A Co Down couple are making medical history as the parents of the first baby to be conceived in Ireland using a pioneering frozen egg technique.
Elaine (37) and her 42-year-old husband Andrew are bringing hope to hundreds of infertile couples around the country as they await the arrival of their first child in February.
The couple were previously given the devastating news they would never conceive naturally.
But determined that they wanted to be parents, they approached Origin, a Belfast-based fertility clinic, which has helped to make their dreams come true using a procedure not available on the health service here.
Now, after undergoing the treatment, an overjoyed Elaine is 24 weeks pregnant.
“We can’t believe it’s actually happening. We can’t wait to meet our baby,” she said.
Elaine and Andrew (who have asked for their surnames not to be published) were told that they would not be able to get pregnant without medical help.
Knowing they would wait at least a year to begin fertility treatment on the NHS, the couple opted to go private.
Like many patients who use the clinic, they decided to go through the well-known In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) process.
This involves removing the woman’s eggs before they are fertilised using a specially prepared sperm sample from her partner or a sperm donor. The resulting embryos are then transferred back to her body a few days later.
However, when the doctors removed the eggs from Elaine they discovered some potential health concerns which made it impossible to proceed with implantation in the necessary timeframe.
Jenny Hall, managing director of the clinic, said: “Implantation must take place within 24 hours, but with Andrew and Elaine this wasn’t possible.
“Fortunately, we had already introduced the new technique which allowed us to freeze her eggs until the time it was safe to fertilise them and implant them.”
Ms Hall said the new procedure is about increasing access to fertility treatment. “If we hadn’t had the option to freeze Elaine’s eggs then their fertility treatment would not have succeeded,” she said.
“There are a number of occasions when it is suitable for a woman to freeze her eggs.
“She may be about to go through cancer treatment that would damage the eggs.
“Women are choosing to put off starting a family until later in life so they might want to freeze their eggs for that reason.
“We have even frozen some eggs for women who want a baby but because of the recession they are scared to take maternity leave so they want to put pregnancy off for a while until they feel more secure in their job.”
She added: “There are other times when it is necessary to freeze the eggs.
“Sometimes, the man is unable to produce the sperm for the eggs to be fertilised within the legal timeframe.
“There is a great deal of pressure for the IVF to work and so being able to freeze the eggs takes some of that pressure off.”
Ms Hall said that everyone at Origin is very much looking forward to the arrival of Andrew and Elaine’s first baby. “We are absolutely delighted and so excited at the clinic,” she said.
“We are always delighted about any baby, but this one is particularly special because it is a first for us,” she added.
“We want to help as many people who come to us as possible. This new technique has allowed us to freeze 15 to 20 eggs for up to 20 couples.”