People assumed that us not having children was a ‘lifestyle choice’

Amy and Nick from Essex got married in 2016 and loved to party and go travelling. Then it hit them when they were in their early thirties that as fertility declines at 35, they needed to start thinking about children.

Amy remembers it was quite a sudden conversation: “All our friends had children and I said to Nick ‘you know, we need to do something about this sooner rather than later because we don’t know how long it is going to take us to get pregnant.’

“We were trying for a couple of years without success.  Waiting every month to see if I was pregnant or not. It became a bit of a burden, making us unhappy with the pressure and the stress of it all.

“Our friends had either already got children or were having children and there were a lot of pregnancy announcements. Obviously, I was very happy for them and although it upset me, I would never show that it hurt.

Apprehensive about having IVF

“Eventually I went to see my GP and was sent for blood tests and then on to our local hospital for a test to check my fallopian tubes. Nick had a few semen tests. They couldn’t find a definitive reason for our infertility which was frustrating, it was unexplained.

“However, we were told we could be referred for one round of NHS-funded IVF and we chose to go to Bourn Hall Essex.

“Once we knew we were going to have IVF we wanted to give ourselves the best chance. I had always exercised but I cut out alcohol completely as well as caffeine, I changed my diet and I really reduced my sugar intake, and I had weekly acupuncture.

“Nick did the same he had a couple of drinks every now and then but apart from that there was no alcohol at all. We wanted to have a baby, so we took it all quite seriously.

“I was happy we could have IVF but also apprehensive, because we only had one shot and I didn’t know whether it would work and if it didn’t what our future would look like.

“At Bourn Hall we had an introductory appointment with a fertility doctor and then saw Grace our fertility nurse who ran through the procedure, how to do injections, what will happen when get delivery from the medical company. I am pretty sure that she also saw me for my first scan.

I took a break from social media

“To protect my mental wellbeing, just before we started having the IVF I came off all social media. I didn’t want to see any more baby announcements from anyone, friends, family, or celebrities.

“I think taking a break really helped, as it just changed my focus.

“I had 12 eggs collected, but by day 5 of blastocyst we only had four embryos left. The best quality embryo was transferred to me but unfortunately the remaining three weren’t suitable enough to freeze, which really put the pressure on, there was no back-up…

“I phoned my mum crying saying, ‘this is our only chance on the NHS’, what are we going to do if it doesn’t work?’

I tested every day to check the result

“I did the test early and it didn’t show up straightaway, so I thought ‘well okay I’ve just done it too early’. I put it down on the side and started washing my hands and then looked again and then I could suddenly see there was a really faint line, so I was like ‘oh my god!’.

“The next morning, we did another test together at 4am and it was a really strong line. Then we couldn’t get back to sleep, we sat up until 9am when we were both due to start work, we just couldn’t take it in.

“We were thinking ‘surely this can’t be right?’! I did so many tests I must have tested every day for about three weeks, it just that anxiety and the paranoia as well because we were so happy but also worried that something was going to go wrong.

First Christmas

“We had our 12-week scan on 23 December which was lovely because it meant that we could tell our wider family on Christmas Day and Boxing Day that we were expecting, which was a beautiful timing.

“Our mums had known about our fertility journey, but other family members genuinely had no idea about what we had been going through because we are quite private about it. I think from the outside maybe people thought that we didn’t want children so it was a big surprise for everyone.

“Freddie was born in June 2023. I just remember being so relieved that he was here.

“I still just can’t believe it. I never would have dreamt in Summer 2022 that I would have a little boy by Christmas 2023.

“It is a very special time for us, and we feel very blessed.”

Freddie meets Santa
Freddie meets Santa


I put on my happy face for work

Almost everything you hear when you are desperate for a baby of your own is that other people are having babies and when it doesn’t happen for you it is heartbreaking, she remembers.

“In the beginning Andrew worked away a lot and my beauty business was new so I was working more than 50 hours a week to get it off the ground. The salon was my baby,” says Michelle. But when she was 29 the couple got married and started to plan a family.

“It felt like the natural thing, getting married and then having children. It was the next step,” says Michelle. She admits that it didn’t really occur to her and Andrew that it would be a challenge.

“We are both fit and healthy, do plenty of exercise, are not overweight and we don’t smoke so we just assumed that we would both be fertile and wouldn’t have any problems,” says Michelle.

Putting on my happy face

“At first, when I hadn’t got pregnant, we had thought ‘oh well, it will happen one day,’ and didn’t worry about it too much. But as time went on and friends started settling down and having children I started to feel much more aware and sensitive about it. I suddenly felt as though everyone around me was getting pregnant and I wasn’t.”

When Michelle came off the contraceptive pill to try and get pregnant she started having really irregular periods which was not something which she had experienced before. The couple tried to conceive for a year without success and then Michelle went to see her GP.

Michelle was told to carry on trying to get pregnant naturally for another year. She still didn’t conceive and during that time more and more people she knew were getting pregnant.

“Being a beauty therapist I wanted to be positive for my clients so I would put on my ‘happy face’ for work but then sometimes a client would ask me if I was planning on having children and I would say ‘oh yes, one day’ and try and brush it off. It added to the pressure I felt.

“We tried everything we could to try and take control of the situation. Andrew was a marathon runner and even cut down on his exercise because we had read that too much exercise can put stress on the body. I took various supplements and underwent reflexology sessions.”

Unexplained infertility

The couple went back to the GP after another year of trying and were referred for tests at the James Paget Hospital. They were told that they had ‘unexplained infertility’ and were eligible for NHS-funded IVF treatment.

