Emma – Tom and I met at school, in the sixth form. We hadn’t been together long when Tom got ill. He was treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the Churchill hospital in Oxford – so it was natural to go to Oxford Fertility to store his sperm.
Tom – I was 23. I’d had it for two years, not knowing. At that point we weren’t thinking about having a kid, so we didn’t have the energy to ask the right questions. You are not asking how good the sperm is or whether it’s been affected by the disease. The answers would have been that the motility of the sperm (it’s movement) is rubbish and there aren’t many of them.
Hodgkin’s is a blood cancer and it’s in the lymph nodes. Because you can live with it for a long time, it can really affect your fertility. And this is what complicated things for us, and meant we had so much to do on our journey.
Emma - In 2019 we got married and had fertility tests. It was apparent my egg quality wasn’t as good as it should have been for my age. Things weren’t going to be as straightforward for us.
We had one round of treatment on the NHS and that resulted in a miscarriage at six weeks. That was March 2020 and everything soon closed for lockdown. It was soul destroying as we didn’t know what we were going to do.
Tom –You see loads of people doing IVF and you think, it isn’t ideal but it will probably be OK. And that first time, because we were naïve, when it didn’t work, the world imploded. And then we had COVID to cope with and we had to look at funding future rounds ourselves. But, before lockdown happened properly, we managed to get funding in place through Access Fertility for three further attempts.
Emma - So we started the second round at the end of May 2020, but there was no pregnancy. By end of August, we knew the third round hadn’t worked either.
The problem was that we never got many embryos which went to blastocyst stage. We’d get a good number of eggs and a good level of fertilisation, but by day five it would just drop. We never got more than one.
At this point we were disheartened but it never felt like we didn’t know what was happening. Oxford Fertility would say, OK, let’s try this next. This is not the end. We will do this instead.
Tom – The sperm were damaged, so Oxford Fertility said don’t bother trying any other way, let’s go straight to ICSI (sperm injection into the egg). Then, for the next round, we tried IMSI, where they use a microscope to see if there is any DNA fragmentation. It means they can pick the better sperm. Nothing was working, though.
Emma – By round three we were both so stressed and disheartened. The nurse gave me a hug. At that time, it was all I needed. Every time I went, whether for a scan or for an embryo to be put back, everyone was warm and welcoming.
So, flash forward to the fourth round, in March 2021. I’d been taking medication to control my menstrual cycle. I found out I had a cyst on my ovary. It was uncomfortable so they removed it for me. You are a patient of theirs, so they treat you. I had that sorted by Easter 2021 and then straight away they said let’s get back on stimulation. Let’s do the final round.
We got one blastocyst. Only one to put back.
We put that one back and by some absolute miracle, when we had no more rounds left, I got pregnant.
Our baby, Maeve, is 15 weeks old now. We still pinch ourselves and say, is this happening? Even when she wakes us up five or six times in the night, we still say it is lovely. It’s about a year since we had the embryo put back – I don’t know where time has gone. It was two and a half years of trying.
Tom – I’d had Hodgkin’s, so we knew from the very beginning that our journey would be tough. We decided we weren’t going to let the process take over and define everything. Everything else in your life blurs and it can be destructive. We agreed not to stop our lives, otherwise you feel like you can’t live properly.
Emma – Your mental health can deteriorate very quickly. It looks like everyone else can easily have kids and you feel left behind and different. You can’t be obsessed with traditional fertility aids like eating pineapple core (which is disgusting by the way). Thanks to Oxford Fertility, all the way along there were things I could access, like acupuncture and yoga. There was also phone support. It never felt like they were just there to get us pregnant. And even though this was a scientific way to conceive, it was no less special than any other way.