Delivering joy to thousands of couples

Pamela Crawley and Mark Spafford from Wickersley with their 3 children, Joshua (8), Finlay (6) and Caitlin (1) who were all 'Made in Sheffield' at the Care fertility clinic
Pamela Crawley and Mark Spafford from Wickersley with their 3 children, Joshua (8), Finlay (6) and Caitlin (1) who were all 'Made in Sheffield' at the Care fertility clinic
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WE’RE famed for our steel and our cutlery – but the city has another ‘product’ deserving of the Made In Sheffield stamp.

Almost 4,000 babies have been ‘hand-crafted’ at Sheffield’s Care Fertility Clinic.

Emotional rollercoaster: Nurse manager Paula Smith, above and left.                                 PICTUREs: steve parkin

Emotional rollercoaster: Nurse manager Paula Smith, above and left. PICTUREs: steve parkin

One of the oldest IVF clinics in the UK, the Glen Road centre has spent a quarter of a century helping the one in seven couples who experience fertility problems and need some form of assisted conception.

The close-knit team at CARE have brought joy to thousands of local couples in the clinic’s 25-year history.

A third of the clinic’s patients are referred from the NHS for free treatment – those from the Derbyshire PCT are entitled to one free treatment while those from the Yorkshire and Humber region, which includes Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and Bassetlaw, are entitled to two free treatments, as are patients referred from Sheffield’s Jessops Hospital.

As a result of IVF advances, success rates as the clinic celebrates its 25th year have risen dramatically. In the Eighties, only one in four couples were successful in their quest for a child. Today, some 40 per cent of couples become parents after treatment.

Sheffield‘s results are well above the national average, says Adel Shaker, medical director.

“In the 34 years since IVF began, treating infertility has changed dramatically. We now have a wide choice of treatments and drug therapies at our disposal,” he says.

“But there is no one-size fits all when it comes to treating infertility. The key is finding the most appropriate treatment for every couple.”

Future couples will have an even better chance of becoming parents. Adds Mr Shaker: “I have seen many changes in my clinic over the years and I am confident more and more couples will be able to become parents in the future.”

Big highs and real lows on any day

Day in, day out, she sees patients’ dreams either realised, or shattered forever.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride every day, says nurse manager Paula Smith of her 18-year career at the Sheffield fertility clinic.

“I’ve seen many tears. For so many patients we are the very last chance.

“When treatment doesn’t work, and they know that they will never have a child of their own together, it’s heartbreaking. I cry with them; I can’t help it,” says the 55-year-old.

“But the moments when you tell someone they are finally pregnant after they have tried in vain for years, or when a client comes back to show us their baby; they make this job feel so worthwhile.”
Paula works with patients who have experienced the greatest sorrows on their journey to parenthood.

“I care for women who have suffered from recurrent miscarriages or who have gone through IVF only to see their implanted embryos fail to survive,” explains Paula. “Older women who have low ovarian reserves and are therefore not expected to respond well to treatment also come under my care.

“You get to know these women and you see how much they want it. But I have to tread a very delicate line between respecting their right to choose IVF treatment and being realistic with them about their chances. The last thing we want to do is lead them to believe in something that is not likely to happen.”

Having to give bad news to women so desperate to have what nature so readily gives others – her included – never stops being an emotional time for the clinic’s professionals.

Says Paula: “We are giving them very brutal news. I feel such sympathy for them, yet at the same time I can never really know how they are feeling because I am a mother of three and a grandmother of two.

“No one in my family has ever experienced any fertility problems.”

Paula’s day starts in the ovarian scanning department with women at the beginning of their treatment.

Scans ascertain how their fertility drugs are working and whose eggs are ready to be removed and then fertilised.

Paula assists doctors in the procedure, then for the next five days it’s her task to ‘baby-sit’, monitoring the growth of the embryos in the clinic’s laboratory.

After five days, it’s time for her to replace thriving embryos into the mother’s womb.

“That is the most amazing part of the job,” she says. “It feels like I’m playing God.”

