Romantic dinners and Clomid win the day

“I had very irregular periods and it was hard to know when I was fertile,” she says, “and my husband Mark works at Heathrow Airport so the windows of opportunity were quite slim!”

Ellen grew up abroad and worked as a wildlife guide in Africa until 2007 when she moved to Norfolk to study at the University of East Anglia. It was her intention to return overseas once she had completed her degree but fate intervened.

“I met Mark in the Summer of 2009 and ended up staying!” she smiles. The couple, who married in 2012 and live in Bircham Tofts, had first started trying for a baby in 2013.

Ellen fell pregnant naturally but sadly miscarried at 11 weeks. They tried to conceive again but after a year of trying and no pregnancy they went to their GP.

“I was referred by my GP to a specialist fertility clinic in King’s Lynn run by Bourn Hall where a scan revealed that I had PCOS,” says Ellen, who is 39. “I was then told that there were a number of ways they could help”.

OI Treatment with Clomid

For couples who are trying to conceive, regular ovulation – when a ripened egg ready to be fertilised is released from the ovaries – is really important as it signals the 3-4 days a month when a woman is at her most fertile. PCOS disrupts ovulation and a symptom is irregular periods. When a woman isn’t ovulating regularly, fertility drugs can be prescribed to boost her natural fertility and increase the chances of conception. Bourn Hall put Ellen on a course of Clomid to induce her ovulation and monitored her regularly.

“This meant that I could predict a lot better when I would be fertile,” says Ellen, “and on those days Mark made sure he was home nice and early for a romantic dinner…”

The ‘romantic dinners’ (and the Clomid) clearly worked as Ellen fell pregnant and nine months later in December 2016 gave birth to son Arthur at the King’s Lynn Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“The painful bit of labour only lasted a couple of hours and I managed to get through on gas and air,” Ellen laughs. “Arthur is a healthy and happy boy and being a mum is absolutely fantastic. I just feel warm all over when the three of us are having a hug. We still can’t believe that such a wonderful little boy is ours for keeps.”

Bourn Hall has provided NHS funded IVF for many years and in July 2019 it also gained NHS qualified provider status to offer a  Fertility Diagnosis and OI Treatment Service, which is free on a GP referral, to help couples get pregnant sooner.

OI Treatment with ClomidEllen and Mark with Arthur in 2017

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Ovulation Induction for natural pregnancy

Due to erratic ovulation Kim couldn’t get pregnant – now she is a mum-of-one with another baby on the way.

Irregular periods sign of ovulation issue

“Having irregular periods wreaks havoc with your life and is really disruptive,” says Kim from King’s Lynn. For as long as she can remember Kim has kept a diary detailing when her periods start and end.

“I could literally go for four months without a period and then have a short period followed by a longer, heavier one a few weeks later,” she says. “Then I could go for months without another one. Having regular monthly periods is something which a lot of women take for granted but mine were all over the place and completely random.”

Kim got so fed up with the disruption that when she was in her early twenties she went to her GP who put her on the pill: “At the time that was fine because all I wanted was to make my periods regular,” she says.

Kim then met Adam and the couple were married in 2014. Keen to start a family, they started trying for a baby shortly after the wedding. “I came off the pill and, I suppose, bearing in mind the issues I had always had with my periods, I was a bit naïve really about how difficult it might be for me to get pregnant,” says Kim.

“Once I had come off the pill my periods became irregular again and so while we were trying to conceive I had to regularly take pregnancy tests to determine if my lack of a period was because of my irregular cycles or because I was pregnant.”

Irregular periods are a sign that a woman is not ovulating (releasing a ripe egg in to her fallopian tubes) every month. For natural conception to take place the eggs and sperm must meet in the fallopian tube and if a woman is not ovulating regularly the likelihood of her conceiving is greatly reduced.

New Fertility Diagnostics and OI Treatment service 

After a year of trying and not getting pregnant, Kim went to see her GP who referred her and Adam to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

“I had my first appointment with a consultant at the hospital but then shortly after that I received a letter to say that Bourn Hall now provided the fertility diagnostics and also Ovulation Induction for natural pregnancy and so all of my subsequent appointments were at Bourn Hall’s clinic in King’s Lynn,“ says Kim.

