Paula will always remember the day she was told she had no eggs: “I was absolutely devastated, I cried all night in despair.”
When she was 28 Paula had the Mirena coil fitted. This contraceptive device releases a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone and is often recommended for women with heavy periods as it can reduce or stop periods entirely. In Paula’s case it masked the fact she was going through an early menopause.
“I was in my mid thirties when we agreed to remove the coil and try for a baby. At first my periods were very irregular but I assumed my cycle was settling down after the coil and thought I should wait at least a year before asking for help.”
When Paula went to her GP she was referred for blood tests and had her Fallopian tubes checked via a procedure called hysterosalpingogram (HSG).
“No problems were found with my Fallopian tubes and although my Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level was low (12) I was told it had to be below 10 before I would be considered for IVF. Therefore, I was put on Clomid and had 3 cycles in 9 months and although the doctors kept saying they could see a follicle swelling in my ovary nothing happened.
“I was beginning to wonder if they were just seeing a cyst rather than a follicle and wanted to know if I had any eggs left. I had read about the AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) test but the consultant couldn’t offer me this, instead they did another blood test for hormone levels.”
Paula waited over five weeks for the results of the test and was told just after her 40th birthday that she probably had Premature Ovarian Failure; she was unlikely to conceive naturally and was too old for NHS funded treatment.
GP recommends Bourn Hall
Paula went back to her GP and was recommended to go to Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic. Here she was given the AMH test.
A baby girl is born with all the eggs she will have for a lifetime. These are released gradually and when they are gone this triggers the menopause. The AMH test gives an estimate of the remaining egg supply, or “ovarian reserve”. It cannot be used to predict fertility as it provides no measure of the rate of loss, but it gives a snapshot of how many eggs remain.
“At Bourn Hall I was told for the first time that I had no eggs left and had all the symptoms of the menopause. I went on a real downer; I was still young but felt I wasn’t a woman anymore. I kept asking myself ‘what if I had done this, what if I had done that’. I thought I would never have children it was so hard to bear.”
The Egg Donor programme
Paula was put on the waiting list for an egg donor. Bourn Hall Clinic has an active donor programme, inviting altruistic donors and also encouraging patients to share eggs or sperm where the quality is particularly high. There is no obligation to share but the clinic has found that empathy is a powerful motivator and treatment is offered free of charge to acknowledge this support.
Paula went on the waiting list and got her body ready for pregnancy. She gave up caffeine and alcohol, improved her diet and fitness in the hope of a donor being found. Two years later the call came.
“The donor produced twenty eggs, ten for her and ten for me, and I got pregnant first time. I was over the moon; I had not expected it to work on the first attempt. You are not told about the other person but I so hoped that she was pregnant too.”
Gary and Paula welcome Aidan and Ethan
The twins, Aidan and Ethan, were born in March 2011 and Paula and her husband Gary still can’t believe the babies are here.
“I call them my little miracles. I think of the donor all the time and just couldn’t thank her enough. We owe her so much for the joy she has given us.
“To anyone considering donating I would say, ‘be very sure that it is what you want to do’, it is not an easy decision. To give someone who craves a baby with her whole being the chance of being a mother is probably one of the most generous things you could ever do.
“I can still remember the pain when I was told I had no eggs and now I have these beautiful babies; I can’t begin to describe the joy.”