What a lot of people didn’t realise is that Richard and Sarah had been trying unsuccessfully and were going through IVF treatment after tests had revealed male factor infertility.
“We had decided that we didn’t want to tell many people initially that we were having fertility treatment in the hope that we would be able to make a ‘normal’ pregnancy announcement around the 12 week mark without going into the details,” says Richard.
“Shocked when I realised it was me”
The couple had been trying for six months to get pregnant before going to see their GP, who fast-tracked them for tests when she became aware of Richard’s medical history.
“When I was a child I had two operations to correct undescended testicles,” says Richard. “No one at the time mentioned anything to my parents about there being any possible impact on my future fertility.”
Hospital tests revealed that Richard had a low sperm count – which can be caused by factors such as undescended testicles and being overweight. He also had low sperm motility (movement).
“It was a shock to be told that the problem was with me,” says Richard. “I was taken aback that I had an issue that I was completely unaware of. If I had known earlier that it could have affected my fertility I would have got tested sooner. Even if I had been single I would have gone and got tested just so that I knew more about my own fertility. I felt disappointed that I hadn’t been in possession of the information before we started our fertility journey.
“Infertility and fertility treatment are bizarre really in that people often think that the problem is with the woman when it is simply not the case. I think I now know more couples where the infertility issue lies with the man than with the woman.”
Richard and Sarah were advised that the best option for them was IVF treatment but at the time the area of Norfolk (South Norfolk) where they live didn’t fund any IVF treatment (that has now changed and couples in their area of Norfolk now get two NHS-funded rounds of IVF).
The couple made an appointment with Bourn Hall and had a doctor consultation at the Norwich clinic.
Advice to improve fertility
“We were given advice about our treatment options as well as ways of improving natural fertility,” says Richard. “I am slightly overweight and have irregular sleep patterns due to my work and both can affect fertility. Bourn Hall also recommended some supplements. We decided to go away and try again for three months until it was Christmas and if we hadn’t any success by then we would go down the IVF route.”
They returned to Bourn Hall the following year for self-funded treatment and tests confirmed that Richard still had low sperm count and motility. “It was still really low so any improvement there had been was not going to make any difference to my fertility,” he says.
The couple had two fresh cycles of IVF at Bourn Hall and two frozen embryo transfers – sadly although Sarah became pregnant a total of three times she had two ‘missed miscarriages’ which the couple did not find out about until the early eight week viability scans.
“It was awful,” says Richard, who admits that he is not much of a talker and tends to deal with his feelings on his own “working them out in my head.” Someone, however, who had been part of their journey was Richard’s mum and he did find comfort in opening up about his feelings to her: “That was nice, talking to my mum,” he says.
Focus on the woman
IVF treatment is primarily focused on the woman as she is the one taking the medication and undergoing egg collection and embryo transfer and for the man it can be difficult to know how best to support her.
“Sarah is absolutely terrified of needles and was actually really anxious when we first went down the IVF route as, unlike me, she had never had any surgical procedures at all,” says Richard.
“I would administer Sarah’s injections and it gave me a feeling of supporting her and of being able to do something. The worst part of the whole experience was thinking that the reason we couldn’t have children was with me and I was not able to do anything. It was all down to Sarah, she was the one being prodded and poked and all the rest of it while I was just standing there watching really. So being able to give her the injections felt good.”
Sarah and Richard had been due to have their fourth attempt – a frozen cycle using embryos from their second fresh IVF treatment – when the first lockdown hit. They were able to return to Bourn Hall last summer, but unfortunately Richard was unable to attend key appointments due to COVID restrictions.
“I wasn’t allowed in for the monitoring scan or embryo transfer,” he says.
“She isn’t crying”
Sarah was ‘shaking with fear’ when she went for her viability scan after their fourth treatment because they had been told twice before that there had been a pregnancy which had not progressed.
“I sat in the car and watched her go in and then waited for her to come out,” he says. “When she did eventually come out and get in the car I thought ‘well she isn’t crying so that is a good sign’.”
Sarah was able to relay the good news to Richard that they were expecting twins and show him lots of scan pictures which their fertility nurse Gemma had printed off for them. “I just cried,” says Richard. “It was such a relief. Gemma was watching us through the window because she told Sarah she wanted to see my reaction when I was given the news.”
On 18th April 2021 twins Rory and Ewan were born – two hours apart.
“Ewan ended up being born via c-section and so I was there right by Sarah’s side holding Rory in my arms whilst his twin brother was being born,” says Richard.
“Feels like a miracle”
Now the twins are here Richard can’t imagine life without them. “Being a dad is just amazing,” he says. “The first two weeks were pretty stressful as I was running around like a headless chicken whilst Sarah recovered from her c-section but now I have started to relax I am just loving it. It is so rewarding every time one of the boys looks in to my eyes, I love it!
“Bourn Hall were great; without them we wouldn’t have these two beautiful little boys. We feel like it is a miracle.”