Hannah and Jemma’s fertility journey to complete their family

“When we first discussed becoming parents using a sperm donor it was so exciting,” says Hannah. “I proposed to my partner Jemma on New Year’s Eve four years ago and presented her with an engagement ring and the date of our first appointment at Bourn Hall. We both wanted to have treatment so that we could have the shared experience of carrying a baby and had no reason to suspect that one of us would have fertility issues.”

Hannah first met Jemma over ten years ago through work but they only got to know each other properly a few years later, finally getting together as a couple five years ago.

“We had both always known that we wanted children but hadn’t really known what options might be open to us,” says Hannah. “After we got serious Jemma got the ball rolling and started exploring the possibility of us having a baby using a sperm donor.

“We talked about it and the only route we were prepared to consider was going through a fertility clinic. I know that some female couples look at alternative routes such as sourcing sperm donors on the internet but as far as we were concerned we wanted everything to be above board and legal. We wanted both of our names on any birth certificates and to protect any children we had so that as they got older they could ask us any questions they wanted and we could give them an honest answer.”

The couple, from Ipswich, heard about Bourn Hall Colchester through friends and Hannah booked an appointment as a surprise engagement gift for Jemma.

After attending their first consultation at Bourn Hall the couple both underwent fertility tests, which all came back fine for Jemma but Hannah was surprised to learn that she had two underlying fertility issues.

“My blood tests were okay but it turned out that I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS),” says Hannah. “I’d always had painful and heavy periods but to be honest I just thought everyone had periods like that. I also had a HyCoSy test, which revealed that I had a blocked fallopian tube. I was really taken aback and just hadn’t been expecting to be told that I had any conditions which would affect my fertility.”

Counselling can help prepare for the future

The couple decided that Jemma would undergo fertility treatment first and the couple were offered implications counselling, which Hannah says they found ‘invaluable’.

“The counselling sessions were amazing,” says Hannah. “It was really personal and helped us realise that we were not the only couple on this journey and were not alone. The counsellor took us through every step and made us ask ourselves questions which we hadn’t really considered before. We were so lucky to have the chance to think about these things beforehand, it made sure that we were really prepared.”

Using a licensed UK clinic ensures legal parenthood status and peace of mind

Bourn Hall has its own sperm bank, which is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). All donors have a medical examination, blood tests and their family history is checked. All sperm donors are rigorously screened.

By using a licensed UK clinic, the couples are assured that they both have legal parenthood of resulting children. Although no identifying information is provided at the time of treatment, the donors are invited to write a short goodwill message for any resulting child.

Hannah and Jemma wanted to both have treatment in due course and were keen to use the same sperm donor for any children resulting from their IVF treatments.

“The sperm donor we chose had written a really warm message and that was one of the reasons we shortlisted and ultimately picked him,” says Hannah.

There are two types of fertility treatment available with donated sperm: IUI (intrauterine insemination) where the sperm is introduced close to the opening of the uterus, or IVF where the ovaries are stimulated with medication to produce more mature eggs at the same time, these are mixed with donor sperm and the resulting embryos transferred to the uterus.

The couple had done so much research and wanted the best chance of success, so although either option was available to them, they chose IVF.

Jemma describes her treatment as ‘all a bit surreal’. “I produced a lot of eggs,” she says. “A number were fertilised and we had two embryos frozen and one transferred to my womb. I can’t really explain it but I was confident that the treatment had worked. I knew I was pregnant before we took the test.”

First-time IVF treatment success

Jemma’s hunch proved correct and they were delighted when the pregnancy test confirmed they were to be parents. Daughter Robyn was born 4 weeks early in December 2016. “We were so excited to be a family,” says Jemma.

Buoyed by the success of their first treatment, the couple were keen to have a sibling for Robyn using Hannah’s eggs and for her to experience pregnancy and birth of a brother or sister – ideally so they could be close in age – and booked an appointment for Hannah to start her treatment at Bourn Hall.

“We had been so lucky with Jemma getting pregnant at her first attempt and this meant that we still had plenty of donor sperm left,” says Hannah. “We weren’t in a rush because we had Robyn but I did wonder if it might take me a little while longer to have a baby.”

Setbacks and a step back

Hannah was initially treated using IUI (intrauterine insemination) which is a less invasive treatment than IVF and as it requires less medication it is cheaper. This was not successful so for her second treatment the couple decided to go with IVF.

“I didn’t conceive after my second treatment either and I was really despondent,” says Hannah. “I wasn’t producing many eggs and I was blaming myself for the fact it hadn’t worked.”

The couple decided to take a step back before deciding what to do next but Hannah took solace in the fact they already had daughter Robyn. “When my treatment hadn’t worked and I felt down, I would look at Robyn and be so grateful we already had her,” says Hannah.

Fresh approach to funding treatment

For couples that are self-funding the cost can be an obstacle to fertility treatment. To support its patients, Bourn Hall has partnered with Access Fertility to offer pre-payment packages some of which offer a money-back guarantee if treatment isn’t successful.

“We were really lucky that my mum, who really adored Robyn and wanted her to have a sibling, stepped in and helped us to buy an Access Fertility Package to enable us to have further treatment at Bourn Hall,” says Hannah.

Hannah’s first treatment covered by the Access Fertility package was unsuccessful but Hannah admits that she hadn’t felt hopeful even before treatment began.

“Every time I had treatment I was producing less and less eggs and I just started to doubt and blame myself,” she says. “I just always had it in my head that my treatment wasn’t going to work.”

As part of her next treatment Hannah also opted to have a supplementary treatment called EmbryoGlue, which is a culture media which has been developed to mimic the conditions in the womb and may help the embryo to implant after transfer. Although this adjuvant treatment has little medical evidence to support its use for some people it can help ‘tip the balance’.

“I really felt like we had given it our best shot and worked really hard to have everything in place,” says Hannah. “I only produced five eggs and went home really upset not knowing what our chances would be. I was really surprised when the clinic phoned me up after day 2 of the embryos being in the lab and told me to go back in for an embryo transfer.

“I was quite weary by this stage and just told myself to hope for the best. I tried to stay calm and channel positive thoughts which hopefully can go a long way.”

Positive news….

Hannah knew early on that something was different this time around. “I knew I was pregnant because I started getting morning sickness really early on,” she laughs. “When I did take the pregnancy test and it was positive I was in shock, it was such a nice feeling! Jemma had to run out and buy a load more tests for me to take so that I could actually believe it!”

Last August Hannah gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, Frankie, and they couldn’t be happier.

“Our family is complete,” says Hannah. “My advice to other same-sex couples wanting to have a family is go for it and if money is a barrier there are options out there. The Access Fertility package was amazing. No amount of money can replace your desire to have children and once you have your family you forget about the financial side of things.”

Lasting legacy and a dream for the future

Hannah and Jemma’s personal journey to parenthood has had a lasting impact on the couple and inspired Jemma to pursue a dream of working in embryology herself. Currently working as a medical lab assistant in a hospital she has just completed her first year of a distance learning part-time degree in biomedical sciences and hopes to do an MA specialising in embryology when she has graduated.

“Those very special people in the Bourn Hall embryology lab gave us our two precious little babies and I would really love to do the same for other people,” says Jemma.

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Being kind to myself helped me when I was struggling to conceive

Beth’s periods became erratic when she came off the contraceptive pill, this was the first indicator that the Beth and Rob might struggle to conceive.

“It wasn’t something I had experienced before,” says Beth. “I knew something wasn’t right.”

Beth had wanted to be a mum ever since she was a teenager. “I remember getting that urge of wanting a baby and I thought that it would pass and it never did.” she says. The couple met when she was 19.

