A new mum has opened about what it is like to have a baby born through IVF when you are in a same-sex relationship.
Jess and Kirsty Abel decided they would like to start a family during their honeymoon in September 2016 and, after trying for more than two years, their baby daughter Nora was born in April last year.
Their first attempt was around March 2017, she explained, and they had four failed attempts and two miscarriages, spending morethan £25,000 in treatment in the end.
Jess said they didn’t want to go for artificial insemination and instead IVF appealed to them as that way the two of them could be part of the process.
“Initially, that was very important to us,” Jess said. “But, as we went on, the focus was on having a family rather than how that came about.
“We were in the process for two and a half years before we had any success.
“I think people think as soon as you start IVF you will have success in the first attempt, but actually you have to prepare it will be a long, hard process – both physically and mentally.”
She said that, when they started, they were both excited but at the same time it felt overwhelming.
After collecting eggs three times, they were able to have seven embryos, Jess added, but on the first attempt only one was good enough out of 12 eggs that were collected.
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Their original plan was to use Jess’ eggs that had been fertilised in vitro and then implant them in Kirsty to carry the baby to term.
However, in the end, Jess ended up having her own embryo implanted.
The 34-year-old said: “It really doesn’t matter.
“Legally, we both have the same rights because we are married and we went through a registered clinic.
“We are both on the birth certificate and we both made her together – we were together each step of the way.
“It doesn’t matter who gave birth in the end.”
Their first attempt was around March 2017, she explained, and they had four failed attempts and two miscarriages, with the first one being after 10 weeks and the second one earlier on.
Jess said that, after trying five times, Kirsty had had enough and, that in her case, she got pregnant in both attempts, but lost the first one.
However, Jess’ second attempt resulted in Nora, with this one being their last embryo.
The couple got pregnant in late July 2019 and Nora was born in April 2020, Jess continued.
“It was really hard for us as a couple,” she said. “If you are not a strong couple, I think it would test you to the point it could ruin your relationship.
“We supported each other, but it was still very hard.
“When you get that positive test, you think that is all done, but you still have the whole pregnancy to get through.
“There is so much that can happen in treatment but it has all been worth it.
“I would do it all again to have Nora.
“She is the most special little girl and I can not put a price on that.”
Jess said Kirsty had struggled with a sense of failure, feeling she failed as a woman because she was not able to carry a baby, but that those feelings had got better since Nora had been born.
Apart from the emotional pressure, there are also financial pressures, she added.
The treatment’s cost meant that, at one point, Jess was working three jobs – with the NHS in Gloucestershire, doing shifts at the fertility clinic and also at a pub.
She said they ended up spending more than £25,000 in treatment – with each round costing up to £4,000 – and are still paying for it.
A study earlier this year found that most (76%) of the 106 CCGs in England require a minimum of three artificial insemination cycles to be paid for by female same-sex couples, with more than a quarter (29 CCGs) saying 10-12 cycles were needed, creating a bill of up to £20,000.
Jess said she thinks the NHS should reduce the number of times couples have to pay for before they get any help.
She added that, in their case, they hadn’t ruled out adoption, but that they wanted to try IVF first.
Having a baby in the middle of lockdown was really tough, Jess said, as Nora didn’t meet any of their families for three months.
“I found that really hard as I am so close to my mum and my sisters and I just wanted to have that support,” she said. “The first time they met they had their masks on, it is just not how I thought it would be.
“But we have made up for it and she knows them all so well now.
“It just seemed to be overshadowed by covid.”
Jess said she took nine months maternity leave, followed by three months off, and went back to work in April before starting a new job in May.
She works full-time but with the hours compressed over four days a week, while Kirsty – who works for the NHS – is working part-time and Nora goes to nursery twice a week.
“We call ourselves ‘The Three Musketeers’ because, as long as we are together, we can do anything,” she said. “It feels like everything is starting to fall into place.
“There is nothing else I would want out of of live and I have a sense of fulfilment.
“It does feel like this is a good point in our lives.
“I am very proud of how we came to have Nora.
“I know for some couples it would be very important who carried the baby, but once you have your family it doesn’t matter.
“The outcome is that you have a family and how you get there isn’t actually important.”
Jess, who lives in Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, said there is some sperm left so Nora would be able to have a genetic sibling if they wanted to, but that she doesn’t think they will put themselves through that again.
“We do not feel the need to have any more – we are happy with our family as it is now”, she added.
Jess – who previously worked with people with dementia – is now working at the clinic where Nora was made as an assistant nurse practitioner specialising in egg donation.
She said that, during the process, the staff at the Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine (BCRM) ended up becoming like a family for them.
The clinic always felt inclusive and was a nice environment to be in, she added.
Jess said: “To start with, we found out what was involved by attending one of BCRM’s lesbian open evenings.
“We thought this was a much better option than sitting through the same talks as heterosexual couples because as a same sex couple we knew we’d have different questions.
“It also meant we didn’t have to worry about feeling judged and that we could ask everything we wanted to without being self-conscious.
“Everyone was really welcoming, and we were so excited afterwards and knew that having an IVF baby with BCRM was what we wanted to do.”
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Jess added the clinic was so good that she decided to change careers and work for them.
She continued: “I decided fertility was where I wanted to be and I am now able to help people that are going through a similar process that I have been through.
“I am able to build more rapport with them, it is a lot more personal as I have gone through it.
“I can talk to them about my experience to give them reassurance or hope.”
Apart from intra-couple donation, where the eggs of one lesbian partner are fertilised in vitro and then implanted in the other who carries the baby to term, another service offered at BCRM is transgender sperm freezing, which is now available on the NHS.
This gives a person who is transitioning the opportunity to preserve their fertility so that when they are ready to parent a child that sperm can be used to create a baby.
Embryologist Jen Nisbett said: “It’s a question of helping these patients keep their options open.
“We are very mindful at BCRM of the range of parenting possibilities which exist. There is no pigeon- holing here, and no boxing-in of patients to fit a particular category. Their needs are what drives our service.
“We encourage all who might need our help to get in touch and find out what avenues are available to them.”
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