“Our love and Bourn Hall’s dedication made us a family” say Katie and Ali

“We both knew that we wanted children but being in a same-sex relationship we just didn’t know how you went about it,” says Katie. “We knew that women used sperm donors but we didn’t realise you could do it ‘officially’ and assumed it was all a bit of a taboo thing and that we would have to go ‘underground’ to find a sperm donor and try and get pregnant.“

Our impression at that stage was that having treatment at a UK clinic, which I assumed was going to be IVF treatment, would be really expensive for us and so we thought we would give the ‘DIY option’ a go,” says Katie.

Self-insemination 

“We didn’t like the idea of asking a male friend or using a random stranger who advertised on the internet because we very much wanted any baby to be ‘ours’ and not end up with a male figure in the background who potentially could make some kind of claim over them as they grew up.”

The couple, who live in Harwich, knew from the beginning that they wanted to use an anonymous donor and had seen a TV documentary which featured women who had self-inseminated at home using sperm bought from a company in Denmark.

“We had decided that it would be me who would carry any resulting pregnancy and we had three tries using the ‘DIY’ kits at home with the donor sperm shipped from Denmark but we had very little knowledge of what we were doing.

“We tried to monitor when I was ovulating but home ovulation tests can be very inaccurate especially for someone like me who we later discovered ovulates much later than when my hormone levels peak. We spent around £3000 trying to get pregnant this way but looking back now I just wish we had gone straight to Bourn Hall.”

Regulated clinic for IUI

Katie played football with a friend who is also in a same-sex relationship who told her about her successful treatment using donor sperm at Bourn Hall Clinic Colchester. Katie and Ali made an appointment at Bourn Hall where they were told about a treatment called IUI – Intrauterine Insemination – which Katie describes as ‘the most natural fertility treatment there is’.

IUI in a fertility clinic involves placing specially prepared sperm high in the uterus at the time of ovulation at exactly the right time, so when the egg is released from the ovary the sperm is as close as possible to where they need to be. The treatment is straightforward, painless and relatively inexpensive.

IUI using donor sperm may be the most appropriate treatment for many same-sex couples and single women with functioning fallopian tubes who are under 35 years old.

IUI is also appropriate for other patients using the male partner’s sperm or donor sperm on medical advice..

“We had tests done at Bourn Hall, including checking that my fallopian tubes were clear, and they all came back fine. However, it did pick up on the issue of my ovulation hormone peaking early which made me realise that there would have been no way that we would have ever got pregnant using the home kits,” says Katie.

Implications counselling to help answer difficult questions 

Before Katie and Ali embarked on treatment they were offered ‘implications counselling’ – which is available, free of charge, to all Bourn Hall patients going through treatment using donor gametes.  Katie says they found it to be incredibly useful. “It was really nice to speak to someone with an external perspective who has spoken to many couples in our position and it forced us to examine possible scenarios and what might happen in the future if any resulting child decided to find out who their sperm donor was when they reached 18.

“It was really good to prepare for all the things which might happen in the future, especially if we had more than one child, and opened our eyes to any questions our children might have. Children are naturally inquisitive and will want to know where they have ‘come from’ and our position was very much that we hoped that any children we might have would get enough love and support from us and our wider family and that they wouldn’t necessarily feel that it was a part of their life which they needed to go and look for. We also felt that if it was something any resulting child wanted to do then it was completely their choice and we would support them in whatever decision they chose to take.”

Finding a sperm donor

Katie says she and Ali really wanted their children to be biologically related if they had more than one child. “It was really important to us that we used the same sperm donor because at that stage we didn’t know if Ali might also carry a child,” says Katie.

To find a sperm donor Bourn Hall facilitated a very straightforward process says Katie. “Before our treatment Bourn Hall put together profiles of each of us, our heights, weights, eye colour, hair colour, likes, dislikes, hobbies etc and then ran it through their database and came back to us with two donors who were a good match for us. From that shortlist of two we were able to pick the one which we felt was the best mix of us.”