“I was training to be a nurse and we decided to wait until I had got my career sorted before we had a family. I qualified when I was 24 and a year later we started trying for a baby.”

“I had just turned 25 and didn’t think I would have any issues getting pregnant, I don’t think anyone does really,” she says.

Struggle to become pregnant took over

Beth admits that she began to struggle emotionally.

“I started tracking my ovulation using an app on my phone and the whole process of trying to track my ovulation just completely took over,” she says.

“I don’t think that I was in a very good place, it completely took over and was constantly on my mind. I would take my ovulation kit in to work and then if it looked like the right time I would contact Rob and say ‘we will have to have sex tonight’ and it just took the fun and joy out of being together, it was not a nice time.”

When Beth wasn’t pregnant after a year later she went to see her GP.

Beth and Rob were sent for tests which revealed that Beth had polycystic ovaries and a lower than average egg store for her age whilst Rob’s sperm tests also indicated a low morphology – or movement.

“There were a number of factors affecting our ability to conceive as a couple,” says Beth.

Rob needed to lose weight

The couple were told that they would need IVF treatment but Rob needed to lose weight before they could be referred for NHS-funded treatment. “I also did what I could during that time, taking vitamin supplements and doing more exercise,” says Beth. “It became all-consuming. I hadn’t expected to be told that we would need IVF but I just thought, if this is what we need to have a baby I will do it.

“I never allowed myself to think that I would never have children, I just kept thinking about the next step to try and stay positive.”

Once Rob had reached his target weight the couple were referred to Bourn Hall Clinic in Wymondham, near Norwich and attended an Open Evening to find out more about the treatments available.

NHS funded IVF

“I didn’t know anyone who had gone through IVF and it was a comfort to see other couples in the same situation as us,” says Beth.

The couple’s first treatment didn’t result in a pregnancy. “I felt very deflated,” says Beth.

One embryo had been frozen after their first treatment and Beth and Rob returned to Bourn Hall for a Frozen Embryo Transfer. “It was nice because it was a shorter protocol, “ says Beth. Two weeks later Beth found out that she was pregnant but sadly she had an early miscarriage.

Despite their setbacks the couple were determined to try again. “It was never a case of not having IVF again,” says Beth. “But I did want to let my body recover and to deal with as much as I could for myself to increase my chances next time around. I exercised, ate healthily and took diet supplements as well as having acupuncture and fertility massage which both really helped me.

“I just tried to do all I could to be kind to myself because I wanted to feel that I had done everything I could to help my body.”

Determination  

Next time around and Beth did feel different. “I was definitely less stressed,” she says. “I knew the whole process much better and what to expect with injections and scans. I was in a much better place mentally and wasn’t Googling every symptom either.”

For all of their treatments at Bourn Hall the couple’s IVF treatment had also included ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) which involved directly injecting one of Rob’s sperm into each of Beth’s harvested eggs.

For their next treatment the couple had three embryos which went to the blastocyst stage and had two frozen whilst one was transferred to Beth.

Beth took time off work after embryo transfer to try and relax as much as she could. “By Day 3 I had a hunch that I was pregnant,” she says.

“When it came to test day I was so sure I was pregnant that I would have been more surprised if the test had been a negative than a positive,” says Beth. “We were both so excited when we saw the positive test result.”

Son Henry was born in May 2019 at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Beth is loving every minute of being a mum.

Focus on one step at a time

“Being a mum is everything I thought it would be,” she says. “When you are in the thick of trying to have a baby events like Christmas and Mother’s Day can be difficult when they should be a happy time and so it is nice now to look forward to those dates and them not be a negative.

“What I would say to anyone else starting out on their fertility journey is that we all think that we have life planned out and that we will meet someone, settle down and have a baby, but it doesn’t always work like that. Expect the unexpected and if you do need help with getting pregnant look after yourself. Don’t look too far in to the future, just focus on what you need to do to get to the next step.”

struggling to conceive
Beth advises take each step at a time

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Rainbow baby arrives after NHS funding gives one chance with IVF

“Cutting the NHS funding for IVF has a dramatic impact on people’s lives and mental health,” says Donna from Cambridgeshire talking about what her rainbow baby means to her. “Even offering one try on the NHS offers hope, we are proof of that, we had one try and were successful. This isn’t going to be the case for everyone but it can help people achieve their dream.”

A ‘rainbow baby’ – is a healthy baby born after a previous miscarriage – it comes from the idea of a rainbow appearing in the sky following a storm.

Donna had four miscarriages in the space of six years and was then unable to fall pregnant again. “I had been to see my GP after my first miscarriage but was told that it was something which was pretty common,” says Donna.

“But after my fourth miscarriage I went back to the doctor because something was clearly wrong. I am someone who doesn’t dwell on things and tries to keep strong but without me realising it I had been really affected and it had put a strain on both of us.”

Donna’s GP referred her to Hinchingbrooke Hospital in 2011 and she was told to carry on trying to get pregnant for another year.

“When I went back a year later and hadn’t got pregnant I underwent a hysteroscopy to look at the inside of my womb. Everything looked normal so I was told to go away again and try for another year,” says Donna.

Lifestyle changes

When Donna went back for her third hospital visit a year later and was still not pregnant, the consultant urged her to lose weight and make some serious lifestyle changes.

“I joined a slimming group and realised that it was better to eat far more regularly and that jacket potatoes and pasta were just fine,” says Donna. “I ate more than I had ever eaten before, lost weight and never felt hungry!”

A year later the results of Donna’s lifestyle changes were evident: “The consultant at the hospital was really pleased with my progress,” says Donna. “An ultrasound had also picked up that I had possible signs of polycystic ovary syndrome and I was referred for NHS-funded fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.”

PCOS diagnosis 

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects between 5-10 per cent of women and is a common cause of infertility. After attending an open evening at Bourn Hall Clinic Donna and husband Chris were seen by a Bourn Hall consultant a week later and things moved very quickly after that.

Donna had to take a course of drugs to stimulate her egg production before undergoing a procedure to remove some of her eggs. These were then mixed with some of Chris’s sperm and left to develop for a few days using a process called blastocyst culture. One embryo was transferred to Donna’s womb and the couple then went home and had to wait two weeks before taking a pregnancy test.

“When I took the pregnancy test and it was positive after our first IVF attempt at Bourn Hall it felt like everything I had ever wanted,” says Donna, “but then panic set in and I worried that the pregnancy wouldn’t last.”

Donna opted to have some extra scans during her pregnancy to reassure her that the pregnancy was going to plan, including a 4D scan at 26 weeks. “The 4D scan was fantastic; we saw the baby moving around and holding his hands up to his face. He was a real baby and reality really hit,” says Donna.

Rainbow baby

rainbow baby Ronnie was born following his parents' treatment at Bourn HallBaby Ronnie was born in December 2015 and is now a bubbly three-and-a- half- year- old who loves going to his pre-school Clarence House in Chatteris – his mum couldn’t be prouder of him: “He is a funny, loving and caring little boy who is developing extremely well for his age as well as aspiring to be a Marvel superhero,” laughs Donna. “Attending pre-school is really helping him develop further and exceed his milestones.”

Grateful for NHS funding 

Donna, aged 33, and Chris, aged 35, are enormously grateful for the NHS funding they received for their treatment at Bourn Hall.

“We often look back on our journey with Bourn Hall and are still so thankful for their support and for having our treatment funded by the NHS,” says Donna. “We feel so lucky that our treatment worked first time. Many people cannot afford the cost of having IVF privately but I would still direct people to Bourn Hall because there are a number of opportunities for reducing the cost of self-funded treatment.

