We thought zero sperm would mean zero babies – now we have two!

When Wayne met Melissa the subject of children came up quite quickly. He had always wanted to be a dad, and as he was 25 and Melissa was 27, with two girls already from a previous relationship, the couple saw no reason why they would have a problem… so a diagnosis of azoospermia came as a shock.

They tried for two years before seeking help from their GP. Melissa had some blood tests to check she was ovulating. Her periods had started to get lighter but the AMH test, which provides an indication of egg reserve, was normal for her age.

Melissa suggested that Wayne also got tested. Wayne readily admits that he doesn’t like being “prodded and poked around” and didn’t want to be seen by a GP or have sperm tests through them.

“We knew that if we needed IVF we wouldn’t get any NHS funding because I already had children,” explains Melissa. “So we self-referred ourselves to Bourn Hall for Wayne’s testing.”

Azoospermia diagnosis was gutting

Bourn Hall Norwich is tucked away on the Gateway 11 Business Park in Wymondham, so it is very discreet.

When tests at Bourn Hall revealed azoospermia – no sperm in the ejaculate – Wayne was very shocked.

“I thought it must be some sort of mistake,” he says. “I had never had mumps and there was nothing hereditary in my family. I was pretty gutted to be honest. I thought it was the end of the road.

“As a bloke it feels like your world is over if you can’t produce children.”

Sperm hunting

The couple were then introduced to Consultant Urologist Mr Oliver Wiseman. Mr Wiseman is one of only a small number of urologists in the country to specialise in male fertility and one of the first to practice MicroTESE (micro-surgical testicular sperm extraction), where immature sperm is found in small tubules in the testes using a powerful microscope. The sperm is collected and frozen, ready for IVF treatment.

Oliver Wiseman, specialist on male infertility
Oliver Wiseman, specialist on male fertility

At Bourn Hall the embryology lab is very close to the operating theatre and the team is well experienced in ‘sperm hunting’ for those with azoospermia. Mr Wiseman says: “Working closely with the embryologists, we can find sperm in around 50 per cent of those patients for whom the operation is appropriate.”

Wayne admits that he was initially resistant to the idea of surgery. “I didn’t want to have the operation,” he says. “I owe a lot to Mr Wiseman – he made me feel at ease. I knew he would try his hardest to help us find sperm, and he knew I wasn’t keen on being seen and understood how I was feeling.”

Thankfully, Mr Wiseman successfully found sperm and six vials were frozen.

“The sperm was immotile,” says Melissa. “We were told that IVF can still be successful, but our chances were lower.”

But dramatic fall in AMH

The couple faced a further hurdle when, prior to starting their IVF cycle, it was revealed that Melissa’s AMH levels had gone down dramatically. “I now had a low ovarian reserve,” she says. “We were now dealing with two factors. I just burst in to tears; I felt as though we had hit a brick wall.

“We felt battered and bruised emotionally. I just felt like everything was stacked against us and I felt like ‘what is the point?’ or ‘are we fighting a losing battle here?’

CS254 body 2
Bella and Noah

“But we had saved hard and decided to continue. I think we almost found it easier to prepare ourselves for the worst.”

At egg collection Melissa had six eggs retrieved which were then injected with Wayne’s defrosted sperm using a procedure called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). “We took the phone call to tell us that two had fertilised and my jaw just dropped because I had honestly felt that we were going to get zero fertilised,” says Melissa. “It was a stand-out moment for me, it was amazing.

“We decided to have both put in; because of everything that had got in our way we were just hoping that one of them took. Wayne joined me for the embryo transfer, watching it on the screen. We were absolutely ecstatic – it felt so surreal.”

Convinced it hadn’t worked

Three days after the transfer Melissa feared that the IVF hadn’t worked.

“I was in Costa Coffee and suddenly felt really light-headed; I thought I was going to faint. I have never felt that before,” she says. “I needed to hold on to something – it was really weird. I had every symptom of my period coming that I would normally have, so I convinced myself it hadn’t worked and was crying.”

Melissa remembers the day of taking the pregnancy test. “I thought ‘right, let’s do this – let’s watch it go negative…’ Both my daughters have been so much part of the process – they even helped to do my injections with me. When I saw a second line on the test I shouted for my oldest daughter. I said ‘can you see what I can see?’ And she said ‘Oh my God, mum, I can see it’ and I think I started crying. She told me to sit down and calm down and made me a squash.

“Me and the girls told Wayne together; we waited until he got home from work. We bought a little babygrow and put it in a box and we videoed Wayne opening it, so it was lovely. He cried, and I think for him after his diagnosis of azoospermia to finally find out that he was going to be a dad was just amazing.”

The couple then had a second surprise…

“Everyone – his nan, his mum, my mum, my daughters – all said it would be twins,” says Melissa.

“We went to the seven-week scan at Bourn Hall and the nurse said ‘here’s baby number one and here’s baby number two’ and we went ‘whoa!’

Wayne overcame azoospermia to have twins
Wayne with Bella and Noah

“Wayne came out of the clinic and was straight on the phone to his mum and dad. I think he felt so proud.”

Noah and Bella were born on 16 November 2022. “We feel so blessed,” says Melissa.

“The journey has been so tough but was very much worth it,” says Wayne. “I didn’t think we stood a chance and I even told Melissa that there was no point, as it wouldn’t work. However, we made it. I’m so lucky to have two amazing little babies.”

To read more about male fertility.