Just popped out for treatment 

Patients who undergo IUI at Bourn Hall are usually given fertility drugs to stimulate their egg production and ovulation and to prepare their uterus to receive embryos. They are closely monitored by regular ultrasound scans and blood and urine tests. Sometimes an injection is given to induce ovulation. The donors are rigorously screened and the sperm is carefully washed and prepared before IUI takes place.

“For me IUI was really simple,” says Katie. “It was no more invasive than a smear test really. They inserted a really long ‘straw’ into me and I was literally in and out of the clinic within an hour. In fact the first time I had the treatment I went back to work in the afternoon and all my colleagues just thought that I had been for a routine medical appointment!”

Harry and Oliver
Image credit: VB Photography

Two weeks after their first IUI treatment Katie took a pregnancy test. “The two-week wait seemed to last forever,” laughs Katie. “The little line showed up that I was pregnant and we couldn’t quite believe it. It felt like it had been too easy it can’t have just worked first time! We hadn’t gone through any of the heartache you sometimes associate with fertility treatment. For us nothing had gone wrong, it had all fallen in to place, we had done everything the clinic had asked of us and they had done everything we asked of them – it had all fallen in to place like a big jigsaw puzzle with nothing missing. We still had to go out and buy eight more pregnancy tests to keep checking that we weren’t dreaming though!”

Son Harry was born four years ago and the three of them settled in to a routine before two years later Katie and Ali decided to go back to Bourn Hall for further treatment, again with the intention that Katie would carry any pregnancy.

Now it was Katie’s turn!

“We still had some vials from the sperm donor left and I know this probably sounds really selfish of me but not having experienced any problems with our first treatment I just waltzed in to Bourn Hall rather naïvely assuming that I would have another IUI treatment and two weeks later, wham, I would be pregnant. Because of the way it happened with my pregnancy with Harry I just assumed it would work.”

Sadly for Katie and Ali their second IUI treatment didn’t result in a pregnancy.

“It felt like a complete kick in the teeth and I found it quite hard to take,” admits Katie. “But obviously heterosexual couples can try for years to have a baby and it doesn’t happen so why did I think that even with having ‘the most natural form of fertility treatment’ that it was going to happen straightaway? I felt like I had let Ali and Harry down and that my body had failed.

“We phoned Bourn Hall and explained that I hadn’t become pregnant this time around and they told me that we had been incredibly lucky to have Harry at the first attempt and that it was okay to be disappointed. They told me that we could just try again as soon as I got my next period and so we did that.”

Using the last vial of the donor sperm, the couple were thrilled to achieve a second pregnancy. “I had tried to take the pressure off myself and went into it trying to feel as relaxed as I could,” says Katie. “We were so happy when we found out the treatment had worked again and we had our second son, Oliver, at the beginning of June during lockdown.”

Unlike Harry, who Katie gave birth to after a long labour and was a waterbirth, Oliver arrived 13 minutes after Katie arrived at the hospital. “The midwives didn’t even get a chance to examine me, by the time I had got on the hospital bed my waters had broken and his head was coming out,” laughs Katie.

Advice to others

Now that Katie and Ali have got the family they have always wanted, Katie says that she cannot recommend Bourn Hall enough and says:

“I would say to any same-sex female couple looking to start a family, do your research. There are people who go down routes which are not ethical or safe and spend thousands of pounds on things trying to get pregnant at home which don’t work and you can do yourself damage. We had three goes at home which didn’t work and three goes at Bourn Hall and have two children, it speaks for itself really.

“As for the staff at Bourn Hall I cannot express how lovely all the team at Bourn Hall Colchester were. Our two nurses Jackie and Kate were amazing, just so supportive and lovely. Our two gorgeous boys are the product of the love and dedication they put into their jobs.”

to find a sperm donor Katie and Ali with Harry and Oliver 1
Image credit: VB Photography

More information about treatment for same-sex couples “IUI or IVF” 

More information about legal parenthood

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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.

