely perfect’ and that was the one which was transferred to me. The other two didn’t survive so we literally only had one chance from that cycle of treatment.

“I left Bourn Hall with my pregnancy test kit and strict instructions not to do the test until 14 days after treatment,” says Gemma, “but I was due to go back to work on the 14th day so I did the test a day early. I was convinced the test was going to be negative because I had had terrible cramps for a fortnight even though I had been resting. We agreed that I would do the test and we would look at the result together but in the end the result came back positive instantly so there wasn’t time for me to do that. I ran into the bedroom with the pregnancy test and I literally couldn’t speak! Then I did six more tests!”

Luckily for Gemma and Kirk the “perfect embryo” resulted in a successful pregnancy and Matthew was born nine months later.

“Matthew is our absolute world”

unexplained infertiilty

“We still cannot quite believe it,” says Gemma. “Matthew is our absolute world, everything and much more than we could have hoped for. He is now walking, he is absolutely amazing, so happy and content.”

The couple haven’t ruled out expanding their family further and Gemma, who has had no problems with her fibroids since her pregnancy and now has regular periods, says that she may now have a better chance of falling pregnant without needing fertility treatment.

“My body seems to have re-set itself,” she laughs. “So it is possible that I may fall pregnant naturally in the future. If not, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Bourn Hall.”

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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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Clinic route safer for mums and baby

When Elie and Sarah decided to start a family, the option of finding and contacting a sperm donor  on the internet or through social media was completely out of the question.

“We have heard some horror stories of people who have found a sperm donor on the internet,” says Elie. “We wanted to do things properly and without risk to us or our future children.”

‘Doing things properly’ involved the couple going to Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, which is regulated by the HFEA and has its own sperm bank.

Sperm donors are screened

Bourn Hall screens all sperm donors to ensure that they are free of infections, diseases or genetic conditions. Donors are asked about their medical and family history and undergo a medical examination and blood tests. The clinic rigorously screens all sperm samples and then freezes them and quarantines each sample for six months – after this time donors are then invited back to repeat their blood tests. If the donor passes these screening tests the frozen semen samples are then available to be used in treatment.

All donor sperm is stored frozen and then defrosted on the day of treatment.

Baby number two

Elie and Sarah are now mums to two boys and with both of their children it was agreed that Elie should carry the pregnancies. They had their first son Joshua in 2011 following treatment at Bourn Hall and he was very excited to learn in early 2015 that he was going to be a big brother.

“His first question to me after I picked him up from school and told him about my 20 week scan was, ‘did it have a willy’?” laughs Elie. “He was absolutely desperate for a brother – I don’t know what he would have done if it had been a girl!” Little brother Thomas was born at the end of 2015.

IUI and IVF treatments

The boys were conceived following very different fertility procedures – Joshua through Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and Thomas  through IVF.

IUI  involves injecting prepared sperm into the womb around the time of ovulation, when the ripe egg is released. If you are not using fertility drugs, this will happen between day 12 and 16 of your monthly cycle (with day one being the first day of your period) as this is when you are at your most fertile. A blood or urine test will be used to identify when you are ovulating. The use of fertility drugs is often advised as this controls the cycle and maximises the chance of success.

Elie says that they were really lucky with IUI the first time around and she fell pregnant quickly with Joshua. Second time around IUI didn’t work so well and after five negative pregnancy tests the couple were advised to try IVF.

IVF is when the ovaries are stimulated with fertility drugs and the eggs are collected and fertilised with sperm. Sometimes this will be by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) where a high quality sperm is injected directly into the egg. This increases the chance of successful fertilisation. The embryos are then allowed to develop to blastocyst culture – a 5-day embryo (which is the stage it would be naturally when it arrives in the womb) is then transferred to the womb through a fine catheter. For a same-sex couple IVF offers more options, for example some choose that one partner produces the eggs and the other carries the pregnancy.

IVF was a big decision

For the Hughes’ having IVF was a big decision, particularly as the only infertility issue was the lack of sperm. Elie says: “I wondered with IVF whether the drugs would strongly affect my moods but I just felt a bit hormonal.

“We could only afford one round of IVF as it is more expensive than IUI but we got the result we wanted first time.”

Using the same donor

By going through a clinic the couple were assured that they would both have legal parenthood of the children. The sperm donor would have no legal rights and no moral or financial role in the children’s upbringing.

