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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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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12 years of trying before IVF success

Michelle from Suffolk has been through so much – she lost ten natural pregnancies and her first marriage failed under the strain – and she was devastated when her first attempt at IVF failed. Fortunately she was persuaded to have one last try and achieved her baby dream.

Recurrent miscarriage 

Having lost four natural pregnancies during her previous marriage, Michelle (now 34) knew that she had a fertility issue when she got together with Alastair (34) in 2007.

After two months together Michelle unexpectedly fell pregnant but again miscarried a few weeks later.

“It was a very traumatic experience for Alastair and me. I found myself questioning our situation and wondering ‘why me?’.

“Alastair realised that IVF was our best option and so once we’d got over the devastation of the miscarriage we went to our GP.

“He explained that it would take three years before we could be referred for fertility treatment and as I’d managed to become pregnant naturally that ‘you never knew and to keep trying’.”

During their three year wait, Michelle lost two further natural pregnancies.

Ectopic pregnancies

Finally, in 2010, Michelle was referred for investigation at a London hospital. Tests revealed that her one remaining functional fallopian tube was damaged and that all her miscarriages, which had happened within 11 weeks, could in fact have been ectopic: when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb. However no conclusive reason was given and they were told their only way to have a baby was by IVF.

“Not knowing the exact reason for why I had recurrent miscarriage was very difficult to deal with. I had hoped an answer would mean we could do something positive about our circumstances ourselves but IVF now seemed the only option.”

Referred to Bourn Hall for IVF

The couple were referred for NHS funded IVF and chose Bourn Hall’s Colchester clinic.

The couple started their fertility treatment in January 2011. Michelle was prescribed a course of medication to help stimulate her ovaries.

In early April, 18 eggs were collected but only one embryo made it to day five. This one fertilised blastocyst was carefully put into Michelle’s womb.

Chemical pregnancy

Two weeks later Michelle took a pregnancy test, which revealed she was pregnant. Unfortunately she started bleeding three days later. It turned out she’d had a chemical pregnancy, which is when a fertilised egg does not attach itself to the uterine wall.

“This was the first time I ever felt like giving up as I had been at this stage naturally.

“I even declared to Alastair ‘I think that’s it!’ but as it got nearer to us being able to try again I realised that if we didn’t take this opportunity we would regret it.”

Second cycle of IVF

In September 2011 the couple started their second cycle of NHS funded IVF and on a slightly different treatment plan, to try and improve the quality of the eggs that Michelle produced.

On 21st November nine eggs were collected from Michelle. Five days later she returned to the clinic to have two blastocysts transferred.

Michelle then had to wait two weeks before taking a pregnancy test.

“The test revealed I was pregnant but I wasn’t sure as I didn’t feel pregnant.

“When we went for the first scan I was delighted to know they could see a healthy baby inside me and in the right place!

“We then took each day at a time and due to my fertility history went for frequent check-up scans, which was reassuring.”

One last hurdle

The pregnancy was going well until at 32 weeks Michelle started to develop high blood pressure and swelling of her legs. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia and following a scan at 34 weeks taken into hospital. The medical team hoped to help Michelle keep her pregnancy until 37 weeks but unexpectedly she lost her waters at 35 weeks and needed an emergency C-section.

Isobel is born 

On 9th July 2012 baby Isobel was born.

“She’s absolutely brilliant! I’ve always wanted to be a mum and although it’s taken 12 years of trying Isobel has certainly been worth it.

“Alastair has been great, and although nervous to begin with, he was actually the first to feed her and change Isobel’s nappy.

“They are like two peas in a pod and it’s lovely to see them together.”

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Brave couple thrilled with IVF success

The mother of Bourn Hall Clinic Peterborough’s first baby is thrilled to bits; she says that when the couple were referred for IVF treatment it was “as though a weight had been lifted off her shoulders”.

Recurrent miscarriage

Sarah and her husband Daniel met at university and were together for many years before they married and immediately started trying for a family. Within the following two years, Sarah became pregnant twice but to her great distress miscarried with each pregnancy.

The couple were devastated; they went to their GP who told them that they wouldn’t be considered for fertility testing until they had three years without a pregnancy.

Sarah recalls: “It was a long further two years of trying to be positive before we returned to our GP. It’s hard seeing other people getting pregnant so easily when you’re not. People don’t understand how lonely it can be.”