CS186 body1 fertility issues revealed by tests

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Rachel and Clare have sons Clayton and Clark thanks to Bourn Hall sperm bank

“I met Clare through work in 2011. Both of us had only ever gone out with men before so it took a number of years to accept where our relationship was heading and to admit to each other how we felt,” remembers Rachel.

Once the couple had got together and come out to all their friends and family, Rachel had to confront her fears that being in a same-sex relationship was going to stop her having a child of her own.

A baby was a deal breaker

“Once we got together properly we had an awkward conversation about children,” Rachel explains. “Clare already had a teenage son and we both knew that having children wasn’t something that was ‘just going to happen’, but I had this massive maternal instinct.

“I just hadn’t prepared myself for a journey of not having a baby in the way I had expected. As far as I was concerned it was a deal breaker, I really wanted to be a mum.”

As the relationship grew serious Rachel and Clare started investigating what options were open to them.

“We knew that the NHS might offer us something but we had heard that there was a huge waiting list,” says Rachel. “We then looked at the online donor route. I even signed up for a specialist website aimed at lesbian couples but we decided very early on that it was all a bit seedy. I had also heard a lot of stories where it can all get a bit confusing further down the line with the legalities of parenthood and it led us to make a pretty quick decision that we wanted to do things properly.”

IUI or IVF? Read our myth buster for same-sex couples

Not ‘token lesbians’ 

One morning the couple heard a radio advert for fertility clinic Bourn Hall. “We said to ourselves ‘let’s go and have a look round’ but we were laughing as we said it as we just assumed that we wouldn’t be able afford it,” says Rachel.

“We went along to an open day and thought we would have to pretend that we were loaded and then were pleasantly surprised when we found out that the treatment was nowhere near as expensive as we thought it was going to be!”

They also assumed that they would be the ‘token lesbian couple’. “We went in and looked around and it was really exciting,” smiles Rachel. “There were so many people there and we weren’t the only gay couple. It was actually really eye-opening.”

Didn’t need IVF

The couple had already agreed that it would be Rachel, being the younger of the two, who would carry the baby, which meant that only she had to undergo fertility tests.

“It actually turned out that I was extremely fertile,” says Rachel. “This meant that I didn’t need IVF and could be treated using a procedure called IUI with donor sperm.”

IUI stands for Intrauterine Insemination, where prepared sperm is introduced into the uterus at the time of ovulation. Fertility drugs might be needed to stimulate egg production and ovulation and to prepare the uterus to receive embryos. It is a form of treatment that is straightforward, painless and relatively inexpensive.

Athletic donor

The first step for Rachel and Clare was to choose their sperm donor.

By using a licensed UK clinic couples are assured they both have legal parenthood of resulting children and the donor has no legal status. They can also reserve sibling sperm for further children and there is a maximum number of families that the donor can help.

The donor is encouraged to write a short goodwill message to share with the child, who is able to request more information once they are 18 years old. Non-identifying information is provided to the potential parents to assist the selection of the donor.

Rachel explains how they chose the donor. “We wanted someone who was a bit athletic and health-conscious along with having similar characteristics to our eldest son so that the children could look similar. We were given a choice of three donors based on the characteristics we had prioritised and we chose our donor based on the really nice little message he had written at the bottom of his profile as we felt that he had gone the extra mile.”

Moment of conception

Being ‘extremely fertile’ is still no guarantee of a woman falling pregnant, either naturally or during fertility treatment and Rachel fell pregnant after her third IUI treatment. She still remembers the moment her first son was conceived as she saw it happen on a screen at Bourn Hall.

CS150 body“Clare was sat right next to me holding my hand during the procedure and we watched the sperm swimming in my uterus on the screen after the injection. We actually have a picture of that moment which is not something that most people can say they have!” she laughs.

