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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Toby Alexander and Barney James Elton

News of the birth of any MFS baby is always wonderful news – for the parents, their wider families and also the staff at MFS.  But in June the arrival of twin boys Toby and Barney Elton was double good news twice over as their mum Beth is one of the clinical team at MFS.

Since she joined the MFS nursing team in 2003, Beth has helped hundreds of couples to have a baby, never thinking that this would be the only way that she and her husband Thomas would be able to have the children they had always hoped for.

Thomas and Beth with Barney (left) and Toby
Thomas and Beth with Barney (left) and Toby

Thomas (28), a project manager at Birmingham City University and Beth (28) married in August 2005 after dating since they were just 13 years old when they both attended the same school.  A few months after marrying they started trying for a baby, but 12 months later when Beth wasn’t pregnant, they visited their GP.

“Normally couples are advised to try for two years if the woman is under 35 before visiting their doctor, but because of my knowledge of infertility and because we’d already been together for so many years, we wanted a referral to a fertility clinic so we could have the tests that might tell us why I wasn’t already pregnant,” said Beth.

Although she would have preferred to have those tests at MFS, it is unusual for clinics to treat members of staff because of the pressure it puts on their colleagues and also because being both ‘staff’ and a patient can be confusing for the other patients being treated at the same time.

So in summer 2007 Beth and Thomas had their first appointment at another Midlands clinic and one week later Thomas received a phone call telling him that he had a low sperm count and that they would need ICSI treatment to conceive.

“I was very upset, it was one of the worst days of my life,” said Thomas.  “I wasn’t worried about having a low sperm count for any macho reasons; all I wanted to do was give Beth a family and I felt responsible that it wasn’t going to be easy or even possible. It was a bad end to an emotionally charged few weeks.

“But Beth remained positive because at least we now had a reason why we couldn’t conceive – which was easier to deal with than the frustration of just not knowing.  Also, we knew that we were young and fit and now had a way forward to help us have a baby.”

ICSI is a type of IVF where a single well-formed sperm is selected by the embryologist and injected into the centre of each egg collected from the woman, using a glass needle 1/10th the width of a human hair.  Standard IVF insemination requires about 150,000 sperm for each egg, so where the quality or quantity of sperm is reduced, ICSI is usually the recommended treatment.  Since ICSI was introduced by MFS to the West Midlands in 1994, more than 2,000 babies have been born from the procedure.

Both Beth’s and Thomas’ parents offered to pay for the treatment, allowing them to begin straight away.  “Our parents were brilliant; we couldn’t have done this without them,” said Beth.  “The clinic offered only private treatment and it was a big relief for us to know that the financial worries were taken care of so we could concentrate on the emotional and physical aspects of the treatment itself.”

In October 2007 Beth and Thomas started their first cycle of treatment full of hope of success.  Beth began the five weeks of daily injections which would ‘down regulate’ her periods and then a second daily injection to stimulate her ovaries to produce more egg-containing follicles than they would in any normal month.  “Despite supporting my own patients through their IVF injections, I did not like being on the receiving end of those needles!” she said.

Following the egg collection, an embryologist used the ICSI procedure to inject Thomas’ sperm into each of the 10 eggs and they were delighted the next day to learn that they had eight embryos.

They returned to the clinic three days later when the two best embryos were transferred back into Beth’s uterus and they returned home to begin the two week wait before doing a pregnancy test.

“It was quite overwhelming when I realised that ‘we’ could actually be pregnant!” said Thomas.  “But it’s a stressful time because whether it worked or not was really out of our control – we were at the mercy of science and nature.”

“Suddenly the reality of how hard the dreaded ‘two week wait’ became really clear,” said Beth.

When they did the pregnancy test 14 days later they were both devastated by negative result.  “All our hopes disappeared in those two minutes; we’d got so near, and yet were as far from having a baby as we’d ever been,” said Beth.

“But I tried to be realistic and kept thinking that if there’s a one in three chance of success from each cycle, by our third cycle we’d get lucky.  We just had to try and find something positive to focus on.”

After an appointment to review the treatment Beth and Thomas returned to the clinic in May 2008 to begin their second cycle of ICSI.  She knew that many MFS patients were having successful treatment following the transfer of blastocysts, which are more mature embryos those transferred back to the uterus two or three days after fertilisation, but was disappointed to learn that the clinic where they were having treatment did not offer blastocyst transfers.

However, with 11 embryos from the 13 eggs collected at her second egg collection and the transfer of the two best embryos, Beth and Thomas tried to be positive that the next test would show a ‘pregnant’ result.

“On the morning of the test we just knew it would be a negative result,” said Beth.  “Even so, the result was so traumatic we weren’t sure that we could pick ourselves up to go ahead with the third cycle we’d promised ourselves before the end of the year.”

“I felt so bad for Beth because all the time we were having treatment and dealing with the two negative pregnancy tests,” said Thomas.  “She continued working with couples going through exactly the same and hoping for the very best for them and being genuinely happy for them when their treatment had worked or when they bought their babies into MFS to show the staff.  At least I could ‘escape’ while I was at work, but she was surrounded by ‘fertility treatment’ every moment of every day.”

Beth and Thomas decided they had to do something quite different for this last treatment cycle and so she talked to Heidi Birch, director of nursing services at MFS, about becoming a patient.  Heidi knew that MFS was in a position to offer them a blastocyst transfer which had achieved a live birth rate of 45% during 2006 to 2007 across all age groups – a significant improvement on the one in three chance of the treatment offered at the other clinic.

“We instantly felt more positive once we began our treatment at MFS,” said Beth “and we both felt more confident of success because of our optimism.”

And more good news followed as MFS was able to secure funding for their treatment from their Primary Care Trust.

This time following the egg collection, an MFS embryologist inseminated the 19 eggs with Thomas’ sperm using the ICSI micro-manipulation technique, resulting in 11 embryos.  Of these, three were frozen two days later for possible future use while eight remained in the incubator where they increased in size from four cell embryos to more robust blastocysts of hundreds of cells.  Five days after her egg collection Beth and Thomas returned to MFS where two of the blastocysts were replaced in her uterus.

“It was so reassuring knowing that if this transfer was negative that we had three good embryos in storage for another attempt, without me having to go through all the drugs and egg collection again.”

“I came home from work 10 days later feeling anxious about doing the pregnancy test that evening and Beth was in the kitchen, smiling.  When she told me she’d done the test and it was positive, I was totally overwhelmed,” says Thomas.  “I felt a whole mixture of complete happiness, shock, amazement and disbelief.  I just couldn’t believe that ‘we’ were finally pregnant!”

Two weeks later a scan at MFS revealed two flickering heartbeats confirming that Beth and Thomas were expecting twins.  “Secretly we’d hoped it would be twins as it meant we’d have the two children we’d always hoped for and we wouldn’t have to go through treatment again, even using our frozen embryos.  But when we saw the two heartbeats it really struck me that we might be responsible for not one but two little lives!”

Toby Alexander and Barney James were born by Caesarean section at Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield nearly three weeks early on 5 June 2009, one minute apart and weighing 6lbs 3oz and 5lbs 4oz respectively.  Six days later Beth came home with Toby, and Barney joined his brother after five days care in the neo-natal ward.

“Both boys are thriving,” says Thomas.  “Our first night altogether at home was just incredible and every week that goes by is amazing.  This time last year we were hoping that our third cycle would bring us the baby we’d hoped for and now we’re a family of four!”