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My employers were good to me when I went through IVF

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Susie’s journey to parenthood involved multiple miscarriages and rounds of IVF while holding down senior roles at work. When she joined the UK Space Agency, she was able to be open about her fertility treatment - and it made a world of difference.

“We couldn’t find a reason for the miscarriages”

Susie married Paul in 2013 and they decided to try for a family. To this Lebanese-Polish family, children are everything.

Susie had a history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and never had periods, so she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Then routine testing revealed that Paul had a fluctuating sperm count.

The couple were referred for three rounds of IVF on the NHS and they opted to do this in 2014 with TFP Fertility Oxford. It felt logical because their NHS consultant also practised there.

Susie explains that during the first cycle, they used ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection) to introduce the best quality sperm into her eggs.

She’d had 13 eggs retrieved, of which five became embryos suitable for transfer.

“The clinicians identified one to transfer, but unfortunately that didn’t survive long enough to be placed in my uterus.

So, they identified a second one – but that didn’t result in a pregnancy,” she says.

The next two transfers then both resulted in miscarriages.

“Finally, we were left with just one blastocyst,” she adds. “But I was worried about this one and didn’t want to use it – so it remained frozen.”

Susie was using the TFP Fertility satellite clinic in Swindon for blood tests and scans. “The staff at Swindon were great,” she says. 

“I wouldn’t have continued without their help. They arranged to have some more tests, but we couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the miscarriages.”

“I had my embryos screened”

The couple decided to try a full fresh cycle of IVF and, at that time, TFP Fertility Oxford were running a genetic screening study. They decided to take part.

They were initially put in the control group, which meant that although Susie’s eggs were frozen, the embryo used in this cycle wasn’t screened. 

Unfortunately, Susie miscarried again, but the remaining embryos had been biopsied and screened prior to being frozen.

“The embryologist discovered that two of my embryos were mosaic embryos – and although they can repair themselves, this suggested a higher risk of miscarriage,” explains Susie.

Only one embryo remained which was genetically normal, although it was still an oval shape.

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“It didn’t look the best, but it became my wonderful baby boy, Eliasz,” says Susie.

What are mosaic embryos?

There are 200-300 cells inside a blastocyst. Inside each normal cell is the right number of chromosomes, which carry genetic information.

But not every cell in a blastocyst is normal - some may have extra or missing chromosomes.

  • Normal embryo – Less than 20 percent abnormal cells

  • Low-level mosaic embryo – 20 - 40 percent abnormal cells

  • High-level mosaic embryo – 40 - 80 percent abnormal cells

  • Abnormal embryo – More than 80 percent abnormal cells

Sometimes mosaic embryos are an option for use in IVF, as they can go on to become a healthy pregnancy. It depends on the type and amount of mosaicism.

During this chain of events, Susie had been working at a senior level in a government department.

She’d been juggling a busy diary with all her IVF appointments and this demanding lifestyle plus all the miscarriages had taken their toll.

“It was horrendous,” she says. “You think IVF will be the hard part and then you realise that you have another obstacle – recurrent miscarriages.

“I wasn’t sure if I could put myself through this again.

“Then, a year later, Paul said to me that he didn’t want Eliasz to be on his own when we were gone.

He said, come on, let’s do it again. And I knew he was right – we had to do it.”

“I took a whole month to recover from one of my miscarriages”

There were more challenges ahead.

The couple organised a self-funded round of IVF, once again with TFP Fertility.

“By this time, Caroline and Jill at the Swindon office knew me well, says Susie.

They’ve been there for me in the hardest times. Caroline especially.

She was there when I was told I had suffered a missed miscarriage.

“Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to carry on with this. Leaving TFP Fertility wasn’t an option.”

The couple decided to have all their embryos genetically tested – including the original remaining embryo from the very first round in 2014, which had been frozen and kept in storage.

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The test results were devastating. Only two embryos were normal – the rest had to be discarded.

The first embryo transfer led to a miscarriage, and the second didn’t implant.

Susie says, “I thought, that’s it, it’s over. I didn’t want to miss out on our boy growing up. The miscarriages weren’t easy. I wouldn’t wish them on anybody.”

Then in 2021 Paul’s grandmother passed away. At the funeral, he looked at Susie and asked if they could give IVF just one more go.

This time, things were different.

“I could be completely open about my IVF journey at work”

Susie had moved to a senior new role at the UK Space Agency.

“I had a look on the intranet,” she remembers.

“I found a policy on IVF, a guide for managers and a guide for employees. It was fantastic to see.

“They even have a guide for managers about what not to say, such as, ‘well, maybe it wasn’t meant to be’.

Silly things that people may say if they are nervous in dealing with you.

“After that, I told my director straight away. It is easier to talk about it when I‘m not emotional and pumped up with hormones.

“As an organisation, the UK Space Agency is about people. So, I felt comfortable sharing this and saying that if I needed to take time off, my director would know why.

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“Everyone gave me the space to take all the appointments I needed, and I made sure someone was there to deputise for me in case I had to take any unplanned time off.”

Meanwhile, Susie had returned to TFP Fertility Oxford for another round of IVF.

The TFP Fertility clinical team were concerned about Susie’s recurrent miscarriages and suggested using a medication – in this case, the hormone progesterone - to increase the success rate of implantation and encourage the early growth of the embryo in the uterus.

This IVF round was the best yet, resulting in four healthy embryos.

Susie fell pregnant and the additional progesterone helped nurture the embryo following the transfer.

The pregnancy was a success, leading to the birth of Emilia in 2022.

“The Swindon clinic team are still being incredible”

And now, in 2024, Susie finds herself pregnant again.

Once again through IVF and this time a frozen transfer of one of the three remaining healthy embryos.

“I was a bit less sure this time around,” she shares. “I love my job! I work full time, but my hours are compressed into four days. I don’t want to go part-time.

With a diary which is back-to-back with meetings, Susie says that planning IVF procedures has always been difficult.

 “The scans aren’t so bad,” she says, “as Jill and Caroline in Swindon always put me down for 8am so I can get to work on time.”

Despite these logistical hurdles, with her 40th birthday approaching, Susie felt it was now or never with her third baby.

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“I spent a decade trying to get pregnant or being pregnant and that’s a large chunk of my life. So at some point, I want to know I can close a door on that,” she says.

“With this final pregnancy, I feel I’m happy with my family and can move on.

“We just had the first trimester scan, and it is incredible.

We’ve got there three times!

"If you had said to me nine years ago you that I’d have two children and one on the way,

I wouldn’t have believed you,” she says.

Susie’s reflections

Susie found the IVF process itself quite straightforward.

She says, “At first, I struggled with not knowing what comes next. But now I’m a pro! 

“We had to go very slowly with stimulation because of my PCOS. I was already producing lots of follicles, so there was a risk I could develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

“Once I knew the process, none of it bothered me. I’m not squeamish with needles and the medication was fine. I just followed the steps one by one.”

However, the miscarriages have taken a toll.

“It is horrendous, and even when you have babies you still mourn the ones you have lost.

“It is the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. I don’t know anyone who has gone through this and I felt like no one could understand or relate to what had happened.

“I’m happy to talk about this now, to help people,” she adds. “Because when you struggle like I did, it is all internal. If you didn’t speak up, no-one would ever know.”

“A miscarriage is something you never get over. You think of those lovely little humans you never got to know.”

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