The London Women’s Clinic is often described as the fertility clinic of choice for single women and same sex couples. We have been treating lesbian couples and single women wanting to start a family for more than 10 years, and we were one of the very first clinics in the UK to do so. We are very proud to have helped more than 2000 single and lesbian women in their wish to have healthy babies, which is a fantastic achievement for us.
Over the years we have been at the forefront of important developments in fertility treatments. We are recognised for our success rates in IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) and also IUI (Intrauterine insemination) treatment, where in conjunction with the London Sperm Bank, we offer the largest donor insemination programme in the UK. We are also known for pioneering sperm and egg donation services in the UK, including the London Sperm Bank and more recently, the London Egg Bank.
Making the decision to consider fertility treatment is not an easy step to take for anyone, and choosing a clinic is a very personal choice. We like to think that our experience over many years means that we provide some of the best services for lesbian couples and single women and are sensitive to relevant issues, so our patients have a more reassuring journey through treatment.
Our clinics are located on Harley Street in London, Cardiff and Swansea in Wales and Darlington in the North East and all include state-of-the-art medical facilities, on-site laboratories and theatres.
What do we do?
Insemination with donor sperm (DI) involves injecting a semen sample into the uterus just before ovulation. This technique is known as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and is the most commonly applied technique for donor insemination and widely used by lesbian couples and single women.
IVF is the original 'test-tube' baby technique, developed more than 30 years ago. All IVF treatments begin with a course of hormone therapy to stimulate the development of several follicles in the ovary. These are collected as eggs, which are then fertilised in a test-tube ('in vitro') to create several embryos. After between two and five days in an incubator, one or two of these embryos are transferred through the vagina to the uterus, where implantation occurs and pregnancy begins. Any surplus embryos are frozen - so that a subsequent transfer might be tried if the first one fails.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is a technique in which a single sperm is injected into the centre of an egg. Today, ICSI is the world's favoured fertilisation method for all types of IVF, even though it was developed for the treatment of male infertility. The rate of fertilisation is generally around 90%.
The early stages of ICSI treatment are the same as for conventional IVF. The woman takes fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries so that several eggs can be collected. Each egg is injected with a sperm cell such that several embryos will be available for transfer and storage.
Egg sharing & egg donation
Egg-sharing is an IVF treatment which brings together women having conventional IVF (the sharer) with those unable to produce their own eggs (the recipient). Egg-sharing enables these two groups of women to help one another - egg-sharers receive free IVF treatment, whilst recipients receive the eggs they need for IVF.
The sharer has conventional IVF treatment, involving ovarian stimulation, egg collection and embryo transfer. But half the eggs collected are randomly allocated to the recipient, whose uterus is prepared for embryo transfer with hormone therapy. The recipient's allocated eggs are fertilised with donor sperm and transferred as in conventional IVF.
Egg-sharing has become very popular at the London Women's Clinic, but especially as a fertility treatment for lesbian and single women. These are patients whose only 'cause' of infertility is the lack of a male partner and success rates are very high.
For women that need donor eggs, egg donation via a known donor or an anonymous, altruistic egg donor is another option. In summer 2013, The London Women’s Clinic launched the London Egg Bank, sister to the London Sperm Bank. This attracts young women who wish to donate their eggs purely to help another woman to have a baby and has gained popularity since the HFEA introduced new guidelines to support altruistic egg donors.
The introduction of a freezing technique called vitrification has now made egg storage a much more realistic option for many women, who may want to delay becoming a mum. If successful, this could mean they are effectively able to put their fertility on hold. This is called egg freezing for social reasons and it has become more popular in recent years, particularly as more women are choosing to have children at an older age.
Egg freezing works by ‘flash-freezing’ the eggs at a fast rate, which limits any ice crystals damaging the egg and this relatively new method is increasingly showing good results.
There are now advanced techniques of genetic analysis available which make it possible to screen eggs and embryos for specific abnormalities. The basic technique - preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD – is applied to embryos in IVF treatment in the hope that the identification of chromosomally normal embryos for transfer will improve IVF success rates. There is growing evidence that miscarriage and failed implantation in IVF are largely explained by chromosome imbalance in the embryo, which is why the technique of PGD can be worthwhile in women with a history of miscarriage, failed IVF cycles and in those of an older maternal age.
Choosing a sperm donor is not something you do every day and most people considering treatment with donor sperm are going to have many questions. At London Women’s Clinic, we run INSEMINAR events at our London and Cardiff clinics which are designed to answer all these questions and give you as much information as possible to move forward and confidently choose a sperm donor.