Michelle and Andrew chose to go to Bourn Hall’s Wymondham clinic, which was just an hour away by car for them, and began their treatment just a few weeks after their first appointment.

Michelle found the hormone injection treatment prior to the IVF quite empowering.

“Injecting the hormones twice a day gave me a sense of taking control. I felt like I was doing something towards having a baby,” she says.

“I produced 7 eggs and we ended up with 4 embryos for the 5-day ‘blastocyst’ stage in the lab. At the end of that process two had survived, one of which Bourn Hall froze and the other was transferred to my womb.”

The couple went home and after 14 days took a pregnancy test.

“I couldn’t help but worry that the treatment hadn’t worked,” admits Michelle.

Never seen a positive pregnancy before

“I will never forget Andrew’s face after the test. He held it up and said ‘well we have got two red lines’ but he didn’t look convinced. I said ‘oh my god it has worked!!’

“We had never seen a positive pregnancy test before so we literally did a test every day for the next week just to be sure!”

Despite the confirmation that she was pregnant Michelle still couldn’t quite believe it.

“I remember us driving to Bourn Hall for the early scan and neither of us spoke all the way there, we were so nervous,” she recalls. “I was just praying we would see a little heartbeat and when we did it was just such a magical feeling, I could finally believe the IVF had worked.”

After a good pregnancy Michelle gave birth to son Arthur on May 11, 2019.

Precious feeling

“I had dreamed about the moment of my baby arriving for so long I cannot describe how I felt when Arthur was born, it was an instant feeling of love to hold him in my arms, just the most magical and precious feeling,” says Michelle. “Even now we look at him in awe and remind ourselves or how lucky we are to have him.”

Michelle, now aged 34, advises other people struggling with their own fertility or going through IVF treatment to try and stay positive if they can and look for ways to relieve the anxiety and stress.

“I definitely found that holistic therapies helped me, I had acupuncture and reflexology and it gave me a feeling of control back when I felt that I had lost it,” she says.


Ipswich Mum treasures precious moments after years of unexplained infertility

“I spent years facing the prospect of never having children of my own,” says Cara from Ipswich.

“Watching adverts on TV featuring small children used to literally make my heartache. I tried not to let myself daydream about all the little moments I was going to miss like giving my own child a bath, bundling them up in a fluffy towel, kissing and smelling the top of their head and putting them to bed.”

Now 13 years after first trying to conceive, Cara, aged 38, has finally put the heartache behind her and is mum to Adam, aged 4, and Evie, aged 7 months, both conceived following successful fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.

Nothing was working

“I had wanted children since I was young and even as a teenager I helped out at an after-school club for young children,” says Cara. She and husband Stewart have been together since Cara was 17 and first started trying for a baby when Cara was 25.

“We tried for a baby for a few years before we went to the doctor,” recalls Cara. “I was studying to be an accountant and working long hours so we put off seeking help. We did a lot of research on the internet and tried all kinds of suggested remedies to boost our chances of having a baby, but nothing worked.”

After the couple went to their GP they were referred to Ipswich Hospital and underwent tests. Cara and Stewart’s infertility was ‘unexplained’ which means that no definitive reason could be found for why they couldn’t conceive.

40 per cent of infertility cases are due to male factors, 40 per cent are due to female factors and the remaining 20 per cent are either a combination of both partners’ factors or are unexplained – so expert advice is invaluable.

Struggling to conceive? Find out more about the personalised fertility advice, diagnosis and treatment services we offer.

IVF offered best chance of a baby

As they had been trying for so long (most couples conceive within two years of trying) Cara and Stewart were told that their best chance of a baby was to have NHS-funded IVF treatment at a specialist clinic.

The couple chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester, which provides both NHS-funded and self-funded IVF as well as diagnostic fertility testing and treatment, and Cara says it was a relief to finally be referred for specialist help, although she felt daunted at the same time. The staff put her at ease immediately and she says it felt as though they ‘held her hand’ all the way through her treatment.

Cara and Stewart were delighted when Cara fell pregnant after their second treatment. Her eggs were fertilised in the laboratory at Bourn Hall Colchester with Stewart’s sperm using a procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which is where a single sperm is injected in to the centre of each mature egg. The resulting embryos were then kept for a few days in an incubator until they reached blastocyst stage, which is when they have the greatest chance of achieving a successful pregnancy. Two embryos were transferred to Cara’s womb and a fortnight later she took a pregnancy test.

“I didn’t feel pregnant,” says Cara. “I was too scared to get my hopes up but on the day I was due to take my test I couldn’t wait any longer and took the test at 4am. When the result showed up positive I just cried and cried. I was over the moon, I just couldn’t believe it.”

A sibling for Adam

Cara and Stewart with Adam and Evie Ipswich Bourn HallNine months later son Adam was born and when he was just six months old Cara and Stewart wondered if they might be able to conceive naturally and started trying for another baby.

“We were hoping to get some luck from the post-baby hormones but I didn’t get pregnant,” says Cara.

The couple decided to have IVF again, this time paying for it themselves as they were no longer eligible for NHS funding once they had Adam. “We chose Bourn Hall because we had excellent care and support the first time and so didn’t hesitate to go back,” says Cara.

The couple had some additional procedures second time around which took place at Bourn Hall’s Cambridge clinic: Intracytoplasmic Morphologically-Selected Sperm Injection (IMSI), which involved the assessment of Stewart’s sperm at a much greater digital magnification than ICSI, and the embryos were monitored using Early Embryology Viability Assessment (Eeva). Eeva uses imaging to help identify the best embryos at an early stage (Day 3) without disrupting them.