“I can honestly say that Bourn Hall made our dreams come true. The staff there made us so welcome and were so wonderful, we owe them everything for the life we have now with Ronnie.”

More information about Bourn Hall’s fertility advice, diagnosis and treatment for NHS and self-funded patients.

Following the decision by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG to not reinstate NHS funding for IVF in August 2019, Chris and Donna set up a petition to try to bring funding back to enable other couples to have the same chance they had – read more on The Hunts Post here.

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Double celebration for man who thought he would never be a dad

Steven will never be sure of the exact reason for his infertility. He did have mumps as a teenager and this can impact the fertility of one in ten males who contract the viral infection. Other common causes are sporting injuries and underlying medical conditions.

Infertility can put a huge strain on relationships.  Steven’s first marriage ended in divorce following three failed rounds of IVF treatment in Yorkshire. “I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never be a dad,” he says.

The impact was so devastating that when he moved south to Norfolk and met Joanne, he told her on their first date that he couldn’t have children.

“I don’t know what he expected,” laughs Joanne, aged 25. “I think he thought that might mean the end of the road for us, but within eight weeks we were living together and got engaged a year later.”

NHS fertility advice and testing 

Coincidentally Joanne, who runs her own hairdressing salon, had also been told she might have difficulties conceiving having been diagnosed with mild polycystic ovaries at the age of 21, after experiencing irregular and painful periods.

“It hadn’t really bothered me at that point,” she says. “It was diagnosed early and my ovaries had not deteriorated too much. I always knew that I wanted to be a young mum and if I met the right person I would get started quite soon trying to get pregnant.”

After their engagement the couple decided to get advice and booked an appointment at Bourn Hall Clinic, which provides NHS-funded fertility testing, diagnosis and early-stage fertility treatments in Norfolk and is also the only fertility clinic in East Anglia to provide both NHS and self-funded IVF treatment.

In Norfolk Bourn Hall helps 30% patients get pregnant naturally

Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Regional Lead Clinician at Bourn Hall Clinic, comments:  “Giving good advice at an early stage supplemented by minimal interventions helps 30% of the couples we see in Norfolk conceive naturally.  Of the remaining patients some will require surgery and the others IVF treatment.”

The couple had blood tests as well as semen analysis for Steven, which confirmed a low sperm count of which many were of good quality. The couple decided to proceed with IVF treatment including Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) where the sperm is injected directly into the egg.

The couple were delighted when the IVF treatment at Bourn Hall worked for them first time but suffered a potential setback when Joanne had a bleed four weeks in to the pregnancy. “We thought we’d lost everything,” says Joanne.

Massive bleed

The couple were offered an early scan at 5 weeks at their local hospital on Steven’s 31st birthday.

“I had suffered a massive bleed and we thought we were going along to hear the worst news ever,” says Joanne. “But we were told that we were expecting twins and we could see two perfect embryos sitting there.

“It was too early to see a heartbeat but we could see them and they were safe. I went really quiet.”

Steven was lost for words.

“I couldn’t speak for a while,” he says. “I was just crying with joy.

“Jo asked me if I was going to phone my brother to let him know but I couldn’t speak. It was probably the best day of my life, and on my birthday as well.”

mumps can impact fertility
Steven with his twins

The twins Jasmin and Quinn have just celebrated their first birthday and Steven, who runs his own SMART car repair business, is loving every minute of fatherhood.

He says: “It is amazing being a Dad. Every day I have a smile on my face. Every morning, every evening, every time I get home. It is beautiful. Having been at the lowest point I could be I sometimes just can’t believe my luck.”

Bourn Hall provides free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist – do take this opportunity to get good advice.

Marathon man celebrates fatherhood

The couple first started trying for a baby in 2015 but when they hadn’t conceived after 12 months Hannah went to see her GP.

“I knew that there was potentially a problem with me because I had irregular periods as a teenager and my periods took ten months to start again after I came off the pill,” says Hannah.

50:50 male and female factors

Hannah and Luke assumed Hannah’s irregular periods were the reason that she wasn’t falling pregnant – but it transpired that this was only half of the story.

Tests revealed that Luke, aged 33, had a low sperm count which, coupled with Hannah’s subsequent diagnosis of polycystic ovaries, significantly lowered the couple’s chances of conceiving naturally. “We were really surprised when it turned out that Luke had fertility issues too,” says Hannah.

Luke agrees: “It was very hard to deal with as it was just something which had never crossed my mind,” he says. “I remember feeling helpless and not knowing what I could do to change things.”

One third of couples who are tested for infertility will discover that there are contributory factors on both sides.  For Hannah and Luke the news hit them hard: “When we found out that we both had fertility issues it was pretty devastating,” admits Hannah, aged 32.

“Seeing adverts for pregnancy tests and baby products on TV was just one small way we were reminded of our difficulties and it was a really hard time for us. We just had to get on with it really and keep ourselves busy. Luke tried a few of the tips suggested for improving sperm count such as wearing loose underwear, exercising and not drinking,  but it didn’t help particularly.”

NHS fertility treatment

Hannah and Luke were referred for fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Cambridge and were lucky to be eligible for one round of NHS-funded treatment before funding was withdrawn for NHS IVF in Cambridgeshire.

“Living so close made everything more straightforward for us,” says Hannah. We didn’t have to stress about the travelling or being late for appointments. If the car had broken down on the way we could probably have finished the rest of the journey on foot so we were very lucky!”

The couple’s NHS-funded treatment was not successful. “I only produced three eggs and we had one viable embryo for transfer. The embryo didn’t take and I had a period after two weeks. It was very sad,” says Hannah.

“We had saved up in case we needed more treatment and we knew that we wanted to try again. We gave it a few months and I did a 10k run whilst Luke did another marathon and then we went on holiday before going back to Bourn Hall.”

The second time – as with the first – the couple had IVF using a procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) which is commonly used where the sperm needs a bit of ‘extra help’ to achieve fertilisation. Hannah’s eggs were collected and then Luke’s sperm was directly injected in to her eggs in the laboratory before transferring two embryos to her womb.

low sperm count and PCOS can contribute to infertility
Luke with Adeline and Max

Two weeks later and a pregnancy test confirmed that the treatment had worked. “We were grinning like maniacs. It never crossed our minds that both embryos might have taken,” laughs Hannah.

When a scan revealed that the couple were expecting twins “It was beyond good news,” says Hannah. “We were shocked but ‘happy shocked’!”

Twins Max and Adeline were born eight months ago – “it was surreal when they were born, it was amazing,” says Hannah.

“Now the twins are here it is hard to imagine our life without them,” says Luke. “I look forward to all the new experiences we will have together. They are just a constant source of happiness.”

Bourn Hall provides free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist – do take this opportunity to get good advice.

Cambridgeshire couple celebrate first birthday of their ‘miracle’

Thimath’s first birthday is set to be very special, his parents waited 14 years before successful treatment at Bourn Hall’s Cambridge IVF clinic . “We have planned a big celebration with our close friends,” beams his mum Krishani. “Our son is a miracle to us. He is our little prince.”

Krishani, now aged 39, encourages others to get advice as early as possible if they are struggling to conceive.

“We first started trying for a child as soon as we got married when I was 24,” says Krishani.

“As time went on nothing happened and people kept asking us why we still didn’t have a baby. My mum had died a few years earlier and I really missed her and struggled with not being able to talk to her about not being able to get pregnant.”

To find out more about our fertility advice, diagnosis and treatment click here. 

Krishani sought medical advice and was prescribed an ovulation induction drug and advised to lose weight.

“I found it really difficult to reduce my weight,” she says.

