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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Lewis Ian C*
As a young woman, Sharon C* suspected she had endometriosis. She’d had symptoms, including very heavy, painful and irregular periods since she was 17, and at 24 these were formally diagnosed. But at the time she didn’t know that the endometriosis wouldn’t be the only factor which would prevent her conceiving. Add male factor sub-fertility and recurrent miscarriages to the situation and it all added up to seven years of trying for a baby, including six cycles of ICSI treatment.
She and Ian met in 1997 when she was just 18 and they married in 2002 – having a family was always part of their plans. After trying to conceive for 12 months, a laparoscopy and endoscopy in 2004 also revealed that one of Sharon’s Fallopian tubes was blocked, further reducing her chances of conceiving easily. More bad news followed when a sperm analysis showed that Ian’s sperm had poor motility – again reducing their chances of conceiving together.
While their application for funding was with the PCT Sharon and Ian started moving ahead with private fertility treatment. “But on the morning of our first appointment at MFS in September 2007,” remembered Sharon. “We had the letter from the PCT confirming the funding was available for one ICSI cycle. It was perfect timing!”
Ian did all Sharon’s injections. “It was my way of being a part of the whole process,” he said. At egg collection Sharon had five eggs which the embryologist prepared for ICSI injection. Under intense magnification, a single sperm from Ian’s sample was injected into an egg via a needle 1/10th the width of a human hair. But only one egg fertilised and the embryo failed to survive before transfer.
“We felt bereft,” said Sharon. “But my endometriosis meant my hormone levels made it difficult to stimulate my ovaries, which gave us only a few eggs and so less of a chance of many embryos.”
However, they moved on. “We wanted to try again as soon as possible and to put the sadness behind us.”
Again Sharon produced five eggs, which this time achieved four embryos and she was able to have two transferred. “When Mandy confirmed a single strong heartbeat at our first scan, we left thinking that the next time we’d come to MFS would be to bring our baby in,” said Sharon.
So their world came crashing down when she went for her 12 week ante-natal scan and the sonographer confirmed the baby had failed to develop after about eight weeks.
“We were devastated,” recalled Ian. “Sharon kept apologising to me and all we could think was ‘why is this happening to us?’. We’d already been through so much, this just seemed so very unfair.”
Every patient’s treatment is continually reviewed, but the next cycle was managed in the same way, because Sharon had achieved a pregnancy – albeit short-term. But this time only one follicle was recruited and after much discussion the cycle was abandoned.
This result made nurse manager Mandy Godwin suggest a quite different protocol – the Clomid challenge. However, after five days of Clomid a scan revealed that Sharon’s hormone levels were proving resistant even to this anti-oestrogen, kick-start and again the cycle was stopped.
Again Mandy reviewed the protocol – there was no point repeating what had failed before. After consultation with Dr Abey, Sharon was prescribed tamoxifen, another anti-oestrogen drug. This time, after five days the scan showed that Sharon was responding to the FSH boost and that follicles were developing.
Eventually five follicles produced three eggs which, in turn, produced a single embryo, which was transferred to Sharon’s uterus. “The two week wait between embryo transfer and pregnancy test was during the time that we’d hoped our baby from the second treatment cycle would be born, but we got through that date because we were at such a positive stage of treatment.
“If only I could get pregnant, I always thought I’d have no trouble staying pregnant, so when we got a positive pregnancy test, I should have been really happy,” said Sharon. “But something deep inside made me think that I’d never see this baby.”
And so all her fears were realised when, on Boxing Day 2008, Sharon miscarried seven weeks into the pregnancy.
“All the months of treatment and the cost and all the hopes of our families – and we were back at square one,” remembered Sharon. “We’d had five lots of drugs, three egg collections, two embryo transfers, two pregnancies and two miscarriages and so much heartache.”
Having improved Sharon’s chances of conceiving, Mandy Godwin and her colleagues now considered what could be done to increase Sharon’s chances of not miscarrying. She arranged for Sharon to have 12 blood tests to test for ‘sticky blood’ and auto immune conditions which could be causing the early miscarriages. But the results, frustratingly, came back as ‘normal’ – giving no indication as to why Sharon was experiencing implantation failure. However, the clinical team pursued the idea that the miscarriages could be because of auto immune factors and so discussed the benefit of extended steroids, to dampen down Sharon’s immune response which may have been causing the loss of her pregnancies.
“Mandy was determined to help us have a baby,” said Sharon. “She suggested a slightly different approach after each failed cycle to try and work out what was causing me to either produce no eggs or to miscarry. She was our rock through all of our treatment.”
“When we began the sixth cycle we decided not to tell our family. They’d been so brilliant and supportive, but not telling them this time removed some of the stress we felt. We wanted to be like a normal couple and be able to say ‘we’ve got some news for you. .’ rather than them knowing everything about every stage of the treatment.”
Following the tamoxifen treatment, this time at egg collection, Sharon produced just a single egg. But it was successfully ICSI injected and became an embryo which was then transferred back into Sharon’s uterus. She also took steroids for 16 days after egg collection to prevent her immune system causing another miscarriage. The result? Another positive pregnancy test followed and two weeks later the scan showed a single heartbeat.
“Although we were really happy and thought ‘yeah, we’ve done it again – third time!’, we kept wondering ‘is it for real?’,” said Ian. “So we were also quite apprehensive because we knew that seeing the heartbeat was just the start and, for us, things could go wrong over the next few weeks and months. We wondered how we would ever get to be 12 weeks pregnant, never mind actually have a baby!”
And the family gave the reaction they’d hoped for when they were able to tell them. “It was fantastic, it was just what we’d hoped for – although they had suspected we were trying again,” said Ian.
MFS also scanned Sharon at seven, eight, nine and 10 weeks as evidence shows that the reassurance of regular scanning can reduce the incidence of miscarriage in women who have experienced recurrent losses. Sharon was also prescribed Beta HCG until she was 11 weeks pregnant, to increase the progesterone in her body and help maintain the pregnancy.
And this time from the very early weeks of the pregnancy Sharon felt quite different. She didn’t have the ominous sense she’d experienced during her last pregnancy and she felt terribly sick too – totally going off chicken and avoiding the supermarket meat and deli counters!
Lewis Ian was eventually born at 40 weeks in March 2010, weighing 7lbs 4oz, following induction and then an emergency Caesarean section.
“As soon as I heard him cry I cried with happiness and relief,” said Sharon. “It was the best night of my life as I watched Ian hold our son. And when I had my first cuddle with him, he wrapped his hand around my finger. I just couldn’t believe he was finally here.”
But at just one day old, Lewis was admitted to the neo-natal unit as he hadn’t made a sound all night long. His bilirubin levels were too high and he came close to needing a blood transfusion. Again Sharon and Ian were plunged into despair as he failed to respond to the lamp phototherapy for the first four days. But the turning point came at day five and two days later Sharon and Ian were allowed to bring their son home.
Today Lewis is a thriving, very active toddler. Looking back on their years of trying to conceive and the many heartbreaking cycles of fertility treatment they experienced, Sharon said: “Years ago couples like us wouldn’t have been able to have a baby at all, but the care we had at MFS and the determination by the staff that we would be parents one day, meant the world to us.
“Lewis is the light of our lives – and worth everything we went through to have him.”
*Sharon and Ian do not wish to be further identified or to have their story reproduced elsewhere.