Rachel really enjoyed being pregnant. “Pregnancy was amazing,” she says. “I think I shocked everyone around me as I was one of those annoying people who glowed!”

IUI with donor sperm gives second baby

On 21 September 2017 son Clayton was born to the delight of both Rachel and Clare and his extremely proud big brother who is now 15. Just over a year later the couple went back to Bourn Hall and Rachel had IUI with donor sperm from the same person. Second-time-around their treatment worked first time and on 12 June 2019 son Clark was born.

Meeting Louise Brown – world’s first test-tube baby

Rachel reflects that the advances made since the birth of the world’s first IVF baby Louise Brown over 40 years ago in fertility treatments, associated legislation and positive changes in attitudes to same-sex couples have enabled her and Clare to become parents. “This opportunity wouldn’t have been available to us a few years ago,” says Rachel. “Bourn Hall has meant that I can be with the person I want to be with and I get to have a family too, I cannot thank them enough.”

More information about support for same-sex couples.

IUI with donor sperm
Rachel, Clare and Clayton with Louise Brown (right) and Dr Thanos Papathanasiou

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Family dream comes true for Emily and Debbie thanks to donor sperm

Two years ago the couple started looking at how they might go about it.

“It was very important to us that we used a regulated fertility clinic,” says Emily. “We were not married when we started looking into it, although we are now, and wanted both our names on the birth certificate. This was really important to us and we wanted to go about it in a safe and structured way.”

As Emily is six years younger than Debbie they decided that it should be Emily who underwent the fertility treatment. “We thought that as I was younger it would increase our chances if I tried first,” she says.

“After doing online research we went to a clinic in London and had two rounds of fertility treatment there, but it didn’t work and we found the clinic very impersonal so I wasn’t keen to go back.”

Emily and Debbie had sourced their own sperm from a company in Denmark and still had one frozen vial left in storage with the London clinic. “The Danish company we bought the sperm from adheres to UK standards and laws but the big difference between getting sperm from Denmark and from a UK clinic was that we were allowed to see early childhood photographs of the sperm donor and hear his voice so we felt as though we got to know him as a person a bit more. Being able to see baby pictures of potential donors really helped us to find someone with similar features to Debbie,” says Emily.

Treatment at Bourn Hall Peterborough

The couple decided that they would go with the last vial of sperm to Bourn Hall Clinic and discovered that it has a satellite clinic in Peterborough. Emily and Debbie live in Lincolnshire but both work in Peterborough, so they found this really convenient.

“Being able to nip in for appointments and scans up the road was just perfect for us,” Emily says. “There was far less disruption to our working day and that made us more relaxed; I think that made a massive difference.”

Family dream comes true for Emily and Debbie thanks to donor spermEmily and Debbie had virtually all of their appointments and scans at Bourn Hall’s Peterborough clinic, with only the egg collection and embryo transfer taking place at Bourn Hall’s Cambridge clinic. The frozen sperm was transferred from their previous clinic to Bourn Hall for storage in its sperm bank.

Bourn Hall was one of the first UK clinics to have its own sperm bank and can offer free IVF treatment for those who meet the criteria for sperm or egg donation.

“I produced a lot of eggs,” says 30-year old Emily. Her eggs were fertilised with the donor sperm using a process called ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), which involved directly injecting each egg with a single selected sperm. The embryos were kept in a laboratory incubator for five days.

Two embryos were then transferred to Emily and the couple had to wait 14 days before taking a pregnancy test.

Emily quickly convinced herself that the IVF treatment hadn’t worked.

“I had spent the weekend with stomach cramps and so was really not hopeful at all,” she says. “I thought to myself ‘oh well, that’s it all over and done with.’

“I woke up really early on the day I was due to take the pregnancy test, took the test and thought it looked like a negative result. I was absolutely devastated but eventually managed to get back to sleep. Then Debbie woke me up and said she thought the test might be showing a positive so we drove to the chemist and sat outside until it opened. I bought more pregnancy tests and took them into the toilets at Sainsbury’s – it was very bizarre!”