In 2007 Krishani and her husband Prasad moved from their native Sri Lanka to the UK so that Prasad could study for a Masters at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

“I admit that it was a relief to get away from the questions in Sri Lanka about why we were not parents yet,” says Krishani. “Most of my close friends already had children and I had felt under a lot of pressure.”

Cambridgeshire couple celebrate first birthday of their IVF ‘miracle’

Krishani went to see her GP to talk through her fertility concerns and was put back on clomid. She was still finding it impossible to lose weight and was referred to an endocrinologist who diagnosed her with insulin resistant syndrome.

Insulin resistance affects a person’s metabolism and is linked to a number of health disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome.

“I was put on metformin to regulate the amount of sugar in my blood and supervised by a dietician who was really supportive,” says Krishani. “I also joined a gym.”

Her new regime worked and within six months she had lost two stone. However, hospital tests also revealed that both of her ovaries were polycystic and the couple were told that their best chance of conceiving was with IVF.

“We were thrilled to be told that IVF might help us because we finally felt as though something might happen,” says Krishani. “My weight loss also meant that my body mass index was within the acceptable range for IVF treatment.”

The couple went to Bourn Hall’s Cambridge IVF clinic and their second cycle of treatment was successful.

“I couldn’t believe it when I finally got pregnant,” beams Krishani. “We had been married for 14 years and I kept saying to my husband ‘am I dreaming?’ I had a drawer full of pregnancy sticks and kept doing the test again to make sure!”

On 21 October 2017, Thimath was born. “He was a little bundle of joy,” smiles Krishani.

Krishani feels that her diagnosis of insulin resistant syndrome was key in her journey to motherhood and she urges anyone worried about their fertility to get advice sooner rather than later.

“There is so much that can be done to help people struggling to get pregnant and I would advise anyone struggling to conceive not to be embarrassed and to seek help,” she says. “For a lot of people some help with lifestyle changes or simple medical intervention could help them conceive naturally and if it turns out that you do need fertility treatment as I did then the younger you are the better your chances.”

Cambridgeshire couple celebrate first birthday of their IVF ‘miracle’

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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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Norfolk mum offers a message of hope to others struggling with infertility this Christmas

This year however she is counting her blessings and looking forward to spending the festive period with husband Simon and six-month-old twin daughters Katherine and Melissa – who were born after the couple had IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic in Wymondham near Norwich.

“My heart really goes out to people coping with infertility over Christmas,” says Jennifer. “My advice is try and look after yourself and don’t feel as though you have to do all of the normal Christmassy stuff which can be tough if you are surrounded by family and friends who have all got children and you haven’t. I also hope that hearing our story will give others hope that they might have a positive outcome in the end.”

Jennifer, aged 31, married Simon, aged 41, five years ago and six months after their wedding they started trying for a baby.

“When we had been trying for around five months I went to see my GP because I suspected that I might have polycystic ovary syndrome,” says Jennifer. “I had irregular periods and we had been using ovulation testing kits which showed that I didn’t always ovulate.”

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of fertility issues in women. The condition 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.

Bourn Hall offers integrated NHS fertility service 

The GP suggested that Jennifer and Simon carry on trying to get pregnant naturally for a few more months. The couple returned to the GP when they had been trying for a total of 12 months and were referred straight away for diagnostic tests at Bourn Hall Clinic. Norfolk was one of the first counties to offer an integrated fertility service and GPs can initially send patients to Bourn Hall in King’s Lynn and Wymondham for fertility tests, lifestyle advice and drug treatment without the need for IVF.

Tests at Bourn Hall Clinic confirmed that Jennifer had been right to suspect that she had polycystic ovary syndrome and she was put on the ovulation induction drug Clomid.

Although the Clomid boosted Jennifer’s ovulation she still didn’t get pregnant and was advised her that her best chance of getting pregnant was to have IVF treatment.

Jennifer was still only in her late twenties but the news brought with it a new realisation.

“It was really hard because suddenly it started to feel as though everyone around us was having babies and that is really tough when you are not sure if you are ever going to be able to have children,” she says.  “I stayed away from Facebook because it is really difficult seeing peoples’ newsfeeds about having babies.”

The couple were entitled to one round of NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall – ‘one round’ means one ‘fresh cycle’ and any resulting ‘frozen embryo transfers’. Their fresh cycle didn’t result in a pregnancy: “That was really crushing because when you have reached the stage of IVF and are still not getting pregnant that is really hard,” Jennifer admits.

Luckily the couple had seven viable embryos frozen after their fresh cycle which Jennifer describes as “amazing and a really positive thing” and they pinned their hopes on a pregnancy from a frozen embryo transfer.

Throughout their journey the couple were comforted by their faith: “Lots of our friends were praying for us and that really helped,” says Jennifer.

Norfolk mum offers a message of hope to others struggling with infertility this Christmas

Fertility support group 

Another invaluable source of support for the couple was Bourn Hall’s regular patient support group meetings at the Cambridge Clinic. “The first one we went along to just before Christmas was about coping with Christmas and how hard it can be for people,” says Jennifer. “We went along to the support group on a regular basis for nearly a year and we found the talks really useful. It was also really nice to get to know other couples in the same situation as us and we would all go to the pub afterwards and it was really nice to have that peer-to-peer support.”

Jennifer also had one-to-one Skype counselling with independent fertility counsellor Jackie Stewart, who runs the patient support group. “Jackie is really lovely,” says Jennifer.

Jennifer and Simon’s first two frozen embryo transfers didn’t result in a pregnancy. For the third frozen transfer Jennifer had an endometrial scratch – a relatively simple procedure which makes a small scratch in the lining of the uterus aimed at inducing a reaction that makes the endometrium in the following menstrual cycle more receptive to embryos. Although there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove that this technique makes a significant difference to treatment outcomes, many clinicians have observed improved implantation rates.

Two embryos were transferred to Jennifer. “I remember the nurse saying to me ‘it is possible that you will have a multiple pregnancy’ and I was thinking that I was never going to get pregnant with one child let alone two,” she laughs.

A pregnancy test 14 days later brought Jennifer and Simon the news they and their friends had been praying for.  “I had got to the point where I couldn’t bear to look at pregnancy tests any more so when it was a positive I couldn’t believe it and sat staring at it for two hours,” she recalls.

A seven-week scan at Bourn Hall brought further good news. “The nurse told me that she could see two heartbeats and I asked her if she was sure. When she said ‘yes’ I just started sobbing,” says Jennifer. “I will never forget that moment.”

Six months ago Jennifer and Simon welcomed twin daughters Katherine and Melissa in to the world and the girls are thriving. “I still quite can’t believe it!” says Jennifer.

The girls are the first grandchildren for both Jennifer and Simon’s families and the first great-grandchildren for Jennifer’s 96-year-old Grandad. “My granddad had been telling me for ages that he wanted great-grandchildren so their arrival was really special for him,” she says.

After so many Christmases of uncertainty Jennifer and Simon are really looking forward to the first one with their girls. “We are going to have a proper family Christmas, I cannot wait,” she says.

Norfolk mum offers a message of hope to others struggling with infertility this Christmas

Bourn Hall provides free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist – do take this opportunity to get good advice.

Mum with ‘invisible’ condition offers hope to others

Paula remembers only too clearly the pain she felt every time she heard that yet another friend or family member was expecting a baby. After suffering an early miscarriage as a newlywed she had been unable to get pregnant again naturally.

“I had always suspected that I might have problems conceiving,” says Paula, “as I had really irregular periods. So when I had a miscarriage five weeks after I married my husband Mark it was a real surprise as I hadn’t even known I was pregnant. Things hit me really hard, I was devastated.”

After the miscarriage Paula and Mark carried on trying for a baby but nothing happened.

