MRKH diagnosis at 16 shattered baby dreams
“I realised something was wrong when at 15 I was literally the only one who hadn’t started their periods.
“I just had an instinct that something was wrong. My mum took me to the doctors to get checked out. I went for tests and an MRI at my local hospital and then I was sent to Queen Charlotte Hospital in London, and was given my diagnosis.
“I have a condition called MRKH which basically means that my womb and the top part of my vagina is underdeveloped. I still have my ovaries so can produce eggs, but I will never be able to carry a baby myself.”
The cause of Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome is unknown, but it is a genetic disorder.
“At 16 I was scared of telling people, but after opening up to someone at church who is a mentor for young people, I began to find the confidence to share my story with others. I did have some counselling and this was helpful to be more open about my condition.
“I was very fortunate to be sent to Queen Charlotte because it is the UK’s hub for MRKH. They have information sessions once a year and group therapy sessions.
“An early one was about surrogacy and a number of women came who had children through surrogacy and mentioned Surrogacy UK. So, I knew that it was possible but it also felt very daunting.”
Started baby fund at our wedding
“I met my husband Christopher when I was 20 so we always knew we would need to use a surrogate and decided to start the process shortly after getting married in 2018. We even asked for contributions to our ‘baby fund’ instead of wedding presents, as you can’t get NHS funding for surrogacy.
“We approached Bourn Hall Wickford because it was a local to us and also because I know about Bourn Hall’s history of opening the world’s first IVF clinic and I felt it was a clinic we could trust.
Needed expert in trans-abdominal egg collection
“I know other women who have MRHK and they haven’t been able to have IVF, due to the position of their ovaries and because there are few specialists that can do the trans-abdominal egg retrieval. It was just amazing that Bourn Hall had someone.
“The doctors at Bourn Hall told me that my ovaries ‘float around’ as they are not anchored in place by the womb. So, they weren’t sure that vaginal access for egg collection would be possible, so we went to Bourn Hall’s Cambridge clinic to see the expert in trans-abdominal egg collection.
“I was really pleased to get eight eggs, because we didn’t know if they would find any. Four of the eggs formed embryos with Christopher’s sperm and they were all frozen.
“Once we found our surrogate, she would have a Frozen Embryo Transfer with our embryos, so there would be no genetic link with the surrogate.”
Joined Surrogacy UK
“We joined the Surrogacy UK online members website where you can message people. After nearly 8 months we met Sophie and spent three months getting to know each other before we became a ‘team’ in August 2021.
“Sophie was 27 and already had her own children. She said she wanted to be able to help a couple have a family, she is incredible.
“Sophie always made us feel like ’this is your journey I am just here as part of a supporting act’. It felt right and we got on with her really well and felt we trusted her.
“I got back in touch with Bourn Hall and we managed to get an appointment in September 2021.
“We all completed the HFEA forms individually and then had consultations separately and the same with counselling. Then we all came together as a team which was helpful.
Preparing for frozen embryo transfer
“By early November Sophie had started her medication for the Frozen Embryo Transfer. She had to inject herself, take medication, insert pessaries – she did all of that for us and it wasn’t easy.
“The Frozen Embryo Transfer happened on 6 January 2022. I was able to be in the room with Sophie and held her hand as we watched it on the screen. It happened very fast you don’t really see that much, but we got an ultrasound photograph of the moment of transfer so I could show Chris. Afterwards we went out and took a selfie to capture the moment.
“Chris and I were excited, but all the way along we ‘guarded our hearts’ because on these kinds of journeys there is worry and disappointments in lots of areas and so you want to be excited but you are not there yet.
“Our IVF had worked first time. I feel that evening we let our ‘guarded hearts’ be a little bit happier and hopeful.
“Sophie was amazing throughout the pregnancy, ultimately she became our friend and it was a really lovely experience. We went to the 7-week viability scan at Bourn Hall and it was amazing because at 7 weeks you see something flicker on the screen which is the baby’s heartbeat.
I was there at the birth
“All the way through the pregnancy I was really anxious about the birth. Sophie had her second baby on her landing, it was that quick. We live 40 minutes away from her so we were worried that we wouldn’t make it to the hospital for the birth.
“In the end she had a caesarean, and I was allowed to be in the room. It was almost like a full circle really because I had held Sophie’s hand at the embryo transfer and then I held her hand for the caesarean.”
It was a surreal moment
“When Matthew was born in September 2022 I was allowed to cut the cord and I had my first skin-to-skin with him it was really lovely. Chris then came to meet him, it was just such a surreal moment.
“I was actually able to breastfeed Matthew, I had been prescribed an anti-sickness medication which has a side-effect of inducing lactation, it was really nice to be able to do that, it was special.
“We spent three days in hospital, I was allowed to stay with Sophie and then when me and Chris finally took Matthew home it was amazing.
“The first night at home just the three of us was really special. We spent all the time cuddling Matthew as much as we could!
Bourn Hall made it happen
“We have agreed that Sophie will be Matthew’s ‘Auntie Sophie’ so that she is part of his life. She has got her own family but we want him to know that he was helped into this world with her help.
“According to the law Sophie is automatically the birth mother, but because she isn’t married to her partner, we were able to put Chris on the birth certificate and put in a parental order application to become legal parents.
“Our parental order was granted on July 12 2023 and we went out together for lunch with Sophie and her partner to celebrate.
“Bourn Hall was amazing. Every step of the way I was treated as the intended mother and so for example at the embryo transfer they did talk to Sophie about what was going to happen but they also answered all my questions and gave me the ultrasound and reassured me because I was nervous and that was the nice part about it, the compassion.
“Surrogacy is not necessarily an everyday thing although it is definitely increasing and it was really nice to go to a place and feel the compassion and understanding of our journey.”
One of the most beautiful experiences of my life
Surrogate Sophie says that carrying Chloe and Christopher’s baby has been ‘absolutely life-changing’ for her:
“I can’t quite capture it in words, but being able to bring a child into this world is the most incredible feeling,” she says.
“After having three of my own, I wanted to be able to do this for somebody else. It was a dream of mine for a very long time.
“To watch Chloe cut Matthew’s cord and call his name when they handed him to her was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
“Watching them grow as a family in the first few days after their baby was born made me realise how much I made the perfect choice.
“They have given me the opportunity of a lifetime and it’s been absolutely life-changing. I cannot thank them enough for letting me be a part of their journey. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”