Double delight for Norfolk couple after polycystic ovaries affected fertility

“Neil and I met when we were 18 and had always talked about our future with children,” says Natalie, aged 35. “Ten years later we got married, and started trying for a family, naively thinking that it would just happen when we decided the time was right.”

The couple were referred for IVF treatment when Natalie’s periods failed to return after she stopped taking the contraceptive pill and she was subsequently diagnosed with polycystic ovaries.

Natalie remembers a particular low point during their treatment with IVF:

“I am a really positive person and I was genuinely happy for my friends when they conceived but I think the crunch time for me was when I had five close friends who all announced they were pregnant in the same month shortly after our second round had failed,” she admits. “I hit a low point and we took some time out from IVF treatment and went on holiday, I tried some alternative therapies such as reflexology, acupuncture and yoga. It helped me massively and put me in a better headspace.”

After two unsuccessful rounds of IVF Natalie and Neil were introduced to Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Lead Clinician at Bourn Hall’s Norwich Clinic, who has extensive experience of treating women with PCOS and is a published author on the condition.

“From the moment we met Dr Papathanasiou we just had complete confidence in him,” says Natalie. “He is a PCOS specialist and put us completely at our ease.”

One of the issues surrounding PCOS patients undergoing fertility treatment is that there is a higher risk of the woman producing too many eggs after taking the drugs designed to stimulate egg production immediately prior to treatment. This is called ‘hyperstimulating’ and can have a very stressful effect on the body; Natalie had hyperstimulated during her first and second treatment.

“During my third treatment I was given a trigger shot to take my hormones down to rock bottom to control the hyperstimulation,” says Natalie. “Once my eggs had been collected I was given a bag load of tablets and had oestrogen patches to take my hormones back up again for the embryo transfer the following week.

“I also had an endometrial scratch prior to the injections which was something a friend had recommended to me.”

Double delight for Norfolk couple after polycystic ovaries affected fertility

Endometrial scratching is a relatively simple procedure which makes a small scratch in the lining of the uterus to improve the implantation rate when embryos are transferred to the uterus. Although there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove that the technique makes a significant difference to treatment outcomes many clinicians have observed improved implantation rates.

Natalie and Neil were told that they had produced three very good quality embryos.

“I wasn’t sure if the embryo transfer would happen but Bourn Hall told me that because of the hormone tablets I had been taking my body was in a good place,” says Natalie. “We were then given the option of transferring two embryos and we decided to do it.”

After an anxious two-week wait Natalie took a pregnancy test.

“I’d been a bit nervy and the night before I took the test my body felt different to the previous times,” she says. “I took the pregnancy test in the bathroom before going to work and nearly dropped my toothbrush when I saw the two lines, I had never seen a positive pregnancy test before. I just stood there frozen looking at it, I thought my mind was playing tricks with me. I took it in to Neil who was only waking up and when he saw the result his eyes filled up.

I then drove like a 95-year-old in to work I just wanted to wrap myself in bubble wrap, it was the weirdest feeling ever. I beamed like a Cheshire cat all day just at the thought that my body could actually get pregnant, it was amazing.”

Natalie is a primary school teacher and shared her good news with her class who followed her progress throughout her pregnancy. “The children I was teaching when I got pregnant were a fantastic group of children, I loved going in to work,” she says. “They were just so happy when they knew my news and got super-excited when I went for scans, and asked me to bring the scan pictures in and project them up on the white board.”

In May 2018 Natalie gave birth to her non-identical twin boys Freddie and George.

“It was just the best feeling when they were born,” she says. “I enjoyed my pregnancy but never really believed that it was real until they arrived.  It was just the most magical feeling ever seeing Neil so happy as well. The worst thing for me had always been that I had felt guilty because I couldn’t provide him with children because it was me who was the ‘problem’ so to be able to see him standing there holding his two boys was the best feeling ever.”

Natalie and Neil were treated at Bourn Hall Norwich. 

Double delight for Norfolk couple after polycystic ovaries affected fertility

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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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Lucy was told at 18 that PCOS would cause infertility but she didn’t give up

Lucy has wanted children for as long as she can remember. “I decided when I was 12 that I wanted three children when I was older,” she laughs, “I had even decided on their names!”

It therefore came as an enormous shock to Lucy when she was diagnosed at the age of 18 with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) a common ovulatory disorder that affects between 5-10 per cent of women and is a common cause of infertility.