Elie and Sarah made a very conscious decision that they would use sperm from the same donor for both their children and reserved “sibling sperm” for this purpose. “We are not interested in who the sperm donor is although we are hugely grateful that he donated sperm,” says Elie. “But we decided that if the boys ever wanted to go down the route of finding out more about the sperm donor, in the same way that an adopted person might want to find out more about their biological family, they would have the same shared experience rather than two different ones.”

Being a family of four is “just lovely” says Elie. “We always wanted two children.”

Two of everything

Having ‘two mummies’ and now a brother means that for Joshua, aged five, “everything is balanced” says Elie. “He says now we have two of everything: two mummies, two boys and two cats!”

For Elie and Sarah, they delight in seeing how Thomas and Joshua interact with each other. “Thomas adores his big brother,” says Elie. “His first giggle was for Joshua. We love taking the two of them on days out.”

The couple are so glad they chose Bourn Hall to help them have their family. “Bourn Hall Clinic was very reassuring and the least risky option for our family,” says Elie. “We felt that we were ‘getting the best’ and are so lucky to live so close. We have already recommended Bourn Hall to some of our younger friends.”

For more information about use of donated sperm

To read more about treatment options for same sex couples.

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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.'”

Lose weight for fertility treatment

“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.”

Lose weight for fertility treatment

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Pregnancy is possible despite unexplained infertility

Hayley Brook from Cambridge still finds it hard to believe that she is finally a mum – after years of uncertainty over why she was not falling pregnant.

Hayley and husband Martin were told that they had ‘unexplained infertility’ by specialists after undergoing numerous tests to establish why Hayley was not conceiving.

“We got married in 2012 and started trying for a baby straightaway,” says Hayley. “When nothing had happened I went to see my GP and she was so helpful, explaining everything to me and sending me for tests.”

Test results revealed little

The tests did not uncover any obvious reason as to why Hayley wasn’t getting pregnant and so the couple were advised to try for another year.

“Neither of us are overweight and we led a healthy lifestyle so it was all out of our control,” says Hayley. “We were basically biding time until we ticked the next box.

“All around me friends were having children and I was really pleased for them but every time I heard that someone was pregnant it was like a stab to the heart. Sometimes I would just be walking down the street and would pass complete strangers who seemed to have lots of children and yet I was struggling just to have one, it was really hard. I think the perception is that it is really easy to get pregnant and we spend our younger years using contraception and trying not to get pregnant and then you come off contraception and nothing happens and you think ‘why did I bother all those years?’”

The hardest part was not having a reason

When further tests could still not determine the cause of Hayley and Martin’s infertility they were told that they were eligible for NHS-referral to a specialist fertility clinic.

“The hardest part was not having a reason,” admits Hayley. “I could have coped better if we had been given a reason but to have no reason and no child was really tough.”

Hayley and Martin went to a seminar at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire along with a group of other couples and Hayley found it really useful.

The couple were treated at Bourn Hall using standard IVF which involved Hayley taking fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce a number of eggs and then, using a minor surgical procedure, collecting a number of eggs to be placed in a culture dish with Martin’s sperm for fertilisation.

“I was kind of excited to be having the IVF,” says Hayley. “We had gone through so many hoops to get to that stage I think I detached myself emotionally. You get so used to things not going your way you learn to protect yourself from disappointment.”

First time around and Hayley did not get pregnant and she was tempted to wait a while before trying again. “I was emotionally drained,” she says.

Another visit to Bourn Hall however persuaded her otherwise and shortly afterwards she was being treated again.

“The quality of the embryo transferred to my womb second time around was top grade,” says Hayley. “And then we had the longest ten day wait of our lives after it had been transferred to my womb.”

Every day is incredible

The day of the pregnancy test arrived and the alarm clock went off at 5.30am for work.

“I did the test and looked at the line which was quite faint,” says Hayley. “We were looking at it asking ourselves ‘is it a line or is it not a line?’ We decided it was a line but then just sat there in disbelief, we couldn’t take it in for a while.”

Seven weeks in to Hayley’s pregnancy the couple went back to Bourn Hall for a scan and it was only at that point that Hayley allowed herself to believe she was finally pregnant.

“I believed it then but I was very, very cautious,” says Hayley. “It was only when I was about 20 weeks pregnant that I started to relax a bit and buy baby clothes.”