“Slowly, one by one, lots of my friends started getting pregnant,” says Paula. “I wanted to shut it out. I would put on a brave face and smile and then go back home and think ‘when is it going to be my turn?’

Paula and Mark went to see their GP, who sent them for tests.

“Mark’s tests all came back fine but my blood tests showed up some abnormalities,” says Paula.

A laparoscopy revealed that Paula had severe endometriosis as well as polycystic ovary syndrome.

Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrial tissue (the lining of the uterus that sheds with each monthly period) grows outside the womb. It affects around one in ten women in the UK and it is estimated that up to 50 per cent of infertile women have the condition; Endometriosis UK says that a diagnosis can take an average of 7.5 years.

Paula had been completely unaware that she had endometriosis. “I hear of women who are in terrible pain with it and yet I was diagnosed with the most severe stage and I had no pain,” she says.

Paula and Mark were told that they were eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment and they opted to go to Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire.

“I work with statistics in my day job so I had read up on the success rates of IVF and all the facts and figures!” she laughs.

In March 2013 Paula was put on a course of drugs to regulate her ovulation cycle and in July of the same year she had her first IVF treatment.

“Two weeks later I took the pregnancy test and it was positive but because I had had the miscarriage previously I basically didn’t stop worrying throughout the entire pregnancy,” admits Paula.

Son Ethan was born in April 2014, two weeks after his due date, and Paula was completely overcome with emotion. “I just burst in to tears,” she says.

Paula and Mark knew that if they wanted to have more IVF treatment they would have to pay for it themselves so they saved up enough to pay for two more cycles if they needed it.

“We had always said that we wanted two children and it was really important to us that Ethan had a little brother or sister,” she says.

Second time around at Bourn Hall Paula was devastated to be told that despite the scans showing up more than 20 follicles there had only been three eggs collected. “I started to cry and one of the nurses said to me ‘all it takes is one’. At the time I didn’t feel comforted by that but I realised shortly afterwards that she was right”.

Paula was called back to Bourn Hall just two days later for embryo transfer and the statistician in her took over. “I was thinking, what are the chances?” says Paula. “I didn’t think it would work, but it did and I got pregnant again.”

Nine months later Ethan had a little baby brother, Oscar, who is now four months old.

“We have got the family of four we always wanted. It is just brilliant,” beams Paula.

“I am really proud that my boys are IVF babies and I talk about it quite a lot. I am very open about it and get talking to lots of people who have either had IVF themselves or know people who have. I am over the moon with my two boys.”

Read more about endometriosis and PCOS.

Mum with ‘invisible’ condition offers hope to others

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(Photo credit: Lorna Tew Moonbeams Photography)

Don’t bottle up your feelings

“I got to the stage in my life when me and my friends had all got married and the next stage was having children,” Sophie says. “My husband Christopher and I spent three years trying for a baby with no success and during that time it seemed as though someone I knew was announcing their pregnancy every other day. Obviously I was happy for them but envious at the same time that they seemed to have done it so easily.”

Sophie is now mum to baby son Jenson after fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic; she says: “My advice to other people having fertility issues is not to bottle it up because it is surprising when you start talking to people about your situation how many other people have gone through it too. It is nothing to be ashamed of so don’t be shy in seeking advice.”

Sophie went to see her GP shortly after she and Chris got married when Sophie had stopped taking the contraceptive pill and still had not had a period after a few months. “My GP suggested that I had a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome,” reveals Sophie. “I had been on the contraceptive pill for so long that it had masked a lot of the symptoms.”

PCOS common cause of infertility

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of fertility issues in women. It 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.

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.

Sophie’s GP initially advised Sophie to commit to improving her diet as well as trying other therapies such as acupuncture. When Sophie’s periods still did not return she went back to her GP who referred her to her local hospital.

“I was put on clomid and metformin by the hospital to try and kickstart my ovulation and every month I would have blood tests to see if it had worked. Throughout the whole six months I never ovulated and so it was very disappointing.”

The couple were told that they had to have been trying for a baby for three years before they could be referred for IVF treatment and so had to wait a further year. “In that entire three years that we were trying I only had two or three periods and every time I would think ‘oh perhaps my body has finally woken up’ and everyone was telling me to relax and not to stress but that is easier said than done,” says Sophie.

The couple were eventually referred for IVF treatment and Sophie chose to have it at Bourn Hall just outside Cambridge. “We went along for an initial seminar at Bourn Hall to find out more about what fertility treatment involves. I found it really reassuring because there were around 20 other couples there and I looked around the room and saw people a lot younger than me and also older than me and I suddenly felt ‘normal’ and that it wasn’t just me who had a problem.”

Healthy eggs

Tests had concluded that although Sophie wasn’t ovulating she actually had healthy eggs – and lots of them. The IVF procedure produced a ‘triple A grade embryo’ which Sophie describes as ‘the best of the best’ which Bourn Hall transferred to her womb.

The couple then went home before taking the early pregnancy test after 14 days. “It was the weirdest feeling leaving Bourn Hall and carrying on as normal,” laughs Sophie. “It felt really strange. I carried on working as a childminder which helped to take my mind off the two-week wait.”

The couple were delighted when a pregnancy test confirmed that Sophie was pregnant. “I was shaking!” laughs Sophie. A 5-week scan at Bourn Hall Clinic confirmed the good news. “We were over the moon,” she adds.

After a textbook pregnancy Sophie gave birth to Jenson in August and is happily settling in to life as a new mum. “I keep looking at him and I can’t believe he is mine,” she says. “Old ladies stop me in the street and coo over him and I just think that I never believed that I would get to this stage. It is the most amazing feeling, I sit and stare at him for hours.

“Struggling to conceive does put strain on a relationship but I would say that mine and Chris’s relationship is stronger because of what we had to go through to have a child together. What I would say to other couples going through this is definitely get help and advice, support each other and don’t lose hope.” 

For information about Fertility testing. 

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When I couldn’t get pregnant I felt I had failed

“When I couldn’t get pregnant I felt as though I had failed as a woman,” says Rachel ruefully.

Rachel’s infertility issues were as a result of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which is one of the most common causes of infertility in women but it was a condition Rachel knew nothing about.

Speaking ahead of National Fertility Awareness Week which runs from October 30 to November 5, she says: “I have had problems with my periods since I was a teenager. When I first started my periods they were regular to start with but then before I went on the pill I hadn’t had a period for 18 months.”

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.

Treatment for PCOS at Ispwich Hospital 

Rachel and Arren, who is aged 32, went to see their GP when they became concerned that Rachel was not getting pregnant and were told to wait a few more months before they could be sent to their local hospital for tests. At the end of 2010 they were referred to Ipswich Hospital and then for the first time Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition affecting one in ten women, was mentioned.

“When I married my husband Arren we wanted to start trying for a baby straightaway but when I came off the pill I still wasn’t getting periods.”

Rachel has also always had a problem with facial hair growing on her chin which can be another symptom of PCOS.

“Ipswich Hospital threw everything at me for my body to wake up and realise what it was supposed to be doing,” she ways. “I was put on various tablets and therapies and then in the Summer of 2011 I had an ovarian drilling operation”.

Despite the medication and operation Rachel still did not get pregnant and at the beginning of 2012 was told that her best hope for a baby was with IVF.

Feeling I had failed

“Emotionally I felt as though I had failed as a woman,” admits Rachel.

“Now that I have a child I realise that it is a privilege but looking back I thought it was every woman’s right to give birth and bring life in to the world and I felt as though I had failed because I hadn’t been able to do that. I wondered whether Arren would want to find someone else to have a child with and if he would still want to be married to me. I felt as though I had failed him too”.