I found myself single, in my thirties – and my eggs were running out

My eggs were running out

“I parted from my ex-husband in 2011. We had been together a long time, since our teens, and had never tried to have children, it had just never been on the agenda for us. I am very career orientated and had buried myself in my work. But then I suddenly found myself heading towards 30 and single and my body clock was ticking….

“I booked myself an appointment at Bourn Hall Norwich for an AMH test, basically to get an idea of what my egg count was. That was five years ago and my ovarian reserve was actually quite low so I knew that time wasn’t on my side fertility-wise.

“I started having a discussion with Bourn Hall about having solo IVF treatment using donor sperm. I had a good conversation with the consultant and we spoke about what donor treatment would look like, the IVF and egg collection and how you select the sperm donor and all the legalities around that.

“I was seriously considering it….then I met James!

I told him I wanted to be a mum on our first date!

“James is nine years older than me and already had grown-up children – his daughter Alex, who I knew through work, had played matchmaker and introduced us. I thought that me being so upfront about wanting children might put him off, especially as he had had a vasectomy, but he was receptive.

I told him I wanted to be a mum on our first date!  

“It is a running joke that on our first date I said to him ‘I want to be a mum’ and my friends said ‘you can’t say that on a first date!’ I said ‘well actually I can because I know what I want’.

“So after I told him I said to him ‘I will leave that with you then….on the basis of whether you want to see me again’.  Thankfully he did want to see me again and eight months after we got together he had a vasectomy reversal!

“The vasectomy reversal at a private hospital in Norwich was initially a success and we were told to start trying naturally for a baby. Nothing was happening and a couple of subsequent semen tests revealed that there was no sperm.

“The consultant at the hospital said that the tubes had probably blocked up again, perhaps with scar tissue, and that he could attempt the reversal again but suggested that we might be better off going to Bourn Hall to see what our options were.

Sperm retrieval was a success

“I found myself back at Bourn Hall Norwich, but with a partner this time, and the recommendation was for James to have a sperm retrieval operation at Bourn Hall’s Cambridge clinic. We now wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that we had gone straight to surgical sperm retrieval rather than attempting the vasectomy reversal, both from a cost point of view and also because the experience was initially quite traumatic for James.

“James’ surgical sperm retrieval operation was in December 2020 and was successful. They managed to get five vials of sperm, which were then frozen, so that was kind of James done with really and then they started with me in the January 2021.

“We had had to pay for our IVF, James was already a Dad  so we were not entitled to NHS treatment.

“I am not going to lie, IVF is probably the hardest thing I have ever been through. Injecting the drugs was quite hard, as was how the drugs made me feel. It was an emotional rollercoaster of wanting a baby so much and a massive drain on our relationship.

“Our first round of IVF failed, I had quite a nasty bleed which felt different to a period, more like a miscarriage, and when I did the ten-day pregnancy test it was negative. I was really upset and quite despondent actually. I also felt anxious because I knew that time was probably not on our side and there was the financial pressure too.

We kept our treatment under wraps 

“I was desperate to have another go and just get started again. We did have another round pretty quickly but this time we went to the Cambridge clinic so that I could have my egg collection under a general anaesthetic. Second time around I had seven eggs retrieved, four of which fertilised and two were put in.

“Our embryo transfer took place on 12 May 2021 and then we had that horrible wait, which feels like a lifetime, until our test date. I felt like I was going crazy.

“Our test day was a Saturday morning and I’d got up quite early and done the test as you do because I couldn’t sleep. We did the test together and it was positive. James was in a state of shock and so I did another one and that was positive too. James then jumped in the car and went to the local supermarket and came back with a stash of more pregnancy tests and they were all positive too so then we jumped in the car at 7am to go over to my parents to tell them!

“That was great, but then of course we had the nine-week wait to see if it was a viable pregnancy – that was torture. During that time I had James’ eldest daughter’s hen do and wedding; I knew that I was pregnant for both but we had kept our treatment under wraps and I had to do the whole ‘pretend I was drinking’ thing. A lot of people said afterwards ‘I don’t know how you kept it quiet because you quite like a glass of wine!’

“We had a nine-week scan at Bourn Hall and our nurse Gemma got the screen up and then quickly turned it round to us and said ‘yep you are pregnant and there is one’ because we didn’t know if there was going to be one or two because two embryos had gone in.

“Hearing the strong heartbeat at the scan was just the most amazing feeling ever because it was like ‘I really am pregnant’.

The team at Bourn Hall have given me everything I ever wanted

The team at Bourn Hall have given me everything I ever wanted 

“We told James’ children and his dad and obviously my mum and dad but we didn’t actually ‘announce’ anything until after my 20 week scan.

“I loved being pregnant, in fact I really miss being pregnant!

“When Hattie arrived we both just sobbed. We felt overwhelming love and contentment, it was an experience that I can’t really describe.

“By the time I had Hattie most of my friends already had children, my best friend’s eldest is nearly 18 and in fact I was a nanna to James’s son’s little girl before I was a mum…

“Hattie is phenomenal, we are just so lucky, she is always smiling and is a little redhead. James’ late mum was redheaded so I think she has got nanny in her…

“We have got a lovely blended family. James’ son’s daughter is now two and a half and they have just had a baby boy. James’ daughter Alex, who set me and James up, recently had a little boy so Hattie will grow up with them and they will all be like little cousins. I have got a great relationship with James elder children and they absolutely love Hattie.

“We had a good experience at Bourn Hall and I popped in to the Norwich clinic recently with Hattie and some cupcakes for the team. I can’t thank them enough, they have given me everything I have always wanted.”