Double delight

The couple were delighted when the tests confirmed that Emily was indeed pregnant and at their eight week scan were told they were expecting twins.

“Debbie was exceptionally excited by this news but I went into an utter panic for two weeks,” laughs Emily. “I had spent all of that time hoping for a baby and then suddenly discovered I was having two. I had a bit of a meltdown! When we went back for the 12 week scan, though, it seemed exciting and manageable.”

Maisie and Florence were born in December 2016 and proud mum Emily says: “They make our world complete. We wanted them so much. We’ve got a lot of lovely family support around us, as well as a group of friends we call ‘The Fairies’ as they are the girls’ ‘fairy godmothers’ who will always be looking out for them.”

Donor sperm for same-sex couples

Emily and Debbie’s experience at Bourn Hall was a really positive one, reports Emily: “When we went in for our appointments in Peterborough with Sue, our fertility nurse specialist, it was like going in to see an old friend. She took the time to get to know us and what was going on in our lives, and she really settled me down when I panicked after finding out I was expecting twins. We have recommended Bourn Hall to a number of our friends and some have already started treatment there.”

Family dream comes true for Emily and Debbie thanks to donor sperm

For more information

Using donated sperm

Free IVF treatment for donors 

For more information take a look at our Pathways to Parenthood blog.

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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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Dads have double reason to celebrate

Matthew and Gary began looking into what options they had available for having a family, including investigating adoption.

Matthew begins: “Having children is a very big decision and for various reasons we thought that the adoption path wasn’t right for us.”

Gary adds: “It was around Christmas time 2011 with my family, including my brother Jason and his wife Ollie, when we told them that we were going to take some time to reevaluate our options.”

Ollie offers to be a surrogate

In January 2012, Ollie contacted the couple and suggested being a surrogate for them.

Gary says: “Ollie said that she and Jason had discussed the matter; that she’d be honoured to be a surrogate mother for us and happy to help if she could.”

Matthew adds: “We didn’t know how to react as it was such an amazing gift.”

Ollie’s offer meant that Gary and Matthew were a major step closer to their dream of having a family and they started researching clinics that would support them.

An anonymous egg donor

surrogate

Matthew says: “We chose Cambridge’s Bourn Hall because of its location and because it felt right. We came with Ollie and Jason for a meeting with Doctor Thomas Mathews and instantly knew we would be treated well here and looked after.”

Following their initial consultation, tests and checks, Gary and Matthew were provided with anonymised information on possible egg donors.

An egg donor’s profile includes information about the donor’s physical appearance, interests, skills and reasons for donating but it is non-identifying. The donor is also able if she wishes to provide a pen-sketch of themselves with a message, which the child can request when he or she becomes 18.

The donor is also able to contact the Clinic, at least a year after the donation, to find out if there have been any successful births resulting from the donation.

Matthew continues: “When we got the information we felt that they were all appropriate and we didn’t have any concerns so we put our faith into the hands of Bourn Hall Clinic and took it from there.”

Pregnant on the first attempt

The egg from the anonymous donor was fertilised with sperm and the embryo transferred to Ollie’s womb.  This meant there was no biological link with Ollie or her husband.  She became pregnant on the first attempt in February 2014.

Matthew says: “Every scan during Ollie’s pregnancy has been a point when we have felt reassured and more excited, especially when we discovered we were expecting twins.

Gary adds: “A real rollercoaster of emotions as we got closer to their birth: you start to get more confident but it is not until the babies are in your arms that you really believe it.

“To prepare for their birth we had arranged a birthing plan with the midwives at Portsmouth Hospital: that we would be present and get to hold them immediately.”

Elliot and Verity are born

surrogate

On 1st November 2014 Elliott and Verity were born.