The INSEMINAR session will guide you through how to pick a sperm donor, discuss your fertility and therefore your various treatment options using donor sperm, such as donor insemination, IVF, egg-sharing and egg donation. We can also guide you through the legal implications and how to support yourself through treatment, including any specific counselling.
If you’d like more information on the events or to book a place, please do contact us on 02075634309.
‘Contemplating Single Motherhood’ Events
The London Women’s Clinic has always been a popular choice for single women because of the wide availability of quality sperm at the London Sperm Bank and also because of our reputation for supporting alternative families. As we’ve seen more single women approaching us to have a child on their own, we decided to run a series of dedicated seminars focused on the various fertility treatments for single women, including donor insemination, IVF, egg-sharing and egg donation. We can also put you in touch with relevant support networks and other single mothers by choice to meet with.
If you’d like more information on the events or to book a place, please do contact us on 02075634309.
How does age affect my fertility?
Around 40% of the women coming into the London Women’s Clinic are aged 40 and over and one of the most common questions we get asked is ‘what are the likely chances of conceiving depending on your age?’ We’ve answered some of your most popular questions around age and fertility, particularly focusing on women over 40 - Click here for more information
With more women choosing to becoming parents into their 40s, we are seeing many older women coming into the clinic wanting to understand their chances of conceiving and having a baby. It can be a very difficult question to answer because quite simply, every woman is different, but we know from our own results and industry-wide statistics that a woman’s chances of having a baby decline with age from around aged 35 onwards and there is a significant decline over the age of 40.
You can see our own success rates across all ages on the London Women’s Clinic website atwww.londonwomensclinic.com/london/success-rates
Why does fertility decline with age?
Women are born with all the eggs they will ever produce, unlike men who reproduce new sperm every three months of their lives. This means that over time the quality of these eggs deteriorate as the woman gets older and when fertilised with sperm, this in turn affects the quality of an embryo. Studies analysing the genetic and chromosomal make-up of eggs and embryos have consistently found that the rate of defects increases with age, which means that women trying to get pregnant into their 40s will find it more difficult to get pregnant and need to more aware of the increased risk of Down’s syndrome.
How can I get a good understanding of my own fertility?
Each woman is different and some women into their 40s may have exceptional fertility and vice versa. Regardless of age, we can only provide our best recommendations when we have a good idea of a woman’s individual ovarian health, which we can assess with a number of tests.
The first of these is an AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) test that can give us an estimate of a woman’s remaining egg supply, or “ovarian reserve”. Next is an Antral Follicle Count, which is where we count the number of follicles in the ovaries via ultra-sound. Both of these tests collectively can help to give us some indication of how likely a woman is to get pregnant and we would recommend these tests as a first step, particularly if you are into your mid-30s and beyond.
What are the chances of women over 40 having a baby through fertility treatment with their own eggs?
The chance of success for a woman of 40 using her own eggs is around 20% per treatment cycle; at aged 45 it is much lower than that. That is a significant drop in success rates per year over a five year period, so it is important that women know these figures before they consider any treatment. The key factors however are the age of the woman and her ovarian health at her age, so it is important to get the tests done so you know where you stand.
How do the success rates compare for a woman in her 40s using donor eggs?
Success rates using donor eggs are determined by the donor not the recipient, so for a woman using donor eggs from an altruistic donor we are seeing a 60% success rate. Donors are usually in their early 20s and are more likely to produce a higher number of good quality eggs. In the UK, women up to the age of 55 can receive donor eggs.
What are my options for treatment using donor eggs?
There are three options available to a woman wanting to use donor eggs. She can opt to join our egg sharing programme, which brings together women wanting to have conventional IVF with those unable to produce their own eggs. The egg-sharer gets free IVF treatment and the recipients receive the eggs they need. Success rates are about 36% for recipients in the egg share programme. We pioneered this approach over 20 years ago now and it has been enormously successful.
The second option is to conceive using a known egg donor, perhaps a family member or a friend. The procedure for the egg donor is very similar to the first half of the IVF process. The patient would take fertility drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs and these eggs would be retrieved to be used by the recipient.
Thirdly, you could choose to receive eggs from an altruistic donor registered with our fertility authority, the HFEA. We have now launched the London Egg Bank (www.londoneggbank.com) to attract a new generation of donors and to meet the growing demand for donor eggs in the UK.
Where do I go for donor sperm?
