Shawna with little baby Ivy
A Ballymena couple have shared the story of their struggle to conceive and the joy at the birth of their baby daughter Ivy after four years ot trying, both having every test under the sun.
Shawna Smith (33) and her husband Dan (35) had been signed up with NHS services for several years but there was a problem. Shawna needed to lose 5lbs in weight to meet the target BMI to qualify for NHS fertility services.
Shawna comments: “We were diagnosed with unexplained infertility which was very frustrating. My BMI was slightly over, despite being healthy and keeping fit. I was eating healthily for three or four years and in the gym four times a week. I’m five foot one and size ten and I just couldn’t seem to change my weight. I was always five pounds over my target."
As part of the initial tests, Dan had four rounds of semen analysis. The first on the NHS showed little to no sperm (Aspermia), and when the doctor started discussing sperm donors and adoption, the couple were shocked as they didn’t expect those conversations at the start of their investigations.
Dan said: "After that first semen analysis, I thought ‘It’s all my fault that we’ve been struggling to conceive’, but thankfully my tests returned to normal. There is still such a taboo around male fertility, but it is so important to keep the conversations going."
Dan went on to have three more semen analysis, he had been exercising and eating well and had lost 4 stone, by the fourth round his results came back as normal.
Being told it was unexplained infertility, at this stage Shawna said, "I just couldn’t carry on like this, so we decided to go private.”
Shawna and Dan discovered TFP Belfast Fertility, and made an appointment with the clinic which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month as the largest independent, longest established provider of fertility investigation and treatments in Northern Ireland. They had known many friends that had been through treatment here and recommended the clinic.
TFP Belfast Fertility has treated thousands of patients with fertility treatments including IVF, IUI, fertility MOTs, egg and sperm donation (to name just a few) and achieved over 1500 live births.
Shawna said: "Everyone on reception was so lovely, we instantly felt so welcome. It is such a personal experience and your anxiety is all over the place going through this, but the staff made us both feel so comfortable."
Shawna with her beautiful daughter Ivy
Shawna and Dan were ready to start their first IVF round – and Shawna was feeling nervous.
“It was the thought of the injections and particularly the egg collection procedure, as I’d never been sedated,” says Shawna.
“But once the clinic team walked me through the processes, things felt a lot better. My head had built all this up to be much worse than it was.
“And friends had warned me the medication would make me hormonal but I was the most happy, positive and chilled out that I had been for a very long time.”
A nurse showed Dan how to inject Shawna, and then the couple were up and running.
“It was 26 injections in two weeks – that’s a lot of poking. But it was truly fine,” says Shawna.
Shawna was nervous going in for egg collection, as she had never been put to sleep before, "All the doctors at the clinic were so lovely and explained everything step by step, in the end it was a lot better than what my head had built it up to."
During egg collection, Shawna’s left ovary was hiding and so they were expecting to only be able to retrieve 3 or 4 eggs from her right ovary. But the doctors managed to retrieve eggs from the left ovary as well and when Shawna came round she was so ecstatic they retrieved 10 eggs.
The embryologist used ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) to inject the best quality sperm into each egg and then each day phoned Shawna and Dan with a progress report.
After five days, there were four embryos. Two were healthy and two were growing too slowly.
In the end, there was one top quality embryo to transfer into Shawna’s uterus and one to freeze. Shawna had the embryo transferred on December 7th 2022.
Shawna and Dan found the embryo transfer process surreal. “You could watch on the screen. I kept calling this little dot a ‘she’. She was our tiny shooting star and we watched as they popped her in there,” remembers Shawna.
Finding it impossible to wait the ten official days before doing the pregnancy test, Shawna tested on day five and saw a ‘teeny faint line’ on the stick.
She repeated the test daily and the lines grew darker and darker.
On day ten, the official testing day, the pregnancy test revealed the clearest line yet.
“We had a breakdown. The wait was over. We were pregnant,” says Shawna.
Baby girl Ivy
The couple were over the moon to welcome their daughter Ivy on 20th August 2023.
TFP Belfast Fertility was awarded Northern Ireland’s Fertility Clinic of the Year for three years running from 2021 to 2023 and as a clinic it continues to innovate and improve its services for patients. It established the first Micro-TESE service in Northern Ireland. This technique, which is offered in only a few centres throughout the UK, offered the potential for biological paternity to men with severe male factor infertility by collecting sperm from a sample of testicular tissue.
Innovation continues at TFP Belfast Fertility, and the clinic is currently in the process of applying to the HFEA for a license to undertake Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT). The first clinic to offer such a service in Northern Ireland.
Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT), is a screening test which enables embryos to be genetically analysed to help select the best quality prior to transfer during IVF treatment, it also helps exclude inherited genetic disorders such as Cystic Fibrosis. While PGT doesn’t increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy, the process minimises the number of embryo transfers or pregnancy losses someone might go through, which could speed up time to pregnancy.
Ishola Agbaje, Medical Director and one of the Founding Directors since the clinic was established in 2013, comments:
“Up until now patients have not been able to access this technology in Northern Ireland, once available in TFP Belfast fertility it will expand the range of options available locally for patients helping to reduce the treatment burden”.
A number of patients also require egg donation to build a family, with many travelling abroad to access this service. In 2014. TFP Belfast Fertility established a satellite service with IVF Life in Alicante (Formerly IVF Spain), to successfully help create more families.
Mr Agbaje continues: “It has been incredible to experience the clinic’s growth over the past 10 years and to be part of the leadership team with a clear focus on evidence-based medicine and innovation.
“The clinic has secured many partnerships over the past decade which also includes outreach clinics in Letterkenny, Mid Ulster and Ballykelly as well as being linked with group partners Ultrasound Direct to make treatments more accessible”.
Mr Agbaje concluded: “Our recent HFEA renewal inspection highlights how well our staff work together to provide safe, effective and compassionate care to our patients. I am extremely proud of the clinic, and together we will continue to develop our infrastructure and the services we provide”.
TFP Belfast Fertility introduced the Access Fertility Programme, and is currently the only fertility clinic to offer this in Northern Ireland. This programme offers various IVF packages and finance options to make treatment more accessible to patients. This includes having unlimited IVF cycles over two years, programmes that offer up to a 100% refund if you aren’t successful in having a baby and multi-cycle programmes for a significantly reduced fixed fee.
The clinic holds regular free fertility Information evenings for those wanting to find out more about the services it offers.
Whether you’re starting or continuing your fertility journey, TFP Fertility UK can help. To find out more about fertility treatments visit TFP Belfast Fertility.