I was about to turn 30 when I discovered early menopause ran in my family

“I knew mum had health problems when I was growing up and was on different medications, but we didn’t really talk about it and she didn’t know we were trying for a baby,” says Lauren, who with hindsight says she would have asked more about the family fertility history.

“It wasn’t until I shared my Bourn Hall test results that I realised she’d gone through the menopause at 34 and my grandmother at 36.

“Mum had conceived easily with me so she didn’t realise it might be a problem, but my nan had lost a pregnancy.”

“It was quite shocking to find out about the family history just before I turned 30. If I had known earlier, I would have frozen some of my eggs when I was younger and they would have been better quality.”

Women tend to go through menopause at the same age as their mothers, usually in their mid-fifties, with their egg store or ovarian reserve declining from 35.  The AMH (Anti- Mullerian Hormone) is produced by the cells in the ovary and can be used as an indication of the number of eggs that are left in the ovary.  In the Bourn Hall ‘Fertility Health and Wellbeing Service’ the test is combined with a scan of the ovaries and a consultation to discuss the options.

Lauren and her partner Chris were in their mid-twenties when they started to get concerned about their fertility.  They were told by their GP they had to try naturally for longer before they could access tests on the NHS.

The NHS tests showed that Lauren was ovulating regularly and a HyCoSy – a test where dye is injected into the tubes – showed that one of the tubes connecting the ovary to the womb was clear.

“They did that ‘weird thing’ of leaving the male testing until later on and just tested me initially,” says Lauren. “It was only when Chris was tested that it was found that while he had a very high sperm count there was an issue with their shape (morphology).”

Semen analysis looks at number, motility, and morphology of the sperm.

“What I found with the NHS was that that you get an email or go on your portal to see your results, but they don’t call you or explain what anything meant,” says Lauren. “So, Chris was googling ‘what is a normal range for sperm? What does this mean?

“At that time there was no funding for IVF where we live, so we weren’t able to get any more help from the NHS and so we decided to do self-funded fertility testing at Bourn Hall to understand our options. I sent them all our existing tests and they recommended that we did some further ones.”

Sperm is produced every 9 weeks and although the quality is affected by illness and temperature it can be improved with good nutrition, so it is recommended that several tests are taken at intervals if there is an issue with the quality.  Blood tests taken at different stages of a woman’s cycle can also give different results and the AMH test is not routinely available on the NHS.

“It was really helpful to have a Zoom consultation with a fertility specialist at Bourn Hall and actually talk about our results. We knew that something was obviously ‘up’ but we didn’t know what route to go down.

“The Bourn Hall consultant told us that I had a low egg count for my age and we had less than 3 percent chance of conceiving naturally. She talked through our options and explained if we had IVF then this would overcome issues with the sperm, as we could have ICSI where the best sperm is injected into the egg instead of letting nature take its course.”

The couple had IVF treatment. “I started taking the medication to prepare for egg collection on Chris’s 29th birthday and three days before my 30th and we also got engaged so it was a really busy time!

“I had nine eggs retrieved, five of which made it to day two but only one made it to day five. It wasn’t the best quality so we weren’t too hopeful that it would turn in to a baby…”

The couple’s first attempt at IVF was successful, but waiting for the test result and then confirmation of pregnancy with a scan creates a rollercoaster of emotions.

Lauren remembers: “When we went for our seven-week scan at Bourn Hall I had a little cry and couldn’t stop hugging all the nurses! I was just so thankful to them all, I had seen the same people throughout my treatment and it was incredible for them to be there when we saw the little heartbeat and our little baby on the screen, it was amazing.

“Our daughter Alana was born in January 2023 at the Rosie in Cambridge. When she arrived, I was sobbing my eyes out when I held her in my arms for the first time. We still talk about it now, to have seen the embryo transfer up on the screen at Bourn Hall and then see her little heartbeat at 7 weeks and then to have her finally arrive, a full-sized baby! Incredible!

“I am very aware that with my family history my menopause could be around the corner and, ideally, we would like to give Alana a sibling. We will be talking to Bourn Hall about a freeze-all cycle to have some embryos ‘in the bank’ for the future.”

