“We both knew that we wanted children but being in a same-sex relationship we just didn’t know how you went about it,” says Katie. “We knew that women used sperm donors but we didn’t realise you could do it ‘officially’ and assumed it was all a bit of a taboo thing and that we would have to go ‘underground’ to find a sperm donor and try and get pregnant.
“Our impression at that stage was that having treatment at a UK clinic, which I assumed was going to be IVF treatment, would be really expensive for us and so we thought we would give the ‘DIY option’ a go.”
“We didn’t like the idea of asking a male friend or using a random stranger who advertised on the internet because we very much wanted any baby to be ‘ours’ and not end up with a male figure in the background who potentially could make some kind of claim over them as they grew up.”
The couple, who live in Harwich, knew from the beginning that they wanted to use an anonymous donor and had seen a TV documentary which featured women who had self-inseminated at home using sperm bought from a company in Denmark.
“We had decided that it would be me who would carry any resulting pregnancy and we had three tries using the ‘DIY’ kits at home with the donor sperm shipped from Denmark but we had very little knowledge of what we were doing.
“We tried to monitor when I was ovulating but home ovulation tests can be very inaccurate especially for someone like me who we later discovered ovulates much later than when my hormone levels peak. We spent around £3000 trying to get pregnant this way but looking back now I just wish we had gone straight to Bourn Hall.”
Regulated clinic for IUI
Katie played football with a friend who is also in a same-sex relationship who told her about her successful treatment using donor sperm at Bourn Hall Clinic Colchester. Katie and Ali made an appointment at Bourn Hall where they were told about a treatment called IUI – Intrauterine Insemination – which Katie describes as ‘the most natural fertility treatment there is’.
IUI in a fertility clinic involves placing specially prepared sperm high in the uterus at the time of ovulation at exactly the right time, so when the egg is released from the ovary the sperm is as close as possible to where they need to be. The treatment is straightforward, painless and relatively inexpensive.
IUI using donor sperm may be the most appropriate treatment for many same-sex couples and single women with functioning fallopian tubes who are under 35 years old.
IUI is also appropriate for other patients using the male partner’s sperm or donor sperm on medical advice..
“We had tests done at Bourn Hall, including checking that my fallopian tubes were clear, and they all came back fine. However, it did pick up on the issue of my ovulation hormone peaking early which made me realise that there would have been no way that we would have ever got pregnant using the home kits,” says Katie.
Implications counselling to help answer difficult questions
Before Katie and Ali embarked on treatment they were offered ‘implications counselling’ – which is available, free of charge, to all Bourn Hall patients going through treatment using donor gametes. Katie says they found it to be incredibly useful. “It was really nice to speak to someone with an external perspective who has spoken to many couples in our position and it forced us to examine possible scenarios and what might happen in the future if any resulting child decided to find out who their sperm donor was when they reached 18.
“It was really good to prepare for all the things which might happen in the future, especially if we had more than one child, and opened our eyes to any questions our children might have. Children are naturally inquisitive and will want to know where they have ‘come from’ and our position was very much that we hoped that any children we might have would get enough love and support from us and our wider family and that they wouldn’t necessarily feel that it was a part of their life which they needed to go and look for. We also felt that if it was something any resulting child wanted to do then it was completely their choice and we would support them in whatever decision they chose to take.”
Finding a sperm donor
Katie says she and Ali really wanted their children to be biologically related if they had more than one child. “It was really important to us that we used the same sperm donor because at that stage we didn’t know if Ali might also carry a child,” says Katie.
To find a sperm donor Bourn Hall facilitated a very straightforward process says Katie. “Before our treatment Bourn Hall put together profiles of each of us, our heights, weights, eye colour, hair colour, likes, dislikes, hobbies etc and then ran it through their database and came back to us with two donors who were a good match for us. From that shortlist of two we were able to pick the one which we felt was the best mix of us.”
Just popped out for treatment
Patients who undergo IUI at Bourn Hall are usually given fertility drugs to stimulate their egg production and ovulation and to prepare their uterus to receive embryos. They are closely monitored by regular ultrasound scans and blood and urine tests. Sometimes an injection is given to induce ovulation. The donors are rigorously screened and the sperm is carefully washed and prepared before IUI takes place.
“For me IUI was really simple,” says Katie. “It was no more invasive than a smear test really. They inserted a really long ‘straw’ into me and I was literally in and out of the clinic within an hour. In fact the first time I had the treatment I went back to work in the afternoon and all my colleagues just thought that I had been for a routine medical appointment!”
Two weeks after their first IUI treatment Katie took a pregnancy test. “The two-week wait seemed to last forever,” laughs Katie. “The little line showed up that I was pregnant and we couldn’t quite believe it. It felt like it had been too easy it can’t have just worked first time! We hadn’t gone through any of the heartache you sometimes associate with fertility treatment. For us nothing had gone wrong, it had all fallen in to place, we had done everything the clinic had asked of us and they had done everything we asked of them – it had all fallen in to place like a big jigsaw puzzle with nothing missing. We still had to go out and buy eight more pregnancy tests to keep checking that we weren’t dreaming though!”
Son Harry was born four years ago and the three of them settled in to a routine before two years later Katie and Ali decided to go back to Bourn Hall for further treatment, again with the intention that Katie would carry any pregnancy.
Success after setback
“We still had some vials from the sperm donor left and I know this probably sounds really selfish of me but not having experienced any problems with our first treatment I just waltzed in to Bourn Hall rather naïvely assuming that I would have another IUI treatment and two weeks later, wham, I would be pregnant. Because of the way it happened with my pregnancy with Harry I just assumed it would work.”
Sadly for Katie and Ali their second IUI treatment didn’t result in a pregnancy.
“It felt like a complete kick in the teeth and I found it quite hard to take,” admits Katie. “But obviously heterosexual couples can try for years to have a baby and it doesn’t happen so why did I think that even with having ‘the most natural form of fertility treatment’ that it was going to happen straightaway? I felt like I had let Ali and Harry down and that my body had failed.
“We phoned Bourn Hall and explained that I hadn’t become pregnant this time around and they told me that we had been incredibly lucky to have Harry at the first attempt and that it was okay to be disappointed. They told me that we could just try again as soon as I got my next period and so we did that.”
Using the last vial of the donor sperm, the couple were thrilled to achieve a second pregnancy. “I had tried to take the pressure off myself and went into it trying to feel as relaxed as I could,” says Katie. “We were so happy when we found out the treatment had worked again and we had our second son, Oliver, at the beginning of June during lockdown.”
Unlike Harry, who Katie gave birth to after a long labour and was a waterbirth, Oliver arrived 13 minutes after Katie arrived at the hospital. “The midwives didn’t even get a chance to examine me, by the time I had got on the hospital bed my waters had broken and his head was coming out,” laughs Katie.
Advice to others
Now that Katie and Ali have got the family they have always wanted, Katie says that she cannot recommend Bourn Hall enough and says:
“I would say to any same-sex female couple looking to start a family, do your research. There are people who go down routes which are not ethical or safe and spend thousands of pounds on things trying to get pregnant at home which don’t work and you can do yourself damage. We had three goes at home which didn’t work and three goes at Bourn Hall and have two children, it speaks for itself really.
“As for the staff at Bourn Hall I cannot express how lovely all the team at Bourn Hall Colchester were. Our two nurses Jackie and Kate were amazing, just so supportive and lovely. Our two gorgeous boys are the product of the love and dedication they put into their jobs.”