When Belfast lesbian couple Jackie and Tara married and started their family, they didn’t know anyone else who was doing this. One wedding and three children later, they love their life.
Jackie and Tara, both 37, joke about how they came to start their family.
Tara says that Jackie had been reluctant.
“She didn’t want to have babies or get married - and then she was six months pregnant on her wedding day!” she laughs.
“Probably now it is more normal. But back in 2015 when we started our IVF, it wasn’t so normal to have two female parents.
“We didn’t know anyone else like us. We weren’t following anyone else’s story,” she says.
The couple found TFP Belfast Fertility online and contacted them.
They didn’t consider any other options because, they said, the TFP Fertility team made everything so easy.
Tara had donated her eggs previously at a hospital clinic and knew she had a high egg count, so she expected to be the biological mother.
And at this point, Jackie wasn’t sure she wanted to carry a baby.
However, the couple felt they both wanted a strong connection to their child – so the TFP Fertility team suggested reciprocal IVF, where Tara’s eggs would be retrieved and fertilised with donated sperm and then implanted into Jackie’s womb.
“We wanted to make sure we were both involved, so this was the route we chose,” says Jackie.
This IVF technique lets same-sex female couples both have a biological connection to their child, and is as effective and safe as standard IVF. One partner has IVF to retrieve their eggs, and the other partner carries the pregnancy. The eggs are fertilised with donor sperm or from a known person such as a friend or co-parent.
“We wanted a sperm donor who was tall and dark like us”
The couple opted to use the European Sperm Bank and the staff there helped them narrow down their choice of donor.
Jackie says, “We found one donor who had written in his statement that he didn’t want children, so he wanted to help other families.
We didn’t see any pictures, but we read that he had the right height and hair colour plus dark skin.
"He was our first and final choice.”
Both women say that their medical regime in the run-up to the egg collection and transfer was straightforward.
Jackie was taking medication to prepare her body for becoming pregnant and Tara was on a course of injections to stimulate the growth of the follicles that would produce her eggs.
“The injections were OK,” says Tara.
“TFP Belfast Fertility were on hand all the time, so any support you needed was there.
All you had to do was phone them and they called you right back. The clinic team were always so lovely to us.”
As for the egg collection, Tara jokes that she was sedated and didn’t notice it.
But she did get a cup of tea and a scone afterwards, which she appreciated.
Sixteen of Tara’s eggs were collected and three became embryos
Meanwhile, Jackie’s hormone levels were carefully monitored by the TFP Fertility team.
They called her in on a Sunday morning for the transfer procedure.
Then, after a 10-day wait and a blood test, the couple received the phone call they’d hoped for from TFP Belfast Fertility.
“I took the call,” says Jackie. “I was in shock.
I couldn’t believe it had worked the first time around.”
In 2016, after safely delivering Jensen, their baby boy, the couple contacted the sperm bank and arranged to buy more sperm from their original donor, which they kept in store.
Two years later they were ready to add to their family.
This time, they decided that Jackie would carry the baby and use her own eggs.
They opted to use IUI because it was less expensive than IVF and used the sperm they had in store.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) or artificial insemination is a fertility treatment where sperm is injected directly into the womb. This means more sperm can reach the egg, increasing the chances of successful fertilisation.
The IUI worked first time and baby Jack was born in December 2018.
“I had two good pregnancies,” says Jackie, “but after Jack, we weren’t going to try for another baby, so we disposed of Tara’s stored eggs and let them be used for training purposes.
“Then, three years later we changed our minds.”
“We agreed to try again if we could get the same sperm donor”
The couple approached the sperm bank again and asked for more sperm from their same donor.
“It took a while to arrange,” says Jackie, “but we were happy to wait – it was worth it.”
This time, Tara was to carry the baby and the couple decided to use IVF, not IUI.
They wanted to be sure they’d have spare eggs if their first attempt didn’t work.
The TFP Fertility team prepared Tara’s body for the egg collection with a round of medication.
Then, a few days after the procedure, they confirmed that there were three healthy embryos.
Sadly, the first IVF procedure didn’t work, but on the second attempt, Tara fell pregnant.
The couple were overjoyed.
“We gave away my last remaining embryo for training as we are definitely not going for a fourth baby,” laughs Tara.
Tara says that her pregnancy was fine, and she worked right up to her due date.
“It helped me with the pregnancy, being able to go to work,” she says.
“The only problem I had was swollen legs, as I was on my feet the whole time.”
When baby Harper arrived in 2022, the couple knew their family was complete.
In the UK, you can donate eggs, embryos or sperm to a licensed fertility clinic, including TFP Fertility, for research and training. This helps develop treatments, techniques and knowledge and is strictly regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
With three young children and busy jobs, the couple are always on the go.
But Jackie says they have never been happier.
“We know we are super lucky with what we have. And we wouldn’t change it for the world. It is all fun and games, but we absolutely love it,” she says.
Tara says they found the whole experience very positive.
“I had quite a lot of people messaging me asking where we went to get our treatment and who we’d recommend.
“We would recommend TFP Belfast Fertility all the way,”