One of the most important considerations for a same-sex couple or single woman trying for a baby is choosing a sperm donor. For many, this can seem daunting and there are many factors to consider in making the right choice for you. Do you opt for a known or anonymous donor and where do you start in finding the right donor for you? [Click here for more information]
For anyone looking to choose a sperm donor, your first point of call would be the London Sperm Bank, which is the largest sperm bank in the UK. They have around 10,000 vials of donor sperm in storage at any given time and samples are used in over 1,000 of our cycles at the London Women’s Clinic. In the past three years, over 500 men have come forward to donate their sperm and these include men from all walks of life, including IT managers, financiers, engineers, teachers, actors, lawyers and film-makers. Each of these donors will have gone through an extensive registration process, and their sperm will have been screened to minimise the risks of genetic disorders, as well as going through a six month quarantine period before being made available.
It is important to remember that in the UK, all sperm donors have to be registered with the HFEA and cannot be anonymous. This means that a child conceived by a UK donor can also find out the donor’s identity at the age of 18 via the HFEA donor register.
For some people anonymity is very important and in these cases, it would be more appropriate to approach a sperm bank overseas, where donors have a choice of whether they wish to be anonymous to any child conceived from their sperm.
You can view the London Sperm Bank donors by going to www.londonspermbankdonors.com
How do I choose a sperm donor?
Choosing a sperm donor is a hugely important decision and you want to be armed with good information about potential donors to get you started. The London Sperm Bank website is effectively an online catalogue where you can browse all the different donors available, and can help you to refine your choice based on the different criteria. [Click here for more information]
Race and nationality – how important is it that your child is the same race or nationality as you and/or your partner?
Education and occupation – Is it important that a donor is educated to a degree level or has a similar type of occupation to you that perhaps reflects the type of person they are e.g creative, arts, finance, business?
Hobbies and skills – This is important because it can give you an indication of personality depending on the types of activities they choose to do in their spare time. How important to you is it that the donor shares similar interests to you or your partner, or would you rather they were different from you?
Physical qualities - You may be keen for the child to have similar physical features to yourself or a partner and so you can also search under eye and hair colour, height and skin tone.
Staff Impression - Another great feature of the London Sperm Bank online catalogue is a staff impression which is where the donor is described in the words of one of the staff at the clinic. This gives you an objective perspective on the donor and his personality and can be a really useful insight into the donor. All our donors come to the clinic twice a week during their period of donation, so the staff get to know them quite well!
It is worth considering two or three donors before making a final choice and many patients find it useful to make their choice with the help of friends and family. Once you’ve made your choice, you can order the sperm via the website, but payment will not be due until you have filled in the necessary consent forms. The site will prompt you for the information needed when you confirm your order and please note that you can only order one donor at a time, sufficient for one treatment cycle.
Do remember that to use donor sperm from The London Sperm Bank you must be a registered patient with a treatment plan in place from either The London Women’s Clinic or The Bridge Centre (sister clinic to the LWC).
Where do I stand legally?
Choosing to have a baby, whether as a couple or single parent is a huge decision and can be more complicated if using donor sperm to fulfil your dream of becoming a mum. Legally, you need to be prepared and understand the position of you, your partner and sperm donor or co-parent. We can help put you in touch with the right experts to guide you through the process, but here are some key considerations to get you started.
- In the UK, the birth mother will always be the legal mother, with legal parenthood status and parental responsibility
- If a woman swaps her eggs and her partner carries the child, whoever gives birth is the legal mother
- If you are in a civil partnership, the non-birth mother is automatically the legal parent of the child. If you are not in a civil partnership, the non-birth mother can only be a legal parent if you conceive at a UK licensed clinic
The sperm donor also has no legal status as a parent, but will be able to be found on the HFEA's Register of Information when the child reaches 18. Arrangements with a known sperm donor are more complicated and you should consider a pre-conception agreement.
Some patient stories…
Finley is a very healthy and chatty two year old boy, born to Jo Hill (35) and Sarah Childs (34). They opted for IUI treatment and donor sperm from London Sperm Bank and after two unsuccessful rounds, their third attempt brought them the result they longed for. Two and a half years on, Sarah is weeks from giving birth to a brother or sister for Finley, conceived with the same donor’s sperm and IVF treatment via the egg sharing programme at London Women’s Clinic
Jo and Sarah give back with egg sharing and complete their family
Jo: “I wasn’t going to be biologically linked to Finley as we were using Sarah’s eggs, so it was important that we found a donor that had similar characteristics to me. We were looking for someone with green eyes like me and also Sarah’s olive skin. We are both just over 5ft tall though and our donor is 6 foot, so it could be interesting when Finley starts to shoot up!