One of the first steps which Bourn Hall took with the couple was to test Adam’s sperm and to undertake a Hycosy diagnostic test on Kim which involved inserting a dye into her fallopian tubes followed by an ultrasound scan to see if there were any blockages in the tubes.

“Adam’s sperm tests came back all fine and the Hycosy showed that my tubes were not blocked,” says Kim.

The couple then met with Carol Steel, Lead Specialist Fertility Nurse at Bourn Hall, King’s Lynn, who has more than 25 years’ nursing experience in the field of fertility.

“Carol explained to us that once we had completed a few more investigations, we would have an appointment with the doctor who would probably prescribe some tablets to try to get the eggs released.” says Kim.

“She said that my hormones weren’t behaving as they should and that hopefully this could be managed with tablets.”

Monitored OI treatment produces higher success rates 

There are a number of reasons why a woman may not be producing eggs but regular ovulation can often be restored using fertility drugs (pills or injections). About 70% of women will ovulate with this treatment, the majority within the first three months. Of those who ovulate, between 20% and 60% will become pregnant – the wide range is due to many other factors affecting fertility such as age, weight, sperm quality and lifestyle or other health issues.

Fertility drugs stimulate the development and ovulation of mature eggs to be released ready for natural fertilisation and during an ovulation induction (OI) cycle, a woman will have ultrasound scans and blood tests to ensure the treatment is resulting in eggs developing and ovulating correctly.

“The doctor explained to us that they would try me with Clomid to start with and if that didn’t work we might move on to injections and if that didn’t work the next option would be to have IVF,” says Kim.

Clomid stimulates egg production

Clomid is an effective treatment which stimulates a woman’s ovaries to produce eggs. It is often the first course of treatment for women with polycystic ovaries but can also be used by women who have late or irregular periods.

“Clomid tablets are taken from Day 2 of the period until day 6, just 5 tablets each month ,” says Kim. “I had to call Carol on the first day of my period and arrange to see her for an ultrasound scan on day 10-12 to see if the Clomid was working, she checked how thick the lining of my uterus was and also if there were any follicles maturing in the ovaries that could release an egg.”

Whilst Clomid is highly effective for many women it does not work for everyone and this was the case for Kim. “I tried not to be too downhearted but it was difficult,” admits Kim.

Screaming inside

“Part of me was thinking ‘come on, get real, we have only just started,’ but the other part of me was just desperate to have a baby and was really worried.

“I am normally quite an upbeat person but even people at work noticed that I wasn’t my normal self. I hadn’t told them about my fertility issues and so when people asked me if I was okay I would say that I was fine when I actually felt like screaming.”

ovulation induction for natural pregnancyGonadotrophin injections

The next step for Kim was to be put on a course of Gonadotrophin injections – which can be used by women who do not respond to Clomid and are not ovulating. The injections are usually Follicle Stimulating hormone which is injected once a day from day 2 or 3 following a period to get the ovaries to mature an egg (ideally only one or two follicles).

“Carol explained that I would have to inject myself with the drugs and I said ‘I will do whatever it takes,’” says Kim. “I work in the NHS and am used to seeing people injecting themselves with Insulin for diabetes and so I saw this as a positive thing. I wasn’t injecting myself because I was ill, I was injecting myself to get our baby.”

When Kim started her period and started the injection treatment, she had to see Carol on several occasions over the next 2-3 weeks.

Careful monitoring of Ovulation Induction for natural pregnancy

“Carol did a scan before the first injection as a baseline and then I had a scan after around 6 days of injections; after this I had a scan every 3-4 days.” says Kim.

On the first injection treatment after about five visits Kim had two follicles that were mature; for the last scan – about 22 days from her period – the couple rushed back from a five day break in Devon so that Carol could do a scan on the Friday afternoon.

“Carol gave us the news that she could see two follicles which had developed to maturity, we had to give a trigger injection that evening to get the eggs to release and she started smiling and told us to go away, enjoy ourselves and have lots of sex for the next week. At last we had our window of opportunity,” says Kim. “We didn’t feel under pressure because Carol was always so calm about everything and we just went away and did as we were told!”