Our £15,000 kids are worth every single penny

Children are priceless.

But Pamela Cawley can put a value to her three.

Six-year-old Joshua, his little brother Finlay and his baby sister Caitlin cost the grand total of £15,000.

And they were worth every single penny, grins the Wickersley mum.

Her Made In Sheffield brood were created, one by one, at the CARE Clinic on Glen Road – a place that now feels like the children’s spiritual home.

“Our entire family was made in their laboratories. Every time we go there, I feel I’m taking the kids home, says the 36-year-old. “Maybe we should put a Product Of Sheffield sticker on them,” she grins.

She and partner Mark Spafford, 46, are full of wonder and gratitude for what medical science was able to do for them.

Yet it was a medical procedure, carried out when Pamela was a baby herself, which had prevented her from becoming a mother naturally.

Surgeons operated to repair her double hernia when she was five months old. But her reproductive organs were damaged in the process.

“Afterwards they told my mother they may have removed some of my ovarian tissue. But it wasn’t until I was 26 and Mark and I began trying to conceive that I discovered there was no way I could ever get pregnant naturally,” says Pamela.

“We tried for over a year, all the time convincing ourselves this must be how it was for everyone. But eventually we went to our GP.”

It took many months of tests and scans for Pamela to learn the brutal truth; she had only one ovary – and her one remaining fallopian tube was blocked with scar tissue.

“I felt gutted; cheated out of what should be every woman’s right, to become a mother,” she says. “I wanted to pursue a claim against the hospital which had treated me all those years ago but legal advisors told me it was too late.”

Pamela and Mark were told that their only chance of having a child together was through IVF.

Their NHS trust put them on a waiting list for free treatment. “But after a year, we couldn’t bear it any longer and decided to pay for private treatment.

“I was almost 29 and Mark was 40; we were desperate to be parents. I remember walking down the street and it seeming like every woman was pregnant but me. When people told me they had accidentally conceived I was so jealous. I just wanted it to be my turn,” says Pamela.

“I felt so guilty because the problem lay with me, not Mark. I felt I as holding him back from becoming a dad; one day I told him he ought to go and find someone else who could give him children,” she admits.

Mark told Pamela he was going nowhere – and the couple turned to the CARE Clinic in Sheffield, where NHS treatment would eventually have led them. There were two wages coming in from Mark’s job with a kitchen manufacturer and Pamela’s as van accounts clerk. They found the £3,500 they needed for their first treatment without too much struggle.

“We couldn’t believe it when the procedure worked first time. Things hadn’t looked promising; only three embryos were produced and of the two that were placed back in my womb, only one survived – our Josh, who was born on January 10, 2006 weighing 6lb 14oz,” says Pamela.

Two years later, with financial help from their parents and the last of their savings, they went back to the clinic to try for a second child. Once again, their chances looked slim; only one embryo was produced by the IVF treatment. But Josh’s little brother Finlay arrived into the world on August 19, 2008.

“We had been on a wing and a prayer with him in the early days,” says Pamela. “We hardly dared hope. The test to see if he was alive was done on December 23; what a Christmas present that was when we were told all was fine.”

Daughter Caitlin, born in December 2011, was paid for with a chunk of cash from a loan for a new kitchen.

“We cut a few corners, got the kitchen done as cheaply as we could, and spent the rest on what we really wanted – a third child,” she grins. “And what a result – we got the girl we’d secretly been hoping for.”

They don’t dwell on the fact that they are £15,000 poorer; that far-flung holidays and a new family car are out of the question. They turn a blind eye to the 30-year-old, hand-me down wardrobes that are in dire need of replacing. “We’ll have those things one day,” she says. “We have three beautiful, healthy children; you can’t put a price on that.”

She is full of praise for the CARE Clinic. “It’s an amazing place where miracles happen. The staff are very supportive and kind. They explain every detail of the procedures to you. They give you hope, but they don’t give guarantees. Couples have to be realistic about their chances. We were very aware that we could have come away having spent a huge amount of money and still be childless,” she explains.