Surrogacy helped Amanda achieve her dream of having her own child after cancer

Amanda and Jason were childhood sweethearts, they got married in their twenties and started trying for a baby six years later. After trying to conceive for two years they were referred for fertility tests. It was during this time Amanda had devastating news: she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer

Amanda, who had not had any symptoms, explains: “It was a total shock, I wasn’t ill and felt fine. Luckily the cancer was grade 1a, meaning it hadn’t spread and was completely contained in the womb. The fertility testing had caught it at a very early stage but as a hysterectomy was part of the treatment, it meant I’d never be able to carry a baby.”

It was her surgical oncologist that suggested the possibility of using a surrogate for IVF treatment. As the cancer hadn’t spread and chemotherapy was not required, Amanda’s ovaries were not removed during the hysterectomy. However, as the cancer had been oestrogen dependent (one of the hormones the ovaries produce) the ovaries had to be removed after a year as delaying any longer increased the risk of the cancer returning leaving the couple just a small window of opportunity to make a decision.

Embryo freezing

The couple decided they did want their own child and were given an emergency appointment at Bourn Hall Clinic. “The staff at Bourn Hall were incredibly kind,” says Amanda. “They explained that as my womb had been removed I had to be anaesthetised for every egg collection. After the collection the eggs were fertilised by Jason’s sperm and then frozen. The clinic told us that freezing embryos (the egg and the sperm combined) gave a better chance of a successful pregnancy than eggs alone, and after three rounds of treatment, 14 embryos were frozen.”

Bourn Hall had helped Amanda and Jason hold on to their dream of having a child that was genetically theirs. They now needed to find a surrogate who was willing to carry their baby. For legal reasons this had to be independent of the clinic.

Surrogacy UK

They joined Surrogacy UK, an organisation that believes in surrogacy through friendship and it was here they met Annie. “We were friends with Annie for over a year before she offered to be our surrogate. Trust and a good relationship were the main factors we needed to embark on this journey and we definitely felt this with Annie,” explains Amanda.

Annie had always wanted to experience pregnancy but without the ‘consequences’. “I’m a little bit unusual as I never wanted my own children,” says Annie. “The idea of being a surrogate started off as a bit of a joke, but a few years ago I started researching into the possibility. I met Amanda and Jason at one of the Surrogacy UK socials and we naturally formed a friendship. At the time I was pregnant and on my first journey with another couple. Six months after the birth, I wanted to help another family and Amanda and Jason were the obvious choice.”

In January 2014 the frozen embryos were moved to a clinic nearer to Annie for treatment and she got pregnant on the first try. “It didn’t seem real,” says Amanda. “After all we’d been through we couldn’t believe it was finally happening, we didn’t buy anything for the baby until after the 20 week scan. We saw Annie every two to three weeks, went to every midwife appointment and got to feel our baby kick.”

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Effie is born

“When Effie was born Jason cut the cord and we had our first cuddle. We feel incredibly lucky. She is such a good baby, even sleeping through the night!”

Annie thinks this is the best thing she’s ever done, “To make people’s dreams come true is such a privilege and being able to see the children grow up, knowing I helped, is incredibly rewarding.”

Amanda and Jason are extremely grateful for the gift Annie gave them. “Annie is the most amazing woman and has changed our lives. We still regularly meet up, both at the Surrogacy UK socials and as friends. She is definitely part of our family.”

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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

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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

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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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