For Liam and Laura McCaffrey from Milford Haven in West Wales, becoming parents to Owen, now aged two, involved a long journey in many ways, from a serious illness through to Liam’s sperm travelling thousands of miles to help them achieve their dream. Liam, 31, and Laura, 29, met at university and very shortly after getting married moved to the US, where Liam was taking up a new job. But no sooner had they arrived than Liam received the devastating news that he had lymphoma, a blood cancer which was already very advanced.
After chemotherapy I was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant. And on top of all of that, I was told by the specialist that my fertility would be affected. I was advised to freeze my sperm immediately if I wanted children later on, as my sperm would probably be damaged by the treatment.
Laura and I had always talked about having children at some point, so I went ahead with the procedure, which gave me eight vials of sperm banked and ready to use at some point in the future. It was tough because at this stage, whilst I knew that this type of cancer responded well to treatment, there were no guarantees of success. We just had to stick together and keep our faith and focus on a future where we could one day defrost the sperm and try and start a family.
The treatment lasted for around eight months. We were living near Oklahoma at the time and the bone marrow treatment alone involved a six-hour round trip on a regular basis. I was also dealt another blow while all this was happening, when I found out the company that I had moved to in the US to join was filing for bankruptcy.
So, when I got the confirmation from the doctors that I was in full remission, it was a relatively easy decision to leave the US and head back to the UK to be with our family.
“ There was no chance of conceiving and the frozen sperm thousands of miles away was our only option”
Over a year later, Laura and I started talking again about starting a family and so we were referred to the London Women’s Clinic Wales to talk about our options. The first step was to see how my own sperm had been affected by the treatment - and unfortunately it wasn’t good news. There was no chance of conceiving and the frozen sperm thousands of miles away was our only option.
To avoid any risks, we decided to have half the eight vials sent across. So, all the way from the clinic in Oklahoma the four vials of sperm travelled thousands of miles to Wales to be hand delivered to the clinic perfectly intact and in time for Laura to begin taking the medication for the IVF treatment. It was such an enormous relief to know that it was here and we could now just get on with it.
Laura responded well to treatment and we managed to get three good embryos. Two were transferred and less than two weeks later we found out she was pregnant - and on our wedding anniversary. We were over the moon, but cautious too. I think because we’d been through so much to get to this point we were both nervous about getting too excited or complacent, and I think it took Laura a while to feel more comfortable. She took many more pregnancy tests after that first one, just to check.
Looking back it was a long and hard journey for us, and not just in terms of air miles. We’d been through so much in such a short space of time and faced uncertainties all the way through. Coping with my illness together and coming out of it intact was traumatic and stressful. We’d both been through a lot more in our 20s than most people - and we also had to deal with the fact that somewhere in this journey the IVF might not work.
But fortunately for us it did work and we now have an amazing little boy to show for it. And, two years on, he’s definitely a handful, with bags of energy and a real chatterbox. When he’s old enough we’ll tell him how he got here, including just how many miles he had travelled before he was even born.