When friends asked Jessica from Norwich what she would like for her 40th birthday she replied: “I don’t want anything, I already have the only present I ever wanted.”
The early ‘birthday present’ which Jessica is referring to is her new baby daughter, Elisabeth, born after fertility treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic Norwich.
10 year wait
Jessica and husband Marc first started trying for a baby more than ten years ago when Jessica was still in her twenties but they delayed seeking advice. Jessica says: “with hindsight one of our biggest regrets is that we should have asked for help sooner than we did.”
According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority over 90 per cent of couples conceive naturally within two years. If you haven’t conceived for a year however, or you know you have a condition which affects your fertility, you should go and see your GP to discuss next steps.
After finally going to their GP and being referred for hospital tests Jessica and Marc were told that Jessica had a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which is one of the most common causes of fertility issues in women. “I had been on the contraceptive pill for years before we got married and it had masked many of the symptoms,” she says.
PCOS disrupts the release of a woman’s eggs and common symptoms include: irregular periods or no periods at all; excessive hair growth, such as on the face; weight gain; oily skin/acne and thinning hair.
Jessica was told that she would need to lose weight before the hospital would put her on ovarian stimulation drugs to try and boost her chances of getting pregnant naturally and it was at this point that she decided to go for a complete lifestyle change.
“I had always been active but I basically switched from doing a bit of walking to running three times a week and hiring a personal trainer,” she laughs. “Every time I had a setback and wondered what I was doing I would remember what my ultimate goal was. I lost a stone and a half and competed in the Great North Run. A few days after I did the Great North Run I was told that I had lost enough weight to be put on fertility drugs.”
Over the next two years Jessica underwent two courses of ovulation induction treatment. The couple were disappointed when Jessica still didn’t conceive naturally and eventually they were referred for IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.
“By this point I was in my mid-thirties and I really did feel as though my body clock was ticking. I really had begun to think that perhaps being a mum just wasn’t going to happen to me,” she says.
Jessica was devastated when her first attempt at IVF had to be cancelled half-way through because she only produced one follicle. “That was a massive low point,” she admits.
She then fell pregnant naturally but was devastated when she suffered a late miscarriage. “That took quite a while to get over,” she says. “I went to an excellent group counselling session with an organisation called Time Norfolk Pregnancy Loss and it was good to talk to other people in the same situation.”
The couple decided to have another try at IVF and it was at this point that they met Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Clinical Lead for Bourn Hall clinics in Norfolk. He gave them the option of trying a radically different approach.
Jessica was given a higher dosage of drugs to stimulate her ovaries and then the eggs, which were retrieved and successfully fertilised, were all frozen instead of the usual practice of a ‘fresh’ embryo transfer happening simultaneously. “The idea was that my body would have time to recover from the stimulation drugs before transfer” says Jessica.
The couple went on holiday for three weeks before Jessica underwent a frozen embryo transfer which resulted in a healthy pregnancy and the birth of Elizabeth, who Jessica describes as “the most beautiful baby girl.”
Elisabeth (Lizzie) was named after Jessica’s mum who passed away suddenly 15 years ago. The response to her birth from family and friends has been enormous. “When Lizzie was born we had around 150 cards and presents,” smiles Jessica. “We had been very open about our journey to have a child. Lots of my mum’s friends and relatives sent us cards and gifts. It was amazing.”
Jessica and Marc are now settled in to family life with their daughter but Jessica says she kept pinching herself for the first few months and remind herself that she was really a mum. “It took us a couple of months to believe that it had really happened,” she says. “Over the years I used to have dreams sometimes that I had a baby and would wake up and it wasn’t true. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t still dreaming. Meeting Dr Papathanasiou was life-changing. I cannot thank Bourn Hall enough, we are totally in awe and in love with the little baby girl they gave us.”
Only a small number of people require IVF and there are many ways that natural fertility can be boosted and other assisted conception treatments can be offered at Bourn Hall’s fertility clinics. Bourn Hall Clinic is offering free consultations with a fertility nurse specialist to anyone trying to get pregnant until Easter 2018. The consultations are available at Bourn Hall’s Norwich, Colchester and Cambridge clinics and advice will be given on a range of measures that can be used to help people become parents.