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.
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 more information 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.”
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.
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.”
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.”