We Went Through IVF For Years – Here's How We Stayed Connected

After eight years of struggling in silence, Des and Emily have shared their story with the world in the new TV series, Alex Jones: Making Babies.
Des and Emily have been trying for a family for eight years now.
Des and Emily have been trying for a family for eight years now.

For eight years now, Des Opoku-Gyimah, 43, and his wife Emily Turner-Gyimah, 42, have been trying to start a family. But both have struggled with fertility issues.

Des, an operations and business development manager, was unable to produce viable sperm for a number of years, while Emily, a salon owner, has a low AMH, meaning her egg reserve is depleted.

After struggling in silence for a long time – with the couple only telling their closest family members what was going on – they have appeared on Alex Jones: Making Babies, a series shining a light on the emotional turmoil and resilience of those going through IVF.

“We suffered in silence for seven years before doing this show – we didn’t speak about it at all,” says Emily.

The first episode, filmed last year, shows Des receiving treatment at the clinic, while Emily’s egg reserve had been dwindling and the couple were given just a 5% chance of success.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Des says he’s particularly keen to raise awareness of infertility among men, as it’s such a taboo topic.

“Sometimes people look at it in the sense of: ‘Oh yeah, men are not allowed to talk about it,’” he says. “Men don’t talk about it because it shows a problem, it shows an inadequacy, it shows maybe a weakness.

“It’s not about being over-masculine or an alpha, it’s generally more about the point that men don’t want to show vulnerability.”

The 43-year-old laughs a lot and jokes around, both in the TV show and during our phone call, which he reflects is a coping mechanism: “I make a lot of jokes and that covers the pain.”

At one point in the show, we watch as Des receives a phone call telling him there are no viable sperm in the samples he provided to the clinic. He’d spent five years receiving the same news.

“Getting that news at the time, it was another blow,” he reflects. “You get in the fertility journey and you just realise you get a lot of blows. You can’t dwell on it, you have to move on.”

But there are some highs too. We watch as Des provides another sample and is told they found active sperm.

“When I got that call, that was really amazing because for such a long time there was nothing there whatsoever,” he says. “And I had given loads of samples. I couldn’t tell you how many rooms I’ve gone into to give samples...”

Des and Emily have shared their story to highlight how opening up about fertility struggles can ease a burden.
Des and Emily have shared their story to highlight how opening up about fertility struggles can ease a burden.

The couple, who live in south east London, first discovered they needed extra help and support starting a family back in 2015, after they got married.

“We’d been trying since we got married and we realised it just wasn’t happening,” says Emily.

“Before our wedding we weren’t using any contraception, so it didn’t happen by accident, and it didn’t happen by us trying.”

In 2016 they had some checks done and discovered Emily had a low AMH – but Des’s own fertility issues remained unexplored.

The pair had one round of IVF on the NHS but sadly that didn’t work out. They have since gone private and estimate they’ve spent around £50,000 to £60,000 on their journey so far.

They’re not alone – two-thirds of IVF patients (63%) pay for their own medical treatment privately, according to a survey conducted by Fertility Network UK with Middlesex University London.

“And it’s not just the IVF. We take all the vitamins, and I have acupuncture and reflexology, all the things you think might give you a bit of hope,” says Emily.

The 42-year-old has found the various rounds of IVF to be incredibly difficult for her – both mentally and physically.

“I’m quite a natural person so I don’t really take any medication and I try and do everything the most natural way possible,” she says.

“So having all those hormones really takes its toll on me and I find it quite emotional and draining. It’s a lot.”

In 2022, the couple did three IVF cycles back-to-back as, prior to that, Des had struggled to produce viable sperm. “It was not a good year last year. It was very physically intense,” says Emily.

Sadly none of the rounds ended up wielding positive results, something which the couple have found incredibly hard to process.

But through it all, they keep reminding themselves that they matter as a couple first and foremost.

