I lost over a third of my body weight and our IVF worked first time!

Sarah had been ‘big’ since she was a teenager. When fertility specialists told her that she needed to drastically reduce her BMI for IVF she successfully lost 6.5 stone and is now mum to Jack after successful treatment. 

“I met Steve 11 years ago when we both lived in Leicester and I was open with him from the start that I might struggle to have children,” says Sarah, aged 38. 

“I have always had irregular periods and had been told during a scan of my ovaries that I had the ‘markers’ of polycystic ovaries. 

“I’d previously been on the pill for a long time and after coming off it my periods were always very heavy and there was just no regularity, sometimes it could be three weeks, sometimes it could be six weeks and it was just really all over the place. 

“When me and Steve moved in together we never really took precautions because we were already a bit ‘older’ and knew that getting pregnant would be a challenge. I had always been ‘big’ but when we settled down my weight started to creep up even more. 

Lost some weight and got pregnant naturally

“We sought medical advice on improving our fertility chances and were told that we both needed to lose weight. We were getting married and so had the double incentive of going on a diet for the wedding too. At that stage I managed to lose two stone and Steve really smashed it and lost seven stone!  

“Shortly before our wedding we were surprised to discover I was pregnant but then two days later I miscarried. I hadn’t had a chance to get my head around the fact I was pregnant before I started to miscarry. I was so devastated, it was a really difficult time. 

“I remember trying to find a silver lining from a really bad situation and I thought to myself ‘you know what, at least I know I can actually get pregnant’. Miscarriages happen and I told myself ‘maybe we will be luckier next time… 

Sarah and Steve before their weight loss
Sarah and Steve before their weight loss

“After our wedding in 2015 we started to actively try for a baby and the following year we moved from Leicester to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk because we were looking to have a better work/life balance if we were going to have a child and we had both always wanted to live by the sea. 

“I had two further miscarriage before my new GP in Norfolk said to me ‘we need to get this looked at, let’s get you referred to the hospital.’ 

“The hospital told me that I had to lose weight before I could be referred to a specialist. I was in my early thirties by this point and after getting my weight down a bit we were referred to the James Pagett Hospital where we were seen by a specialist for about a year. 

“Steve’s semen tests had come back as ‘borderline’ and on my side, as well as the ‘markers’ for polycystic ovaries I had an underactive thyroid which I took medication for. But in the end there wasn’t a definitive reason for our infertility, it was ‘unexplained’.  

Couldn’t be referred until my BMI was under 30

“The specialist was really straight with us and explained that we couldn’t be referred for NHS-funded IVF until my BMI was under 30. He said ‘you have got to lose weight for the best chances of the IVF working and for you to have a healthy pregnancy’. At that point I needed to lose 6.5 stone which was a third of my bodyweight. 

“Steve had pretty much managed to keep his weight off and only needed to lose a stone so we knew what we needed to do and there was light at the end of the tunnel. 

“Over the years it had been really distressing watching friends and family have children and I don’t think I coped very well with it. People would never know how I felt and I would always smile and say ‘how are the babies?’ because I love children but it was always heart wrenching when someone else had a baby because we were having such a hard time of it. 

“It took me two years to lose the 6.5 stone with Slimming World. I had previously lost two stone with them so I knew it would work for me. Finally in early 2021 I had got down to my target BMI and we were signed off to be referred for NHS-funded IVF. 

“We started our treatment at Bourn Hall Norwich in April 2021. Apart from the embryo transfer I had to attend all the appointments on my own, because of covid restrictions, which was hard. 

Longest two weeks

“After the embryo transfer at Bourn Hall we decided to go away for two weeks and try to relax and try not to think too much about it. The first pregnancy test we did was negative and we were devastated. I was so upset, I remember ringing Bourn Hall and explaining that the test was negative but they told us to do another one after the weekend and that one came back positive! We did another test a few days later and it was still positive and we called Bourn Hall again and they said ‘congratulations!’. 

“I remember going in to Bourn Hall for the six week viability scan and my heart was beating so fast, even though having a baby was all we wanted, after all these years I was so nervous. I remember the nurse turned the screen towards us and said ‘there is your baby’ and at that point it was just such a relief to know that it was real and that I was actually pregnant! 

“I had an absolute dream of a healthy pregnancy. I had no sickness, no pain and my bump wasn’t very big which was so strange because for a large part of my life my body had been used to being a lot bigger and so I had thought I would balloon when I was pregnant but I didn’t. A lot of people didn’t even notice I was pregnant until I was about 8 months! 

“Jack was born on 29 March 2022, a week early. When he finally arrived it was unbelievable. It was all a bit surreal, I had wanted to be a mum for so long but I just never imagined it would actually happen, it took quite a while for it to sink in! I still look at him now and can’t believe that he is mine! 

Losing weight best thing I have ever done

“The doctors had told us that we need to get our weight down and I used to think ‘there are people bigger than me who have healthy pregnancies, why does it matter?’ But now, having lost the weight and had a really healthy pregnancy and feeling like a really healthy mum I completely ‘get it’ and I think that I would still be saying that even if the IVF hadn’t worked.

“I have so much more energy now and feel younger than my age whereas before I had all sorts of aches and pains.  

Sarah with Jack

“Although I lost the weight for the IVF the bigger picture is that I am a much healthier person for it, and so is Steve, and once Jack starts running around I won’t feel like I am carrying loads of weight and I will be able to run around with him. 

“For us, it has been a complete life change, we are so much more active and do a lot of walking which we enjoy. We have managed to lose 13.5 stone between us – that is a whole person. I just wish we had done it sooner!” 

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Been there, done that, got the T-shirt: Sarah now helps other people lose weight  

Last September Sarah, whose ‘day job’ is working as an HR Manager, became a Slimming World consultant and she now has over 100 clients attending her classes in Great Yarmouth – a number of them with issues around fertility and diabetes. 

“The thing with Slimming World is that there is no ‘deprivation’ it is all about eating everything in balance and cooking from fresh, says Sarah. “So not eating processed food or things high in sugar but enjoying normal food and rebalancing it back so that you are eating more of your ‘good food’. 

“When I joined Slimming World they asked me to set myself a target and to say what my dream weight would be and so I set myself a target which was ‘stone by stone’ and measured it in bite sized chunks rather than saying in the first instance I needed to lose 6.5 stone because that felt like a mountain. 

“In the beginning it was hard because I wanted a baby so much and every week I was another week older but overall when I look back now I think it was fine, it took us a couple of years but the weight consistently came off and because I was smaller and healthier I had a really easy pregnancy. 

“Really and truly we know as adults what is good for us and what isn’t but without the guidance from Slimming World I don’t know that we would have lost the weight and got what we wanted. So I really want to help other people who want to lose weight, for whatever reason, and encourage them to keep going.” 

For more information go to slimmingworld.co.uk 

Bourn Hall consultant Dr Sharleen Hapuarachi will be discussing the importance of ‘Keeping Fertility Fit’ as the guest speaker for the first meeting of a new East of England Fertility Support Group hosted by Fertility Network UKon 6th September 2023. Find out more.