Eligible for NHS funded IVF

The couple were eligible for NHS funded IVF treatment and chose to go to Bourn Hall as the results on the HFEA website were so good.

Sarah recalls: “The seminar at the Cambridge clinic was brilliant- informative and thorough. It was such a relief to be there. We had been doing all we could and still not getting pregnant so it felt like a weight had been lifted. It is also a lovely place to visit: like a country estate, where the staff were very welcoming and made you feel looked after.”

“Bourn Hall had impressive IVF statistics on the HFEA website,” adds Daniel. “Certainly choosing Bourn Hall turned out to be a great decision for us because it was just at the time the Peterborough satellite clinic was opening and we both worked in Peterborough.”

This meant the couple were able to have their initial consultations and appointments at the satellite clinic in Peterborough and would go to the Cambridge Clinic on two occasions for the egg collection and embryo transfer procedures.

Clinic staff helped to alleviate worries  

Sarah felt quite apprehensive about the treatment and the possibility of miscarrying again.

“I tried to remain positive throughout the process. I decided that I would have to leave it in hands of the professionals and concentrate on taking one step at a time,” she says.

“It was reassuring to know that if I did have any worries I could just pop into the Peterborough clinic. I did once when I wanted some advice. I was quite scared about the injections but the staff were so helpful and supportive.”

Jack is born

14 eggs were collected from Sarah, of which two made it to blastocyst stage when they are most likely to result in a successful pregnancy. One was frozen and the other one transferred to Sarah’s womb. Nine months later and baby Jack was born on 26th March 2015.

Sarah says: “I couldn’t believe our first IVF treatment worked! Being a mum is fabulous: the hardest job I’ve ever done but I love every minute. It’s been a long time coming but once we went down the IVF route everything happened so quickly.”

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Katherine has twins after test revealed blocked fallopian tube

Katherine and Daniel from Essex are delighted to have twins George and Thomas.

blocked fallopian tubes

The couple first started trying for a baby in 2011 but when Katherine hadn’t conceived after more than a year they went to see their GP. “The doctor put me on Clomid and when I still didn’t fall pregnant we were sent to our local hospital for tests,” reveals Katherine.

A dye test showed that one of Katherine’s fallopian tubes was blocked. “It was actually a relief to begiven a reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant,” says Katherine. “I hadn’t had any symptoms and we led a pretty healthy lifestyle so I had no idea what the problem was.”

Referred for IVF

Katherine and Daniel were told that they could be referred for IVF treatment and they opted to go to Bourn Hall Clinic.

Over the next couple of years Katherine sadly had three miscarriages, twice following IVF treatment and once after a surprise natural conception but despite their setbacks Katherine says that she and Daniel did not give up on their dream of having a family.

“I changed my hours to part-time at work to reduce my stress levels,” says Katherine, who is a PE teacher, “and we went back to Bourn Hall for further treatment using two frozen embryos from previous treatment”.

Intralipids to help immune cells 

This time around the couple also had intralipids, which is a source of fat and energy normally injected. It is thought that intralipid is able to change the immune cells in the uterine lining, making the environment in the uterus friendlier towards the embryo.

The couple were ‘cautiously optimistic’ when Katherine fell pregnant for a fourth time but tried not to get their hopes up too much because of the previous miscarriages. Happily the pregnancy went full-term and George and Thomas arrived on 27 March 2016.

“Since the boys have arrived it has been a whirlwind,” laughs Katherine. “We have had lots of support from our parents and we have to be very organised but I can honestly say that it has been worth it. We are loving every minute of it.”

blocked fallopian tubes

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Need to speak more openly about miscarriage

Over a five-year period Abi had eight miscarriages – her longest pregnancy lasting just ten weeks – before eventually being referred to the world-famous Bourn Hall Clinic.

Abi and husband Scott, who live in Bedfordshire, first started trying for a baby in 2009 when Abi was 29 and they were ecstatic when she fell pregnant.

“When I found out I was pregnant it felt as though everything had fallen in to place,” recalls Abi. “We both really wanted children and as far as we were concerned that was that. We would be having a baby in a few months time.”

