Natalie, Michael, Lucy and Mireya; the first baby girl born from CARE Liverpool

After only 2 months of trying, we had our first daughter, Lucy, in July 2015, which was amazing! Looking back now we, rather naively, just assumed that when we would be ready to have another baby, we would be just as successful.

We started trying for a second baby in October 2017, as we ideally wanted a 3-year age gap between our children. Many of our other friends were trying for their second babies around the same time as us.

We cannot thank the staff at CARE enough, it really shows it is the little things in life and how far they want to go for each patient, that makes the biggest impact.

This time around when we were just trying, we weren’t tracking ovulation because we wanted to be very relaxed with it all; due to how easy it was with Lucy. However, we get to February 2018 without success, so we started to implement ovulation sticks and testing kits. However, even with the help of these, we weren’t having any luck! We decide to take a trip to the GP in April 2018.

At the time I was 39 years old and we were aware that fertility decreases as you get older. Our GP was absolutely amazing. They sent us for lots of tests including ovulation, thyroid, sperm and hCG levels. There were no issues found other than that I ovulate a couple of days early on my cycles, so we were advised to just keep trying. Months started to tick by and we hit the year mark.

At another appointment with my GP I happened to mention that I was suffering some abdominal pain on my right side and that I had had endometriosis prior to having Lucy. To my surprise, the information was not in my records as hospital records weren’t electronic at the time of my surgery. I was immediately sent to a consultant who decided to operate.

In January 2019 I had a laparoscopy and was advised that whilst cutting away the endometriosis they would flush my fallopian tubes too. This is not routinely offered on the NHS but they kindly considered the circumstances and could perform this at the same time. However, during the operation they discovered it was not endometriosis, it was post-operative scarring from my C-section with Lucy. My uterus was attached to my abdominal wall, causing the pain, and there was also some fallopian tube blockage. Finally, it felt we had the issue resolved!

I recovered at the beginning of February so we resumed trying for our second baby and I did become pregnant. We were shocked and excited but couldn’t quite believe it after trying for so long. 

However, sadly I miscarried at around 10 weeks. Although we were upset, we were ecstatic that I was able to get pregnant so we took it as a huge positive. We believed that it would happen; maybe my body just needed longer to heal from the surgery. We continued trying and a second pregnancy happened. However, I miscarried at 6 weeks this time. At this point, the upset started to set in for us and to add to it I had just had my 40th birthday. We knew that time was not on our side.  

After this difficult last 18 months and all that we had faced, we made the decision to look into IVF; there needed to be something more after all of this to still not be getting the outcome we want.

We are coming out of this IVF journey with lifelong friends and we feel incredibly lucky. You completed our family and gave Lucy her longed for sibling

On the 22nd October 2019 we had our first appointment at a fertility clinic in Liverpool. Something inside me after our initial consultation just didn’t feel quite right. I wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t. However, we chose to continue as it was the only centre in Liverpool where we could easily attend appointments and time was against us. We felt very disappointed with the lack of care. Our treatment just didn’t feel very personal and after speaking with other patients during our visits, it was shocking to find out that the medication given to me was exactly the same as what every other woman received regardless of their circumstances. Surely every woman is different and the medication should be too when paying to have such an expensive and draining treatment? 

Despite all of this we continued because we had committed to the clinic. Egg collection day came around and we were very pleased and surprised that they were able to get 11 eggs, which went on to become 5 embryos. However, sadly, only embryo 1 survived. We were keeping positive, as it was still a chance. I had a fresh 5-day transfer on 18th January 2020. When we arrived at the clinic we were told that our consultant wouldn’t be with us as he didn’t work weekends. We knew no-one at the clinic that day. With such an emotional procedure, the familiar face would’ve really helped.

To our surprise we were also informed that we in fact had 2 embryos instead of 1. We were advised they were going to monitor the one they were not inserting and they would be in touch to let us know the outcome. After a long 3 days, we weren’t contacted. I called the clinic twice and when I finally spoke to the team I was told our second embryo had perished. We were of course disappointed, but we had the transfer so were still trying our hardest to be positive.

On 29th January 2020 we took our pregnancy test as instructed, but unfortunately it was negative and we were understandably devastated. We had our follow up appointment two weeks later at which our consultant seemed like he didn’t care at all. We discussed another cycle and were told if we did want to try again all that would change was that the dose of the drugs I had already been on previously would be increased. This didn’t sit right with us for some reason and I no longer wanted to be in that clinic. Stress and uncertainty are not what you need with IVF and this clinic caused both so I wanted to cut my ties and move on.