Matthew says: “Gary got to hold Elliott instantly but Verity’s birth was a bit more complicated because she was a breach. The next few minutes were an emotional roller coaster and we were quite frightened if our baby girl would be alright.

“Once Verity gave her first cry and the nurse had checked her, we knew she was fine. I then got to hold her, which was lovely; a very special moment.”

Inundated with well-wishers

Both Gary and Matthew initially received time off work to spend with the twins and since having Elliott and Verity home have been inundated by well-wishers and family members keen to help and see them.

Gary says: “I think at the beginning of the process for our older generations it was a bit alien and a slight concern as to how others might react, but it has been all positive. I think also they didn’t want to get too excited in the early days but as soon as Ollie was pregnant it all became very real. My mum has been incredible, so proud and a very doting Grandmother.”

Matthew adds: “My family is also all really close and my sister-in-law has two small children so we’ve got a good family support system. Plus Gary’s parents will also be around to see their grandchildren grow up which will be great.”

Gary has subsequently returned to work while Matthew is at home with the babies.

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Double the delight for Kerry and Stacy with IUI

When twins Rorie and Logan from Norfolk celebrated their first birthday surrounded by family and friends, it signalled the end of an emotional rollercoaster for their parents Kerry and Stacy.

Kerry (aged 33) and Stacy (25) met at work four years ago and after deciding to start a family, approached Bourn hall Clinic to investigate fertility treatment using donor sperm with IUI.

Selecting a sperm donor

The couple agreed that Kerry would carry the pregnancy. Nationally there is a shortage of sperm but Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, was also one of the first to freeze and store sperm. It has its own sperm bank so it is possible to select your donor and reserve ‘sibling donor sperm’ so that further children are genetically related.

Kerry says: “Following initial consultations we had to select a sperm donor. Kerry and I reviewed the description details we’d been given for a few anonymised sperm donors, including eye colour and hair. We selected one, which we are grateful for, but to be honest we didn’t really want to know much about the donor so we were fine with it being anonymous. For us what was important was to have a child.”

The couple funded their own treatment and Kerry started taking a course of fertility drugs to help stimulate her egg production.

Third time the charm with IUI

Bourn Hall used Intrauterine Insemination, otherwise known as IUI, which is a delicate process which involved sperm being injected into Kerry’s womb, close to the time of her ovulation.

Unfortunately Kerry’s first and second IUI treatments were unsuccessful so Kerry and Stacy were absolutely delighted when in February 2013 Bourn Hall confirmed that after their third attempt Kerry was pregnant.

Stacy explains: “Our journey to have a child had been a real emotional rollercoaster. To begin with we seemed to have no luck but thank goodness for Bourn Hall and their support.”

IUI and donor sperm

“When the specialist told us we were expecting twins we couldn’t believe our luck!”

A welcome surprise

A week after the couple found out that they were finally to become parents they returned to Bourn Hall for a check-up scan – and were delighted to be told Kerry was carrying not one, but two babies!

“We were so excited to know we were going to have a baby and then when the specialist told us we were expecting twins we couldn’t believe our luck!” says Kerry.

Stacy confirms: “Yes, we were over the moon and our luck had literally doubled.”

Proud mums to Rorie and Logan 

On 27th September 2013 Kerry was admitted into Norwich Hospital and twins Rorie and Logan were successfully delivered by caesarean section.

Kerry reflects: “Amazingly a year has now rushed by and we’ve just celebrated the twins first birthday. We had all our family and friends around to eat cake and we even had a bouncy castle.

“It has been a real emotional roller coaster to get here and we certainly count our blessings. It was definitely a case of third time twice lucky!”

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Clinic route safer for mums and baby

When Elie and Sarah decided to start a family, the option of finding and contacting a sperm donor  on the internet or through social media was completely out of the question.

“We have heard some horror stories of people who have found a sperm donor on the internet,” says Elie. “We wanted to do things properly and without risk to us or our future children.”