Sadly just a few weeks later Abi miscarried and it was a real shock for the couple. “Most people around us were either pregnant or having children so we hadn’t really expected something to go wrong. We were devastated,” she says.

Reasons for recurrent miscarriage 

It is estimated that one in six pregnancies where the woman knows she is pregnant will end in miscarriage. Many more occurring amongst women who have not realised they are pregnant. It is thought that most miscarriages are caused by abnormal chromosomes in the baby.

The majority of miscarriages cannot be prevented. However, the NHS Choices website lists a number of steps which women can take to try and reduce the risk: avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs whilst pregnant. Maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy and eating healthily.

Abi has always been very careful to look after her health and body, having suffered a bout of ME when she was in her twenties after contracting glandular fever. She is a healthy weight and is a keen follower of alternative health therapies. It is very rare for a woman to experience more than three miscarriages – only 1 in 100 women do – but Abi went on to lose seven more pregnancies.

Always a fear

“Every time I got pregnant we got excited, but there was always this fear at the back of our minds,” says Abi.

“And because everyone else we knew had started their families it was quite hard to sometimes mix with them. They would make veiled comments about why we weren’t having children. Even when we did start to tell people about what was going on, a few asked why we didn’t look in to fostering and adopting. When you have been in a situation where you have actually lost a pregnancy that is quite a hard thing to hear someone say to you.”

Recurrent miscarriage is not something which should be swept under the carpet, believes Abi, and she strongly believes it should be talked about more openly.

More difficult to cope with 

“It was only when we started to talk about what we were going through, that other people would tell us they had suffered miscarriages in the past,” she says. “Unfortunately it is one of those things which doesn’t get talked about but it really does need to get talked about more. As with anything else if you are going through something which is different to other people you can feel isolated.”

Abi admits that she and Scott delayed going to see their GP. “I wouldn’t say exactly that we didn’t know how to deal with the situation but we just found it extremely hard. Everyone else had their children around them and each year went by and we weren’t getting any closer to having a family,” she says. “It took us a long time to get our heads round what was happening. We had to accept to ourselves that something was wrong, rather than keep trying on our own and hoping it would all work out.”

“Everyone else we knew had started their families – it was quite hard to sometimes mix with them.”

IVF not an easy choice

The couple were referred to Addenbrookes Hospital who advised them that they had two options. Either Abi could go on a course of drugs to increase her egg production or they could be referred for IVF treatment.

Abi and Scott opted for IVF treatment but Abi wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea.

“I wasn’t 100 per cent okay with going down the IVF route,” she says, “as I knew that I would have to let go of being in control of things, but that was a lesson I needed to learn.”

The couple chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire for their treatment and were NHS-funded. The clinic treated Abi using a procedure called ICSI.  This involved removing some of Abi’s eggs and directly injecting one of Scott’s sperm in to each egg to help fertilisation occur. The best quality embryo was then transferred to Abi’s womb.

Help on the IVF journey

Abi employed the services of two alternative health therapists to help her on her IVF journey, complementing the medical intervention with reiki reflexology and visualisation, energy balancing and healing techniques.

When the couple found out Abi was pregnant after the ICSI treatment. Abi stayed off work for a few weeks to rest and then went back to work on reduced hours to ensure her body and mind were not overstressed.

Getting past being ten weeks pregnant was a big hurdle. Abi had a number of scans throughout her pregnancy. Happily she went to full-term and son Elliott was born in March 2015.

“Being a mum is a total learning curve and he keeps me on my toes!” she laughs.

Natural conception 

When Elliott was 11 months old Abi fell pregnant again naturally but because of her history of miscarriage welcomed the news with ‘cautious optimism’. Happily her pregnancy has gone very well and in just a few weeks she is due to give birth to a little girl.

“She was a complete surprise but throughout all the years of anguish I always knew that I was going to have a little girl so it felt like the right thing,” she says.

Abi firmly believes that alternative health therapy played an integral role in her personal fertility journey:

“Susie and Beth, my alternative health therapists helped me to remove my fears, They gave me confidence and trust in my body’s ability to maintain a healthy and successful pregnancy, despite our history,” she says. “It enabled me to maintain a positive mindset. And was totally invaluable before, during and after my IVF as well as during my current natural pregnancy.”

Recurrent miscarriage

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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.

pregnant at 40

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.

pregnant at 40

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