When asked if she would have done anything differently Lauren says:

“My advice to others would be to be open and honest when people start asking questions about whether you are planning on having a family. A lot of people don’t admit how long they had been trying or that they had IVF, or needed help to induce ovulation. Seeing yet another pregnancy announcement can make you feel sad when you are trying, but you don’t know the journey behind it.

“I wish now that I had told my mum earlier that we were struggling to get pregnant because if I’d known about the family history it would have saved us years of heartbreak and upset by having that knowledge.

“So, I will definitely be having that conversation with Alana when she is older because I think the earlier you freeze your eggs, even if you are not sure if you want a family, the better, because you have got them ‘just in case’.”

Lauren with Alana


Precious gift from egg donor makes a family complete

Louise was determined that a diagnosis of premature ovarian failure and a waiting list for egg donors wasn’t going to prevent her and husband Richard from starting a family.

Louise was just 15 when, in 1996, her consultant told her she had premature ovarian failure and would need an egg donor if she ever wanted to have children. At the time she decided she would prefer not to have children than to use a donor’s eggs.

“At the time it didn’t really have an impact on me,” says Louise. “I was just 15. My mum was more affected by the news, she burst into tears in the consultants’ room.”

A change in outlook

However nine years later, at a BBQ in 2005, Louise met Richard and soon found herself wanting to settle down and start a family. “That is when it finally hit me and the prospect of not having a family of my own made me very sad,” she says.

They married four years later and knowing that they’d need donated eggs they went to their GP to ask about fertility treatment. They were referred for NHS treatment and given a list of possible providers and chose Bourn Hall Clinic as it has its own egg sharing and donation programme.

Egg sharing programme

“As well as the Cambridge clinic being such a calm, peaceful environment, we knew Bourn Hall Clinic had its own egg sharing programme, which some of the other providers didn’t have,” says Louise. “We signed up immediately to the waiting list knowing that it could be two years or more before we got our chance.

“Due to the uncertainty of how long we might have to wait and terrified that our one chance might fail and we’d find ourselves back again at the bottom of the waiting list we began looking into other options to finding an egg donor.”

One of which was an egg donor website. The couple were contacted by a woman who said she’d be happy to help them. “The email came out of the blue,” says Louise. “We were over the moon”.

Donor tested for eligibility

The potential egg donor then had to contact Bourn Hall independently and it was arranged for her to be tested for eligibility.

“It felt like ages whilst we waited to get confirmation that our altruistic egg donor was clear to help us but in reality it was only a few weeks rather than years,” remembers Louise. “We were on cloud nine when we got the ‘ok’ and couldn’t wait to start the IVF process.”

Embryo transfer

Eggs were collected from the donor in 2012. Having been fertilised by ICSI using Richard’s sperm the couple then had to wait until they got the telephone call to come in for the embryo transfer procedure.

“The egg collection and fertilisation stage were nerve wracking but the embryo transfer was really straightforward and easy,” says Louise.

“Bourn Hall Clinic was very good and rang us every day to update us on the embryos’ development. Six fertilised successfully, however, we were terrified that something would go wrong with these and we’d have zero to be transferred and need to start all over again.”

Pregnant with Joshua

On day six, and following a discussion with their consultant, two blastocysts were transferred into Louise’s womb and the other four frozen.

Two weeks later it was confirmed that Louise was expecting a baby and after a ‘lovely pregnancy’ she gave birth to Joshua in December 2012.

“We fell in love with him more and more each day,” says Louise. “He was a beautiful baby and now he is a very chatty, bubbly toddler.”

Baby Samuel arrives in 2014

Joshua is also now a big brother to baby Samuel, born in November 2014 after Louise and Richard had self-funded treatment at Bourn Hall using the embryos which had been frozen two years before.

“We wanted a small age gap if possible,” says Louise, “and the process was even easier the second time around. The eggs had already been collected and the embryos were frozen ready and waiting for us.”

After another smooth pregnancy Louise gave birth to Samuel in November 2014 and says that he has just slotted in to their family life perfectly. “It feels as though he was always meant to be here,” she laughs.

