David and Jules Nichols
When our infertility journey started, we knew that being “mature” in years and wanting to start a family might take a little longer than might be considered the norm, but having been married for two years we started trying quite quickly, and after a few months of no success we then started being a bit more organised; we bought ovulation prediction kits, started checking temperatures, even downloaded a fertility app so we could track things correctly.
So the first year came and went, and so did much of the second, we were starting to get a bit frustrated as well as mystified about why things weren’t going well. We talked about seeking help, but didn’t know where to start, as well as being a little embarrassed about why something so natural wasn’t happening.
We thought we were doing everything right, we weren’t uneducated in reproduction but clearly something wasn’t working for us.
In a chance comment to her GP, my wife mentioned that we had been trying for nearly 2 years and hadn’t even got close to a positive test, so before we knew it we were lined up for a few blood tests for the wife and the semen analysis for me.
Christmas came and went and into the New Year now, we found out from the Dr that everything seemed ok, but she would refer us to the local hospital for further testing. Now at this stage we were both above the NHS age threshold, only just, but we went along with it. So a few more tests and a couple of consultations, lots of questions asked and answered - some quite personal, but hey being embarrassed wasn’t going to get us any further so we persevered.
Finally 6 months later we were told that based on their tests we were “unexplained”. My sperm were fine, my wife was having regular periods and ovulating.... it was just one of those things, oh and because we were over 39 the NHS couldn’t do anymore for us but if we wanted to go private, the one clinic the Dr would recommend was CARE Fertility Manchester. Well we had already got things underway with research (thank goodness for the internet!) and had an appointment for an initial consultation lined up.
Starting out with CARE Fertility Manchester
We arrived at the clinic knowing we needed help, but not knowing what we could achieve realistically, at our ages. So we went through our story, everything was covered, we both had repeat tests and scans carried out and we were offered a test called AMH, which was used to measured potential ovarian reserve. It's a simple blood test but it would answer a lot of questions.
We weren’t though expecting the bombshell of hearing that the numbers indicated an extremely low level of egg reserve, and though the only true indicator was to do a cycle, we decided that we couldn’t afford to waste either time or money on the that route.
Our only option to become parents was to choose to use donor eggs.
Using donor eggs
We started with an appointment with the donor coordinator to discuss this form of treatment as it’s not something which all infertility patients have to consider. Additionally we had to have a counselling session, just to make sure we had considered all the aspects of what being recipients of donor eggs meant, both to us and to any child born from this treatment.
Then we started the waiting, we were now 2 ½ years on from starting this journey so patience is a virtue which you do need when you’re dealing with infertility , you do get used to it, though it can be a frustration.
By chance we were on holiday in Cornwall and listening to the radio, were amazed to hear an interview with an embryologist from CARE Manchester discussing “CAREmaps” which uses time-lapse imaging with embryoscope - this technology gives them a clear idea of how an embryo develops, and so allows the selection of embryos with the best chances of implanting and becoming babies. We looked at each other and knew we had to do this for our cycle.
The next day we got news of a suitable donor and could start our cycle ..... and yes the embryoscope could be used.
Our first cycle
We were full of hope and all through the injections we just kept thinking that at the end of this we would have a baby. Sadly that first cycle didn’t work for us.
Devastated couldn’t even begin to sum up our feelings and emotions, then anger set in, then determination to find out why, which we kind of did at our follow up consultation.
I was shocked to hear that maybe my sperm weren’t quite as good as they could have been on the day... well this wasn’t what I expected to hear, but I listened to what I was told, and what I had to change and what I had to do.
Male fertility and sperm health are, it seemed quite dependent on many factors including stress, illness and lifestyle, so for me BIG changes were needed - no caffeine, no alcohol, more fresh fruits and vegetables, stay clear of fast foods - in fact it sounded like a really boring existence, but along with special male fertility supplements, I was told that in 3 months things could change for the better, and with additional testing for DNA fragmentation we could eliminate another possible factor for our failed cycle...
So 3 months down the line, having lived the life of a monk, I arrived for a special test. About 2 weeks later I was relieved to find out all was well, I even submitted to another semen analysis test for peace of mind, and after a reassuring chat with one of the embryology team she said apart from morphology everything else was great, but as we were using donor eggs, ICSI was the best thing to do.
ICSI with donor eggs
So with more donors available now, we chose a new donor and started injections again. On the morning of our appointment, I arrived at the clinic to produce my sample, knowing that our donor was about to give us a precious gift - her eggs which could give us the baby we wanted so much.
We waited each day for the phone call to tell us how many eggs we had got, then how many embryos we had, how they were growing, and then finally it was transfer day! Arrive at 8.30am for the transfer... excited, nervous and delighted summed things up nicely.
Then it snowed, which made our normal trip to Manchester interesting, though we arrived with other hopeful expectant couples that morning for our precious embryos to be out back inside.
We still hadn’t decided on if we should do 1 or 2, but the Dr and embryologist helped make our mind up, “ it’s not about getting you pregnant, it’s about giving you a baby in 40 weeks”. We transferred 1, “the best one” according to the embryologist, and who we were we to say otherwise. We went home technically pregnant. The other embryos were frozen, and we chilled out for a couple of days...
The pregnancy test...
The next week or so we tried not to think about things too much, but the little movie of our embryo's first 5 days - something which the embryoscope gives you, kept us sane as we watched it grow before our eyes...
We couldn’t wait any longer; the following Sunday my wife took a pregnancy test and it went positive almost immediately... wow, we were pregnant! We did 3 more in the next 2 days and they were all positive...
But we had a few scares in the following weeks before our first ultrasound back at CARE. We saw our tiny baby at 6 weeks on the screen, and again a few weeks later, we saw his heart beating...
We were elated, we could hardly believe it, at our age.
We were discharged from CARE and back into the NHS, and started to enjoy the idea of being pregnant.
It had been a long, long road, but not far off 3 years from starting this journey our beautiful son was born, noisily and safely to both our reliefs. Now we can’t imagine life without him.
Nor could we imagine doing this with anyone but CARE Fertility. They helped us at every stage and kept us sane; from the nurses, the ultrasound technicians, the Dr’s the consultants, embryologists, the reception staff, the donor team, they all played a part in making us into a family.
My advice to couples in a similar position is simple - don’t waste time, seek help as soon as you can. Time does not stand still in infertility and age can sometimes be against you so it’s very important. Nothing is impossible, and with the right people with you, the dream of being parents is achievable.