‘My little gifts from heaven… born three years after their daddy died’: Widow tells how she gave birth to IVF twins conceived with her late husband’s sperm after he died from throat cancer
Of all the toys Lucy Kelsall has bought her 12-week-old twins, one is particularly special. It is a fabric-covered photo album, designed for play.
Inside each flap of the book is a slot where a photograph can be tucked. ‘I’ve put pictures of David inside, so they will know what their Daddy looks like right from the off,’ she says. ‘They will grow up knowing all about him and what an amazing man he was.’
Their father David — who would be doing the night-feeds and nappy changes if he had been here today, Lucy insists — died before the twins were born.
Facing motherhood as a widow is an emotional ordeal for any woman. But for Lucy, 37, it was even more complicated because David did not die after she got pregnant. He passed away in 2017, two-and-a-half years ago.
The little bundles she is tenderly cradling today were conceived using sperm that David, 45, had permitted to be frozen before he embarked on cancer treatment. He had hoped to be around — and cancer-free — to experience fatherhood but, sadly, it was not to be.
He was almost on his deathbed when Lucy, who lives in Newport, South Wales, made him an extraordinary promise.
The little bundles she is tenderly cradling today were conceived using sperm that David, 45, had permitted to be frozen before he embarked on cancer treatment
‘We had been trying to have a baby naturally and, at one point, it looked like we could. But I had a miscarriage,’ she says. ‘Then we were going to start IVF using his frozen sperm but David just got too ill.
‘A few days before he died, though, I told him I’d still have his baby. We were in the hospice at the time and David was very poorly.
‘He was bleeding from his mouth and from the hole in his neck. He had cancer of the throat and had only been able to talk by using an electronic device that replicated his speech. One part went in his mouth; he held the other. But by the time we had this conversation, he was too weak to hold it. So he couldn’t say anything — but he smiled. He gave the biggest grin. He was so happy.’
They managed a conversation (‘I’d become pretty good at lip-reading by then’) about baby names. It was decided that, if Lucy had a boy, he would be called David Samuel. David after his father, of course. Samuel? ‘It means “God has heard”,’ says Lucy.
The odds were against them. The chance of David becoming a father posthumously was pretty remote. Fertility treatment is something of a lottery anyway, with a success rate of just 23 per cent for women of Lucy’s age. But with just a limited amount of frozen sperm available, it is even more difficult.
Lucy’s first round of ICSI (a form of fertility treatment whereby sperm is injected directly into the egg) resulted in a devastating miscarriage. The second round, in 2019, looked perilous too. Although two viable embryos were achieved that time, the conditions in Lucy’s womb were not favourable.
‘The doctors said the embryos couldn’t be put back in. Normally they would be frozen and I could try again during another cycle but, because we were already working with David’s frozen sperm, this wouldn’t be possible.
Despite being told by doctors that her chances of getting pregnant were slim due to her cycle beginning before an embryo had been transferred, the community centre manager gave birth to two healthy boys, David and Samuel (pictured)
‘They were going to discard the embryos. I begged them not to. I was crying, saying “please just try. This is my only chance”. I was told there really was very little chance of it working.’
Yet it did work, as the loud squawks of her new sons prove. Twice over.
‘Because there was so little prospect of it working, they put both embryos back. I never in a million years thought I’d have twins. It hadn’t even been a part of the conversation with David.’
Lucy says she went home from the fertility clinic and prayed that one of her precious embryos would survive. She jokes about how many vegetables she ate.
‘I drew up a spreadsheet of all the things I should do — David loved his spreadsheets — and it included eating ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day,’ she says.
She reckons that if he had been there, he would have cooked them all for her. ‘But it was up to me to just do everything I could to make our dream come true.’
A pregnancy test two weeks later came back positive.
At her first scan, Lucy was terrified. ‘Everyone knew what I’d been through losing David and you could tell they were all nervous. Then I saw the sonographer’s face light up. She said: “There isn’t one heartbeat… there are two heartbeats.”
‘I burst into tears. The nurses were crying, too.’
There were more tears eight months later when, in the middle of lockdown, on May 15, she gave birth to two healthy boys.
‘I was advised to have an elective Caesarean because my consultant said I’d been through so much, they didn’t want to take any risks,’ she says. ‘My mum was there with me — and David was there, too. I just felt it. I always feel he is here with me.
‘The whole thing was very surreal because everyone was in full PPE with visors, because of Covid.
‘Then they brought David out; then Samuel. They took David away for the doctor to check him — I was worried, though nothing was wrong — but they put Samuel in my arms.
‘I couldn’t stop crying but they were happy tears. We’d made these boys, David and me. He wasn’t going to be able to raise them, but I could.’
Hearing Lucy talk about what a tremendous father David, the love of her life, would have been is terribly poignant.
‘Some men aren’t that hands-on, but I just know he would have been cuddling them, taking them off me so I could have a rest.
‘He’d be so proud of them. I know he’d be doing all the feeds he could. He’d be so gentle with them. He was such a gentleman. It’s just so sad he’s not here to enjoy them.’