Praise for Bourn Hall

Louise and Richard are full of praise for the care and treatment they received at Bourn Hall:

“Bourn Hall Clinic offer a phenomenal service,” she says. “We always knew that if we had a query someone would get back to us the same day. We just wouldn’t go anywhere else.”

Louise is also keen to emphasise to other women thinking of using an egg donor that her own fears about not being biologically related to her children were quickly allayed by her deep maternal instinct and overwhelming love for them:

“I would say to anyone facing the same situation to be open to what the options are,” she says. “In the beginning it was a big concern to me about how I might feel not being biologically related to my children. But I can honestly say that it has not mattered. I have not considered the boys anything other than ours.

“We cannot express how grateful we are to our egg donor. We have been so blessed to have our two boys.  They give us and our families so much joy.”

More information about egg donation.

Also visit our virtual Fertility Fair to find out more and discuss your options.

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From despair to joy for new mother told she had no eggs

Paula will always remember the day she was told she had no eggs: “I was absolutely devastated, I cried all night in despair.”

When she was 28 Paula had the Mirena coil fitted. This contraceptive device releases a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone and is often recommended for women with heavy periods as it can reduce or stop periods entirely. In Paula’s case it masked the fact she was going through an early menopause.

Premature Menopause

“I was in my mid thirties when we agreed to remove the coil and try for a baby. At first my periods were very irregular but I assumed my cycle was settling down after the coil and thought I should wait at least a year before asking for help.”

When Paula went to her GP she was referred for blood tests and had her Fallopian tubes checked via a procedure called hysterosalpingogram (HSG).

“No problems were found with my Fallopian tubes and although my Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level was low (12) I was told it had to be below 10 before I would be considered for IVF. Therefore, I was put on Clomid and had 3 cycles in 9 months and although the doctors kept saying they could see a follicle swelling in my ovary nothing happened.

“I was beginning to wonder if they were just seeing a cyst rather than a follicle and wanted to know if I had any eggs left. I had read about the AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) test but the consultant couldn’t offer me this, instead they did another blood test for hormone levels.”

Paula waited over five weeks for the results of the test and was told just after her 40th birthday that she probably had Premature Ovarian Failure; she was unlikely to conceive naturally and was too old for NHS funded treatment.

GP recommends Bourn Hall 

Paula went back to her GP and was recommended to go to Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic. Here she was given the AMH test.

A baby girl is born with all the eggs she will have for a lifetime. These are released gradually and when they are gone this triggers the menopause. The AMH test gives an estimate of the remaining egg supply, or “ovarian reserve”. It cannot be used to predict fertility as it provides no measure of the rate of loss, but it gives a snapshot of how many eggs remain.

“At Bourn Hall I was told for the first time that I had no eggs left and had all the symptoms of the menopause. I went on a real downer; I was still young but felt I wasn’t a woman anymore. I kept asking myself ‘what if I had done this, what if I had done that’. I thought I would never have children it was so hard to bear.”

The Egg Donor programme

Paula was put on the waiting list for an egg donor. Bourn Hall Clinic has an active donor programme, inviting altruistic donors and also encouraging patients to share eggs or sperm where the quality is particularly high. There is no obligation to share but the clinic has found that empathy is a powerful motivator and treatment is offered free of charge to acknowledge this support.

Paula went on the waiting list and got her body ready for pregnancy. She gave up caffeine and alcohol, improved her diet and fitness in the hope of a donor being found. Two years later the call came.

“The donor produced twenty eggs, ten for her and ten for me, and I got pregnant first time. I was over the moon; I had not expected it to work on the first attempt. You are not told about the other person but I so hoped that she was pregnant too.”

Gary and Paula welcome Aidan and Ethan 

The twins, Aidan and Ethan, were born in March 2011 and Paula and her husband Gary still can’t believe the babies are here.

“I call them my little miracles. I think of the donor all the time and just couldn’t thank her enough. We owe her so much for the joy she has given us.

“To anyone considering donating I would say, ‘be very sure that it is what you want to do’, it is not an easy decision. To give someone who craves a baby with her whole being the chance of being a mother is probably one of the most generous things you could ever do.

“I can still remember the pain when I was told I had no eggs and now I have these beautiful babies; I can’t begin to describe the joy.”

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