A couple who tried for a baby for SEVEN years were finally blessed with a baby boy – after experts told them to give up exercise and avoid wearing perfume.
Nicola Szymanowski, 38, and husband Mark, 39, from Bury in Manchester, spent £20,000 on IVF during an “utterly physically and emotionally exhausting” ordeal trying to get pregnant.
Along the way, Nicola, who for long spells spent day after day arriving at the hospital for 6.30 am appointments, suffered four unsuccessful IVF courses, and two miscarriages.
It was only after a doctor, at IVI Clinic in Tamworth, advised the couple to make dramatic changes to their lifestyles – including telling Mark to give up his morning boxing sessions and Nicola to avoid perfume – that their dream came true.
Business owner Nicola and Mark welcomed 6lb 10oz Charles Henry John in May this year.
Nicola said: “The doctor said Mark doing strenuous exercise would lead to his body releasing endorphins to repair the muscles, which could affect our chances.
“And she also said chemicals from perfume or make-up would get into my bloodstream, so I stopped using perfume.
“I even asked people who were coming to see me not to wear perfume.
“It was an horrific journey, absolutely horrific. There were times when we were so low. But we finally got what we wanted.
“We were overjoyed when Charles arrived. We were very fortunate that Mark’s parents and my parents and step-parents helped us out with the bill.
“Without them it wouldn’t have been possible.”
The couple decided they wanted a family shortly after they met in September 2008, but despite their best efforts Nicola didn’t fall pregnant.
In late 2011, the couple visited their local GP for a check-up and were referred to St Mary’s hospital in Manchester, where Mark was told he had a low sperm count.
They later discovered that Nicola had a low egg reserve and a high FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone).
After postponing baby plans in the lead up to their wedding in 2012, the couple began to try again on their honeymoon in April 2013.
Four months later they were accepted into the fertility unit of St Mary’s to begin the gruelling treatment, which involved Nicola injecting herself daily.
Nicola had blood samples taken and tests done to see if her follicles had grown to the required 16 to 17mm length.
Having been put on the “long protocol”, Nicola grew four follicles and at the end of the treatment went back in to have the eggs retrieved.
Nicola had produced four eggs and was then sent home overnight, where she anxiously waited to hear how many had survived.
Doctors called Nicola to notify her one had made it.
She travelled back to have it implanted and then endured the “dreaded two week wait”, praying the eggs would stick.
On Christmas Eve 2013, a pregnancy test proved to be positive.
Nicola and Mark then went for a hospital check-up 13 days later and were devastated when no heartbeat was found.
A “removal” was carried out four days later, where they discovered the loss of identical twins.
Amid their traumatic start to 2014, Nicola’s grandad had cancer which had worsened.
During a holiday in Mexico in March 2014, Nicola realised her period was late.
Aware it is common to fall pregnant naturally after a bout of IVF treatment, a pregnancy test revealed a positive result.
Their cautious happiness was tempered by her grandad passing away – and the day before his funeral, Nicola experienced bleeding and discovered she had miscarried.
In February 2015, a friend recommended seeking advice from Dr Gillian Lockwood at IVI Midland.
She advised a number of lifestyle changes, including cutting out caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and only eating one carb a day.
Mark was advised to stop all exercise, including his morning boxing sessions, and Nicola was told not to wear perfume.
Dr Gillian also suggested Nicola requested a “short protocol” treatment at St Mary’s instead of the long one.
Following another two weeks of daily injections and check-ups an hour’s drive away, Nicola produced three eggs, two of which survived.
After another two week wait, a pregnancy test proved negative.
The couple couldn’t face going back to St Mary’s and gave Dr Gillian’s clinic a try.
Despite taking on the expert’s lifestyle guidance and another course of IVF in June 2015, none of Nicola’s three eggs survived long enough.
As Nicola and Mark struggled to come to terms with the crushing disappointment, Dr Gillian put her on a string of steroids.
In a last-ditch attempt, and having racked up a staggering bill, Nicola underwent another course and managed to produce three eggs.
Two survived overnight and one perfectly formed, eight cell egg was implanted.
After a couple more days, a fragmented egg was good enough to freeze for a later date.
Sadly, a negative pregnancy test proved the well-formed egg didn’t take.
This resulted in the frozen egg being implanted in September 2016.
A fortnight later, a pregnancy test proved positive and in May 2017 Charles Henry John was born by C-section at St Mary’s hospital.
Nicola said: “Without IVF we wouldn’t have our family. Science is amazing. The whole process was totally and utterly physically and emotionally exhausting.
“We had some really rough times, there were times when I couldn’t speak to people, and times when I couldn’t get out of bed.
“But now Charlie is here. He is a beautiful mixture of Mark and I, and is doing well.”
Nicola and Mark’s story emerged as part of National Fertility Awareness Week (NFAW) which takes place this week from October 30 to November 5.
This year celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first ever baby conceived using IVF.