Kildare couple Gareth Landy and Anna McLeod share how IVF with donor sperm gave them beautiful twins after Gareth was diagnosed with genetic condition Klinefelter syndrome in 2017
Gareth Landy (41) and his wife, Anna McLeod (37), conceived their son and daughter through donor-assisted reproduction as Gareth is infertile, and their joy in the two-year-old twins is palpable.
“I’m really happy I don’t have sperm because if I had, these two children wouldn’t exist,” says proud dad Gareth. “I love them so much. They’re amazing and so funny, and we have the best craic with them.”
They refer to their children publicly by their nicknames, Abba and TuTu, to protect their privacy, as they are mindful that this is also their story. The reason they speak out is because it is hugely important to Gareth to be an advocate for male fertility. “When I learned that I was infertile, I was so upset, and I think that a lot of men feel shame and won’t talk about it,” he says.
Gareth and Anna live in Kildare, although he grew up in Northern Ireland and she is originally from Florida. Anna’s family moved to Limerick when she was 10, and she and Gareth met in 2009 through mutual friends and were married in 2015.
Anna was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2014, the year she turned 30, but once she started a successful treatment regimen, her condition has remained stable. Speech and language therapist Anna always wanted to be a mum and says Gareth is so good with children. When they began trying for a family, Anna had to come off her MS medication because some of it is quite aggressive. As a result, they couldn’t afford to wait around very long, so began testing early enough when she didn’t immediately become pregnant.
Gareth’s semen was analysed first and after two consecutive tests, he was given the very disappointing news that there was no sperm present in the sample. A GP friend suggested that Gareth might have Klinefelter syndrome (KS), a genetic condition that results when a man is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome (which is why the condition is also known as XXY).
Most men with KS produce little or no sperm as the condition can adversely affect testicular growth, resulting in smaller than normal testicles and a lower production of testosterone.
They booked an appointment with a consultant urologist for further investigation and after an examination, he turned to Gareth and delivered a metaphorical body blow. “Gareth, it doesn’t work downstairs,” the medic said, bluntly. “You need to get over that and move on.”
“Hearing that was completely overwhelming and I kind of retreated within myself,” Gareth says. “My hearing started to go and all these thoughts were racing around my head. We left in a complete daze and I broke down. I was emotionally destroyed by that news.”
While the urologist told Gareth he was infertile, he didn’t conduct the genetic blood test that would have confirmed the diagnosis of KS.
Gareth admits to feeling pretty depressed in the immediate aftermath of receiving such news. He was working as a wedding videographer, which he found particularly hard as weddings are so full of hope and joy and are centred around the creation of a new family. And, of course, having children is something that is mentioned at Catholic weddings.
“You’d hear the priest saying the words, ‘And any children you may have,’” Gareth says. “Little page boys and flower girls would be running around and there were times when I just wanted to walk out of the church and not go back.”
Gareth says that Anna is an amazing person who is very proactive and resourceful, and she looked at online forums around fertility. She learned of Dr Jonathan Ramsay in London, a consultant urologist specialising in male fertility investigation and treatment.
They went to see Dr Ramsay in May 2017 and he said he would do his best to find a solution. After blood and testosterone tests, it was confirmed Gareth had KS.
“The diagnosis was overwhelming and confusing, but at the same time it was an answer,” says Anna. “It wasn’t this vague, unexplained infertility, which must be so difficult to deal with.”
In retrospect, Gareth realises there were certain markers along the way. When he was eight, he had a procedure to bring down an undescended testicle, which can sometimes be an indication of the presence of the syndrome. An ex-girlfriend had also mentioned that his testicles were small.
Other signs may include reduced muscle mass, body and facial hair, enlarged breast tissue, weak bones, low energy levels and a tendency to be shy and sensitive. It’s important to note that the condition occurs across a spectrum and not everyone has the same signs and symptoms.
Gareth’s testosterone results indicated he was operating on levels of between 11-13, while most men’s natural level is between 19 and 24. “If I’d known about the condition all those years ago, I wouldn’t have had to buy so many condoms,” he laughs. “My facial hair grows really slowly, so I could get away with shaving once every two weeks, which is probably an advantage.”
Gareth is a pretty fit person and had ran his first marathon the year before and cycled the length of Ireland for charity. Dr Ramsay recommended Gareth undergo a fine needle aspiration under anaesthetic to examine pools of sperms in the testicular sac, and the procedure revealed that Gareth has what is known as ‘mosaic Klinefelter syndrome.’ This means he only has an extra X chromosome in some, but not all of his cells, and still has the ‘building blocks’ to produce sperm.
He was put on a regimen of testosterone levels and gels in the hope they would be absorbed and turned to testosterone in the body to fuel the production of sperm.
“Dr Ramsay told us in advance that the likelihood of it working was 20-30pc, so he was very honest and realistic,” he says. Sadly, it didn’t work and tests revealed that his ability to produce sperm had now declined beyond the point where assisted reproductive procedures would not work on him.
Gareth and Anna decided to attempt to have a family through donor sperm, and both recall how choosing the best candidate through large sperm banks was overwhelming. Dr Ramsay’s colleague, Erica Foster, had a small sperm bank and she worked with the couple to find a match that was suitable. The donor they ultimately chose only wanted his sperm to be used for the creation of three families.
Eggs were retrieved from Anna and IVF was used to fertilise them with donor sperm, but the first two attempts weren’t successful. It took a huge emotional and physical toll, as they were flying back and forth to London.
It was also an expensive process, as the couple spent approximately €35,000 on their fertility treatment and Gareth also had to take time off work or pass on jobs to colleagues. The money came through an inheritance from Anna’s grandmother.
When it came to the third attempt, the couple asked for two embryos to be implanted into Anna’s uterus, and on St Patrick’s Day 2019, the news that Anna was pregnant was confirmed.
Finding out they were having twins was the icing on the cake, although they were naturally anxious throughout the pregnancy until their beautiful baby girl and boy were born in November 2019.
“We didn’t dare to believe that it was going to happen until it did,” Gareth says. “Meeting our children was amazing and so overwhelming and, of course, Anna is a fantastic mother.”
Anna says Gareth is the most amazing dad, and she has no time for the Hollywood image of a mother gazing at her babies and saying they have the dad’s fingernails or smile.
“First of all, you’re too exhausted to be looking at that kind of stuff, and secondly, there are elements of the children that are already like Gareth’s personality,” she says.
“I know everyone thinks their children are perfect and amazing, but we really couldn’t have imagined having two other children.”
The donor they chose is known rather than anonymous, which means the children can get limited information about him when they’re 16 and full information at 18. At that point, they could potentially meet him if they wanted. Anna and Gareth would love to meet him one day to thank him for giving them their gorgeous children.
They have started to tell Abba and TuTu about their story at a level they can understand, so they know the story of how they were conceived from the beginning. They are delighted the National Infertility Support and Information Group (nisig.com) has launched the first in a series of Irish books called A Special Gift for those who have used donor egg or donor sperm to create their families.
It is about a character called Little Otter, and explains the concept of egg/sperm donation in a fun, positive and age-appropriate way to children age three and over.
“Anything that helps families to talk to their children and normalise their individual circumstances can only be a good thing,” Anna smiles. “We love that the book emphasises that there are lots of different types of families and that no one type is better than another, and feel they will be a great help to parents.”
For a copy of A Special Gift, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Gareth is the Irish advocate for the Living with XXY Foundation in San Diego. Visit livingwithxxy.org