“It was quite a whirlwind romance actually,” laughs Claire. “When you are a bit older you know what you want don’t you? We both knew we wanted children and talked about everything on our first date and I actually told my friends afterwards that I had met the man I was going to marry.”
“Wow I must have been really quite impressive!” interjects Alex.
Exciting… at first
The couple married in 2017. “We stopped worrying about contraception from that moment on and at first it was exciting not worrying about taking precautions and seeing if anything happened,” says Claire. “But then it shifted to checking when I was ovulating and tracking my periods and Googling on the internet. I tend to ‘over Google’ things because I have a little bit of anxiety in general. Towards the end Google became my best friend but also my enemy.
“I love my mum dearly but she was obsessed with me having a baby and was always saying to me ‘it is about time!’ So I felt pressure, albeit well meaning, and it wasn’t just from my mum it was from various people. It was really hard but I had to try and look for ways to reduce stress and go with the flow.”
“When you have decided that you want a baby it feels like it is never ending and is going on forever when nothing is happening,” says Alex. “Time just doesn’t seem to flow the same when you are at that stage.”
“When you are trying for a baby you initially assume that it is going to be fun,” says Claire. “But the problem is that after you have been trying for a while without getting pregnant that fun turns to disappointment and you finally start to lose count of how many pregnancy tests you have done.”
Even the GP was pregnant!
After two years of not getting pregnant the couple, who are registered with the same GP, made an appointment to go together.
“Our GP was great, we can’t fault her, but ironically she was heavily pregnant when we went to see her,” says Claire. “It just felt like everyone was pregnant and sometimes I would be walking down the street and all I would see was women who were pregnant or had a baby.”
“We definitely had a bad case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon,” says Alex. “We saw pregnancy everywhere – we would switch on the TV and every programme seemed to be about someone giving birth or being pregnant.”
Ironically Claire could not escape babies at work either as she is a product manager for a baby product’s company : “I did find it challenging when we were struggling to conceive and I was preparing presentations with lots of photos of beautiful babies,” she says. “Thankfully I had a really understanding boss who had been through IVF herself and we built up a good friendship over it.”
Fertility test results a shock
Following a visit to their GP, Claire was referred for a number of fertility tests.
“It is quite hard on the woman I think because we tend to be the ones who get tested first, probably because they are more invasive and we have to have more done,” says Claire. “I had tests and procedures done which looked at my fallopian tubes and also my womb lining which came back fine. My FSH levels had been at the maximum borderline for the NHS threshold but I think they were probably normal for my age. I had thought ‘ooh what does that mean?’ but then someone told me they can vary depending on the time of month and so I stopped worrying about it and started Googling how to reduce it!”
“I had three sperm analyses done over the space of a number of months,” says Alex, “and all three measures came up differently at each test but they were all lower than they were supposed to be. It is a weird thing to say but when my mum got breast cancer she said ‘why me?’ and I have to admit that I felt a bit like that too. I am a very fit person, I have always had a good diet, I don’t drink a lot, I don’t smoke. Everything else about me is still going well and so it just felt like a surprise to have something ‘wrong’ with me because I had never had anything wrong. I just felt disappointed really.”
Claire and Alex, who live in Hertfordshire, were told after Alex’s test results that they could be referred for NHS-funded IVF.
Choose Bourn Hall for IVF
“It was amazing to be told that we could have IVF,” says Claire. “We celebrated that evening with a glass of champagne and popped a note on Facebook saying we were ‘celebrating life’.
“We were given a list of clinics that we could go to and Bourn Hall Cambridge was our first choice,” says Claire. “There was something really appealing about going to the world’s first IVF clinic set up by the people who had brought Louise Brown in to the world. “
“Bourn Hall has such a great reputation and history,” adds Alex.
“We had such a warm welcome at Bourn Hall and it really felt like they wanted to help us,” says Claire. “We have got such a fondness now for the big old house and the grounds and I remember going there for the first time and having this magical feeling of hope.”
“Yes and we needed that feeling of hope after all the testing and waiting,” adds Alex.
“The doctor we saw at Bourn Hall, Dr Sharleen Hapuariachi, was really nice and very open and talkative,” says Claire, “and that is desperately what we wanted. We needed to have a conversation with someone who was happy to talk us through our questions and also go in to more detail because we are both really into the science of things.
