“I met Dan in my early twenties, when I was living in Brussels. We were both trainees in the European Commission. After a few years together we married, and later, in preparation to start a family, we moved back to the UK.
“I’d always had irregular periods and so I suspected it may take a little while, but as we were still in our late-twenties, we weren’t worried.
“Later, a blood test revealed I had hypo thyroid, my thyroid gland wasn’t producing enough hormones. I was able to take tablets to address this, and whilst it wasn’t necessarily linked to fertility, in the back of my mind I thought once I’d sorted this, everything would be OK.
“But after another couple of years had passed, we visited our GP, who referred us to Reading Hospital. There I underwent a range of tests, which revealed that I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which explained my irregular periods. I was given Clomifene medication and multipuncture diathermy surgery, which is an operation where the ovaries are given a heat treatment to stimulate better ovulation. My periods did appear to become more regular, but we still didn’t conceive.
“We then took a step back, did more research, spoke with friends and went back to our GP to discuss IVF. We had the option of being treated at a couple of clinics, but lots of people had recommended Oxford Fertility, including our GP, and so we went to an open evening. We both found this so useful. The team provided a clear explanation of the process, giving us the understanding and reassurance that this was the right approach and clinic for us.
“So in 2010, as I turned 34, we started our first cycle at Oxford Fertility. Although unsuccessful, it revealed a crucial factor that was stopping us from conceiving. My eggs were letting in more than one sperm, making fertilisation impossible. Armed with this crucial information, we started our second cycle, this time using ICSI, where the clinic injected a single sperm cell into each gathered egg. This time sixteen eggs fertilised. One embryo was transferred but it didn’t work, the embryo didn’t embed.
“On our third IVF cycle, I did fall pregnant. We were overjoyed, but our twelve week scan revealed the baby wasn’t developing properly. An amniocentesis revealed that the foetus had Turner Syndrome, caused by a missing chromosome. Shortly after, the foetus passed away and at 15 weeks I had to be induced to deliver.
“Naturally, I was devastated at the loss of my pregnancy but also reassured that I was capable of carrying a baby. It also gave another explanation for our difficulties. Although I was producing lots of eggs, a high number of these may not have had the right number of chromosomes and so be unable to ever lead to a healthy birth.
“We went back to the team to discuss our options. Their reaction surprised us. Unlike many of my friend’s clinics, where treatments and add-ons are pushed, the team very much had our overall wellbeing in mind. Aware I’d lost a pregnancy, they checked we were emotionally ready and were clear that they could never guarantee a positive outcome.
“At this point, I needed to move to Vancouver with work. Now in my late thirties, we couldn’t put our treatment on hold, yet we trusted Oxford Fertility implicitly. So we met with our consultant in Oxford, who recommended a clinic in Vancouver and liaised with them, sharing our medical history and recommending IVF with ICSI, now also PGS, to identify and avoid fertilising eggs with chromosomal issues. It was a very reassuring conversation at an uncertain time.
“Whilst in Vancouver, we were treated at the recommended clinic, with the new adapted approach and it worked. I became pregnant, returning home to give birth to Will in 2015. We were overjoyed; he is a glorious, cheerful boy, blissfully unaware of his long-awaited arrival!
“As I turned forty, knowing that we had three healthy, screened embryos frozen in Vancouver, they felt like gold dust. We wanted to bring them home and try for a sibling for Will. So last year, we worked our way through a mountain of paperwork and arranged for our embryos to be carefully transported to Oxford Fertility. I underwent a transfer of one of the frozen embryos and it worked. Nina arrived safely into the world this Spring.
“It’s wonderful. It feels so normal now to be one of the parents at the school gate. It’s sometimes hard to believe what a long journey we had, with some dark days along the way. But it was worth it, we wouldn’t change a single decision.
“Our IVF journey needed to include multiple cycles as with each treatment another obstacle was uncovered. With only one round of treatment funded by the NHS, we have had to pay for a lot of cycles ourselves. We were fortunate that we afford it, but realise so many people can’t. I hate the picture that’s painted of women casually opting for IVF after putting their career first, as for us, and everyone I know who’s been in a similar position, this just isn’t the case.”