IUI with donor sperm made us a family after long and emotional journey

IUI with donor sperm gave a son to Charlie and wife Lauren, ten years after she was told she had PCOS and would never have a baby

“There have been really difficult times when we thought that having a child was never going to happen for us and that maybe we were just chasing a dream,” says Charlie, aged 32. “But all our dreams came true when our miracle little boy Indy was born. We have had a long and emotional journey to become parents and he is everything we ever hoped for. Our life together is now complete.”

Charlie has known that she wanted to be a mum for as long as she can remember

“I was an only child until I was 12 and the oldest of all my cousins,” she says. “I was desperate for a baby brother or sister and then my little brother came along. I loved it and used to mother him all the time, I have always been really maternal.”

When she was 20 Charlie was told by doctors that she might never have children after a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. As a lesbian woman she already knew that she would have additional obstacles to overcome to fulfil her dream of becoming a mum, but issues with her fertility had not been on her radar until then.

“It was a massive knock for me,” she says. “At the time my body was a bit all over the place and I was displaying all of the classic symptoms of PCOS including irregular periods and weight gain and felt very self-conscious, but I hadn’t expected to be told I might never be able to have children.”

When she was 23 Charlie met Lauren and the couple married three years later.

“Lauren wanted to have children just as much as I did and was happy for me to carry the baby,” says Charlie. “I had always wanted to have a massive baby bump and feel the baby moving.”

Emotional rollercoaster

The couple knew from the outset that the only route they were prepared to go down was to go to a regulated fertility clinic.

“Obviously we knew that we were going to have to use a donor and were aware that when a child turns 18 they are entitled to contact the donor, but by going through a clinic any baby would always be ‘ours’.” says Charlie. “We didn’t want anyone interfering in our child’s life, sending birthday cards or making either of us feel that there was someone else in the picture.”

Initially the couple, who live in Essex, went to a clinic in London for their treatment and went through a draining emotional rollercoaster of hope followed by disappointment when their first two IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) treatments didn’t work. Their disappointment turned to brief elation when Charlie found out she was pregnant after the third treatment but the couple were told soon after that it was probable that Charlie would lose the pregnancy and sadly, she miscarried at 8 weeks.

“There is nothing worse than being pregnant and knowing that there is nothing you can do to stop a miscarriage,” says Charlie. “We were devastated. It was the hardest thing we have ever been through.

“At that moment in time I felt as though I was ‘finished’ with fertility treatment. I had always thought that my hurdle in life was going to be getting pregnant and that if I could achieve that it would be ‘job done’ but it just isn’t as easy as that.

“We gave ourselves a lot of time to get over our loss and come to a decision about what to do next. We started looking at other fertility clinics way before we were mentally ready to try again.”

Ready to try again

One of the clinics which the couple tentatively looked at was Bourn Hall in Wickford.

“We both really liked Bourn Hall and decided that was where we would choose if we decided to have further treatment but we were still drained and emotionally raw and needed more time to mentally prepare for possibly going through the process again,” says Charlie.

When they finally felt ready to try again Charlie and Lauren contacted Bourn Hall to make an appointment. Bourn Hall’s Wickford clinic is a purpose-built fertility centre that was based on over 40 years of expertise and is also just a 12-mile drive from the couple’s home.

“We definitely felt as though we had arrived at the right place,” says Charlie. “We felt comfortable and the staff were all really nice.”

Felt a connection with the donor

For their IUI treatment at Bourn Hall the couple were keen to use the same sperm donor they had used at the London clinic and which they had sourced themselves from a sperm bank. Charlie says: “When we had been looking at sperm donor profiles we had quite specific criteria which we wanted to be met and that was that they had a rhesus negative blood type, were CMV negative and that they had a previous history of live birth or pregnancy. The sperm bank profile didn’t give us that much information but it gave us enough and I don’t know what it was but the donor we picked really stood out for us and we felt a connection.”

Charlie and Lauren bought another vial of the same donor sperm from the sperm bank and it was shipped to Bourn Hall who stored it within their cryopreservation facility until the couple’s treatment began.

All ready to go … then lockdown!

The couple, who had already been through so much to get to this point, were then faced with another obstacle in their journey to parenthood.

“We were going to start the treatment in April 2020 but obviously with the lockdown it all got postponed,” says Charlie. “It was yet another blow and I got really upset thinking maybe we were not meant to try again. I had mentally prepared myself for it to be that month so when it wasn’t it knocked me a bit.”

Once fertility clinics were allowed to reopen Charlie was one of the first patients allowed back in to Bourn Hall Wickford for treatment. Covid restrictions meant that Lauren had to stay outside in the carpark when Charlie was having appointments and scans and for the insemination.

“We both found it really difficult that Lauren could not come in to the clinic with me,” says Charlie. “Although not having Lauren there with me was hard I had a really nice fertility nurse who understood how difficult it was for me not having Lauren there and she was present at all of my appointments.”

Taking the pregnancy test after two weeks was nerve-wracking

“After everything that had happened before, I was scared to take the pregnancy test,” says Charlie. “I basically sat in the bathroom with a cup of wee for about half an hour, not knowing if I was going to do the test. I was thinking to myself ‘if this is negative, I am going to be devastated and I don’t know if I am prepared for that to happen again.’

“Then I thought ‘sod it, I am going to do it’ so I did it and thought it was a negative and went through to the bedroom and woke Lauren up and said: ‘I have done the pregnancy test but I think it is negative you can go and take a look if you want.’ She went into the bathroom and then came running back screaming ‘it is a positive it is a positive!!’

“The line was really faint so I went out the next day and bought loads of different pregnancy tests so that I could see solid lines and believe it.

I am pregnant but …

“Because of everything that had happened I was always thinking ‘I am pregnant but…’ Throughout my pregnancy there was always an element of doubt in my mind. Even when I was being wheeled down the corridor in hospital for my caesarian, I couldn’t believe it.”

In April 2021 – a year after the couple were originally due to start their treatment at Bourn Hall – they welcomed their son Indy.

Little miracle 

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“All our dreams came true when Indy arrived,” says Charlie. “He is absolutely gorgeous. Being a mum is the most amazing feeling ever. Sometimes when I am sitting with him holding him in my arms I just look at his little face and I think ‘how lucky are we?’. He is a miracle.

“Now Indy is here it still feels really surreal. We went through so much to have him. We threw all our emotions at becoming parents and it was really, really tough at times. I sometimes used to think that I was never going to get to be a mum and that it was everyone else who were the lucky ones.

“I can still remember how I emotional I would get looking at other women with big baby bumps and buggies and it would upset me because I wished that it could be me.

“What I would say to anyone else feeling like I did is ‘don’t give up no matter how hard it gets’. There were times when I thought that perhaps I was just chasing a dream that was never going to happen but finally, with Indy, my dreams of becoming a mum have come true.”

Read more LGBT+ stories about fertility treatment at Bourn Hall.