Meet the 12 miracle icicles of Christmas. All these babies were born in the past 12 months as a result of a remarkable IVF technique called vitrification — where embryos are frozen and stored at -197c.
‘Fresh’ embryos don’t survive beyond six days, so to avoid wasting them they can be frozen, a technique pioneered in the Nineties by British expert, Professor Simon Fishel. Freezing them means they can be used months, even years, later.
Earlier this week it was reported that an American woman has just become a mother using a donor’s embryo that had been frozen for 24 years. (Under UK law embryos can be frozen and stored for ten years, but this can be extended to 55 years in some circumstances, such as cancer.)
Using frozen embryos may also boost some women’s chances of conceiving. It’s thought the womb lining might be more receptive to the embryo, as it hasn’t just undergone invasive egg harvesting.
It makes IVF safer for women, too, as they can have further implantations without the need for powerful drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs.
The babies here, born after their mothers had treatment at Care Fertility in Manchester, started life as ‘tiny snowflakes’ less than a tenth of a millimetre in size. Now look at them!
Here, their mothers tell the stories behind these little miracles . . .
Pictured left to right: Carol McColl, 40, from Stockport, Sarah Penty, 41, from Lancashire, Tessa Price, 46, from Stockport
1. CAROL McCOLL, 40
A football transfer lawyer, Carol lives in Stockport, Greater Manchester, with husband Gavin, 40, a personal trainer. Their four-month-old son, Charlie, who weighed 8lb at birth, was conceived after two attempts at IVF (funded by the NHS). He’d been ‘frozen’ for 11 months.
CAROL SAYS: We’d been trying to conceive naturally for a couple of years but discovered I had adenomyosis, where tissue builds up on the lining of the womb.
It was devastating news, not least because at one point the doctors were also talking about a hysterectomy to treat the symptoms (agonising pain and bleeding). But I was just 37 and didn’t want to lose my last chance of having a family.
We had our first IVF in January last year on the NHS. Because of my condition we couldn’t have a fresh embryo — you need to build up the womb lining with drugs to implant the embryos, which takes time, and the fresh embryos have to be used immediately.
Three eggs were fertilised and then the embryos were frozen. The first one didn’t work and I literally couldn’t stop crying. The other two were then genetically tested to make sure they were healthy —only one passed.
Amazingly, two weeks after it was implanted I discovered I was pregnant. I couldn’t stop smiling during my pregnancy. Even now I feel blessed when I look at Charlie.
2. SARAH PENTY, 41
An NHS administrator, Sarah lives in Burnley, Lancashire, with husband Andrew, 41, who runs his own joinery business. Their three children were all born via IVF (at a total cost of £8,000). Wilfie, now 11 months, weighed 9lb at birth. He’d been ‘frozen’ for three-and- a-half years.
SARAH SAYS: IVF has given us our three wonderful children. And incredibly it has worked the first time in each instance we tried it.
We tried naturally for nearly three years — it was so difficult seeing friends getting pregnant. The day I learned my best friend was having a baby I just burst into tears. A few months later we started our first round of IVF on the NHS, and our son Harry was born in 2010.
We then tried to conceive naturally but when nothing happened, we had another IVF attempt privately, and Arthur was born in 2013. We had one more go last year, with one of our two frozen embryos left from our second cycle.
We went for frozen so I didn’t have to go through another round of treatment again. We still have one frozen embryo left; if we don’t use it, it will be destroyed after ten years. I don’t feel happy about this. If I was younger, I would definitely have a last go, but at the moment we don’t know what to do.
3. TESSA PRICE, 46
A trainee counsellor, Tessa lives in Stockport with husband Gary, 48, who runs a scuba diving centre. Their seven-month-old son Jim was born after their second attempt at IVF in six months (the couple spent £7,000 on treatment), weighing 8lb 10oz. He’d been ‘frozen’ for five months.
TESSA SAYS: Gary and I met ten years ago and started trying for a family straight after getting married in 2011, aware that time was running out — I was 40.
But nothing was happening and tests couldn’t pinpoint a problem. The age limit for treatment on the NHS was 39, so we went private.
Our first attempt — with a fresh embryo — failed, but we had five in the freezer so we tried again a few months later, and it worked.
I may be an older mum but I’ve always been pretty fit and we both have a young mental attitude.
Will I try again? No, my family is now complete.
Pictured left to right: Michelle Peck, 41, from Lancaster, Kerrie Suarez, 33, from Tameside, Lisa Russon, 36, from Lincolnshire
4. MICHELLE PECK, 41
A full-time mother, Michelle lives in Lancaster with four-month-old Lucas, born after her ninth attempt at IVF in ten years, weighing 7lb 3oz (at a cost of ‘thousands’, she says). He’d been ‘frozen’ for a year and a half.