After the negative test result, I had to head to work as normal, but a third failed pregnancy was all I could think about. However, I couldn’t accept defeat and I don’t give up on anything easily so I knew, one way or another, I was going to fight to get the family we wanted.

That day I began my research into every fertility clinic available in the North West. I compared a variety of clinics but looking more into statistics this time. Only one of my colleagues knew about my situation and came to comfort me – she actually had been trying to conceive for many, many years and finally had twins at the age of 43. She was a true inspiration to me, especially being so happy during my pregnancy with Lucy when she was on a very long and painful journey of her own. I told her about the clinics I was considering, one being CARE Manchester.

My friend told me about a CARE clinic in Liverpool which was very surprising as I couldn’t find anything on a CARE clinic in Liverpool. But, after digging a bit deeper, I discovered that CARE was in fact opening a location in Liverpool and it was to be Professor Charles Kingsland who was opening it. I decided to get in touch straight away. 

My husband asked me if I felt we needed more time to get over our third loss, but he knows that no matter what life throws at me, I pick myself up and try to achieve what it is I set out to do and getting our second baby was no different.

I spoke with Jackie at CARE and she informed us that due to a delay in building work Professor Kingsland was offering free 15-minute consultations to anyone seeking IVF treatment at a medical centre in Liverpool until they were ready to open. A new clinic in my preferred location AND a free consultation! We felt like we needed to grab this opportunity with both hands.

We count ourselves lucky that we will always be part of the CARE family.

Professor Kingsland, who straight away told him to call him ‘Charles’, was absolutely brilliant. From the minute we walked in we both got a feeling about him and the ethos of CARE that made us want to be some of the first patients at the clinic when it opened. After informing Charles of what we had been through, he was able to answer questions we had never had answered before. He reassured us and gave us potential solutions and treatment paths tailored just for us. He recognised where our care could be improved and was always open to our input. He was very honest and asked us what our limit was in terms of time and funding, and we agreed a mutual timescale and cost. I had that feeling I longed for that we didn’t get at the other clinic; that we were in the right place, being cared for by people who wanted to see us with a baby in our arms and who would be there to support us every single step of the way; even if it was on a weekend.  

In the time between appointments I did a wealth of research as I knew by that point that being well informed helped with the reassurance. I read all about Charles’ work, different treatments and packages available. We were introduced to Amanda (Clinic Director) to discuss more of this for going forward. We were keen to do a multicycle package as we were worried after our first experience of 11 eggs to 1 embryo, that there could be a possibility we ended up with none. This was a major factor in us wanting multi-cycle. Amanda was incredible with this. She talked us through it all and just asked us to focus on our treatment and she would do the rest, giving us support rather than worry.  

On the 18th March 2020, we went back to see Charles after a really good first consultation. On arriving at CARE Liverpool we pressed the buzzer and to my great surprise, a colleague of mine was in the waiting room with his wife. Although we have always got along and attended many work meetings together, our paths rarely cross in work because we are based in different buildings.

However, on that day in that waiting room in CARE, that chance meeting changed so much for us; for the better. Gareth and I agreed that our IVF journeys would be kept between us and that we would offer support to each other throughout. It seemed like a sign. Of all the places to bump into each other outside of work, the one place it happened was in an IVF clinic waiting room; both going through IVF, the same clinic and same appointment times.

The next day in work, Gareth and I got to talking and he told me about the fertility journey that he and his wife, Sarah, had been on. The last time they did IVF his wife sadly lost their baby; this was even more devastating as it had been their last NHS embryo.

I will be eternally grateful to Amanda who could have gone home for the day but who chose to be by my side when my husband couldn’t be

Gareth said that his wife would like to swap numbers as they felt it was a blessing that they had a familiar face to go through this with. I jumped at the chance and had been thinking the same thing. Although we have amazing friends and family who have supported us through parts of our journey (it took us some time to tell people about it), it’s just different having someone who is going through the same thing as you with the pills, injections, appointments, sleepless nights etc. No-one can ever understand the physical and mental pressure of IVF unless they have experienced it. It is a much more gruelling process than anyone can imagine. 

Fast forward to now and the 4 of us have become such good friends through CARE. Sarah and I are the ‘Fertility Sisters’. We speak daily supporting each other through anything and everything and the most amazing news is that they are pregnant with the help of CARE too! I feel that it was fate that led us to meeting in the clinic that day. Gareth and Sarah had decided to only do 1 round of IVF and if it wasn’t successful they were going to consider their options then. However, Sarah and I decided very early on in our friendship that if one of us believed something would help the other out, no matter how invasive, personal or outlandish, we would always be honest and say what we thought. So, I suggested they should do the multi-cycle package with being in a similar position to us and they did. Unfortunately, their first round didn’t actually produce any surviving embryos but due to their second cycle, they now have their little one on the way.