“The way I’ve had to think about it is: we are bigger than this situation,” says Des. “Our relationship comes before this. We have to think about each other first and each other’s feelings and not put too much pressure on each other – because it gets that way.”

That’s not to say it hasn’t had its impact on their relationship. Des reflects that when you’re going through IVF, “sex becomes a job”.

“It takes away your connection and you have to really try to stay connected,” he says. “I can’t say this hasn’t caused a bit of stuff for Em and I. I have to be honest, yes it does. But we work through it and we try and regain our connection.

“Because it will happen and when it happens you want your child to be brought up in the best environment, not an environment where you guys have been on the edge all the time. You have to try and work on that and be as one.”

Emily and Des on a helicopter ride
Emily and Des on a helicopter ride

Emily reflects that the long journey has certainly had an impact on her mental health, which she suggests is in a worse place now than it was to start with.

“You have more hope in the beginning. You start out and have hope that it’s OK, the next cycle will be it – but once you’re this far down the road of seven years, I think your hope dwindles,” she admits.

So how do they – as a couple – deal with so many setbacks? “We’re quite good at letting each other take our own time to deal with it – and then just being here and trying to keep some form of normality in our lives going,” says Emily.

Its doing the simple things like making sure they get the food shopping in, or somebody’s cooking dinner – just keeping life going. “Keeping those basic things going gives you some normality and I think, at the time, that’s what you need,” she adds.

Des reflects that sometimes “little things” can trigger him to spiral downwards – and opening up to Emily can be hugely cathartic.

“I’ll go out and see men with their children and I’ll be walking and all of a sudden it’s like [I see] every man with their child. Just there. It kind of gets to me,” he says.

“Then I’ll come home,” he continues. “If I don’t explain that to Em, then the situation doesn’t work. She doesn’t know what I’m feeling and it’s so hard if you don’t talk to one another to understand what you’re each feeling. You can’t do that. You have to be honest.”

The most recent data available from 2019 shows 32% of IVF treatments resulted in a live birth for women under 35, dropping to 25% for women aged 35 to 37, 19% for women aged 38 to 39, and 11% for women aged 40 to 42.

The couple are currently taking a short break from IVF to give themselves time to heal both physically and mentally – but they plan to start again very soon.

In the meantime, Emily is prioritising self-care, something she says has been really important throughout the entire process.

“When you’re going through this fertility journey it’s so easy to think of your next appointment, your next move, what the consultant says. But it’s really easy at the same time to lose that sense of self.

“If you’re not OK, nothing’s going to be OK,” she continues.

“I go for a massage, it clears my head, I go for walks, we go down to the seaside. We go on lots of holidays – that’s usually our coping mechanism. If something bad happens that’s usually when I’m booking our next holiday.”

“We go on lots of holidays – that’s usually our coping mechanism. If something bad happens that’s usually when I’m booking our next holiday.”

- Emily

The pair have boldly bared all on TV, including filming emotional diary entries while in the throes of IVF. It is a far cry from those days when Emily only felt she could tell her mum about what she was going through – and no one else.

“I didn’t really speak about it because I knew if I spoke to people about it, they might bring it up when I’m not in the mood to talk about it when something might have just happened,” she says. “Then you’re in control of it.

“But I think at the same time, it worked in the opposite way: by not telling people I felt like I was holding onto a lot of pain.”

For men going through infertility – and struggling in silence – Des is keen to encourage them to open up and “own it”.

“Whatever situation you’re going through, just own it. No one can take anything away from you. It’s your pain, it’s what you’re going through,” he says.

“If you’re sitting with your friends, you’re at the pub or you’re chilling or whatever, and you feel some sort of weight, you just have to own it and say it. Because the more you internalise it and keep it to yourself, the more pain it causes you.

“If your semen sample isn’t any good, I’m not saying go and tell the world, but let the people who are closest to you know what’s going on.

“It’s difficult because you’re not going to get anything back, but believe you me it will really free you.”

Alex Jones: Making Babies is on Thursdays at 8pm on W, catch up on UKTV Play.