In recent months my infertility specialist here in Guernsey referred my Husband and me to the Bourn Hall Clinic in Bourn, Cambridgeshire for IVF treatment.This course of action was taken after internal investigations revealed that I had a large amount of scarring and adhesions, (probably caused by a lifetime of endometriosis) and this meant we were very unlikely to conceive naturally, and that therefore IVF would be our best hope. As IVF is not available in the Channel Islands my specialist recommended the Bourn Hall Clinic, (who were responsible for the world’s first ever IVF baby, Louise Brown, back in 1978).
I have decided it is worth keeping an online diary of my journey through the IVF process, (hopefully with a happy ending), as this may well prepare other couples starting on this same journey for what they can expect visit by visit.
Financially we are going to struggle to afford this treatment we know, but as I am now 39 years old, time is against us, and we cannot afford to wait. My main fear is that the average amount of IVF cycles required before success is three, which would add up to around £10,000 in total, all of which we would have to borrow one way or another. Our main hope is that we may be lucky enough to ‘hit the jackpot’ on the first cycle, but if not, I am sure we will try very hard to find ways to fund further attempts.
I first began publishing my issues with infertility in an earlier article called “Desperate for a Baby“, which you may also find of interest.
Now unfortunately for us, living in Guernsey our IVF treatment is not covered under the UK National Health system, so we need to finance this ourselves. The Guernsey authorities will cover the cost of our travel to and from the UK mainland, and will convert UK prescriptions into Guernsey ones that will heavily subsidise the necessary drugs, (normally over £1500), but the treatment itself has to be paid for by us.
We organised our initial appointment for the 21st July 2009, and decided to take the Condor Ferry from Guernsey to Poole in Dorset to make it easier to deal with luggage etc. We contacted our Specialist’s Secretary and told her we needed to arrange the travel. She then notified the Social Security department locally to confirm we are going for IVF treatment, and will therefore be in touch to arrange travel. Once we contacted them they arranged the boat trips for us and emailed us the tickets, after this it was all systems go!!!
The clinic sent us through various forms to either fill out and return in advance, or to bring with us to the initial consultation to complete in the presence of our IVF specialist. The forms we needed to return immediately were ‘new patient questionnaires”, the remaining forms consisted of “Welfare of the Child patient history” forms, “HFEA WT and MT consent forms”, a “Bourn Hall general consent form” and two information only forms, one on semen collection and one standard IVF information pack. In addition to these forms we also had to ensure we took our passports with us for identification purposes.
The semen collection instructions required that the male partner abstain from any form of sexual activity for three to five days before the consultation to optimise the sample. It was emphasised how important it would be that the sample was not contaminated in any way, and that the area under and around the foreskin should be thoroughly cleaned in advance, the tip of the penis must not make contact with the sample container, (so no scraping the end of the penis on the edge of the container to get the last few drops into it), the lid of the container must be placed on the table ensuring the inner surface was pointing upwards to avoid it coming into contact with the table surface itself, and then screwed back on the container after the sample was safely within it, all the time ensuring no flesh came into contact with the inside surface of the lid. I never knew that this ‘activity’ could be so complicated!!!
Having driven our car from Poole in Dorset up to Eaton Socon, St Neots, in Cambridgeshire, (which took about 5 hours partly due to roadworks), we stayed with my Husband Richard’s parents (as luckily they live only a 30 minute drive or so from Bourn). Our appointment with the Bourn Hall Clinic was for the day after we arrived, so there was time to relax and enjoy our evening before the trip to Bourn the following day.
The next day, after a short drive, we found Bourn Hall Clinic. As we approached the building we could not help but be impressed by the stunning Jacobean building and surrounding lands. It felt like a massive step back in time, and Bronte Sister novels sprung to mind such as “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Bronte.
Upon entering the main building we were not disappointed by the interior, which was still very appropriate to the period, along with beams, fireplaces, chandeliers etc. I instantly loved the building and felt completely comfortable. A very nice lady on reception gave us both badges that would allow us to pass between secure areas simply by waving the badges in front of scanners that would then release doors. She then gave us a tour of the areas we needed to know about, including the canteen area (very cosy and homely), and the newer addition to the main building where we would need to go before our first appointment with our specialist. Initially the first appointment was for my Husband to give a sample for testing, our next appointment wouldn’t be for a further hour and a half, during which time we were free to have a bite to eat in the canteen, or simply to sit in one of the comfy lounges and enjoy the views.
