Made in Aldridge
‘Made in Aldridge’ is a regular e-news feature which tells the story of a woman’s or couple’s experience at MFS and the impact of the result on their lives.
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Megan, Bethany and Ryleigh Shepherd
Unbothered by the ice-cold weather outside, Ryleigh Mae Rose Shepherd, born on 18 November 2010, is enjoying her young life at the centre of her family, surrounded by mum Lisa, dad Adrian and her 11 year old twin sisters, Megan and Bethany. Nothing very unusual, it seems . . .
. . . but all the girls are actually conceptual triplets and Ryleigh is an MFS record-breaker as her embryo was created at the same time as her sisters’, but was frozen at MFS for 11 years, two months and five days before being thawed and transferred to their mother’s uterus. She’s another amazing ‘ice-baby’ from MFS!
Lisa (37) and Adrian Shepherd (45) married in 1994 and tried for a baby straight away. However, they knew their chances were slim as Lisa had been diagnosed with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) when she was 20, after suffering painful periods for a few years. Following two years of negative pregnancy tests, their GP confirmed they were eligible for funded IVF from Walsall PCT, though they would have to wait up to two years before treatment could start.
“At the time, two years seemed a long time to wait, but when we had the letter saying our funding had come through after just 18 months, we were both so excited,” recalls Lisa.
So in September 1998 she and Adrian had their initial consultation at MFS and just two months later following about five weeks of down regulation and fertility stimulating injections Lisa, then aged 24, underwent her IVF egg collection. The team retrieved 24 eggs, 20 of which the lab team mixed with Adrian’s sperm later that day. 24 hours later they were excited to hear they had 14 embryos and prepared to return to MFS the next day, when two of the embryos were transferred.
One of the MFS embryologists placed the 12 remaining embryos into labelled straws and immersed them in liquid nitrogen to be stored at -196°C.
“We were aware from the start of treatment that there was more of a chance that it wouldn’t work than that I’d be pregnant, so I tried not to get my hopes up,” said Lisa. “But when I did a pregnancy test after two weeks and it was negative I was so upset, so we couldn’t believe it when a test we did at MFS was positive! From that day I KNEW we’d have twins!
“Despite that feeling, Adrian almost passed out when the six week scan later showed two heartbeats!
“I had a fantastic pregnancy - no sickness, not very tired, totally ‘text book’ really and I worked as a hotel receptionist, on my feet eight hours a day until the week before they were born.”
But then six weeks before her due date in September 1999, Lisa was woken in the night when her waters broke and so she and Adrian made an unexpected dash from their home in Willenhall to Walsall Manor Hospital. Both babies were breech and so were delivered the next day by emergency Caesarean section. First born Megan Mary weighed 4lbs 4½oz followed immediately by Bethany Jayne at 3lbs 13oz.
Despite their early arrival, Bethany spent only one hour in an incubator and within four days the three of them were discharged. From years of being a ‘just a couple’, Lisa and Adrian were now proud parents in a family of four.
“From the start, Megan was dark-haired like me, while Bethany was fair and more like her dad” said Lisa. “For a short time when they were babies they looked very alike, but their looks were really quite as different as their personalities.”
Family life was busy and Lisa and Adrian enjoyed the fulfilment of being parents. The girls thrived and the years went by marked by all the marvellous milestones of childhood; birthdays, going to nursery, riding their bikes and starting school. And every year Lisa and Adrian received a letter from MFS confirming that their 12 embryos remained in storage and outlining their options.
“Life with the twins was hectic and we didn’t even consider trying for another baby before Megan and Bethany started school,” explains Lisa. “Then other things happened and we were too busy enjoying our family life to think about adding to it.
“But when the girls were nine we started thinking about all those amazing embryos that we were so lucky to have and thought seriously about trying again. We had an appointment with Dr Lockwood who agreed to extend the storage period for another year while we decided what we wanted to do. We even talked to the girls about it, because if either of them were really unhappy about the idea of a baby brother or sister, we’d have had to think again. But both of them were totally all for it and so we contacted MFS.”
In December 2009 they returned to MFS to prepare for the transfer of a single blastocyst embryo - a five to six day multi-cellular embryo which can be more robust than a two to three day four to eight cell embryo of a standard transfer. (See blastocyst transfer success rates at MFS.)
Following a short course of HRT drugs to prepare Lisa’s uterus to receive the embryo, in January this year, an MFS embryologist removed some of the embryos from storage. Four days later the best developing blastocyst was selected for transfer.
“I still have a pic of the blastocyst on my phone and it’s amazing because you can see it hatching out of its ’shell’. It’s fantastic to think that bundle of cells became Ryleigh!
“This time there was no confusion with the pregnancy test! It was a strong blue line and we were so happy that it had worked for us again.”
But the six week scan caused some concern as two embryo sacs were visible, though only one single heartbeat. Lisa and Adrian were warned that although they had had only a single blastocyst transfer, they may have twins again - but this time they’d be identical!
At a seven week scan at MFS it was still not possible to conclusively tell if there was one or two heartbeats although the 12 week scan confirmed that Lisa and Adrian could put away the double pram and that they could expect just a single baby sometime in November.
“My pregnancy was very different his time around,” said Lisa. “I felt queasy all the time, and much more tired, even though I had a desk job now, and my blood pressure was high. It was so different from last time I felt sure we were having a boy. But at my 20 and 27 weeks scans I was told she was a girl so I felt confident about buying pink babygros! Then a psychic told me I was having ‘a boy and that he’d be a bruiser’ - well she couldn’t have got it more wrong!”
Following a long labour and induced birth, Ryleigh arrived by normal delivery on 18 November 2010, at 39 weeks and five days, weighing 7lbs 10oz. “The emergency C-section I’d had before was much easier, but I’m glad I was able to have her ‘naturally’ in the end - ‘though I would have preferred not to have had a four-day labour.
“When we first brought her home it seemed strange not having to do everything twice over - two lots of feeds, two lots of nappy changes, two lots of sleeping, usually at different times - like we did for Megan and Bethany. Maybe we’re more relaxed parents second time round and maybe it helps being a little bit older. Also, Megan and Bethany are brilliant with her and lots of help too.
“She looks very like her dad and I can see both Megan and Bethany in her face, and other people say she looks like me - so it’s nice that she’s a combination of all of us.”
“When we were first married and thought we might never get the chance to be parents, we couldn’t have imagined eventually having three daughters - and all from a single cycle of funded treatment.
“All our daughters are fantastic - we have twins and a singleton who are in fact all triplets and one of them’s an MFS record-breaker! It’s all so amazing and we know how lucky we are.”