Arren reassured Rachel that her fears were unfounded. “He was very disappointed, but not in me,” she says. “He said to me ‘we will do everything we can to make this happen and if it doesn’t, although we will be heartbroken, we will still have each other’.”

The couple were told that they were eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment and opted to go to Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester. “We did our research and were attracted to Bourn Hall because they were behind the first ever IVF clinic, it had a really good reputation and the fact they had a clinic in Colchester was really convenient for us rather than going in to London and losing half a day,” says Rachel. “We went along for an initial meeting and they looked at my notes and for the first time it was explained to me what PCOS actually is and what it means.”

When I couldn't get pregnant I felt I had failed
Rachel with her cricket team

Couldn’t get pregnant

Rachel and Arren were devastated when their first IVF treatment did not result in a pregnancy. “I expected it to work and was absolutely gutted when it didn’t,” reveals Rachel. “I was playing cricket at county level at the time and I had to travel to a match after I had taken a negative pregnancy test. When I got to the match I found a corner and sobbed and then I phoned my mum and came off the phone and sobbed again. The other girls I played cricket with hadn’t known I was having IVF as I hadn’t told them as I was still quite embarrassed and felt like a failure. I managed to hold it together for the rest of the day and then got home and had a heart-to-heart with Arren and we had a quiet night in.”

The couple had a second disappointment when a frozen cycle of IVF also did not work but decided to go ahead with a further fresh cycle of treatment.

“At the end of 2013 Arren’s mum was very poorly, having been diagnosed with cancer,” says Rachel, “and so there was already a lot going on but we decided to go ahead with another cycle. As we had already been disappointed twice I didn’t dare to hope this time. It was just before Christmas and the pregnancy test was negative yet again and then two days later Arren’s mum passed away. I felt so guilty because I felt that if I had been able to give her some positive news it might have given her a reason to live. I know that sounds stupid and daft but at the time that is how I felt. It was a long time before I was able to put those thoughts to one side.”

Trying a new approach at Bourn Hall 

In June 2014 the couple underwent their third fresh cycle of IVF. “Our consultant at Bourn Hall suggested something new this time which is not universally agreed upon but it is thought that one of the drugs used in fertility treatment can cause small clots which can cut off the blood supply from the umbilical cord. I had been getting clots in my fingers so Bourn Hall gave me a course of aspirin with my third cycle of treatment. I knew instantly that I was pregnant because I became emotional and moody and me and Arren had a blazing row and he says at that point he knew that the IVF had worked because it was so out of character for me!

“When I saw the positive pregnancy test it was the first time I had seen one and it seemed surreal. I had to take a photograph of it and text the picture to my mum, best friend and Arren and say ‘is that actually a line’?! The line was so faint. Funnily enough I didn’t rush out and buy a load of other pregnancy tests because I didn’t want to run the risk of it being a false positive!”

Felt complete 

After a good pregnancy Rachel gave birth to Adele on 28 March 2015 and she says it was the most wonderful feeling when she held her daughter for the first time: “I felt whole and complete,” says Rachel, “as though that thing which had been missing was there.” Two years later and Rachel says that Adele is “a cheeky, talkative, beautiful girl and the light of all our lives. My parents and grandparents and Arren’s Dad get to see her and spend time with her and it fills my heart with joy. She is the first grandchild and the first great grandchild and she is just wonderful.”

Advice to others 

The main piece of advice which Rachel would give to anyone else struggling to get pregnant is “don’t give up. We had several setbacks. Try not to cut yourself off from other people. Looking back I didn’t see my friends so much and when I did see them all I talked about was my sole ambition of having a child. I did lose a couple of friendships over it as they couldn’t get their heads around where I was and I didn’t have the space to look after those friendships. The whole thing saps your energy both emotionally and physically and I didn’t have the energy to make the effort and I should have done. Get counselling, Bourn Hall has a counselling service and I was probably silly not to have it, I think it would have helped me enormously.”

Bourn Hall Clinic was, says Rachel, “amazing. It didn’t feel like a hospital, it was so much more relaxed and personable. The people on the front desk greeted us by name and took the time to have a conversation with us. I cannot thank or praise them enough and the support and understanding the nursing staff gave us throughout was just wonderful.”

National Fertility Awareness Week 

Bourn Hall Clinic is hosting its second Fertility Fayre on Saturday November 4 to coincide with National Fertility Awareness Week. The event is open to anyone looking at how to get themselves more fertility fit and give themselves the best chance of getting pregnant. There will be a range of wellbeing advice on offer as well as medical advice on different aspects of fertility and treatment. The event is completely free of charge and will run from 10am to 3pm at Bourn Hall’s historic clinic just outside Cambridge. For more information click here

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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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Nothing would deter this would be mum

Kathleen was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries when she was younger which resulted in a 9lb ovarian cyst being removed via general surgery when she was 30; followed by additional keyhole surgery to remove scar tissue that caused complications from the previous operation. Undeterred she and her partner Paul agreed that they would try IVF for a chance of having a baby when they were unsuccessful in getting pregnant naturally.

PCOS

The couple met when Kathleen was 25, they both wanted children but with job changes, moving locations and health concerns the pair had to wait until the right time.

Told she could never have children

“I was never told that I couldn’t have children,” says Kathleen. “But having been diagnosed with PCOS I expected there to be a problem. I also had a large ovarian cyst removed and the surgery had left significant scarring.”

After the surgery, the couple tried for several more years before seeking help. Looking at Kathleen’s medical history, her age and knowing her sister had similar difficulties in getting pregnant due to PCOS, the couple were referred by their GP to St Albans hospital for tests.

Blocked fallopian tube and cysts

Following tests, which confirmed Kathleen had one blocked fallopian tube and cysts on her ovaries, the couple were recommended NHS-funded IVF. Kathleen now 39 was just below the age limit.

“Of the three clinics we were offered we chose Bourn Hall Clinic Cambridge as recommended by a friend and convenient location,” says Kathleen.

The couple attended a seminar in July 2014 and booked their first appointment.

“The minute we walked through the door we knew we had made the right decision and we went in with a positive attitude and a ‘can do’ approach.

“Our consultant was very helpful and the session informative,” says Kathleen. “We knew the success rate was lower at our age but we didn’t want to get caught up in any related negativity.”

Paul experiences a major health scare

Just as they were starting their first NHS-funded IVF cycle Paul experienced a major health scare when blood vessels burst in his eye, affecting his vision. Paul was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure.

Paul comments: “Following my health scare we were in two minds about continuing with IVF but as we had come so far and we appreciated how fragile life was we wanted to give it our all and carry on.”

Kathleen adds: “The whole ordeal was scary and we were unsure of the future but we hoped that as long as we followed doctors’ orders and tried our best the IVF cycle would have a good chance.”

Sticking with the IVF

In preparation for IVF Kathleen had to self-administer the drug to stimulate her ovaries. Bourn Hall provides all patients with a drug teach session to help them feel confident in doing this.

“I don’t like injections at the best of times so was daunted about doing it myself but I knew it was something that had to be done if we wanted to have a baby.

“I was shown how to inject myself and allowed to practice on a ‘jelly belly’ beforehand.

“Paul was really very supportive and sensitive and I told myself that if I did feel something – bad or good – it was because it was working.

“Luckily I responded well to the medication and produced good quality eggs.”

In early September 2014, 10 eggs were collected from Kathleen and fertilised with Paul’s sperm, of which four made it to blastocyst stage, which is when they have the optimum chance of success. On Day 5 two embryos were chosen to be transferred into Kathleen’s womb and the other two frozen.