MICHELLE SAYS: After my eighth failed IVF attempt I really started to think I’d never be a mum. The treatment was gruelling but I didn’t mind — I would have done anything to have a baby.
I was 30 when I first started trying, then tests showed my body was rejecting my partner’s sperm and IVF was the only option.
After three failed attempts on the NHS, we got the money together to go privately, but that didn’t work either. Then, after our seventh attempt, in 2014, our relationship ended.
I wanted to be a mum more than anything so I then used a sperm donor. After my eighth treatment I miscarried at seven weeks, but decided to have another go earlier this year — my final attempt. This time it was an embryo that had been frozen after my eighth egg collection.
My pregnancy test was positive, and although I was anxious every day, my little miracle hung on in there. It had taken nine IVF treatments over ten years, and I’d ended up doing it on my own. But holding Lucas afterwards made everything worth it.
5. KERRIE SUAREZ, 33
A nursery nurse, Kerrie lives in Tameside, Greater Manchester, with husband Francisco, 33, a senior technical support manager. Their son Emilio, now two months, was born weighing 6lb 12oz on their fourth IVF attempt in five years (at a total cost of £6,000). He’d been ‘frozen’ for two months.
KERRIE SAYS: We tried naturally for two years before tests showed I have endometriosis, where scar tissue was building up in my fallopian tubes — I felt like my life had just fallen apart. We had three cycles of IVF on the NHS with fresh embryos, and words cannot describe the pain I felt when they didn’t work.
We had to go private for the fourth attempt, and went for a frozen cycle after they said the womb lining can sometimes be more receptive to it. When I gave the positive pregnancy test stick to my mum to break the news, she burst into tears.
I didn’t allow myself to get too excited — I was sceptical about it being a frozen embryo, as surely everything is better fresh!
But I was proved wrong. I still find myself staring at Emilio in wonder. When people ask if we’ll try for another baby I say no, because our prayers have already been answered: we have Emilio.
6. LISA RUSSON, 36
A primary school teacher, Lisa lives with her fiance Nimon, 36, a mortgage broker, in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Their seven-month-old son Orlando, who weighed 8lbs at birth, and his older brother Romeo were conceived using IVF (one NHS and one private, at a cost of £3,000). Orlando had been ‘frozen’ for three-and-a-half years.
LISA SAYS: People can’t believe it when I tell them that Orlando was in the freezer for three-and-a-half years. Our first son Romeo was born after our first attempt at IVF in 2013 using a fresh embryo — the remaining two embryos were frozen.
Last year we decided to have another try with a defrosted embryo. Wonderfully, again, I had a positive pregnancy test first time.
The first time I was pregnant, I didn’t know anyone else who’d had IVF and I felt embarrassed telling people I’d needed help to get pregnant. Now I’m not embarrassed at all — IVF is a wonderful thing and both Romeo and Orlando are our little miracles.
Pictured left to right: Christina Haslam, 36, from Lancashire, Suzanne Kenwright, 33, from The Wirral, Sophie Ryder, 28, from Halifax
7. CHRISTINA HASLAM, 36
A bank relations officer, Christina lives in Atherton, Lancashire, with husband Andrew, 35, an airline cargo officer. After five failed attempts at fertility treatment in four years (including two IVF cycles), their daughter Mia, now seven months, was born weighing 8lb 6oz (all their treatment was funded by the NHS). She’d been ‘frozen’ for two years.
CHRISTINA SAYS: IVF is amazing: we even have a video of Mia actually being made in the laboratory and have seen the cells of her embryo divide, so we really have seen her from the beginning.
We’d tried another technique, IUI (a form of artificial insemination) first, as IVF is a tough procedure, and because we had unexplained infertility we thought we might just need only a little bit of help.
But three attempts over two years failed so we went for IVF, which produced four embryos (three were then frozen).
I had one cycle using a fresh embryo but that failed. A few months later we had a second cycle with a frozen embryo which worked, but I miscarried at 11 weeks.
Last August we tried with a second frozen embryo. The first night Mia was here, I kept looking at her in wonder, not able to believe it. We still have one frozen embryo and we would like to give Mia a little brother or sister one day.
8. SUZANNE KENWRIGHT, 33
An NHS administrator, Suzanne lives on The Wirral with husband Gary, 37, an electrician. Their son, Dylan, was born a year ago on December 4, weighing 8lb 7oz, on their fourth attempt at IVF (all funded by the NHS). He’d been ‘frozen’ for a year.