Whilst my Husband vanished somewhat apprehensively with the nurse to produce his sample, I sat and waited in a very pleasant waiting room complete with magazines and superb views over the 22 acres of land that form the rest of the Bourn Hall estate.
Once Richard returned he was really relaxed, and said the room he was taken to had everything any man might need to be able to produce a sample, (appropriate magazines, videos, a bed type couch etc), what he was to do next was obvious! The nurse had previously shown him a private courtyard where he would take his ‘sample’ and leave it in a kind of cupboard before he rung a bell and left, all without having to see anybody, so no embarrassment. This sample is then collected for testing in preparation for the next appointment with the actual specialist an hour and a half later. Whilst we waited for our next appointment we had a bite to eat in the canteen. The food was lovely, and once our hunger had been dealt with we wondered back to a lovely lounge area and sat by a huge old fireplace killing time and chatting. Looking in the corridors there were lots of pictures of babies resulting from IVF treatments at Bourn Hall, including the world’s first IVF baby Louise Brown, the original success story for Bourn Hall Clinic. I found this very encouraging in spite of my obvious nerves.
At 2.30pm we had to be back in the waiting room for our next appointment with the IVF specialist Mr Gideon Verwoerd MBChB MMed(O&G) FCOG(SA) MRCOG.
We duly arrived, and after a brief wait Mr Verwoerd came to find us and took us to his office, at which point he spent a good hour explaining everything to us, what we should expect, know and what we needed to be aware of. He was very thorough and went through the various forms we needed to fill in with us, step by step as we completed them.He then checked on his computer to see if the results of my Husband’s semen sample were back yet, and they were. Unfortunately they did show a reduced count and motility, and therefore Mr Verwoerd recommended the ICSI procedure to optimise fertilisation, (this involves directly selecting the appropriate healthy sperm to inject into the egg itself, as opposed to simply mixing eggs and sperm in a ‘dish’ overnight, incubating, and then seeing if any eggs have been successfully fertilised and begun dividing the following day for potential implantation).
I was pleasantly surprised when Mr Verwoerd told me that for the egg retrieval part of the process I did have the option of a general anaesthetic. This was a great relief to me as I had heard that even under sedation the egg retrieval process could be very uncomfortable. I immediately opted for the general anaesthetic as my preferred choice. He also advised us that he would need both of us to have blood tests for HIV, hepatitis B surface antigen and hepatitis C antibodies, prior to IVF treatment. Ideally he would have liked me to have a new blood test called an AMH test to check my ovarian reserve, as this newer test is far more accurate than the old FSH tests, unfortunately I have since found out that this test is not available in Guernsey yet, so if I were to have it I would need to travel to the UK to get it done, at this point in time we have still not decided whether to travel to the UK for the AMH test, or to stick with the less reliable FSH test, which can rule out the cycle of IVF if the reading comes back at over 17).
Mr Verwoerd had to also examine me to see what position my uterus was in, and although this was quite an uncomfortable internal examination, it did reveal that my adhesions and scar tissue have, over time, pulled my uterus over the right hand side, and therefore the direction he introduces any embryos from will have to take this into consideration. Apparently this could also explain why I have found certain sexual positions quite uncomfortable thesedays. After we said our goodbyes we returned to Guernsey to await Mr Verwoerd’s letter confirming what would happen next, and what we needed to do at our end.
The next phase will involve me phoning Bourn Hall on the first day of my August period, at which point I will be sent my prescriptions, (which I then change over to the Guernsey ones to enable me to receive the subsidised drugs locally). As far as I understand it I shall be required to inject myself daily, as well as using a nasal spray, both of which will encourage the ovaries to produce multiple follicles (mature/ripe eggs) for ultimate retrieval during the month of October (approximately on the 12th). Assuming the eggs are viable, and they successfully begin to divide once fertilised, then two of the resulting embryos will be transferred into my uterus in the hope they will implant themselves. Apparently the introduction of the embryos is no worse than a smear test for the woman.
So right now I am arranging for the required blood tests to be done, and hoping we are going to manage to finance this without too much difficulty, (as to come this far and fail due to lack of money would be worse than trying the IVF and being unsuccessful and never knowing if it might just have worked).
I shall being carrying on this diary from when I next need to contact Bourn Hall Clinic, so sometime in late August or early September 2009 the next chapter will be released. I hope you will find my journey of interest and that this diary will be useful of those of you planning IVF and not knowing what to expect.