The couple receives good news

The day before her 40th birthday Kathleen took a pregnancy test, which was positive. Kathleen attended the Clinic to have her pregnancy confirmed and over the course of her pregnancy was monitored carefully to check everything was going well.

Kathleen says: “You can’t help getting your hopes up and there were days we would doubt the success of the process but Bourn Hall looked after us very well along the way; I had frequent reassurance scans due to my age and previous health problems. The staff helped put us at ease and kept us well informed.”

On 24th May 2015 Harry was born.

PCOS

“Thrilled to be a mum”

“I remember arriving in the hospital and due to my age being referred to as a ‘Geriatric’. You can’t get wound up about things like this as it doesn’t help and for anyone in a similar situation I would say ignore the figures and enjoy the experience.

“I’m thrilled to be a mum. I never thought it would happen but so glad it has. Age has been irrelevant for us: you deal with any issues as any new parent would.”

Since the birth of Harry, they have decided to donate their two frozen embryos for scientific research to help others.

Paul is great with Harry

Science has also helped Paul whose health has improved. Kathleen says:

“Thankfully Paul’s diabetes and blood pressure are now under control and after eye surgery the sight in his eye has been restored. He is great with Harry and I’m so lucky to have my two men.”

Paul concludes: “The staff at Bourn Hall were very positive throughout our IVF treatment and we could not have asked for better medical staff.  Bourn Hall was a great experience for us and we can’t thank them enough for helping us in the process of getting pregnant. Our whole future is looking rosy thanks to the help, guidance and support we received. Our family is complete thanks to Bourn Hall.”

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Success with ICSI after tests reveal PCOS and a low sperm count

Hannah and Chris were childhood sweethearts who assumed after they got married that a family would follow shortly after, but their hopes were dashed early on.

“I had always wanted children,” says Hannah, “and assumed we would have a honeymoon baby. We started trying for a baby straight away but nothing happened.”

Eventually she went to see her GP who referred both of them for hospital tests.

Tests reveal PCOS

“The tests revealed that I had polycystic ovaries, which came as a complete surprise as I had none of the more common symptoms,” she recalls.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects 5–10% of women and a common cause of infertility. It has only recently been determined that a large proportion of women with PCOS are suffering from insulin resistance. In some women, raised insulin levels have a knock-on effect on the ovaries, preventing them from releasing mature eggs, and so leading to infertility.

Low sperm count

The couple were then dealt a further blow when tests on Chris uncovered a low sperm count caused by a childhood condition.

“We had to do some battling after that as all of the proposed treatments seemed to focus on me rather than Chris but then a different hospital consultant looked at both of our histories and took five seconds to decide that we needed IVF. It was the best day of my life,” says Hannah.

ICSI treatment at Bourn Hall

The couple were referred to Bourn Hall in Cambridgeshire, and started treatment in January 2013.

“I really thought ‘this is our year’” says Hannah, “but my first treatment failed and we had to wait a few months before trying again.”

Hannah was treated at Bourn Hall using a process called ICSI which involved directly injecting one of Chris’ sperm into one of her mature eggs before transferring it to her womb.

Second time around Hannah knew she was pregnant even before she had taken the pregnancy test.

Baby Ewan arrives

“I just knew because I felt different,” she says. “It was amazing. The only way to describe how I felt is that before I was pregnant I felt broken and that on that day I felt as though a small piece of me was put back together. Gradually throughout my pregnancy I was pieced back together and now I am fixed!”

Baby Ewan arrived in May of this year after Hannah had a trouble-free pregnancy and Hannah and Chris cannot thank Bourn Hall enough for their treatment:

“Bourn Hall is just amazing,” says Hannah. “I don’t know if the people there realise just how appreciated they are. They are such special people. There was a nurse who held my hand when I was being treated and she really sticks in my mind, she and all her colleagues made me feel as though I was the only one who mattered.”

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NHS funding gave Kelly and Andy a baby miracle

With baby Grace playing in the background Kelly (43) recalls how her own and her husband’s, Andy (46), fertility problems were not going to stop them from becoming a family.

“In 1990, we met at a carnival in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and were married a year later. We started trying for a family soon after. To begin with we weren’t too worried about time but as the years passed we began to panic. Our initial hope of me easily becoming pregnant was soon seen as a dream and so we went to a clinic in Ipswich for investigation.

“We had endless tests and investigations and I was given the fertility drug Clomid to help improve my chances of conceiving but it didn’t work.”

ICSI treatment recommended

The tests revealed that as well as Kelly having (PCOS), a condition that affects the way the ovaries work, Andy had a medical condition which affected his ability to produce a sperm sample, and this would require surgical sperm retrieval.

“Eventually we were told in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) was our only option if we wanted a baby.”

ICSI involves carefully injecting a single sperm directly into an egg in order to fertilise it. The fertilised embryo is then transferred to the woman’s womb.

Entitled to one cycle of IVF on NHS

In 2007, and living in Suffolk, the couple were entitled to one cycle of IVF on the NHS.

Following successful surgical sperm retrieval Andy’s sperm was frozen and put into storage until needed.

In January 2008, Kelly had her eggs collected. A total of seven were collected and four eggs were suitable for ICSI.

Kelly continues: “Devastatingly none of eggs fertilised. As it was our only NHS funded IVF cycle we thought our chance had passed; never again would we be able to try for a child as we simply couldn’t afford the treatment ourselves.

A gift from Andy’s parents

“Andy’s parents amazingly surprised us and generously offered to help fund our second IVF cycle. We were so grateful and with renewed hope we returned to Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge but this time as private patients.”

The couple started their second cycle of IVF in September 2008, but unfortunately it was not to be and the pregnancy test was negative.

“Again our hopes were dashed and we started to wonder if it would just be the pair of us forever. Then my Dad heard that the NHS funding criteria was changing and that we might be eligible for further fertility treatment.

“I was worried we might not meet the requirements as we’d already had one NHS funded treatment as well as a privately funded one but that didn’t stop us from trying.

Dad’s determination pays off

“My Dad was fantastic; making initial phone calls of enquiry and then helping with the follow up paperwork and letter writing. Ultimately due to his hard work we were entitled to two more NHS funded cycles of IVF. This news was a big weight off our shoulders and gave us the chance of becoming parents.”

The couple started their next cycle of treatment in April 2010.

“Tragically another negative pregnancy test: we were heart-broken yet again but luckily we did have one more fresh cycle available to us. This was to be our final attempt so we were incredibly nervous.”

The final attempt

In late September 2010, three eggs were collected from Kelly and using frozen sperm retrieved from Andy, two embryos developed. At blastocyst stage, they were then carefully transferred into Kelly’s womb.

“I was due to take the pregnancy test on my Mum’s birthday, the 16th October, but I was too nervous, so I naughtily took it two days early. I didn’t want to spoil my Mum’s birthday if it was another negative, but, amazingly we got our first ever positive pregnancy test! It was the best news ever; I screamed with excitement yet knew we still had a long way to go until we held him or her in our arms.”

At the 20 week scan the couple discovered that they were having a girl.

“We knew this was going to be our one and only child so we wanted to be able to buy the appropriate colour clothes and nursery stuff, which is why we chose to find out the sex.”

The couple welcomes Grace

On 22nd June 2011 baby Grace was born weighing 8 lb 3 oz.

“We thought long and hard about what we would call our miracle. We named her ‘Grace’ after the fertility goddess and for gracing us with her presence and ‘Hope’ because we never gave up!

“She completes the world for us and is everything we ever wanted. It showed us that miracles can happen.

“We know we were lucky to get further NHS funding. It made all the difference to us being able to have a family and we are eternally grateful to everyone at Bourn Hall who helped make our dreams come true.”