Moment of truth

Two weeks later Kim did a pregnancy test and it was positive. “I just stood holding the test in the bathroom and I was sobbing,” says Kim. “Adam and I just clung to each other and kept looking at the test it was surreal.

“When I told Carol that I was pregnant she said ‘congratulations’ and I said ‘you did this for us’. Carol said ‘I didn’t do it you did!’”

On 28 June 2017 son Callum was born and recently the couple took him in to meet Carol. “We wanted Callum to meet the woman without whom we wouldn’t be where we are now were it not for her guidance, care and kindness. We told Carol that it takes a very special person to do her job.”

Since Callum’s birth Kim has found that her periods have become more regular. “I get a period at some point every month now,” she says. “Having Callum seems to have done something!”

A lovely surprise 

In March 2019 Kim and Adam thought that they would try for another baby. “We said to ourselves ‘if nothing happens we will go and see Carol,’” laughs Kim.

The couple were astounded when in just two months Kim fell pregnant. “We are still in shock!” says Kim. The couple find it hard to believe that they will soon have two children conceived naturally – all it needed was some expert help to boost Kim’s ovulation alongside careful monitoring.

“We are just so grateful to Carol and everyone at Bourn Hall,” says Kim. “They have changed our lives.”

Carol Steel with Callum and Kim

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Seek fertility advice sooner rather than later urges Norfolk mum

When friends asked Jessica from Norwich what she would like for her 40th birthday she replied: “I don’t want anything, I already have the only present I ever wanted.”

The early ‘birthday present’ which Jessica is referring to is her new baby daughter, Elisabeth, born after fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic Norwich.

10 year wait

Jessica and husband Marc first started trying for a baby more than ten years ago when Jessica was still in her twenties but they delayed seeking advice. Jessica says: “with hindsight one of our biggest regrets is that we should have asked for help sooner than we did.”

According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority over 90 per cent of couples conceive naturally within two years. If you haven’t conceived for a year however, or you know you have a condition which affects your fertility, you should go and see your GP to discuss next steps.

After finally going to their GP and being referred for hospital tests Jessica and Marc were told that Jessica had a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which is one of the most common causes of fertility issues in women. “I had been on the contraceptive pill for years before we got married and it had masked many of the symptoms,” she says.

PCOS disrupts the release of a woman’s eggs and common symptoms include: irregular periods or no periods at all; excessive hair growth, such as on the face; weight gain; oily skin/acne and thinning hair.

Jessica was told that she would need to lose weight before the hospital would put her on ovarian stimulation drugs to try and boost her chances of getting pregnant naturally and it was at this point that she decided to go for a complete lifestyle change.

“I had always been active but I basically switched from doing a bit of walking to running three times a week and hiring a personal trainer,” she laughs. “Every time I had a setback and wondered what I was doing I would remember what my ultimate goal was. I lost a stone and a half and competed in the Great North Run. A few days after I did the Great North Run I was told that I had lost enough weight to be put on fertility drugs.”

Over the next two years Jessica underwent two courses of ovulation induction treatment. The couple were disappointed when Jessica still didn’t conceive naturally and eventually they were referred for IVF treatment at  Bourn Hall Clinic.

“By this point I was in my mid-thirties and I really did feel as though my body clock was ticking. I really had begun to think that perhaps being a mum just wasn’t going to happen to me,” she says.

Conceived naturally

Jessica was devastated when her first attempt at IVF had to be cancelled half-way through because she only produced one follicle. “That was a massive low point,” she admits.

She then fell pregnant naturally but was devastated when she suffered a late miscarriage. “That took quite a while to get over,” she says. “I went to an excellent group counselling session with an organisation called Time Norfolk Pregnancy Loss and it was good to talk to other people in the same situation.”

The couple decided to have another try at IVF and it was at this point that they met Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Clinical Lead for Bourn Hall clinics in Norfolk.  He gave them the option of trying a radically different approach.

