Meet the Ipswich mum of twins whose life was transformed by a sperm donor

Julie Norman is celebrating her twin's first birthday

Julie Norman is celebrating her twin's first birthday - Credit: Archant

Facing the world as a 40-year-old singleton Julie Norman knew her options for having children were limited. But that wasn’t going to stop her.

Dr Mike Macnamee - photo Si Barber

Dr Mike Macnamee - photo Si Barber - Credit: �Si Barber - all rights reserve

Sheena Grant reports.

Julie Norman’s twins celebrate their first birthday this spring and like any mum she’s been looking forward to the landmark occasion.

But Julie has got more reason than most to commemorate the big day.

Every time she looks at little Sabine and Sebastian she knows that, in many ways, they really are miracle babies.

Julie Norman's life has been transformed

Julie Norman's life has been transformed - Credit: PA

Four years ago Julie found herself single at the age of 40. She had always wanted children but her partner didn’t and eventually they went their separate ways.

Facing the world alone and with a loudly ticking biological clock there appeared little chance that she would ever realise her dream of becoming a mum.

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For many in such a situation it would be a moment of despair and Julie, who lives in Ipswich, knew her options were limited.

But she wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.

Julie has her hands full with two toddlers (photo posed by model)

Julie has her hands full with two toddlers (photo posed by model) - Credit: Getty Images/Fuse

Even when her parents came forward with a financial lifeline that made IVF a possibility she knew that, given her age, the odds of conceiving were probably stacked against her.

But incredibly Julie, now 44, became pregnant, using both donated eggs and sperm.

“July 9, 2014 was an amazing day as it was the date I saw the cross on my pregnancy test,” she says. “I wrote the date down as it meant so much and I wanted to celebrate this wonderful day even though I was aware that it might not become a baby.”

She needn’t have worried. That cross on the pregnancy test turned out to be not one, but two babies. Nine months later Sabine and Sebastian were born. And Julie has savoured every day since.

Jane Norman had twins as a result of IVF at Bourn Hall Clinic

Jane Norman had twins as a result of IVF at Bourn Hall Clinic - Credit: Archant

“I absolutely love being a mum and seeing the world through their eyes,” she says. “I’m 44 now but for them everything is new and wonderful.

“My parents - the twins’ grandparents - have been fantastic all the way through my journey to have children and I’m so lucky to have such amazing people in my life.”

She also counts herself lucky in her choice of fertility clinic - Bourn Hall.

After her parents came forward with the offer of support and financial assistance that allowed her to consider IVF Julie began to research clinics and, based on its reputation and location, arranged to visit Bourn Hall’s Colchester clinic on Christmas Eve 2013.

“I’ve always had a strong desire to have children of my own but my partner didn’t,” she says. “Sadly, we split up and that is when I began to review my options, which were very limited. One possibility was to try IVF with donor sperm.

“My mum and dad’s support and financial help made IVF a possibility. Having them offer me this opportunity was amazing.”

Julie began her first IVF treatment in January 2014. Initial tests, including one for the anti-mullerian hormone that is a marker for ovarian reserves, revealed she had few eggs of her own. Even with medication she was unlikely to produce many that could be collected for fertilisation.

“I was prepared for this, having been fully briefed by my consultant, but it was still disappointing,” she says. “Bourn Hall was brilliant at offering a measured approach, explaining the process and my options. They made things so clear it gave me confidence to try.”

Having already elected to use donated sperm from Bourn Hall’s sperm bank, Julie decided to join the waiting list for donated eggs.

“Choosing a sperm donor from the anonymous details provided was straightforward and luckily I didn’t have to wait long on the egg donor list before I was paired with a potential donor,” she says.

The other woman was having IVF treatment herself at Bourn Hall and offered to donate her spare eggs (an egg donor may choose to donate for altruistic reasons and/or for a free cycle of treatment).

Treatment for the woman donating her eggs and Julie was synchronised to ensure embryo transfer at the right time for both patients. The donated eggs were successfully fertilised using ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection) with the donated sperm and the resulting two embryos were transferred into Julie’s womb.

“I was slightly nervous on the day of transfer but it was incredibly quick,” she says.

Then came that pregnancy test and the months before the birth, preparing for the huge changes that were about to happen in her life.

