Villa Park’s usual visitors may see one or two minor miracles on the pitch, but hundreds were witnessed as Midland Fertility Services celebrated its 21st birthday at the weekend. Health Correspondent Emma Brady reports.
In theory, every baby, child and teenager celebrating the Walsall-based fertility clinic’s 21st birthday should not have been there.
Each one represents a dream come true for their parents, and the clinicians at the Midland Fertility Services who have been making the seemingly impossible possible since 1987.
The clinic’s first baby Brett Rigby, who will turn 21 next year, was born on October 16, 1988. His mother Pauline, who had suffered seven years of infertility and two unsuccessful IVF attempts at a London clinic, became pregnant after a single cycle at MFS, then based in Sutton Coldfield.
Since then MFS has treated more than 14,500 patients and welcomed more than 4,100 babies into the world. As one in six couples face fertility problems when trying to conceive, access to treatment is still subject to an NHS “lottery” depending on where they live.
Since Brett was born, MFS has pioneered new treatments and recorded a number of UK firsts.
In 2002, it saw the first baby born using a mother’s frozen egg, followed a year later by the first twins born from frozen ovum, and in 2006 the clinic welcomed twins born after their mother was given Viagra to thicken her womb lining.
But many medics remained sceptical over the success-rate of fertility treatment as recently as the early 1990s, some dismissing it as a parenting pipe dream.
Pamela Edwards, of Telford, in Shropshire, and her husband Ian remember being told that by a consultant at a Birmingham hospital after two unsuccessful years of trying to conceive
Mrs Edwards, aged 50, was given Clomid to stimulate her ovaries but it was not until they went to MFS that it became apparent both had fertility problems.
She said: “I’d been on Clomid for ages when we were referred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s fertility unit. We asked about IVF and were told by the consultant, who was very dismissive, that ‘It’s very unlikely to succeed’, perhaps because they didn’t offer it themselves. As far as they were concerned it wasn’t a viable option for us. So we went to MFS in December 1991 where a few tests revealed we both had fertility problems, which meant the odds were stacked against us.”
The couple’s first attempt failed in April 1992, but a second cycle four months later was more successful and Mrs Edwards became pregnant with twins.
“Helen and Peter – who are now 15 – were born prematurely on February 25, 1993 – they weren’t due to arrive until mid April – but they were healthy, weighing 4lb and 4lb 1oz,” she added.
“Despite everything we’d been through, it was still a real shock to be holding two healthy babies, it was an overwhelming feeling after being on that roller coaster.
“Even now when we look back at old baby pictures we do pinch ourselves because we know how very lucky we’ve been, which is why I get annoyed when people go on about IVF being used for designer babies.
“Most, if not all, would-be parents I’ve met through MFS are just ordinary couples who want a family of their own, they don’t care if they have a blue-eyed boy or a blonde girl, they just want a healthy, happy baby.”
Jane Williams, of Oakengates, in Shropshire, also feared she might never have children after trying for nearly five years. After being diagnosed with polycystic ovaries, IVF was her best available option.
“I wasn’t eligible for NHS treatment because I was 34 when we first sought help, but my father left some money in his will when he died, so we put that towards private treatment,” said Mrs Williams.
“We were prepared to have six cycles, so when I fell pregnant with our first round of IVF I was shocked, because the odds of it working first time are so small. I don’t think we were prepared for that.
“Bethan was born in November 1995, and four years later we went back to MFS to have my last two embryos implanted, and that was a success too – Eva was born in October 1999.
“They are a constant reminder of how lucky we’ve been, they’re a real blessing.”
Dr Gillian Lockwood, the clinic’s medical director, added: “In the year when Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, turns 30, our unique picture shows IVF ‘babies’ have not just taken their first footsteps or got their first teeth, but are now taking GCSEs, A levels and attending university.
“The party and the photograph celebrate the birth of all these babies, many of whom are now teenagers and young adults and who have brought so much to the lives of their parents and wider families. It was wonderful to see so many of them at the celebrations.”