“We ended up with three top grade embryos,” says Cara.

The couple were delighted when Cara fell pregnant at the second attempt and daughter Evie was born seven months ago.

Only a very small number of people need to have IVF and there are a number of ways in which people can improve their chances of conceiving naturally, such as losing weight and making other lifestyle changes, and Bourn Hall provides a free consultation service with a fertility nurse.

So grateful

“My advice to anyone worried about their own fertility would be to seek help sooner rather than later,” says Cara. “I put off asking for help and at the time thought that I had always managed to hide my feelings about struggling to get pregnant quite well and was taking it in my stride. It was only after I had Adam that my mum said that after many years she had finally got her daughter back. I must have been more upset and distracted than I realised.

“I am so grateful that I have had the chance to become a mum and enjoy all these precious opportunities with the children.

“Adam was such a proud big brother when Evie arrived,” says Cara, “He was telling his nursery friends all about her and then showing her off when we went in to watch his Nativity play when she was just a week old. It amazed me how much he loved her right from the start.”

Bourn Hall Lianne with baby Evie Ipswich


Time to put away those ‘pregnancy goggles’

Adam and Anna from Stowmarket recall the isolation and heartache they felt trying for a baby month after month – with no success.

“We were in our own little bubble and thought that we were the only ones struggling,” says Anna. The couple first started trying for a baby five years ago after they got married. As time went on and nothing happened Anna found it increasingly difficult to cope emotionally.

“We would go out and Anna would have her ‘pregnancy goggles’ on,” says Adam. “She could spot pregnant women a mile off and it would upset her. I tried to support her and remain positive.”

Adam says: “It is only now that we are open about our situation that we realise that there are plenty of people out there who have experienced fertility issues, or know someone who has, and that we are not unusual.”

When to go for help

According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority over 90 per cent of couples conceive naturally within two years. If you haven’t conceived for a year however, or you know you have a condition which affects your fertility, you should go and see your GP to discuss next steps.

Adam and Anna had been quick to visit their GP to get some advice in the early stages of trying to get pregnant and were told to go back once they had been trying for a year.

“We went back to the GP after we had been trying for another 12 months and were then sent to our local hospital for tests. Anna was put on fertility medication but still nothing happened,” says Adam. “We were eventually told that we had ‘unexplained infertility.'”

Not alone in trying for a baby

Unexplained infertility is the reason given when tests can detect no underlying cause and is extremely common.

“I found the diagnosis incredibly frustrating because I would have liked a reason for us not being able to conceive and would have found it easier to come to terms with,” admits Adam. “‘Unexplained’ was difficult to get my head around.” The couple were referred by their hospital for NHS-funded fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic just outside Cambridge and went along for an information seminar with a group of other couples.

“The seminar was really informative and answered a lot of our questions,” says Adam. “Most of the couples in the room were our age which really reassured me too and I had thought everyone would be older. I realised that it wasn’t just us having these problems.”

Anna recalls the overwhelming relief she felt at finally arriving at Bourn Hall. “When we began our journey with Bourn Hall I felt like I was at my most broken and that my body had failed me,” she says. “The staff made us feel so welcome and at ease right from the start.”

Adam agrees: “Bourn Hall were fantastic. They were brilliant from start to finish and going to the Cambridge clinic is not like going to a hospital, the historic building and its setting is so beautiful.”

Helping with medication 

Throughout their treatment Adam was at Anna’s side every step of the way and administered her hormone injections in the weeks leading up to the IVF procedure.

Anna and Adam’s first cycle of IVF treatment was unsuccessful but their disappointment soon turned to joy just before Christmas 2016 when they found out that they were expecting a baby after their second cycle.

“We had been heartbroken when I didn’t get pregnant the first time and were so happy and relieved when it worked at the second attempt,” says Anna. The couple were able to tell their close family the good news over the festive period and Emily was born on July 27, 2017.

“I was induced but it took four days for Emily arrive so we were both shattered when she was born!” laughs Anna. “It was just brilliant, we were so pleased.”

Don’t be scared

The couple are now very settled in to family life and Adam describes himself as very much a hands-on dad. “I am more than happy to get up in the night and change nappies or whatever needs to be done,” he laughs.

Anna is full of praise for the experience she and Adam at with Bourn Hall Clinic:

“For anyone about to have IVF I would say ‘don’t be scared, just go with it,’ “ she says. “Bourn Hall gave us the hope we needed and they make miracles happen. We cannot thank them enough for making our world complete.”

Fertility Fayre provides advice and support 

Bourn Hall Clinic is hosting its second Fertility Fayre on Saturday November 4 to coincide with Fertility Awareness Week.

The event is open to anyone looking at how to get themselves fertility fit and give themselves the best chance of getting pregnant. There will be a range of wellbeing advice on offer as well as medical advice on different aspects of fertility and treatment. The event is completely free of charge and will run from 10am to 3pm at Bourn Hall’s historic clinic just outside Cambridge. For more information.


Couple welcomes baby Adam after 10 years of unexplained infertility

After ten years of infertility, Cara, aged 34, from Ipswich, is a proud mum to baby Adam. He was conceived following successful fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.

“I have wanted children since I was young and even as a teenager I helped out at an after-school club for young children.

unexplained infertility

“I thought that I had always managed to hide my feelings about struggling to get pregnant quite well and was taking it all in my stride,” says Cara. “But my mum said to me the other day that she felt that after many years she had finally got her daughter back. I must have been more upset and distracted than I realised.”

