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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