Since Finley was born we’ve been mindful of making sure that he doesn’t feel out of place because he is in a minority by having same sex parents. Early on we joined an organisation called ‘Proud to be Mums’ so that we could meet other people in the same situation as us and Finley already has some playmates there, which is fantastic. A male friend has also been brilliant with Finley and we think he will make a fantastic male role model for him as he grows up.
It is now more than two years since we had Finley and we can’t wait for number two to arrive. This time round we joined the egg sharing programme, where we donated half the eggs to another woman who was going to need donor eggs to conceive. We looked into whether our sperm donor was still part of the donation programme and thankfully he was, so for us we just felt that it was meant to be. An egg recipient match was found and Sarah went on to produce 23 eggs, 11 of these going to the recipient. All 12 eggs fertilised and one better quality embryo was implanted. And it worked!’
We have a few weeks to go before Finley gets to meet his brother or sister and the three of us can’t wait. It has been an eventful and exciting 3 years or so and look what we have to show for it.”
Sperm donor stories…
Tom is a ‘known’ sperm donor, who provided sperm for the treatment of a lesbian friend.
Why I’m donating
Back when I was four years old, I was introduced to a seven-year-old girl called Daisy. Our families were close friends and Daisy and I spent long weekends amusing and annoying each other in equal measure. She soon became a big sister to me and, aside from my mother, was the biggest female influence in my life at that time.
Twenty-five years on, she is still and will remain an important part of my life. Our families have grown and changed, our lives are busy and we have chosen different paths in life. However, no matter how much time passes, seeing each other is always a blessing.
Daisy came out as gay some years ago and has been with her partner for nine years. They recently married in a ceremony packed to the rafters with family and friends. Just as Daisy is a special person in her own right, her wife is a passionate and incredibly loyal person who has made the very best out of her life and the personal challenges she has had to face over the years. I can’t imagine two people who would make more loving parents.
So you don’t have to read between the lines to figure out that I love and respect them both very much. When Daisy and I first spoke about helping them start a family, it initially seemed to me a simple decision. However, nothing in life is simple, and Daisy and her partner insisted that I think seriously about the choice I was making. How would I feel about the decision in the future? What would others feel about the decision, especially family and future girlfriends of mine? How would I feel about being the biological parent but not raising the child?
I thought as long and hard about these questions as my brain would allow. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I can answer some of the questions now, while answers to others will only be revealed in time. You can’t predict how you will feel about seeing a child for the first time, I think you just have to experience it first-hand.
One thing I am much more aware of now, however, are the difficulties and choices faced by people who, for whatever reason, cannot have or conceive their own children in the conventional manner. The fact that my one decision has brought so much happiness to the future of my two friends is quite overwhelming to me. It has shown me how much people (myself included) take for granted certain aspects of their life. It has bought me closer to Daisy and her partner. Without wanting to sound overdramatic, it has made me a more considered and better person.
I can’t say that being a sperm donor would be right for everyone because people’s views and situations in life are massively different. However, I feel sure that my decision to be a donor will be a positive experience for all concerned. Everything I have experienced so far has been positive. I would like to say that the staff at the London Women’s Clinic could not have been more down to earth, informative and helpful when it came to the various stages required to be a sperm donor. The donor bank team in particular were friendly and open, which I think are important qualities when dealing with the personal aspects of becoming a donor or recipient.
If you are thinking of becoming a sperm donor and are not sure whether it is the right thing for you, I would firstly advise you to always make your own decision. Family and friends will be divided on the issue but everyone knows in their hearts what is the right decision for them. I would secondly suggest chatting to the donor bank team at the clinic and perhaps sitting in the waiting-room for an hour or so and watching the couples anxiously awaiting their first meeting with the doctor. Putting a real face on the people that you will be able to help might just guide you into coming to a decision.
Dan is a sperm donor at the London Sperm Bank.
I was actually doing something really worthwhile.
My story is one of metamorphosis. When I entertained the idea of becoming a donor, after spying an advert for the London Sperm Bank on the tube, my motivation for wanting to get involved was at first puerile, then selfish. But as I began to understand more about how much of an impact my donations might have on people's lives, the puerility dropped away. In its place there slowly grew a belief that I was actually doing something really worthwhile.
Something that could be of benefit to a stranger and help make their dream of bringing a life into this world a reality. It was and remains a warm, fuzzy feeling. I did for a while wrestle with thoughts and feelings that I was recklessly helping to bring more lives into this already over-populated world (yes, I am one of those people) but then I asked myself how many unwanted pregnancies and births there are in this country alone, every year, every month, every day. All the children created as a result of sperm donation are wanted, perhaps desperately, and will be loved, no doubt madly. What more is there to say?