Childhood sweethearts

Cara and her husband, Stewart, were childhood sweethearts and have been together since Cara was 17. They first started trying for a baby when Cara was 25.

“We tried for a baby for a few years before we went to the doctor,” recalls Cara. “I was studying to be an accountant and working long hours so we put off seeking help. We did a lot of research on the internet and tried all kinds of suggested remedies to boost our chances of having a baby, but nothing worked.”

Tests unable to explain infertility

After the couple went to their GP they were referred to Ipswich Hospital and underwent tests, which could find no particular reason for being unable to conceive. As they had been trying for so long (most couples conceive within two years of trying) they were told that their best chance of a baby was to have IVF treatment at a specialist clinic.

The couple chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Colchester and Cara says it was a relief to finally be referred for specialist help, although she felt daunted at the same time. The staff put her at ease immediately and she says it felt as though they ‘held her hand’ all the way through her treatment.

Disappointing first cycle

After Cara’s first cycle of IVF her hopes were soon dashed as she started bleeding early after embryo transfer. “I didn’t even get to the pregnancy test stage,” she says. “That was my lowest point. I was grateful to have my two Labradors to cuddle.”

After a six-month wait, which Cara says felt like “the longest time in the world”, she underwent a second round of treatment. Unfortunately this occurred while the couple were moving house.

A happy ending

“The day I had my eggs collected at Bourn Hall we moved house so I had to leave Stewart to get on with the move and go by myself,” she says. “Not many eggs were collected and I was devastated. I sat in our new house and just cried. I kept telling myself though that it only takes one egg to make a baby.”

Cara’s eggs were fertilised using Stewart’s sperm and then kept for a few days in an incubator until they reached blastocyst stage, which is when they have the greatest chance of achieving a successful pregnancy. Two embryos were transferred to Cara’s womb and the couple were delighted to discover two weeks later that one of them had taken and she was pregnant.

unexplained infertility

“I didn’t feel pregnant,” she says. “I was too scared to get my hopes up but on the day I was due to take my test I couldn’t wait any longer and took the test at 4am. When the result showed up positive I just cried and cried. I was over the moon, I just couldn’t believe it.”

“I have always been maternal. My advice to anyone worried about their own fertility would be to seek help sooner rather than later”.

Nine months later Adam was born and his proud parents are looking to the future with a renewed optimism.

Ref CS100

Waiting for a heartbeat to know the long wait was over

Lucy was just 16 when she met her future husband Andrew, and after a number of years together the Cambridge couple decided to get married. They were keen to start a family immediately.

Lucy explains: “We were trying for a baby for over two years and I was getting quite worried and anxious about it.  Everyone around us was getting pregnant easily which made it more upsetting.

“We didn’t know if one or both of us had a fertility problem and that was worrying.

Unexplained infertility

“Eventually we went to our GP who referred us to the hospital for tests. The tests didn’t reveal the reason why we were having problems getting pregnant but as we had been trying without success for some time they referred us for IVF.

“We chose Bourn Hall Clinic because it was local and also for its outstanding reputation for its IVF success.

“We met with the consultant and he went through all the details. We then back for a lesson on how to use the medication, which I would be injecting myself for just over a month.”

Fertility drugs to stimulate ovaries

Lucy’s agreed treatment plan involved her taking fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce a number of eggs and to prepare her womb to receive the embryos.

Regular scans and blood tests were conducted during this time to monitor her closely to assess her response to the medication and decide when to proceed with egg collection.

Lucy produced seven eggs, which were put together with Andrew’s sperm on the day of egg collection. Five eggs fertilised successfully and these were matured for five days. Three good quality embryos made it to the blastocyst stage when there is the greatest chance of a successful pregnancy.

“I wanted to see the heart beating”

One of the three resulting embryos was transferred to Lucy’s womb, the other two frozen for a further cycle if required, and then the couple had an anxious wait to see if Lucy was pregnant.

Lucy explains: “It was a nerve wracking wait, after a few weeks I had a positive pregnancy test but I still did not feel confident. I wanted to see the heart beating.

“We went for a check-up at Bourn Hall at seven and half weeks. On seeing the heart beating and being told that everything was alright was a huge relief. The rest of my pregnancy went without any particular complications.”

“Delighted to have Zachary” 

Baby Zachary was born two weeks over due on the 22nd September 2014.

Lucy says: “We are absolutely delighted to have Zachary. It has been a long journey from start to finish but worth it.

“If we do need to have any more IVF we would certainly go back to Bourn Hall and we have two frozen embryos still at Bourn Hall in case we should need them in the future.

“IVF is not an easy process but Bourn Hall made it bearable. Everyone was so kind and friendly and the clinic didn’t feel clinical so you felt more relaxed.”

Encouraging others to speak up

Andrew concludes: “We would urge anyone who is experiencing problems conceiving not to be afraid to speak up and seek help. We were apprehensive at first and the process seemed daunting but in the end it was definitely worth it.

“Without Bourn Hall we wouldn’t have Zachary and we are so grateful to their staff for all their hard work and expertise.”

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IVF success on the fifth and last attempt

After getting married at the age of 21, Emma thought she had her whole future mapped out. Enjoy life as a couple with husband Russell for a few years and then start a family when she was in her late twenties. In fact, Emma had to wait until she was 36 to become a mother.

Emma, from Norfolk, says: “As newlyweds we were in no hurry to have a baby.  I just assumed, like most people do, that we’d leave it a while and then I would come off the pill and get pregnant. It would be as simple as that.”