Daughter Tessa arrived safely on June 22, 2016 and Hayley says she felt ‘dazed and shellshocked’:

“Tessa had been with us a good couple of weeks before I suddenly thought ‘wow I’ve had a baby’” shesays. “Every day is incredible, I have to pinch myself. It is strange to get to the point, having thought that this was never going to happen, when I can let my guard down and take it all in. I have not been able to do that for four years. I started out trying for a baby all optimistically but as time went on and friends were getting pregnant after two months of trying and still nothing was happening for us I just started to think the worst. Both myself and Martin developed a self-defence mechanism and it takes time to let your guard down, even now.”

unexplained infertility

Don’t hesitate to seek help

For anyone who is worried about their own fertility Hayley advises them to seek help sooner rather than later. “Don’t leave it as long as I did,” she says. “It is nice to have a career in place but hindsight is a wonderful thing. You will have lots of hoops to get through. I also think it is really important that couples look out for each other as I can really understand how the stress would break some couples up. The whole journey is so emotionally charged, you need to make sure you have got each others’ back and look after each other.”

NHS funding changes lives

As Tessa was born following Hayley’s second cycle of NHS-funded treatment she feels really sad for other people that the number of cycles now funded by the NHS in Cambridgeshire has been reduced to just one.

“If we had been funded for just one cycle I wouldn’t have my daughter,” she says. “We could not have afforded to fund a second cycle ourselves and so we would not have been blessed with Tessa. I don’t think one cycle is enough and it is terrible that in some parts of the country the funding has been cut altogether. People should be given a chance.”

unexplained infertility

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Miracle baby ends period of pain

Jenny had suffered painful periods since a teenager when the couple struggled to conceive they went for advice which revealed endometriosis.

Jenny, aged 39, who lives in Bedfordshire, had always wanted children but when she was in her early thirties feared she would never be able to get pregnant. After three years of trying unsuccessfully for a baby with partner Dave she went to see her GP.

“I had suffered with painful periods from the age of 16,” says Jenny, “and had been put on the pill. About 15 years later I had a blood clot and was taken off the pill and since then my periods had been really painful”.

Tests revealed endometriosis 

A laparoscopy revealed that Jenny had endometriosis, a condition affecting around 2 million women in the UK – and she also had some fluid in one of her fallopian tubes. The couple were advised that they would be eligible for NHS-funded fertility treatment.

Getting in shape for fertility

Health-wise Jenny was in pretty good shape to have fertility treatment. She had given up smoking and had a healthy BMI. Smoking affects ovulation in women and can reduce fertility. Women should ideally have a BMI of between 19 and 30 according to NICE guidelines.

“I have been a committed vegetarian since I was 11,” says Jenny, “and recently I became vegan. I am careful not to overdo my caffeine intake and have always been very aware of nutrition.”

It is thought that caffeine also affects fertility levels – it is not just present in tea and coffee but also in chocolate and some soft drinks.

After being told they were eligible for NHS-funded fertility treatment Jenny and Dave were given a choice of clinics. “We chose Bourn Hall because it was closest to home and I had read some of the patients’ success stories on their website,” says Jenny. “Also I didn’t want to have to travel down to London on the train.”

Pregnancy shock

Jenny and Dave attended an open evening at Bourn Hall just outside Cambridge and shortly afterwards began their treatment. The first round did not work and Jenny was then treated using frozen embryos from the first cycle.

Happily, following the frozen embryo transfer the couple found out that Jenny was pregnant and she describes it as a ‘shock’. “We were really, really happy,” she smiles. “I just took it one day at a time. I was aware that it might be the only time I would ever be pregnant and so we took lots and lots of photos and I wrote down regularly how I was feeling.

Fletcher was born on 17 September 2014 and Jenny describes motherhood as ‘brilliant’.

Jenny is delighted that since giving birth to Fletcher she has stopped having painful periods. “I think when he came out he jumbled everything up,” she laughs.

Grateful to the NHS

She is also really grateful for the NHS funding they received for the fertility treatment – at the time of her treatment they were eligible for three cycles.

“When we were told that we were entitled to three cycles of NHS-funded treatment it made us feel confident that we would get there in the end and become parents,” says Jenny. “I do appreciate that it is really hard now with decisions having to be made about where NHS funding goes but for couples who only get one funded cycle it must be really stressful.”

One last go

After successfully having had Fletcher, Jenny and David would love a brother or sister for him. A recent round of IVF (which they paid for themselves) didn’t work and so Jenny is gearing herself up for what she describes as her ‘last go’.

“As much as we would love another child, it is really more for Fletcher than for us,” says Jenny. “Both Dave and I have a sibling and we are really close to them and ideally I would love Fletcher to have a brother or sister. That being said, I have got lots of friends with one child and it is very common and you get round it in other ways with friends and family.”

Endometriosis: cause of period pain and infertility


More information about endometriosis

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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.

Get fit for fertility

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.”

Get fit for fertility

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