SUZANNE SAYS: Having a baby is the best thing I’ve ever done. We’d been trying for three years, then went for tests which showed I wasn’t ovulating every month.
Our first cycle with IVF in 2014, with fresh embryos, failed. We’d been so hopeful that IVF was going to be the answer to our prayers, so it was pretty devastating.
But we were determined not to give up and had a cycle with a frozen embryo a few months later. That didn’t work either, so we tried again a few months later, using fresh embryos. After a fourth attempt, with our last frozen embryo, I got up at 5am to do the test as I couldn’t sleep, and it was positive.
We will keep trying naturally but if it comes to it, we will try IVF again next year.
9. SOPHIE RYDER, 28
An account manager, Sophie lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire, with husband Dan, 30, a marketing assistant. Their son, Roman, now two months old, was the result of their second attempt at IVF (free on the NHS). Weighing 6lb 14oz at birth, he’d been ‘frozen’ for five months.
SOPHIE SAYS: We couldn’t conceive naturally because Dan has a low sperm count, so the only way I could get pregnant would be to do IVF using ICSI, where the sperm is injected directly into the egg.
The treatment resulted in three embyros — we had a go with a fresh embryo and froze the other two. My pregnancy test was positive. We were thrilled, but two weeks later a scan showed it hadn’t worked.
We had another go in February using one of the frozen embryos. Although it worked, I was anxious because of what had happened before and we had a lot of private scans to put our minds at rest.
It wasn’t until I was 18 weeks’ pregnant that I finally started to relax and enjoy it. We were ecstatic when Roman was born. We have one frozen embryo left, and plan to have another go with it in the next couple of years.
Pictured from left to right: Claire Seddon, 36, from Bolton, Suzanne Watkins, 36, from Huddersfield, and Alyson Pickles, 38, from Lancashire
10. CLAIRE SEDDON, 36
A former customer service manager for Tesco, Claire lives in Bolton, Lancashire, with her husband Ben, 40, a personnel manager at Tesco. Their daughter Esme weighed 10lb at birth. Now eight months old, she is their second baby through IVF (the couple have spent £12,000 on their treatments). She’d been ‘frozen’ for five years.
CLAIRE SAYS: We had no problems conceiving our daughter Emily, now ten — we weren’t even trying. But when we decided to try for a brother or sister nothing happened. I couldn’t understand what was wrong.
As we already had a child we couldn’t get NHS treatment, so went private — scans showed that I had ovarian cysts and wasn’t ovulating regularly.
Our first cycle of IVF, in 2011, produced eight embryos — and our son Jake. Several years had passed and we had a letter from the clinic asking if we wanted to renew the freezing for our embryos. So we decided to have one more try and I became pregnant with Esme.
We’ve decided to donate our remaining six embryos to another childless couple. It feels very rewarding knowing that our embryos will help someone who isn’t as lucky as we have been.
11. SUZANNE WATKINS, 36
A dental nurse, Suzanne lives with husband Anthony, 36, a car paint sprayer, in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. Their daughter, Sophie, was born seven weeks ago weighing 7lb — their second child conceived using IVF (the couple have spent £3,000 in total). Sophie had been ‘frozen’ for three years.
SUZANNE SAYS: Anthony and I have been together since we were 19 and hadn’t used contraception, but nothing had happened, so we always knew something must be wrong — we just didn’t investigate as we were too young for a family.
Then, one evening in 2013, I developed a tremendous pain in my abdomen. I was rushed to hospital where I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis.
I had to have an ovary removed and then struggled to conceive, so later that year we had a cycle of IVF on the NHS. The first attempt worked, giving us our son Joseph.
We froze the other two embryos, and last year decided to try again, this time privately. It worked on our second attempt — I can’t believe how lucky we have been.
12. ALYSON PICKLES, 38
A personal assistant, Alyson lives with husband James, 36, a health and safety consultant, in Fence, Lancashire. Their son, Harry, eight months, weighed 7lb 15oz at birth. He is their second child born via IVF (both treatments were NHS-funded). He was ‘frozen’ for two years.
ALYSON SAYS: We were only in our early 30s when we discovered we couldn’t conceive — it’s not clear why. But with every single month that goes by without conception comes terrible disappointment.
After our first IVF cycle in 2014 we had four embryos frozen and one implanted — our daughter Amelia, born in 2015.
Two years later we decided to try again and we had one defrosted — amazingly again, it worked the first time.
We still have three embryos frozen. I don’t know if we will try again — I think that I need to see how I get on with these two first!