Unexplained infertility

The couple started trying in 2003 when Emma was 26. She recalls: “My sister-in-law got pregnant really easily and that was difficult for us. You feel like you are the only ones having problems but actually there are loads of people out there in the same boat.”

“We went to our doctor after trying for a couple of years, but tests revealed that nothing appeared to be wrong with either of us. We were perplexed.”

A visit to Bourn Hall 

In 2009, new NHS funding rules were put in place, meaning the couple were given the opportunity for three fresh cycles of funded IVF treatment. They jumped at the chance and went to visit Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge on one of its open days.

“We wanted to go to Bourn Hall as that is where IVF all began,” says Emma.

The couple were told that IVF with ICSI, when a sperm is injected directly into the egg, would give them the best chance of having a baby.  As no reason had been found for their infertility, Emma was very optimistic about her first cycle of treatment.

Five attempts at IVF

On the first round she thought she might be pregnant but the test was negative. The worst thing about it was that all their family knew they had had the treatment and she felt bad telling everyone it hadn’t worked. They decided they would keep any future treatment dates just between themselves and their parents.

Over the next two years the couple had five attempts at IVF. “We had always been prepared to give it as many goes as we were allowed,” says Emma. “We had been given such a fantastic opportunity by the NHS.”

unexplained infertility
© Si Barber

Keeping busy with hobbies

The couple remained stoical throughout their treatment, which spanned a couple of years, throwing themselves in to their hobbies; Emma has horses and Russell enjoys motorcycling.

Emma says: “We got ourselves out and about at weekends and kept ourselves busy and that helped to take our minds of it.

“The staff at Bourn Hall were brilliant we felt as though we could ask them anything, they were really helpful and talked everything through with us.”

The NHS funding allows three cycles of egg stimulation.  The eggs are fertilised and any embryos not needed for that cycle are frozen for future treatment.  If these first three cycles of IVF are not successful, couples can have up to three further attempts using the previously frozen embryos.  In Emma’s case, her third cycle of stimulation had produced relatively few eggs and so the couple had only been able to freeze embryos for two additional attempts. Emma therefore knew that her fifth treatment was their last opportunity.

The last opportunity

“After treatment I just stopped. I took three days off work and put my feet-up. I don’t know if this made the difference but I wanted to give it every chance I could.

“When I took the pregnancy test and it was positive I just couldn’t stop smiling. I rang my husband and then I went to the pharmacy and bought loads more pregnancy tests. I kept testing myself again just to double-check it was true!”

Pregnant with twins

At Emma’s first scan at Bourn Hall they confirmed what she had secretly suspected; she was expecting twins.

“We were just so happy”, says Emma. “I had a great pregnancy and at the 18-week scan we found out that the twins were a boy and a girl. I just let nature take its course after that and really enjoyed my pregnancy.”

In July 2012, Edward and Evie arrived in the world to the absolute delight of their parents.  “We were over the moon,” says Emma. “We felt so lucky.”

As the twins grow up they are becoming little companions for each other.

“Motherhood is hard work but it is what I have wanted for so long. We waited such a long time to become parents and the twins are definitely worth it.”

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Struggle to conceive puts ‘life on hold’ for couple

Call it women’s intuition, but 34-year-old Helen from Essex always knew having a baby might not be straight forward for her.

“I don’t know what it was, I guess I just know my body, but I always had an inkling something wasn’t quite right,” Helen recalls.

Helen and her husband Adam (30) first met when they were temporary Christmas staff at a book store.  They moved in together in 2007 and married two years later.  Right from the start, the couple knew they wanted a family.

Adam takes up the story: “When we got married we moved into a bigger house, in anticipation of starting a family.  The months went by and I wasn’t worried – it was only after a year I started to wonder if something was wrong.

“It felt like life was on hold”

“As time went on, we got increasingly down in the dumps.  The longer it took, the more pressure built up and the situation put our relationship under a bit of strain.  It was just frustrating; it felt like life was on hold.”

Helen adds: “It was tough, but we always felt we were on the same team.  The problem was, we felt we were on the losing team, which became very disheartening for both of us. Although neither of us wanted to apportion blame, we ended up blaming ourselves for our perceived failure.”

No definite cause of infertility

After three years of trying to conceive naturally, the couple decided to take action.  They were referred by their GP to a gynaecological consultant at the Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for fertility tests.

Helen says not all the tests were pleasant: “I had a procedure called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), where a dye was injected into my womb and fallopian tubes to see if they were blocked.  I remember it was quite uncomfortable, but it had to be done to try and discover if there were any physical problems.”

The tests did not reveal any specific reason why the couple couldn’t have a baby without medical help.  Adam says, while they were relieved, they were also frustrated: “We were desperate to find out why we couldn’t conceive, but the tests showed no definite cause.  When you know what’s wrong, you often know how to fix it. It felt like we had no clues to go on.”

blastocyst transfer

Good first impression of Bourn Hall

The couple were offered NHS-funded IVF treatment and after looking at the options, chose Bourn Hall Clinic because of its high success rate and legion of satisfied clients.

The couple attended an open day at the Cambridge clinic, and instantly knew they had made the right choice.  Adam recalls: “The first time we drove up the road onto the country estate, we knew it was somewhere we’d feel comfortable. The grounds are lovely; it doesn’t feel like a clinic at all.”

The couple had IVF with blastocyst transfer, where an embryo is allowed to develop in the laboratory before being transferred to the womb.  After just one cycle, the couple got the news they were waiting for.  Helen was pregnant.

“Abigail is the light of our lives”

Their much-longed for daughter Abigail was born on the 29 March 2013 weighing 6lb 15oz.