‘Doing things properly’ involved the couple going to Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, which is regulated by the HFEA and has its own sperm bank.

Sperm donors are screened

Bourn Hall screens all sperm donors to ensure that they are free of infections, diseases or genetic conditions. Donors are asked about their medical and family history and undergo a medical examination and blood tests. The clinic rigorously screens all sperm samples and then freezes them and quarantines each sample for six months – after this time donors are then invited back to repeat their blood tests. If the donor passes these screening tests the frozen semen samples are then available to be used in treatment.

All donor sperm is stored frozen and then defrosted on the day of treatment.

Baby number two

Elie and Sarah are now mums to two boys and with both of their children it was agreed that Elie should carry the pregnancies. They had their first son Joshua in 2011 following treatment at Bourn Hall and he was very excited to learn in early 2015 that he was going to be a big brother.

“His first question to me after I picked him up from school and told him about my 20 week scan was, ‘did it have a willy’?” laughs Elie. “He was absolutely desperate for a brother – I don’t know what he would have done if it had been a girl!” Little brother Thomas was born at the end of 2015.

IUI and IVF treatments

The boys were conceived following very different fertility procedures – Joshua through Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and Thomas  through IVF.

IUI  involves injecting prepared sperm into the womb around the time of ovulation, when the ripe egg is released. If you are not using fertility drugs, this will happen between day 12 and 16 of your monthly cycle (with day one being the first day of your period) as this is when you are at your most fertile. A blood or urine test will be used to identify when you are ovulating. The use of fertility drugs is often advised as this controls the cycle and maximises the chance of success.

Elie says that they were really lucky with IUI the first time around and she fell pregnant quickly with Joshua. Second time around IUI didn’t work so well and after five negative pregnancy tests the couple were advised to try IVF.

IVF is when the ovaries are stimulated with fertility drugs and the eggs are collected and fertilised with sperm. Sometimes this will be by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) where a high quality sperm is injected directly into the egg. This increases the chance of successful fertilisation. The embryos are then allowed to develop to blastocyst culture – a 5-day embryo (which is the stage it would be naturally when it arrives in the womb) is then transferred to the womb through a fine catheter. For a same-sex couple IVF offers more options, for example some choose that one partner produces the eggs and the other carries the pregnancy.

IVF was a big decision

For the Hughes’ having IVF was a big decision, particularly as the only infertility issue was the lack of sperm. Elie says: “I wondered with IVF whether the drugs would strongly affect my moods but I just felt a bit hormonal.

“We could only afford one round of IVF as it is more expensive than IUI but we got the result we wanted first time.”

Using the same donor

By going through a clinic the couple were assured that they would both have legal parenthood of the children. The sperm donor would have no legal rights and no moral or financial role in the children’s upbringing.

Elie and Sarah made a very conscious decision that they would use sperm from the same donor for both their children and reserved “sibling sperm” for this purpose. “We are not interested in who the sperm donor is although we are hugely grateful that he donated sperm,” says Elie. “But we decided that if the boys ever wanted to go down the route of finding out more about the sperm donor, in the same way that an adopted person might want to find out more about their biological family, they would have the same shared experience rather than two different ones.”

Being a family of four is “just lovely” says Elie. “We always wanted two children.”

Two of everything

Having ‘two mummies’ and now a brother means that for Joshua, aged five, “everything is balanced” says Elie. “He says now we have two of everything: two mummies, two boys and two cats!”

For Elie and Sarah, they delight in seeing how Thomas and Joshua interact with each other. “Thomas adores his big brother,” says Elie. “His first giggle was for Joshua. We love taking the two of them on days out.”

The couple are so glad they chose Bourn Hall to help them have their family. “Bourn Hall Clinic was very reassuring and the least risky option for our family,” says Elie. “We felt that we were ‘getting the best’ and are so lucky to live so close. We have already recommended Bourn Hall to some of our younger friends.”

For more information about use of donated sperm

To read more about treatment options for same sex couples.

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