His firstborn, David’s namesake, has his father’s green eyes, she says, and looks exactly like his dad did as a baby. The younger twin, Samuel, has his father’s long legs and big feet. ‘They are huge,’ jokes Lucy. ‘David had size 15 feet.’
Big shoes to fill, indeed.
Lucy and David met in 2011. He was working in a Christian rehab centre where Lucy, who had addiction issues, was receiving treatment, trying to get her life back on track. He was the key, it seems.
‘It’s not just me saying this. Everyone who knew him felt the same,’ she says.
‘David was one of the kindest people you could meet. I wasn’t even looking for someone when he came along. I’d had quite a difficult time and I pushed people away. Not him, though.’
They married in 2012 and Lucy began work in the centre. She would go on to work as a community centre manager for the Salvation Army, a position she still holds today.
But in 2014, David had secondary throat cancer diagnosed. A niggling sore throat turned out to be devastatingly serious.
David and Lucy married in 2012 and Lucy began work in a Christian rehab centre. She would go on to work as a community centre manager for the Salvation Army, a position she still holds today. But in 2014, David had secondary throat cancer diagnosed. A niggling sore throat turned out to be devastatingly serious
Over the next few years, he would endure 99 rounds of radiotherapy as well as operations to remove his voice box and part of his throat, which meant he was unable to eat.
‘He never complained, though,’ says Lucy. ‘We were both committed Christians and he was always so positive. He was determined to look after me, even though he was the one who was ill.
‘He couldn’t eat normal food but he’d still insist we went out to restaurants because he knows I love my food. He would order a caramel latte, which he’d have via his feeding tube.’
They still planned their life together. ‘We saw this house,’ she says, speaking from the two-bed terrace in Newport that they hoped would be their starter home. David died before they moved in, ‘which makes me sad but I know he loved this place’.
Children were part of the plan, so when doctors asked if he wanted to freeze his sperm, he said yes.
‘There wasn’t much time to decide — the treatment had to start the following week. He wanted to do it, though.’
Crucially, David signed the forms that would allow ownership of his sperm to pass to Lucy in the event of his death — others have gone through agonising court cases because the appropriate consent forms were not in place — although there weren’t big conversations about that at the time, not until those days at the end.
‘He thought he would get better,’ says Lucy. ‘We both did.’
She was with David when he passed away on December 22, 2017. The very next day, she told her mother she was going to have his baby, regardless.
‘She was a bit worried — everyone was — that I was rushing into it or just doing it out of grief. But I wasn’t. I knew I had to.’
When the fertility clinic reopened after the Christmas break, Lucy made an immediate appointment — but such matters require thought and due process.
The fertility clinic arranged counselling and it was more than a year before Lucy could begin treatment. But by then, she was even more certain she wanted David’s child.
The lights had gone out on life at that point, she says.
‘It’s hard to explain but everything was dim. I wasn’t getting any pleasure out of life. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be with him.
‘It was the hope of having his child that kept me going. A big part of it was thinking of what a waste if he was gone and nothing was left. A baby would mean part of him living on. It would give me something to live for, too.’
Friends tried to urge caution, worried that it was grief talking.
‘A few people said I should think about adoption if the IVF didn’t work but I wouldn’t have done that,’ she says. ‘It was having a part of David I wanted.’
Has she never considered finding another partner? ‘I could never have settled for anyone else. I still consider I’m married to David. The vows say “till death us do part”, but I’m still married to him.’
Yet bringing children into the world in the knowledge that they will never know their father is a terribly difficult decision to make. Some people would argue that it is unfair on the children.
‘I’ve been ready for people to say that but no one has,’ Lucy says. ‘I think I have enough love for two parents — and they are going to know all about their dad. They won’t meet him, but they will know him. I’ve already been telling them. They have photographs. I’ve made a scrapbook.’
Friends and neighbours have rallied round. Lucy’s mother comes to stay for a few days every week and her ‘simply amazing’ neighbours have banded together to offer help.
Lucy Kelsall, 37, had her late husband’s twins 10 weeks ago using his sperm that was frozen before he died from throat cancer in 2017
‘About ten of them got me a huge hamper of baby stuff,’ Lucy says. ‘They’ve been bringing meals, walking my dog for me.’
And David is there in spirit, she insists, as he always has been. When he was alive, he used to write her little poems and hide them in her lunchbox, to make her smile.
Just a few weeks after his death, she was pouring cereal from the box and a small folded piece of paper fell into her bowl. It was a poem from David.
‘I think he knew I’d find it after he was gone,’ she says. ‘It was a gift from him.’
Now there is another gift — and one for the extended family, too.
David’s mother Wilma, 85, who lives in Preston, Lancashire, has not yet met her new grandsons because of the Covid restrictions — but next month Lucy will take the babies to see her.
‘She was worried for me, obviously. But she’s so happy to know that a part of David will live on.’
David never wanted a grave. He was cremated and Lucy scattered his ashes off the pier at Penarth, where they used to wander along the front and sit in their favourite cafes. Even then she was nursing her dream, though.
‘I kept a little of the ashes back, thinking that if the IVF did work, his child could scatter them.
‘One day, when the boys are old enough, we will do that.’
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