Helen was thankful for a short, uncomplicated labour and says things have gone smoothly ever since: “Abigail is absolutely lovely and sleeps well most nights. She never really cries and we love showering her with attention.”

The couple have one frozen embryo stored at Bourn Hall Clinic and have not ruled out having another IVF baby.

Helen says: “We’re going to give it some time and some thought, and considering there’s nothing physically wrong with us, we’re hoping we might have another baby naturally.  We’re so incredibly grateful to Bourn Hall and delighted for now to have our beautiful baby Abigail, who is the light of our lives and we wouldn’t be without.”

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Baby Jack arrives after years of unexplained infertility

“Chaotic” laughs Lisa as she reflects on how it feels to be a mum. But Lisa and her husband Miles’ journey to become parents took longer than either of them expected.

Unexplained infertility provides no answer 

“After trying for a year to get pregnant we decided to go to our GP to see what we could do. They referred both of us for tests at our local hospital, but they came back and everything seemed fine,” recalls Lisa.

Lisa was prescribed Clomid, a fertility drug used to stimulate ovulation, but unfortunately this wasn’t successful.

“It was heart breaking every month, soul destroying even, when another period came. You see people everywhere pregnant or with babies and it becomes overwhelming.

“Our GP said we had unexplained fertility and referred us for NHS funded IVF, which we chose to have at Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge.”

Unexplained infertility is the reason given for around one third of couples seeking IVF treatment in the UK. It simply means that, following investigative tests, no direct cause can be identified.

Through the IVF journey 

“As soon as we were referred things started to happen really quickly! We went for our first consultation before Christmas and started treatment in February 2013.

“It was really lovely at Bourn Hall. The clinic is in a beautiful setting and feels really tranquil. When you arrive you are usually worried and stressed, but because the building is so beautiful it just relaxes you a little bit and that helps with the whole process.

“I’d done a little bit of research about IVF and what was involved. As far as I could see IVF was our only option. We were just pleased and relieved that we had the opportunity to have NHS funding for our treatment.

“I remember being apprehensive about the treatment because I don’t like needles. I just had to keep telling myself that it would all be worth it and hopefully we’d have a baby at the end.”

During their treatment eggs were collected from Lisa and fertilised using Miles’ sperm through a process called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) where a single sperm is injected into a mature egg to help fertilisation occur.

The embryos were then left to develop for five days until they reached the blastocyst stage. Two embryos survived, one of which was frozen and the other was transferred to Lisa’s womb.

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“Being a mum is incredible”

Two weeks later Lisa discovered she was pregnant and on the 30th November 2013 baby Jack was born.

“We felt so lucky to have been successful on our first cycle of IVF. Being a mum is incredible. It is totally different and has completely changed my life. It is stressful in a way I have never experienced before but when little Jack looks into my eyes and smiles at me…it’s just such a wonderful thing to be a mum.

“It meant everything to us to be able to have IVF funding on the NHS. We wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise and would probably still be trying to conceive naturally now. We were desperate to become parents and the funding was a god send.”

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Endometrial scratch helps improve the chances

When the results from the fertility tests came back as ‘unexplained’ Felicity and her husband Benjamin began to despair of ever having a baby. She says: “It was really frustrating, especially as all my friends seemed to be getting pregnant at the drop of a hat.”

The couple had been trying for a family for over three years before they went to their GP for advice. Both in their early thirties, they were concerned about leaving it any longer before they went for help.

Their GP referred them to the local hospital for fertility testing and the results came back as unexplained. This is not uncommon and sometimes means that there is subfertility on both sides which means the chances of a pregnancy are reduced.

Consultation was helpful

The couple chose to go to Bourn Hall in Cambridge because they had read about the excellent success rates.

There is no waiting list for treatment at Bourn Hall so the couple soon had their initial consultation. Felicity says: “The consultation was very helpful; we talked about what IVF is, the process for men and women and how everyone is different so the treatments are tailored for each patient.

“With little knowledge about the reasons for infertility and its treatment we found the talk really helpful.”

It was a difficult road

The couple’s first cycle of treatment was IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). Following egg collection a single sperm is injected directly into the mature egg, which can improve fertilisation rates. One of the resulting embryos is then transferred to the womb.

Sadly the first cycle was unsuccessful and the couple took a break before returning later in the year for a second cycle of treatment.

This time Felicity became pregnant but tragically miscarried in the early stages of the pregnancy. The couple were shattered. Felicity remembers the pain: “After the delight of finally becoming pregnant it was devastating to learn I’d miscarried. It did put a strain on our relationship but we talked through it and came out stronger as a team.”

Felicity and Benjamin returned to Bourn Hall to discuss their options and it was agreed that a frozen embryo from each of the two previous fresh cycles would be used for the next treatment.

“I was incredibly anxious after miscarrying, so a different approach gave us hope,” says Felicity.

Endometrial Scratch brings success

For their third attempt an endometrial scratch was discussed. This is a relatively new procedure that involves a very fine catheter making a small scratch in the lining of the womb.  It is thought that this procedure can help make the womb more receptive to the successful implantation of embryos and increase the chances of pregnancy

“When this was discussed I was keen to try it. Especially if there was any chance the procedure could improve our chances of having a baby,” recalls Felicity.

The couple appreciated being able to ring the clinic for reassurance at any time or to ask questions in person when they came for an appointment or scan. “The staff were really good,” Felicity says. “They looked after us so well that you felt able to put your trust in them.”

Their trust was to prove well placed when a scan confirmed that Felicity was pregnant.

