The gift of life: Sheffield IVF clinic leading the way on research and the joys it brings to parents

It's a place which makes the impossible, possible.

Wednesday, 1st November 2017, 11:12 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 11:38 am
Jessop Fertility staff and two of the many success stories

Many couples will hear the devastating news they cannot conceive naturally and IVF is the only viable option.

Here in Sheffield, hard working health care professionals are leading the way in new research and techniques to help more couples give them the priceless gift of a life to those who can't.

Head embryologist Rachel Cutting MBE. Picture: The Star/George Torr

Everyone in the fertility community knows Sheffield's name as a world leader in a new study to increase the success rate of IVF as part of £1.3m funding boost.

Jessop maternity wing is known for bringing thousands of city babies into the world. But another entrance around the main maternity wing helps those trying to conceive through IVF.

This year, Jessop Fertility which opened in 2001, will celebrate the birth of their 3540th baby with over 300 pregnancies confirmed this year.

The centre is a specialist unit and is among one of the best in the UK helping patients with the most complex issues.

Stuart and Clare Smith with baby Matilda who was born through IVF. Picture: The Star/George Torr

It's not just the procedures that the centre offers. Counselling has become an integral part of Jessop Fertility - speaking to parents of the devastation of a failed attempt or the understandable jealously and hurt of seeing other couples conceive naturally.

And fertility treatment involving the genetic testing of embryos is heading to Sheffield for the first time

The centre will be bringing a special laser to their labs which will enable them to test IVF embryos to find out if babies will be born with genetic problems.

It will involve removing some of the cells and sending them off to be tested for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and MS which will be available next year.

Nicola Minichiello and partner Jo Manning with IVF twins Zach and Freddy

Patients in the past would have to travel to London to undergo this process.

'Exciting developments'

Head embryologist Rachel Cutting is one of the leading experts in her field and has experienced the highs and lows of many couples trying for a baby in her 24 year career so far.

"What we aim to do is put the patient first, we get to know them so well and we support them through the treatments.

New time-lapse technology enables to study embryos in much more detailing increasing IVF success rates. Picture: The Star/George Torr

"What's great about Sheffield is the NHS trust has really invested in what we do for new technologies which improves pregnancy rates meaning we get more babies at each treatment."

From when Rachel started out in 1994, the success rate and technology has changed beyond recognition.

"It's a completely different level to what it was when I started out. IVF technology moves forward incredibly quickly," she said.

"One of the most exciting developments that I've seen so far is the time-lapse technology. This means we can take a picture of an embryo every 10 minutes in the lab from day one to day five.

"From there, we can really look at and examine the embryo's quality in a lot more detail which means we can select the best one quicker and it definitely improve chances.

"We now treat more and more patients and being aware of IVF during National Fertility Week is so important."

Jessop Fertility aims to be at the forefront of research and technology. Picture: The Star/George Torr

Success story

Not all couples succeed but one of the many success stories are Doncaster couple Clare and Stuart Smith

Sat in a bland consultation room in the heart of the Jessop unit, 10-month-old Matilda lights up the room with her constant giggles and smiles.

But it was a long road to where they ended up which included two failed IVF attempts. The phase of sheer sadness tinged with jealousy seeing babies and prams everywhere you look was a stark reality for the couple before Clare, 40, fell pregnant.

The pair met and started to try for a baby but as Clare put it it 'just never happened.

The couple they decided they weren't overly bothered about having children and Clare, originally from Sheffield, went to University. But when she graduated, they decided to try again.

But as they pair were getting towards their forties, Clare said she thought about her own body clock and decided it was time to visit the GP.

The results confirmed their fears, fertility problems meant they couldn't have a baby and the only real option was IVF.

"IVF was the only practical way, we couldn't really sit and dwell on it. We knew we just needed to get on with it," Clare said.

"It was weird because I was glad in a way they told me I had to have IVF, because I was relieved there was at least something I could do about it."

The IVF process was now underway and both admitted the planning was slightly laborious. The pair said the whole process 'takes over your life' which began in October 2014.

"As soon as you step through these doors for fertility treatment, bearing in mind I had a year of treatment before, you literally eat, sleep and sell your soul to this process," Clare said.

"The constant medication, injections, procedures, following the advice, it's very consuming and it does change you as a person. It's not been easy."

'Devastation'

But disaster struck as the couple received the devastating news of two separate failed attempts.

