Couple become mums with help from Bourn Hall’s sperm bank

Ten-week old twins Isaac and Jasmine are a picture of utter contentment as they each get a cuddle from their besotted mums Melanie and Laura from Cambridgeshire. “I am quite open with people about the fact we are a lesbian couple with twins, and people say ‘how did that happen?” laughs Melanie.

The twins were born after Melanie had IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic using her eggs and donor sperm from Bourn Hall’s own sperm bank. Melanie, aged 25, describes Bourn Hall as “an incredible place, the best in the world”.

The couple met seven years ago and immediately hit it off. “The subject of children came up fairly early on in our relationship,” says Laura, aged 32, who had always imagined herself being a mum. “But it wasn’t until a couple of years later that we started looking at what the options were for us.”

Looking at online donor sites

They initially went down a route explored by many same-sex female couples: looking for a sperm donor on the internet. “We made contact with and met a man through a website advertising sperm donors,” says Melanie, “but, in hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend that option. It is really risky and quite scary.”

When Melanie didn’t fall pregnant using the sperm from the website donor they decided to visit their GP.

Fertility issues 

It is often said that sperm is the only thing same-sex female couples need to get pregnant. However there is also the chance that one or both may also have a fertility or other health issue. For Melanie and Laura the added complication was that Laura had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 21, so they decided at the outset that Melanie should be the one to carry a baby.

At the GP tests revealed that Melanie’s irregular periods were the result of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common factor in infertility, also that she was not producing any eggs.

As a consequence, the couple were told that they would be eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment. However, there was yet one more hoop to jump through before they could be referred.

Weight loss with PCOS

“I was told that I had to get my BMI down and lose a lot of weight,” says Melanie. “In 12 months I got my weight down from 15 stone to 12 stone and Laura lost three and a half stone too. We did it by joining Slimming World and eating healthily, swimming a lot and I took the dog on a five-mile walk every morning.

“Laura was a brilliant support for me; every time I was tempted to reach for the fast food she would say ‘how much do we want this baby?’ and that would be my motivation.”

Melanie’s weight was monitored at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, and when she reached her target weight the couple were told they could be referred for IVF. “We were given a choice of clinics,” she says, “and we chose Bourn Hall Clinic because of its success rates and its connection with Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby.”

Sperm bank offers choice 

Bourn Hall has its own sperm bank that is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. All donors are asked about their medical and family history and Bourn Hall performs a medical examination and blood tests. All sperm samples are rigorously screened and then frozen and quarantined for six months, after which the donor is invited back in to repeat the tests.

By using a licensed UK clinic, couples are assured that the correct procedures are followed to ensure they both have legal parenthood of resulting children and the donor has no legal status.

Another advantage of using a clinic is that donors are anonymous. They are invited to write a short goodwill message for any resulting child, who is able to request identifying information about the donor once they are 18 years old. Non-identifying information is provided to assist selection of the donor.

Treatment started soon after their first visit to the Clinic. Melanie and Laura were provided with a choice of donors using information, such as hair and eye colour, build and interests.

Melanie explains: “We filled out the forms detailing the general things we were looking for in terms of physical appearance and character. Because we were using my eggs we wanted the donor to reflect as much as possible Laura’s side of the family. We were given three profiles to choose from. The nurse said if we were not happy with any of them we could have another three to review. We were told about hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, hobbies, occupation and education and one of them really stood out for us.”

Wedding nerves

Once they had chosen their sperm donor Melanie was put on medication to boost her egg production. “We got married whilst all this was going on. Half-way through our wedding breakfast we literally had to take ourselves off to the bathroom. The bridesmaid was holding my wedding dress up whilst Laura sorted out my injection for me,” she remembers.

Sperm bank helps couple overcome fertility issues and become mums

Devastated

IVF treatment involves stimulating the ovaries with fertility drugs and collecting the eggs, which are then fertilised with sperm, and resulting embryo(s) are transferred to the womb.

The first round of IVF treatment was devastating for the couple. “My pregnancy test was positive and my body thought it was pregnant, so I was getting all the symptoms – morning sickness, sore breasts, the lot,” says Melanie. “But there was nothing there, it was a ‘missed miscarriage’. That hit me really hard.”

Second time around Melanie did get pregnant but sadly miscarried.

Melanie admits that during this time she struggled seeing other people pregnant and seeming to have babies more easily. “My best friend, who is straight, got pregnant naturally really quickly, then another friend was successful with her IVF at the first attempt – I did find it hard,” she says.

“My sister was a real help though. I remember walking down the street one day and seeing a pregnant woman. I phoned my sister up; she said ‘but you don’t know how long it took that woman to fall pregnant, that could be her miracle baby. You can’t assume that everyone finds it easy.'”

Despite these setbacks the couple insist that they never consider giving up. And were determined to give the treatment one last go. “My Dad said to me ‘do you think it might be your body’s way of trying to tell you something?'” says Melanie. “Quite a few of our family were asking me if I was sure I wanted to put myself through another round of treatment but it was our last go and I said ‘why not try it?’ I would have always been asking myself ‘what if?’ if we didn’t try.”

Laura agrees: “I think after Melanie’s miscarriage on the second attempt we both thought ‘whatever will be will be.’ We were both more relaxed on the third attempt and thought if it doesn’t work at least we have got each other.”

Rush of nerves

After Melanie’s third round of treatment they were pleased when the pregnancy test was positive at day 14 – but having got to that stage before they were only cautiously optimistic.

“We took a second test two weeks later and that came back positive but we both said that we wouldn’t believe it until we had the six week scan,” says Laura.

Melanie admits to a sudden rush of nerves as they drove to Bourn Hall for the scan.

“During the scan the nurse said she needed to check something. We immediately started worrying. Then she said ‘there is one heartbeat and look there is another one!’ My exact words were ‘hang on a minute, let me get my head around the idea of one baby first!'”

After a textbook pregnancy Melanie gave birth to twins Isaac and Jasmine on September 6, 2016 with Laura at her side. The couple describe parenthood as ‘life-changing, incredible and amazing’.

“I cannot remember life before them,” laughs Laura. “We have so much pride in them,” adds Melanie. “Jasmine is finding her smile and Isaac is nearly there with his; it is all the little things which are so special.”

Safety first

The couple cannot praise Bourn Hall highly enough: “I would strongly recommend to other lesbian couples the safety aspect of using a regulated clinic,” says Melanie. “The sperm donor has no legal rights over a child born through a UK fertility clinic. You have that security that no one is going to knock on your door or ring you and say ‘that child is mine and I am going to fight you for it’.

“When the twins are 18 if they want to know more about the sperm donor then they can apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and look into it. That is a lot better than saying to them ‘well, mummy went on the computer…’ Going to Bourn Hall was a lot safer and we got a lot of support from them throughout the process. I would recommend it so much.”

Sperm bank helps couple overcome fertility issues and become mums

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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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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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