Delighted to have Zachary

As the weeks progressed the couple celebrated each developmental milestone and, as she overcame her initial fears she might miscarry again, Felicity enjoyed being pregnant – before Zachary was born on 18th January 2016.

For anyone thinking of starting IVF treatment Felicity reassures: “It does take an emotional and physical toll on you and your partner and it can be a long process – it took us three attempts to have success but now we have Zachary. We are delighted and so lucky to have now to be in our position with a family!”

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Miracle baby ends mum’s years of fertility doubts

Growing up in a large family, Gemma from Essex had always imagined having children of her own one day – but couldn’t shake off a feeling that it might never happen.

Gemma, aged 33, gave birth to “miracle baby” Matthew in November 2014 following fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic. She says: “I don’t know why I constantly felt that something was not quite right, but I think that because I wanted a family so much I just put too much pressure on myself.”

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When she was in her mid-twenties Gemma was diagnosed with fibroids and hospital scans also revealed that she had a number of cysts. “I was told by the doctors then that the fibroids and cysts shouldn’t affect my ability to have children but it made me more nervous about my prospects,” she admits.

A couple of years later, after getting engaged to Kirk, the couple started trying for a baby.

“I came off the pill so that we could start a family but my periods just didn’t come back properly,” Gemma reveals. “We consulted a doctor quite early on but were told that we needed to have been trying for longer before seeking help.”

Referred for IVF after unexplained infertility

Hospital tests proved inconclusive, with Kirk’s sperm count varying between tests and no definitive evidence that Gemma’s fibroids were causing the problem, the couple were given a diagnosis of unexplained infertility.

“Eventually we were referred for IVF treatment and it was such a relief!” says Gemma.

“I was already over 30 so it was important to me that we didn’t have to wait too long for treatment. We looked at the options available to us and chose Bourn Hall Clinic in Wickford because it was convenient.”

Appointments at Wickford and Colchester

All of Gemma and Kirk’s appointments were at Bourn Hall’s satellite clinic in Wickford apart from two visits for egg collection and embryo transfer at the full-service clinic in Colchester. Bourn Hall is to open a brand-new full-service clinic in Wickford and Gemma says that if she had been able to access all of her treatment under one roof it would have been fantastic.

“If we had been able to have all of our treatment at Wickford it would have been absolutely brilliant,” she says. “It would have put us at our ease. I was nervous enough on the day when the embryo was implanted so it would have been nice to have it done in Wickford where we had all of our other appointments and which had become so familiar to us. We had got to know the receptionist, we even sat in the same seats each time when we visited; it would have been nice to have had that familiarity.”

The perfect embryo

Gemma’s treatment at Bourn Hall began in January 2014 and the couple were absolutely elated when Gemma became pregnant on the first attempt.

“The previous few years had been such a roller coaster emotionally,” says Gemma, “and after my eggs were harvested and fertilised at Bourn Hall we had to go back in for embryo transfer earlier than expected because there were only three viable embryos by the third day. Of those three we were told that one was ‘absolutely perfect’ and that was the one which was transferred to me. The other two didn’t survive so we literally only had one chance from that cycle of treatment.

“I left Bourn Hall with my pregnancy test kit and strict instructions not to do the test until 14 days after treatment,” says Gemma, “but I was due to go back to work on the 14th day so I did the test a day early. I was convinced the test was going to be negative because I had had terrible cramps for a fortnight even though I had been resting. We agreed that I would do the test and we would look at the result together but in the end the result came back positive instantly so there wasn’t time for me to do that. I ran into the bedroom with the pregnancy test and I literally couldn’t speak! Then I did six more tests!”

Luckily for Gemma and Kirk the “perfect embryo” resulted in a successful pregnancy and Matthew was born nine months later.

“Matthew is our absolute world”

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“We still cannot quite believe it,” says Gemma. “Matthew is our absolute world, everything and much more than we could have hoped for. He is now walking, he is absolutely amazing, so happy and content.”

The couple haven’t ruled out expanding their family further and Gemma, who has had no problems with her fibroids since her pregnancy and now has regular periods, says that she may now have a better chance of falling pregnant without needing fertility treatment.

“My body seems to have re-set itself,” she laughs. “So it is possible that I may fall pregnant naturally in the future. If not, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Bourn Hall.”

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Pregnancy is possible despite unexplained infertility

Hayley Brook from Cambridge still finds it hard to believe that she is finally a mum – after years of uncertainty over why she was not falling pregnant.

Hayley and husband Martin were told that they had ‘unexplained infertility’ by specialists after undergoing numerous tests to establish why Hayley was not conceiving.

“We got married in 2012 and started trying for a baby straightaway,” says Hayley. “When nothing had happened I went to see my GP and she was so helpful, explaining everything to me and sending me for tests.”

Test results revealed little

The tests did not uncover any obvious reason as to why Hayley wasn’t getting pregnant and so the couple were advised to try for another year.

“Neither of us are overweight and we led a healthy lifestyle so it was all out of our control,” says Hayley. “We were basically biding time until we ticked the next box.

“All around me friends were having children and I was really pleased for them but every time I heard that someone was pregnant it was like a stab to the heart. Sometimes I would just be walking down the street and would pass complete strangers who seemed to have lots of children and yet I was struggling just to have one, it was really hard. I think the perception is that it is really easy to get pregnant and we spend our younger years using contraception and trying not to get pregnant and then you come off contraception and nothing happens and you think ‘why did I bother all those years?’”