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Baby joy after years of uncertainty

Karen and David from Essex tried for nearly 10 years to conceive naturally before turning to IVF. The result, their daughter Ruby, was one of the first 35 babies to be born following treatment at Bourn Hall Wickford.

Diagnosed with PCOS 

Karen first found out that she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in her early twenties and had to undergo years of surgery, scans and treatment for that condition as well as for endometriosis.

When her hospital consultant first suggested that she might consider fertility treatment she refused, worried of the effects that the drugs might have on her PCOS and also her emotions.

“It seemed as though having a baby would be impossible,” says Karen. “We decided that we should just carry on trying for a baby ourselves but seven years later nothing had happened. We were not getting any younger so when fertility treatment was suggested again we thought we should give it a try.”

Treatment at Wickford and Colchester

Karen and her partner David opted to have treatment at Bourn Hall and choose to go to Bourn Hall’s satellite clinic in Wickford in Essex, travelling to the full-service clinic in Colchester for the egg retrieval and embryo transfer.

“My first round of treatment didn’t work,” says Karen, “but we decided to give it another go.

Marriage and a second round of IVF

“We had been engaged for years and David decided that he really wanted us to get married before we had a baby. So I started my second round of IVF treatment, one week after our wedding in January 2014.

“Only one of my three eggs fertilised. I still remember the phone call telling me and I was convinced that it was going to be bad news and that the process wouldn’t work for us again.”

But one fertilised egg was all that was needed second time around and Karen and David were absolutely delighted when Karen was told she was pregnant.

Ruby arrives

“It was quite incredible,” says Karen. “I still get emotional thinking about it.”

Baby Ruby was born on 17th October 2014 and her proud mum describes her as a happy, smiley baby.

“I thought I would never be a mum,” says Karen. “But now I think it was meant to be!”

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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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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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Pregnant at 40 after repeated loss

Recurrent miscarriage is one of the most heartbreaking and painful experiences a woman and her partner may endure. For Elsa, it not only meant the loss of three babies, but resulted in the breakdown of her marriage.

First loss 

Elsa, now 41, first fell pregnant 20 years earlier. She recalls: “I was young and I felt I was invincible. I was also naïve; I couldn’t contemplate anything going wrong.”

The pregnancy progressed as normal, until at 36 weeks, Elsa felt some unusual twinges. She went to the hospital for tests and received the devastating news that the baby had died.

“When we got to the hospital, the doctors couldn’t find a heartbeat. The baby had inexplicably died. Looking back, I realised the baby hadn’t moved for a couple of days before the pain started,” she says.

Elsa and her ex-husband called the baby Wilbur. The strain of the still birth led to the failure of the marriage, and Elsa moved back home with her family.  She described the sense of loss as like falling into a black hole.

PCOS diagnosis: the start of the fertility journey

Years later, Elsa met her partner Ashley, now 39. They started trying for a baby, and for three years were unsuccessful.  They were referred by their GP to their local hospital in Ipswich for fertility testing.

Elsa had previously found out she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects about one in every five UK woman,  Tiny, harmless cysts develop in the ovaries meaning the ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulate). Other than the PCOS, the test showed neither of them had any obvious fertility issues.

Elsa was given fertility drugs to stimulate her cycle and given a booster injection to encourage ovulation. Doctors hoped she could get pregnant without the need for IVF treatment.

Elsa says the stimulation treatment put her on an emotional rollercoaster: “I was flitting between despair, hope and back to despair. The treatment takes up a lot of your time and puts a lot of pressure on your relationship.”

After two rounds of drug treatment, Elsa fell pregnant.  She recalls being “deliriously happy – we weren’t supposed to tell family and friends but we were just so excited.”

Repeated grief

However, early in the pregnancy, the couple realised something was wrong. Tests revealed Elsa had miscarried. They were upset but determined to continue.

A further two cycles of stimulation treatment failed to work, and the couple decided to opt for IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge. It was an obvious choice; Elsa had done some design consultancy work at the clinic and knew it was a place she could trust.

The couple first tried IVF, and then IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), in which a single sperm is injected into each egg to fertilise it. After five days growing in the laboratory an embryo is transferred to the womb.

Unfortunately, the first two attempts did not lead to pregnancy. The third cycle did however, bring them the news they had been waiting for; Elsa was pregnant.

She says: “At first, everything was fine. The initial six week and 12 week scans showed the baby was developing normally.

“I noticed a few weeks later that I was losing fluid from my womb. I was so frightened; I thought my cervix had opened. I went to hospital for my 20 week scan and asked the consultant to check. He confirmed our worst fears; my cervix had completely dilated. They immediately put a stitch inside me to try and close it.

“Our baby girl was born prematurely at 24 weeks old. We called her Eloise. She died five days later in intensive care. We were heartbroken; devastated just didn’t begin to cover it.”

The last chance

Still deep in mourning for the loss of baby Eloise, Elsa and Ashley knew they could not delay. Elsa was just over six months away from her 40th birthday, the cut-off point for NHS-funded IVF treatment.

“We went to our GP for help, and he managed to convince the NHS decision-makers to consider us an exceptional case and fund one final cycle.  We were so grateful to all involved. I think they realised we’d already been through so much, that they gave us one last chance,” Elsa explained.

Only a fortnight before Elsa turned 40, the experts at Bourn Hall Clinic transferred another embryo to her womb. The couple had to wait two weeks for the pregnancy test that would keep their dreams of becoming parents alive.

Elsa remembers: “I was under enormous pressure that I’d created for myself.  This was my last chance as I knew we weren’t going to get any more funding. Ash and I had been through a lot already, and now I was entering the last chance saloon.”

The perfect 40th birthday present

On 20 February 2012, Elsa’s 40th birthday, she took the test that was to change her life forever. She was pregnant.

“To say emotions were mixed was an understatement. There was joy and optimism about the future, mixed with guilt, sadness, and a huge sense of loss.

“At no point in my pregnancy did I feel safe. I was trying to balance the fear of losing the baby with staying calm. I knew I had a weak cervix and I had a stitch put it at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge. It helped, but it wasn’t a fait accompli.

“I rested a lot; from about 20 weeks onwards I worked from home and in the end I stopped work early. We knew we really had to fight for this baby.

“It’s really difficult to put into words just how brilliant the staff at Bourn Hall were during this period. The empathy they have for you is amazing, just so gentle and caring. You can tell their entire energy is focussed on helping you. At no point did I feel they’d taken their eye off the ball. The care we received at the Rosie maternity unit in Cambridge was also first class.”

Three weeks prior to her due date, Elsa was admitted to hospital so mother and child could be closely monitored. Regular scans revealed the baby wasn’t moving as much as the specialist doctors would like, and Elsa opted for an elective caesarean.

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Baby Howie arrives 

Baby Howard was born in Cambridge on the 4 October 2012 weighing 8lb 2oz.  He was taken to the NICU, the intensive care unit for babies, in case he had water on his lungs.  Thankfully, he was fine, and the family was allowed to return home a few days later.

Just over a year on, Howie is doing well and Elsa and Ashley couldn’t be happier. She beams: “He’s massive, absolutely huge, completely cool and developing how he should. Looks wise, I think he got the best bits from both of us.”

“I cannot describe how important it was to me to receive NHS funding for my IVF treatment. Losing three babies broke my heart, but since I’ve had Howie it feels like it’s beginning to mend. Without the funding, Howie wouldn’t be here.”

After everything Elsa and Ashley have been through, Elsa has this message: “ despite all the pain and the heartache, having Howie is absolutely worth it.”

Bourn Hall provides a range of support for patients that have experienced loss.

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