New approach

Jessica was given a higher dosage of  drugs to stimulate her ovaries and then the eggs, which were retrieved and successfully fertilised, were all frozen instead of the usual practice of a ‘fresh’ embryo transfer happening simultaneously. “The idea was that my body would have time to recover from the stimulation drugs before transfer” says Jessica.

The couple went on holiday for three weeks before Jessica underwent a frozen embryo transfer which resulted in a healthy pregnancy and the birth of Elizabeth, who Jessica describes as “the most beautiful baby girl.”

Elisabeth (Lizzie) was named after Jessica’s mum who passed away suddenly 15 years ago. The response to her birth from family and friends has been enormous. “When Lizzie was born we had around 150 cards and presents,” smiles Jessica. “We had been very open about our journey to have a child. Lots of my mum’s friends and relatives sent us cards and gifts. It was amazing.”

Jessica and Marc are now settled in to family life with their daughter but Jessica says she kept pinching herself for the first few months and remind herself that she was really a mum. “It took us a couple of months to believe that it had really happened,” she says. “Over the years I used to have dreams sometimes that I had a baby and would wake up and it wasn’t true. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t still dreaming. Meeting Dr Papathanasiou was life-changing. I cannot thank Bourn Hall enough, we are totally in awe and in love with the little baby girl they gave us.”

 

Only a small number of people require IVF and there are many ways that natural fertility can be boosted and other assisted conception treatments can be offered at Bourn Hall’s fertility clinics. Bourn Hall Clinic is offering free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist to anyone trying to get pregnant until Easter 2018. The consultations are available at Bourn Hall’s Norwich, Colchester and Cambridge clinics and advice will be given on a range of measures that can be used to help people become parents.

 

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Biological clock ticking, Abigail felt she had no time to wait

With her biological clock ticking loudly, Abigail from Norwich felt that she didn’t have time to wait for ‘Mr Right’ if she was going to have the baby she always wanted.

Abigail explains; “I was worried I wouldn’t meet the right person in time to be a suitable partner and a father for my baby. Knowing that I wanted a baby more than anything I decided I had better start now rather than leaving it to chance.”

Three attempts with IUI

Abigail (38) first went to a fertility clinic in London for intrauterine insemination (IUI), a form of assisted conception treatment where prepared sperm is injected high into the womb at the time of ovulation.

Over the next five years Abigail was to have three unsuccessful IUI attempts.

Miscarriage was devastating

“On the third attempt I miscarried, which was devastating.  It was then that I decided to look into IVF as I knew it had a better success rate and I wasn’t getting any younger.

“I remembered reading in the Eastern Daily Press that Bourn Hall had opened a new clinic in Wymondham, near Norwich, which was really convenient and far easier than travelling to London for each appointment.”

So in spring 2014 Abigail visited the Wymondham clinic for the first time.

Bourn Hall staff alleviated anxieties

single woman

“I did feel a bit unusual as a single person and not suffering from infertility issues like the other patients but the staff were fantastic and put me at ease.”

After her initial consultations and a fertility check, Abigail was given the anonymised profiles of sperm donors so that she could select one for her IVF treatment.

Following ovarian stimulation, 15 eggs were collected, of which eight fertilised. Five days later, one blastocyst was selected and carefully transferred to Abigail’s womb and she chose to have a further five frozen for future treatment if required.

Success with IVF treatment

“Having miscarried before I was incredibly worried in the lead up to my first scan. In the end I went to the chemists to get a home pregnancy test. It was positive! I was crying with relief and joy.

“A week later I returned to the Wymondham clinic for my official scan: I was over the moon when they confirmed I was pregnant.

“During the first twelve weeks I was incredibly cautious and amazed when everything seemed to be going well.”

“Molly is all I ever wanted”

Baby Molly was born by caesarean on 11th October 2014.

“I am delighted to have Molly, she is all I ever wanted. She is so beautiful and such a jolly, little girl.

“I named her after the traditional East Anglian dance, ‘molly dancing’. I love the dance and wanted her to be connected to it.

“Bourn Hall was absolutely brilliant. I was so impressed and felt I got top quality treatment. I would recommend their fertility clinics to any single woman who is thinking of having a baby.

“I’m so pleased I did decide to have Molly and with Bourn Hall Clinic.”

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