The hardest part was not having a reason

When further tests could still not determine the cause of Hayley and Martin’s infertility they were told that they were eligible for NHS-referral to a specialist fertility clinic.

“The hardest part was not having a reason,” admits Hayley. “I could have coped better if we had been given a reason but to have no reason and no child was really tough.”

Hayley and Martin went to a seminar at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire along with a group of other couples and Hayley found it really useful.

The couple were treated at Bourn Hall using standard IVF which involved Hayley taking fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce a number of eggs and then, using a minor surgical procedure, collecting a number of eggs to be placed in a culture dish with Martin’s sperm for fertilisation.

“I was kind of excited to be having the IVF,” says Hayley. “We had gone through so many hoops to get to that stage I think I detached myself emotionally. You get so used to things not going your way you learn to protect yourself from disappointment.”

First time around and Hayley did not get pregnant and she was tempted to wait a while before trying again. “I was emotionally drained,” she says.

Another visit to Bourn Hall however persuaded her otherwise and shortly afterwards she was being treated again.

“The quality of the embryo transferred to my womb second time around was top grade,” says Hayley. “And then we had the longest ten day wait of our lives after it had been transferred to my womb.”

Every day is incredible

The day of the pregnancy test arrived and the alarm clock went off at 5.30am for work.

“I did the test and looked at the line which was quite faint,” says Hayley. “We were looking at it asking ourselves ‘is it a line or is it not a line?’ We decided it was a line but then just sat there in disbelief, we couldn’t take it in for a while.”

Seven weeks in to Hayley’s pregnancy the couple went back to Bourn Hall for a scan and it was only at that point that Hayley allowed herself to believe she was finally pregnant.

“I believed it then but I was very, very cautious,” says Hayley. “It was only when I was about 20 weeks pregnant that I started to relax a bit and buy baby clothes.”

Daughter Tessa arrived safely on June 22, 2016 and Hayley says she felt ‘dazed and shellshocked’:

“Tessa had been with us a good couple of weeks before I suddenly thought ‘wow I’ve had a baby’” shesays. “Every day is incredible, I have to pinch myself. It is strange to get to the point, having thought that this was never going to happen, when I can let my guard down and take it all in. I have not been able to do that for four years. I started out trying for a baby all optimistically but as time went on and friends were getting pregnant after two months of trying and still nothing was happening for us I just started to think the worst. Both myself and Martin developed a self-defence mechanism and it takes time to let your guard down, even now.”

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Don’t hesitate to seek help

For anyone who is worried about their own fertility Hayley advises them to seek help sooner rather than later. “Don’t leave it as long as I did,” she says. “It is nice to have a career in place but hindsight is a wonderful thing. You will have lots of hoops to get through. I also think it is really important that couples look out for each other as I can really understand how the stress would break some couples up. The whole journey is so emotionally charged, you need to make sure you have got each others’ back and look after each other.”

NHS funding changes lives

As Tessa was born following Hayley’s second cycle of NHS-funded treatment she feels really sad for other people that the number of cycles now funded by the NHS in Cambridgeshire has been reduced to just one.

“If we had been funded for just one cycle I wouldn’t have my daughter,” she says. “We could not have afforded to fund a second cycle ourselves and so we would not have been blessed with Tessa. I don’t think one cycle is enough and it is terrible that in some parts of the country the funding has been cut altogether. People should be given a chance.”

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Don’t leave it until it’s too late, urges Bedfordshire mum

Sarah from Bedfordshire had taken more than a hundred pregnancy tests in her adult life – and all of them had come back with the same result: Negative. Then one day last year she and husband Richard were shocked when they saw something they had never seen before – a bright blue line confirming that Sarah was pregnant.

“I had never seen a positive pregnancy result before, I just couldn’t believe it!” laughs Sarah.

The pregnancy test result which Sarah and Richard had spent years hoping for followed IVF treatment at the world-famous Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridgeshire, and there was a further surprise in store; Sarah was expecting twins.

Don’t leave it until it’s too late

Daughters Felicity and Erica were born in February of this year and Sarah, who is aged 40, has her own advice for any couple who have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby for more than two years:

“Don’t put off getting the ball rolling,” she says. “When I was in my early thirties I was pretty relaxed about starting a family but the longer you leave it the smaller the window of opportunity you have for treatment if you have problems. Don’t leave it until it’s too late.”

Unexplained infertility is common

Sarah and Richard started trying for a baby seven years ago but after two years without success went to their GP. Tests revealed the cause was ‘unexplained infertility’.

“I now realise that this is a very common cause of infertility,” says Sarah.

The couple were eligible for fertility treatment on the NHS and opted for Bourn Hall. “We chose Bourn Hall because it got such good reviews,” she says.

“The next step was to go to a patient seminar at Bourn Hall. We were nervous but really looking forward to it. The presentation was great, taking us through exactly what would happen during our journey with them. We were quite pragmatic and matter-of-fact about it at that point, it would either work or it wouldn’t.”

The process took 3 years

Sarah did not fall pregnant at the first attempt. “I underwent three fresh cycles and one frozen,” says Sarah, “the whole process took three years because my body had to rest between treatments.

“When I took the pregnancy test and saw the blue line I just couldn’t believe it!” she says.

Finally, a seven-week scan at Bourn Hall confirmed what she had already secretly suspected, that she was expecting twins. “The pregnancy test had been instant and bright blue and apparently that is what can happen with twins because of the amount of hormones in your body,” she says.

“Richard nearly fell off his chair!” she remembers.

The couple couldn’t be happier with their new family.

“Having twins is a shock to the system, very hard work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Sarah.

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