Bourn Hall offers all its patients specialist counselling and having decided to have treatment at the Colchester Clinic Julie was keen to take advantage of it.

“The counsellor gave me confidence and reminded me that there are many different types of families,” she says. “That the key thing for children is to know they are loved and wanted. Having the opportunity to discuss these matters and the potential questions that might and will be asked of me was definitely very helpful.

“With the financial support of my parents and the expertise of Bourn Hall I was given the chance to be a mother, which I’m so grateful for. I nearly missed out, so I consider myself very lucky.”

Experts at Bourn Hall say Julie’s case shows what a difference sperm donors can make to the lives of people who are unable to conceive naturally.

But with a donor shortage across the UK the clinic is looking at a range of measures to try and get more men to consider if it’s something they could do.

A Fertility Awareness Event will be held at Ipswich Town Football Club on April 16 and the clinic has also conducted a survey about attitudes to sperm donation.

The research revealed the biggest motivator for donating was knowing someone who was having a problem conceiving. So, for the first time, Bourn Hall is allowing sperm donors to nominate a friend or family member for free IVF treatment.

Chief executive Dr Mike Macnamee said: “We were the first clinic to introduce sperm freezing and we have our own sperm bank but demand is rising and there is a national shortage.

“When a couple comes to the clinic for treatment and testing reveals that a man has ‘super sperm’ (of particularly good quality and likely to offer the best chance of conception) then we offer them free IVF treatment in return for sperm donation.

“The recent study has indicated that altruism is a powerful motivator so we have decided to extend this offer to allow donors not requiring help themselves to nominate someone they know for free IVF treatment. If this treatment requires donated sperm this will be provided by an anonymous donor.”

The study showed that the second biggest motivator for donating was to be paid, so those not taking up free IVF treatment will receive £35 compensation for each sample.

Sperm donation through clinics is strictly regulated in the UK to ensure potential donors are fully aware of the implications and only high quality sperm is accepted. Donors should be in good health and aged 18-40.

The clinic has also introduced a dedicated phone number to make it easy for men to make appointments when it suits them at its clinics near Cambridge, Colchester and near Norwich. Contributions can be made discreetly without going to main reception.

The attitudes study also revealed that men considered carefully the opinion of their partner and over a third thought their partner wouldn’t want them to donate. This was particularly high where the couple themselves had problems conceiving. However, this influence could be positive too with 31% saying they would donate if their partner wanted them to.

“Donors have no legal or moral obligation to children resulting from donation but we have found that men who are prepared to donate are often relaxed about the thought of a young man or woman that they have helped bring into the world, later getting in touch,” said Dr Macnamee.

“They feel it is a way they can make a big difference to someone else’s life.”

All the men who participated in the study were aware that their donation is anonymous until any offspring resulting from their donation are aged 18, when they can request donor details. Donors can express a preference on how they want to be contacted and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will inform them if a child had requested their details. It also encourages donor-conceived children to take up the offer of using an intermediary and provides support to donors.

Jackie Stewart is an independent fertility counsellor who supports Bourn Hall patients and says the findings of the study have important implications for couples struggling with infertility.

“The majority of men have not even considered donating sperm and may think they are too old, however many would try and help if someone they knew was struggling to conceive.

“With this knowledge it is good to talk about your situation with close friends and family and also to explain how much a baby would mean to you. There may be someone in your wider circle of friends and family that is in a position to offer help and would find it rewarding to do so.

“Potential donors receive free implications counselling and can prepare a ‘pen picture’ of themselves and a note for the child to receive if they want to request it.”

Jackie stresses that transparency is important.

“All recipients of donated sperm also receive counselling and that includes a discussion on how to talk to their future children about the subject,” she says. “This means that children are emotionally prepared and although they may be curious about the donor they accept that this person is not their parent.

“For many men sperm donation is something special they are doing and the joy it gives to the recipients is beyond words.”

• Anyone interested in becoming a donor should contact Bourn Hall on 01954 717521.

For more information and registration details about the Fertility Awareness Event, which includes a free mini-consultation, at Ipswich Town Football Club, Portman Road, from 2pm on Saturday April 16, visit their website.Bourn Hall as also set up a new donor website.