"It's feels like you've lost a child, every time it happens. Even though a child was never there, the time of the month comes and it's completely devastating and that hope is gone," Clare added.

"You build up a picture in your mind what they would look like. It's crazy but you can't help but do that. The option to have counselling is there and people who end up going through what we've gone through need to take it."

On their third attempt, Clare recalls she had embryos placed in her womb in May 2016 and this time, it was brilliant news.

The pregnancy test was positive, but the couple were sceptical.

Clare said: "We didn't believe it at first. We ended up buying 14 pregnancy tests and spent a load of money. We kept looking at them and then checking them again to see if the line would change but it didn't and it slowly sunk in that I was actually pregnant.

"I didn't fully believe it until she was actually born. From all the things we've been through, you always expect the worst.

Stuart added: "We had to go to so many different shops for the tests because we thought people behind the counter would think we were really weird!"

'Jealousy'

Clare said: "If you're not strong as a couple, it could easily rip you apart. I know people are desperate for children but this process is not a walk in the park, it's not easy.

"The jealously is a big part. You never notice it before but you're so desperate for the IVF to be successful, you see every pram, giggling baby, the constant Facebook posts from people about scans and so on. It's heart-wrenching.

"You can never prepare yourself enough for what you're about to go through as a couple.

"The place is amazing, the staff are wonderful, without this place, none of this would be possible. It's incredible."

'Double trouble

Globetrotting couple Nicola Minichiello and Jo Manning from Renishaw near Sheffield are the proud parents of seven month old twin boys, Zach and Freddie after having treatment at Jessop Fertility.

Nicola fell pregnant after after a round of unsuccessful IVF attempts but the couple were twice as surprised to find two heartbeats on the ultrasound scan.

The pregnancy progressed well with both babies. Nicola carried them all over the world as part of her work managing the bobsleigh and skeleton races across different venues in America and Canada and Jo’s work as performance director for the Jamaican Bobsleigh team.

The couple spent the past four years on their journey through infertility. After initially trying, Nicola was referred to a consultant at Jessop Fertility.

After scans, blood tests and a laparoscopy exploratory operation we discovered my tubes had been damaged by endometriosis so the chances of us conceiving with anything other than IVF was almost nil.

The first cycle produced five blastocysts which they had implanted one at a time. Unfortunately despite having faith and great odds, each time the cycles ended in disappointment with each one resulting in a negative test.

The couple almost gave in but another round they were successful in July 2016.

Nicola said: "Despite IVF and infertility being one of the most emotional experiences of our lives the way the staff at Jessop Fertility supported us every step of the way was amazing. It felt more like we were part of an extended family as opposed to having treatment at a medical facility.

Especially for a same sex couple the process could have been really difficult however we felt respected and supported throughout. I can’t recommend Jessop Fertility enough and thank everyone there for helping create the most amazing miracles ever. Everyone who worked there knew what was happening with our treatment, everyone has a friendly and personal attitude.

'Mummy's footsteps'

“At seven months, the boys are doing amazing. After waiting so long to get them it’s just fantastic and amazing on a daily basis that they are now here. They are both totally different in both shape and personality but have developed amazing little characters.”“Our jobs mean we spend around five months per year travelling across the world leading and managing bobsleigh and skeleton teams in preparation for the Olympic games. This year the babies will travel with us.”“We are currently in pre-season training in Whistler training in preparation for the next Olympic games taking place in February 2018. Every year for the last 15 years we have trained and competed each winter for around five months however this year will be very different travelling with the babies. Yesterday they saw snow for the very first time which was amazing. Hopefully they will be inspired by seeing all of the Olympic athletes and will follow in their mummy’s footsteps.”

Jessop Fertility is leading a global study to improve chances of IVF. In the UK, one in six suffer from infertility
Jessop Fertility is located at the same site as the maternity wing
Head embryologist Rachel Cutting MBE. Picture: The Star/George Torr
Stuart and Clare Smith with baby Matilda who was born through IVF. Picture: The Star/George Torr
Nicola Minichiello and partner Jo Manning with IVF twins Zach and Freddy
New time-lapse technology enables to study embryos in much more detailing increasing IVF success rates. Picture: The Star/George Torr
Jessop Fertility aims to be at the forefront of research and technology. Picture: The Star/George Torr
Jessop Fertility is leading a global study to improve chances of IVF. In the UK, one in six suffer from infertility
Jessop Fertility is located at the same site as the maternity wing