PCOS would cause infertility

It is a complex syndrome producing a variety of symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose and treat – but Lucy was exhibiting a number of the more common symptoms and so her mum pushed for her to get checked out.

“I had hardly any periods since starting them aged 13 and at one point went two and a half years without having a period at all,” Lucy explains. “Throughout my teenage years I had to cope with excess facial and body hair and despite eating like a bird and running every day I struggled with my weight.

“A blood test and scan of my ovaries confirmed PCOS and I was told that if I wanted children in the future it was likely I would need IVF. The implications were explained but not in any great detail and I think it was assumed as I was so young that I had many years of studying and forging a career ahead of me first and that having children was not something to dwell on.

“It is safe to say that, although I did throw myself in to studying and work, being diagnosed with PCOS at 18 was a huge blow and I was determined that one day I would have a family.”

Managing PCOS

Lucy says that at the time she wasn’t given any proper advice about managing her PCOS long-term other than being advised to go on the contraceptive pill.

“I wasn’t offered any help or advice with managing my weight or excess hair,” says Lucy. I personally felt that if I could get my PCOS under control when I was younger I might be able to conceive naturally later on when I was ready to start a family and I have since found quite a lot of useful dietary information online.”

Ten years after she was told her PCOS would cause infertility Lucy met Gerry and as the relationship got serious she felt that she needed to be totally honest with him about her chances of conceiving.

“My best friend and some friends from school had started to have children and when our relationship started to get serious I felt that I needed to be upfront with him as it was such a big thing for me,” says Lucy. “Gerry was extremely supportive and said that he wanted to be with me and if we had children that was a bonus.”

Boosting natural fertility

The couple, who lived in London at the time, had a two-year engagement to save up for their wedding and during that time Lucy was sent for hospital fertility tests where she was told again that her chances of conceiving naturally were very slim. She was subsequently referred for IVF treatment.

“If obsessed brides are called ‘bridezillas’ then I was a ‘mumzilla’’ recalls Lucy. “My body was a total temple, I drank no alcohol, worked out every day, drank loads of water, ate loads of vitamin E rich foods, got at least 8 hours of sleep a day and did reflexology and yoga.”

Lucy thinks this commitment paid off because the day before she was due to embark on a course of fertility drugs she found out, miraculously, that she had fallen pregnant naturally. Lucy and Gerry were over the moon and in July 2013 son Finn was born.

PCOS would cause infertility

Devastating news 

Just before Finn’s second birthday Lucy was ecstatic when she found out she had fallen pregnant naturally again but her joy was short-lived when she suffered a miscarriage.

“I was absolutely devastated,” says Lucy. “I took the miscarriage really badly and ended up being on anti-depressants for a while.”

After they got married the couple relocated to Norfolk and decided to approach nearby Bourn Hall Clinic in Norwich for advice.

Running out of time

“I had been lucky to fall pregnant twice naturally but with me only ovulating twice a year it was anyone’s guess whether I would fall pregnant again after my miscarriage,” says Lucy. “I was nearly 34 when we approached Bourn Hall and I didn’t feel as though we had time on our side.”

Lucy was treated at Bourn Hall Clinic using IVF which involved her taking fertility drugs to stimulate her egg production before having the eggs removed using a minor surgical procedure to be mixed with Gerry’s sperm in a culture dish for fertilisation. A resulting embryo was then transferred to her womb.

Polycystic ovary syndrome can affect a woman’s hormones and her reaction to fertility drugs and Lucy was closely monitored by Bourn Hall during her treatment to ensure she didn’t produce too many eggs and develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. She describes the care she received at Bourn Hall as “exceptional.”

The hardest part of the whole process, she reveals, was the two-week wait after she had been treated before she took her pregnancy test. The couple were delighted when the test came back positive and Lucy gave birth to second son Rory on April 1, 2016.

Miracle sons

“Finn’s birth had not been very easy and he had ended up in the special care baby unit so I was absolutely petrified when I went in to have Rory,” says Lucy. “But Rory’s birth went very smoothly and he let out the most enormous cry when he was born and he has been absolutely delightful ever since.”

Lucy, who works as a Procurement Specialist, cannot praise Bourn Hall Clinic highly enough: “I was just so impressed with Bourn Hall,” she says. “The whole experience was just so professional, caring and personal.

“I have got two miracle sons, one conceived naturally and one as a result of IVF, and I am just so grateful.”

PCOS would cause infertility

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