“The one tip I would give to any woman or couple going through treatment would be to buy yourself a really nice notebook, one you know you are going to keep, and spend time writing down all your questions. I bought myself a really nice plastic wallet too to keep everything clean and put all my leaflets and documents in so when I came out of our first appointment having gone through all the questions in my notebook I felt listened to and we got really details answers and that was really important.
“Dr Hapuarichi seemed genuinely excited about helping us.”
Coping with the journey
Claire and Alex discovered a really novel way of turning Claire’s hormone injections at home into something to look forward to.
“First of all I would put an ice cube on my stomach just before I needed to inject and it would numb the skin and I didn’t feel anything when the needle went in,” reveals Claire.
“We developed this little routine after Alex bought me a nice box of chocolates where he would hand me the needle, I would do the injection and then straightaway he would hand me a chocolate. It really felt like we were in it together, the injections became a nice thing, it was lovely.”
The couple also listened to a mindfulness app featuring meditations on the way to their appointments at Bourn Hall.
After egg collection and fertilisation the couple had three viable embryos.
“It was so exciting when the embryology lab called us and told us how many had made it to blastocyst,” says Claire. “My stepdad bought me some roses and a lovely card congratulating us on ‘three beautiful embryos. We had a lot of support from close family.”
One embryo was transferred to Claire and the other two were frozen. “We called them our little ‘embies’” says Claire.
“A week after the transfer I just felt like something was different,” says Claire. I wanted to go to the loo all the time and was so thirsty. We ended up testing early. Alex was with me in the room and it was the first time we had looked at a pregnancy test together. When we had been trying for a baby naturally I would routinely take pregnancy tests on my own and they would always be negative and it would be heart-breaking every single time and I would do three in a month until my period arrived. It is really sad now I think about it but that is where you get to when you want something so much.
“We were delighted when the test was positive, Our IVF treatment had worked first time. We couldn’t wait to tell people and we even drove down to Kent to Alex’s parents with a little mini statue of The Thinker which had belonged to his grandmother with the pregnancy test nestled under his chin and we rang their doorbell and left it on the doorstep and hid round the corner to see their reaction!!”
Nine months later – on April 5, 2020 – the couple’s son Robin arrived. The couple had wanted a water birth at home and had spent time sitting in the pool in the preceding week and as Claire went in to labour – but ended up having to travel to the hospital for a forceps delivery.
“When Robin was born and he was put on my chest I just burst in to tears,” says Claire. “We both looked at him and said ‘we have been waiting so long for you!’ He was so beautiful.”
“It was a proper sobbing moment,” says Alex. “This little dude had come in to my life and in the hospital I was holding him and having skin-to-skin contact and it was amazing. Then I went home and had a cry in the bath and some crisps and some beer and then I got some sleep!”
After Claire and Robin came out of hospital the country was still in the first lockdown. “Friends and family didn’t get to see or touch him for three months,” says Claire. “But the positive side of it was that we had some really wonderful time on our own with just Robin and it was really hot weather and I remember sitting outside in the garden breastfeeding him and Alex was making our first family BBQ and I felt like we were complete.”
Always an infertility survivor
Now that she is a mum Claire offers her support to friends and acquaintances who are struggling to conceive. “I remember how hard it was when I was being invited to baby showers and childrens’ birthday parties or people would post up scan or baby photos on social media,” she says. “There were times when I would just avoid some social occasions altogether if I thought it would be too hard on my mental health – and that is normal. But I have discovered that there are actually more people than you realise struggling with fertility issues and I now actively offer to share my experience as a way of supporting friends who are unable to get pregnant. I think if you can make yourself emotionally available to people who are struggling it really helps.”
Claire and Alex are keen to have a sibling if possible for Robin and have already returned to Bourn Hall for further treatment with their frozen embryos. Unfortunately their FET treatment was unsuccessful but the couple plan to have a further fresh cycle of treatment.
“Robin worked with a fresh cycle so that is the hope,” says Claire. “We don’t feel like we are done yet.
“Everyone at Bourn Hall always seems genuinely happy and excited to help us succeed on our journey, it is a lovely feeling.”
“Yes, they are a class act,” says Alex.