Helen worked in television, at Granada Television. Her job there was stressful but well paid. “And it was exciting!” she adds. Steve, her husband, once played on stages across half of Europe as a punk rock musician. A trained cabinetmaker, he now carves high-quality picture frames. “I’ve stuck with wood, but on a smaller scale,” he says. That’s an example of British understatement, considering that his own works of artistry already frame a Modigliani and hang in the National Portrait Gallery, in a salon in a yacht owned by the Sultan of Brunei, and in Charles Saatchi’s art collection.
They were a young couple who lacked only a few children to make their happiness complete. That’s easily solved, they thought, for there was no lack of affection between them! IBF — in bed fertilization — is the clinical-sounding name used by the scientific community for the way a couple expands into a family in nine out of ten cases. “But it didn’t work,” recalls Helen, who was then in her early 30s. Almost imperceptibly, the months turned into years, and still she simply could not become pregnant. She and her husband consulted physicians and underwent various medical examinations: “But we’re both healthy, everything’s normal,” says Steve. Did their relationship suffer during this time? They look at each other and become so quiet that Nathan (7) and Scarlet (3) automatically look up at them. “No,” Helen and Steve say in unison and immediately go on to answer the next question: “Adoption would have been an alternative, but the regulations are very strict. Steve is 51 now, and he was already too old at that point.” But he was not too old to have children of his own: Nathan and Scarlet.
Really their own children?
They were born first and foremost because of their parents. But without in vitro fertilization (IVF), they wouldn’t be here either — playing with dinosaurs on the carpet and shooting rubber darts around in the spacious living room of a semi-detached house in a southern suburb of London. “IVF isn’t exactly a pleasure,” says Helen. She underwent hormone therapy to make sure that multiple eggs would mature. These were then removed, inseminated outside the body (“in vitro”) with Steve’s sperm, and implanted into her body again. “I couldn’t believe it when I got pregnant after the first round,” says Helen, who is still delighted at the thought. Their son Nathan was a Christmas gift, born on December 25, 2003.
Today Nathan is physically and mentally far ahead of his playmates. “We explained the facts of life to him quite a while ago,” says Steve. And he adds: “He understands IVF better than many grown-ups, who look at Nathan and Scarlet in amazement and are actually surprised that they look like their parents.” Scarlet, a little bundle of energy, came four years later, likewise thanks to IVF. “Despite the fact that this method of insemination tends to favor boys,” says Helen. They would have liked to have a third child, “but I was already over 40 at that point,” explains Helen, who looks younger than her age. Although it may not matter in terms of looks, biological age does matter when it comes to childbearing. “The risks increase,” she adds regretfully as her eyes look into the distance. “We would have had to look into it sooner.”
Unfortunately, that is still exactly what normally happens, says Laura Bunting, a postdoc researcher in psychology. In collaboration with her professor, Jacky Boivin, and with support from Merck, Bunting carried out a pioneering study about the desire to have children titled “Starting Families.” On the 12th floor of the Psychology School of Cardiff University, she explains the idea and results of the study, which saw the light of day exactly nine months after the research was begun. A “term” of nine months, as it were? “Oh,” she laughs, “I hadn’t even noticed that before — what a coincidence!”