CARE has not only given us our baby, and Gareth and Sarah their baby to be, but a lifelong friendship where our children will grow up together and we can all look forward to many amazing family adventures. Lucy adores them and they adore Lucy too, so we have many exciting times ahead.

So, our story continues. Unfortunately, just days after seeing Charles the global pandemic hit and we went into our first lockdown and CARE informed all patients that they must have started their period by 23rd March in order for them to continue with egg collections and any after that would take place as soon as they knew more. I was very lucky because I started bleeding on Saturday 21st March. I made my way on my collection day to Manchester. It was a complicated procedure where my right ovary wasn’t in the best position for retrieval. We got 5 eggs which instantly made us worry as that was less than half than our first attempt at the other fertility clinic. We were so glad we had made the decision to do a multi-cycle.

Five days passed and the clinic contacted us to tell us we had two embryos to freeze for when transfers could happen again, but who knew when that would be? It was strangely a relief that the pandemic had happened though, as knowing our embryos were safe with CARE, I could have a bit of a physical and mental breather after such a long and tough journey getting to this point. It actually helped us improve our lifestyle. We are very sociable people so going out eating and drinking was no more, visits from friends and family were on hold which for the first time in decades, forced us to take work and our social lives a lot easier.

On May 23rd 2020 we were told to prepare for embryo transfer which could take place on July 2nd at CARE Manchester. Michael was unfortunately unable to be present for embryo transfer due to the pandemic restrictions. However, CARE were always very transparent with our options and said that we could wait longer so that Michael could be there or we could choose to go ahead. I was 41 years old at this stage so despite the restrictions, we chose to go ahead.  

Michael waited eagerly in the car park, whilst I sat in the waiting room patiently by myself. I just happened to look around the room to see Amanda coming toward me, which was a lovely surprise. She had a meeting in Manchester that morning but remembered I was in for a transfer that day so not only had she stayed in to see me, she waited with me (distanced) until I was called to go down to the transfer room. I was lost for words and will be eternally grateful to Amanda, who could have gone home for the day but who chose to be by my side when my husband couldn’t be. I was in a clinic I had only been into twice before and the comfort it brought was just overwhelming. Amanda not only thought about what we were both going through that day, but she actually cared enough to know it was happening and she WANTED to be there. 

Helen, one of the nurses I have had all the way through was in Manchester that day, and Mr Sedler was performing my transfer. Helen always looked after us and was there with a smile and support every step of the way. Mr Sedler came in all smiles and knew my name and started talking about Lucy so it was obvious he had read up on me before transfer day. It was so lovely that he had taken the time to get to know who he was going to be seeing in theatre and I instantly felt at ease. It was a guided embryo transfer so I was able to watch back the precious moment our embryo – which would become our precious Mireya - was settled into my womb.

We then had to wait a long 16 days to do our pregnancy test and although the strong urge was there to test early, I stuck to my guns and avoided doing it.

On 17th July 2020 we tested and it came back positive. We couldn’t believe it so we did 3 tests in total to be sure. It was true – I was pregnant for the fourth time since Lucy! We were invited in for our scan and Helen came to Liverpool to do our scan for us which again was so lovely as she is based predominately at Manchester. It was also the day of our 9th wedding anniversary so we were extra nervous for the outcome. Helen reassured us that all was going well, and there was a strong heartbeat. It was a very emotional moment and once we were finished we were presented with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers from the clinic.

On Thursday 6th August, successfully 6 weeks pregnant and enjoying every moment, I started with unexplained bleeding. I was incredibly unsettled and scared. It was around 6:30pm but even though the clinic was closed, I emailed Amanda. First thing the next morning Amanda called me and told me to get to the clinic as soon as I could for an emergency scan. It felt like this came from someone who was truly concerned and most importantly as a friend, who wanted to reassure me all would be fine. The scan did show everything to be normal and my nurse was so calm and caring, explaining everything she could see to put me at ease.

Our pregnancy luckily continued without any more issues and it was wonderful. We cannot thank the staff at CARE enough. We believe that the tailored treatment, support and genuine care allowed us to get our baby Mireya (Spanish for ‘miracle’). We came out of this IVF journey with lifelong friends and a baby. You completed our family and gave Lucy her longed for sibling. We count ourselves lucky that we will always be part of the CARE family.