We thought zero sperm would mean zero babies – now we have two!

Wayne was still in his twenties when he was told by doctors he had azoospermia – zero sperm count – and thought that would end his hopes of having a baby with partner Melissa. But after undergoing MicroTESE, a delicate sperm extraction procedure performed by Bourn Hall’s specialist team of ‘sperm hunters’, he is now a dad to twins.

When Wayne met Melissa the subject of children came up quite quickly. He had always wanted to be a dad, and as he was 25 and Melissa was 27, with two girls already from a previous relationship, the couple saw no reason why they would have a problem… so a diagnosis of azoospermia came as a shock.

They tried for two years before seeking help from their GP. Melissa had some blood tests to check she was ovulating. Her periods had started to get lighter but the AMH test, which provides an indication of egg reserve, was normal for her age.

Melissa suggested that Wayne also got tested. Wayne readily admits that he doesn’t like being “prodded and poked around” and didn’t want to be seen by a GP or have sperm tests through them.

“We knew that if we needed IVF we wouldn’t get any NHS funding because I already had children,” explains Melissa. “So we self-referred ourselves to Bourn Hall for Wayne’s testing.”

Azoospermia diagnosis was gutting

Bourn Hall Norwich is tucked away on the Gateway 11 Business Park in Wymondham, so it is very discreet.

When tests at Bourn Hall revealed azoospermia – no sperm in the ejaculate – Wayne was very shocked.

“I thought it must be some sort of mistake,” he says. “I had never had mumps and there was nothing hereditary in my family. I was pretty gutted to be honest. I thought it was the end of the road.

“As a bloke it feels like your world is over if you can’t produce children.”

Sperm hunting

The couple were then introduced to Consultant Urologist Mr Oliver Wiseman. Mr Wiseman is one of only a small number of urologists in the country to specialise in male fertility and one of the first to practice MicroTESE (micro-surgical testicular sperm extraction), where immature sperm is found in small tubules in the testes using a powerful microscope. The sperm is collected and frozen, ready for IVF treatment.

Oliver Wiseman, specialist on male infertility
Oliver Wiseman, specialist on male fertility

At Bourn Hall the embryology lab is very close to the operating theatre and the team is well experienced in ‘sperm hunting’ for those with azoospermia. Mr Wiseman says: “Working closely with the embryologists, we can find sperm in around 50 per cent of those patients for whom the operation is appropriate.”

Wayne admits that he was initially resistant to the idea of surgery. “I didn’t want to have the operation,” he says. “I owe a lot to Mr Wiseman – he made me feel at ease. I knew he would try his hardest to help us find sperm, and he knew I wasn’t keen on being seen and understood how I was feeling.”

Thankfully, Mr Wiseman successfully found sperm and six vials were frozen.

“The sperm was immotile,” says Melissa. “We were told that IVF can still be successful, but our chances were lower.”

But dramatic fall in AMH

The couple faced a further hurdle when, prior to starting their IVF cycle, it was revealed that Melissa’s AMH levels had gone down dramatically. “I now had a low ovarian reserve,” she says. “We were now dealing with two factors. I just burst in to tears; I felt as though we had hit a brick wall.

“We felt battered and bruised emotionally. I just felt like everything was stacked against us and I felt like ‘what is the point?’ or ‘are we fighting a losing battle here?’

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Bella and Noah

“But we had saved hard and decided to continue. I think we almost found it easier to prepare ourselves for the worst.”

At egg collection Melissa had six eggs retrieved which were then injected with Wayne’s defrosted sperm using a procedure called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). “We took the phone call to tell us that two had fertilised and my jaw just dropped because I had honestly felt that we were going to get zero fertilised,” says Melissa. “It was a stand-out moment for me, it was amazing.

“We decided to have both put in; because of everything that had got in our way we were just hoping that one of them took. Wayne joined me for the embryo transfer, watching it on the screen. We were absolutely ecstatic – it felt so surreal.”

Convinced it hadn’t worked

Three days after the transfer Melissa feared that the IVF hadn’t worked.

“I was in Costa Coffee and suddenly felt really light-headed; I thought I was going to faint. I have never felt that before,” she says. “I needed to hold on to something – it was really weird. I had every symptom of my period coming that I would normally have, so I convinced myself it hadn’t worked and was crying.”

Melissa remembers the day of taking the pregnancy test. “I thought ‘right, let’s do this – let’s watch it go negative…’ Both my daughters have been so much part of the process – they even helped to do my injections with me. When I saw a second line on the test I shouted for my oldest daughter. I said ‘can you see what I can see?’ And she said ‘Oh my God, mum, I can see it’ and I think I started crying. She told me to sit down and calm down and made me a squash.

“Me and the girls told Wayne together; we waited until he got home from work. We bought a little babygrow and put it in a box and we videoed Wayne opening it, so it was lovely. He cried, and I think for him after his diagnosis of azoospermia to finally find out that he was going to be a dad was just amazing.”

The couple then had a second surprise…

“Everyone – his nan, his mum, my mum, my daughters – all said it would be twins,” says Melissa.

“We went to the seven-week scan at Bourn Hall and the nurse said ‘here’s baby number one and here’s baby number two’ and we went ‘whoa!’

Wayne overcame azoospermia to have twins
Wayne with Bella and Noah

“Wayne came out of the clinic and was straight on the phone to his mum and dad. I think he felt so proud.”

Noah and Bella were born on 16 November 2022. “We feel so blessed,” says Melissa.

“The journey has been so tough but was very much worth it,” says Wayne. “I didn’t think we stood a chance and I even told Melissa that there was no point, as it wouldn’t work. However, we made it. I’m so lucky to have two amazing little babies.”

To read more about male fertility.