'I felt the moment my babies died’

All her life, Natallie Evans knew she wanted to be a mum. So when cancer treatment threatened that dream, she and her fiancé had IVF and froze six embryos. But then they split - and her ex wanted her potential babies destroyed - killing Natallie's hopes of motherhood too...

When Natallie Evans cradled the newborn baby girl in her arms and watched her take her very first breaths, it was the most bitter-sweet of moments.

This newborn was her niece - and she was the first person to hold her. It gave her a heartbreaking insight into an incredible event she would never experience herself.

However much she longed to be a mother, being her sister's birthing partner was the closest Natallie, 37, will come to having her own baby. Because just 10 weeks earlier she finally lost a five-year fight to become a mum, using the six embryos she'd created with her ex-fiancé Howard.

In April 2007, the Grand Chamber of the European Court ruled all six frozen embryos should be allowed to perish. Natallie, from Bath, had exhausted all legal options and she had no choice but to give up and accept she would never have a baby of her own.

"When my solicitor told me it was all over and my babies were going to be destroyed, I was hysterical," she says. "I screamed, shouted, moaned and wailed. I knew what it felt like to be broken. I just wanted to curl up and die.

Natalie Evans had IVF and froze six embryos but her ex wanted them destroyed

"If I'd been pregnant and my ex had demanded I get an abortion, no judge in the world would have taken his side. I couldn't see how this was different."

This was the end of a journey that had started back in August 2002. A routine investigative procedure to determine why Natallie wasn't getting pregnant naturally revealed she had the first stage of ovarian cancer. She needed to have her ovaries removed, which would leave her infertile.

"The doctor said we needed to act quickly if we wanted to have children together," she explains.

"We'd already been trying for a baby for over a year, and Howard said that we shouldn't let anything stand in our way of becoming a family."

So the couple started IVF treatment, then, using Howard's sperm, created six embryos that were frozen for later use.

Throughout this difficult time, Natallie says her partner couldn't have been more supportive. "We'd cuddle on the sofa and talk about our 'babies'. Howard said if we had a girl he'd like to call her Paris, because that was where he'd proposed to me the previous year. We liked Jack for a boy."

It was picturing herself as a mother that helped Natallie cope with the surgery she had to endure at the end of that year. Fortunately, she didn't need any further treatment.

"I needed to wait two years to give my body time to recover before we could try to conceive. I was just so relieved to get the all-clear and felt as though we could start living a normal life again," she says.

But just a few weeks later, the couple's relationship began to falter, which Natallie put down to stress. In March 2002, Howard said he was going on a boys-only holiday. That was the beginning of the end. They had a huge row, Howard went on his trip, but soon after he came home, the couple split.

Natalie Evans had IVF and froze six embryos but her ex wanted them destroyed
Natallie with her ex, Howard

"Howard said he didn't love me any more," Natallie says quietly. "I threw my dignity aside and begged him not to go. He insisted there wasn't anyone else involved, but I couldn't understand what I'd done to make him leave."

The next day, Howard left. Natallie saw him briefly three weeks later, when he collected his possessions, and hasn't spoken to him since. "I'll never know why he went," she says.

Soon afterwards, in 2002, Natallie received a letter from the fertility clinic. It stated that her ex had withdrawn his consent for the embryos to be used. In other words, their six potential babies were to be destroyed. And with it, her dreams of having children.

"As I read the letter, my mothering instinct kicked in. I was going to fight for them," she says.

She found a solicitor and started her legal challenge against her former fiancé's demands. "I didn't see how anyone would deny me the right to motherhood, using one of my own embryos, created with my former partner," she says.

But they did. And for the next five years Natallie faced one legal defeat after another. As she struggled to cope with each setback, depression set in and she often felt suicidal. "Every time one of my friends got pregnant, I felt sick with jealousy," she admits.

Then, when her sister Natasha, 34, became pregnant, Natallie struggled with a deep sense of injustice and rage. She vowed to deal with it, somehow. And she did - when she saw Natasha cradling son Pharrell, her heart ached, but she soothed herself with the notion that one day soon, she would hopefully also experience motherhood.

Then, in October 2006, her sister became pregnant again and, as she'd split from the baby's father, asked Natallie to be her birthing partner. "This time I wasn't jealous," she says. "I got an insight into the world I was fighting to experience."

But her dream was about to end. In April 2007, she sat distraught in her solicitor's office as he got a call breaking the news that the European court had ruled against her. The clinic would be ordered to destroy all six embryos.

All she'd been fighting for was lost and for a split second she considered ending her own life too. But one thing stopped her - her pregnant sister. "If I did kill myself, I'd be abandoning my sister when she needed me the most. But at first just getting out of bed in the morning felt like an achievement.

"The idea of my babies being taken out of storage and left out to die haunted me. I wondered whether I would sense them dying and that was torture," she says.

A month after the ruling, Natallie woke up with a deep sense of loss. "All day I was so churned up. I felt certain that was the end for my babies," she recalls. And two days later, a letter arrived confirming it.

"My babies had gone. There's been a piece of me missing ever since," she says.

Natallie's grief was overwhelming, but six weeks later, her sister went into labour. As she sat at Natasha's bedside, her sadness subsided a little. "Seeing Macey May being born had a profound effect on me. I bonded with her so completely in the first moments of her life," she explains.

"I cleaned her and dressed her while the doctors tended to my sister. As I did it, I promised I'd always be there for her - that whatever problems she encountered in life, she could come to me for help and support. I felt a tiny part of me start to heal as I tended to my little niece."

Natalie Evans had IVF and froze six embryos but her ex wanted them destroyed
Natallie says Macey May is her reason to carry on

Macey May is now two and Natallie sees her most days. "If we're out, people mistake me for her mum sometimes. I'm quick to put them right, even though it cuts me to the core because I'll never be called 'Mummy'."

In memory of the six babies she lost, Natallie has had six stars tattooed on her right forearm - one for each embryo.

"I needed to do something to mark them," she says. "Otherwise I might stop believing they ever existed at all."

For now, Natallie is single. She's had one relationship, but that ended after a few months. Although she knows she could adopt, she says she won't. "I couldn't bear to go through another period of waiting for other people to decide if I could be a mum. If I got my hopes up, and they were dashed again, I might never get over it," she says.

She says she doesn't hate her ex-fiancé, but does harbour resentment. "I'm sure he will become a father one day, and I pity him, because I know that before he dies he will feel deep regret over what he denied me."

She still has a strong maternal instinct and lavishes attention on her niece - but she's aware she could be seen as overly protective and tries not to smother her with love. Sometimes Natallie laughingly suggests to her sister that she be allowed to raise Macey. "I know it can never happen, but if I'm really honest I'm hoping that if I ask her enough times, one day she'll say yes. Then finally my one and only wish will come true, and someone will call me Mummy."

But for now she has a close bond with the little girl who it seems has saved her life.

"Macey May can't ever replace the children I've lost," Natallie says. "But she is my flesh and blood and I love her with all my heart. She's my reason to carry on." Natasha says: "Natallie's my dearest friend. I feel so sad that she's been denied the wonderful experience of being a mum, but I don't feel guilty that I've been able to have my children. If I hadn't, she wouldn't have the experience of being their auntie, which is a constant source of joy for her."



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