Sometimes nature needs a helping hand. So said Mdm Serene Seah, who conceived twice with a little help from Thomson Fertility Centre.
Looking absolutely radiant with hubby Dr Harold Ma and their little ones – 2-year-old A and 6-month-old J – Serene was a picture of bliss as she sat for this interview with Celebrating Life. For the couple, having children is a dream come true – a small miracle achieved with a combination of luck, medical expertise and sheer determination.
The couple got married at the age of 38. After trying for a child for a few months, they decided to get themselves tested and seek professional help. That was when they found out that they had a higher-than-normal chance of having a baby with a hereditary blood disorder.
“Harold was already known to be a thalassaemia minor – a carrier of this condition – but I was surprised to find out that I am a carrier as well,” said Serene. This meant their offspring had a 25 percent chance of developing thalassaemia major, a severe form of anaemia.
After consulting Thomson Fertility Centre, they were advised to go for IVF on the basis of their age and genetic condition. An IVF cycle comprises a round of ovulation, egg retrieval, embryo testing, in-vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer. Like any other couple undergoing IVF, Serene began her regular dose of hormones and injections to stimulate the production of more eggs in her ovaries.
“Thankfully, my hubby happened to be a doctor, so he was the one who helped me with all the injections!” said Serene. After the eggs were retrieved and fertilised, they were placed in an incubator and monitored to ensure their healthy development. “Because of our situation, Dr Balaji (Chief Embryologist of Thomson Fertility Centre) did a biopsy on every one of our embryos,” said Serene. “We had many good ones, but some tested positive for thalassaemia major, so we could not use them.”
The final step involved transferring the healthiest embryos back into the womb. “The process of implanting the embryos was quick and painless, all thanks to Dr Loh Seong Feei (Medical Director of Thomson Fertility Centre),” said Serene.
However, despite their best efforts, the couple failed to conceive on their first try. It took them one more IVF cycle before they succeeded.
“During our second try, Dr Loh ordered a few weeks of bed rest for me, to make sure the baby was stable and well,” said Serene. The couple’s first child A was born in February 2015. Two years later, with IVF help from the same medical team, Serene and Harold welcomed the arrival of their little boy J, who was born in March this year.
“My children certainly did not come easy!” said Serene. “But this makes them all the more precious to me.” For couples who are as determined to start a family, she has the following encouragement and tips to share:
You are not alone
Don’t be embarrassed to let your loved ones know that you are seeking fertility treatment. “Just go for it – there’s nothing to be worried about in this day and age,” said Serene. “Don’t overthink it. True friends and family will lend you their support.” She is also grateful to husband Harold, who accompanied her to all her medical appointments despite his busy schedule as a medical director.
Seek help early
Couples who marry in their later 30s face a ticking biological clock. It is best to get professional help from the start. Look for a reputable fertility centre with skilled specialists to maximise your chances of success. Genetic screening for you and your spouse is also important to minimise the risks of your child inheriting any genetic disorders.
Prepare yourself mentally
Even though IVF gives the best possible chance of success, there is no guarantee that anyone can conceive on their first try. Be prepared to try again if the first cycle does not work. Discuss your plans with your partner should you not succeed after many cycles. Said Serene: “We were actually prepared to adopt a baby if IVF didn’t work out in the end.”