When Hayley Haynes and her husband play in the park with their small children, they look like any other ordinary parents.
But such simple moments are anything but ordinary for the Bedford couple, after Hayley was told she would never be able to have children at 19.
Heartbreakingly, a rare condition meant Hayley was born with male genetics and although she looked like a woman on the outside, she had no womb, ovaries or fallopian tubes.
The devastating diagnosis left her ‘bereft’ and feeling like ‘half a woman’.
But thanks to two years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) - often used by males preparing for gender reassignment - medics were stunned to see a womb was forming.
This meant Hayley could try for a baby using an egg donor and her husband Sam, 28, an advertising creative.
Today, the 28-year-old teacher has twin daughters after flying to Cyprus in April 2014 to undergo £10,500 IVF.
Hayley says: “For my entire life, I was resigned to the fact that I would never have children of my own.
“I never felt like a complete woman, something was always missing. We both came to accept we would never be parents, as heart-breaking as that was.
“When I was told my womb had grown it was a complete shock. It was the most incredible feeling to know I could finally be a real woman and carry a child.
“Fortunately we got lucky the first time with IVF – and with twins. We know we have been blessed and everything I’ve been through was totally worth it. Sam and I have never been happier.”
Worried Hayley went to her GP aged 19 when she hadn’t started her period. She was referred to a gynecologist at North Staffordshire hospital and after months of hospital trips and blood tests, specialists delivered the devastating news that Hayley had been born with XY chromosomes, meaning she was genetically male.
Diagnosing her with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, doctors explained she was insensitive to the male hormones in her body and although she looked like a woman from the outside, she had no reproductive organs.
She recalls: “Finding out I wasn’t biologically a woman was devastating. I was in total shock and had to take two weeks off university to just be by myself and process the news.
“Having no womb or ovaries meant I would never, ever have my own children. That was possibly the most distressing part of the diagnosis. I’d always wanted to be a mother and in that moment, I mourned for the child I would never have.
“I felt like half a woman and was embarrassed to tell people.”
Despite being just friends at the time, Sam, then 19, comforted Hayley, who was single, and supported her through the diagnosis.
After specialists found undistinguished tissue that hadn’t properly formed where her reproductive organs should be, Hayley underwent an op to remove it aged 20.
In the weeks that followed her diagnosis, Hayley and Sam’s friendship became stronger and six years later in 2008, they started dating.
She says: “Fortunately, Sam and I had been friends for years so he’d been there when I was diagnosed and already knew I was genetically male. As he’d been my confidante from day one, he was so supportive. He cheered me up when I was feeling low and it didn’t bother him at all.
“I was worried any man I became involved with would run a mile when I told them, but that was never an issue with Sam. I felt accepted and loved for who I was.”
Incredibly, Hayley went to see a new specialist at Royal Derby Hospital in Derbyshire and he gave her some hopeful news.
She continues: “The head of fertility, a specialist fertility doctor at the hospital did a scan and I couldn’t believe it when he told me there was a tiny little womb growing inside me after all. It was only a few millimetres long, but it was a start.
“It was incredible to hear that although I wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally, we had the option of IVF if my womb grew bigger.”
She was put on a course of oral hormone treatment and told to take two of the pills each day to make sure she had the correct levels of progesterone and oestrogen in her body.
The drugs, which are more commonly given to people undergoing gender reassignment surgery, were used to grow Hayley’s womb.
She says: “Taking the hormones created the perfect environment for the womb to grow and I was finally starting to feel like a woman.”
In 2011, aged 25, Hayley visited her doctor for a check-up and was stunned when they told her the womb was ready for IVF.
She says: “Unfortunately, we didn’t qualify for free IVF on the NHS because it wasn’t available for us in our area. But Sam and I were desperate to have a baby of our own after all those years.
“Although adopting was an option, we wanted the baby to be as close to biologically ours as possible so decided to use an anon egg donor and Sam’s sperm and go down the IVF route.
“We started to research our options and learnt we couldn’t do it anonymously in the UK.”
The pair found a fertility clinic in Cyprus but needed £10,500 for the IVF and flights.
There they could receive fresh egg insemination from an anonymous donor, which gave the couple a 60 per cent chance of the implantation being successful.
The couple used a clinic abroad as laws in Cyprus allowed the egg donor to remain anonymous.
Excitedly, they boarded a plane in April 2014 and flew more than 2000 miles to the island.
“Of the 13 eggs harvested, only two were viable,” She tells, “I was so nervous because we really only had one shot.
“I desperately wanted to be a mother and knew if there were no viable eggs or the implantation wasn’t successful I’d be distraught.”
Fortunately, the implantation was a success and two embryos were implanted into Hayley’s womb.
She says: “I spent the rest of the ten-day holiday resting. I didn’t want to move or tire myself out as I knew how important it was to rest after the procedure.”
The pair nervously waited to take a pregnancy test two weeks later. But Hayley’s suspicions got the better of her after she started feeling faint.
At the end of April 2014, ten days after the implantation she took a test. “I was so nervous and was shaking from head to toe. I peered and the test and it said positive.
“I couldn’t contain my happiness. I was jumping up and down and screaming, but Sam was keeping his cool and made sure we took another test before we celebrated.
“He was afraid to get too excited so early on and was protecting himself after everything we had been through.”
To make sure they took another test and that too came back positive.
She said: “I was pregnant but we knew there was still a strong chance I could miscarry before 12 weeks so I was extra careful.”
At her six week scan, the couple got another shock - they were expecting twins.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. “I had a freak out but was over the moon at the same time and couldn’t wait to be a mother.”
Doctors induced Hayley two weeks early and she went into labour on December 23rd 2014.
Four hours later, Avery and Darcey arrived on Christmas Eve 2014.
They were two weeks premature and little Darcey arrived weighing 4lbs 6oz and Avery weighed 5lbs 3oz.
Although they were early, the twins were healthy and ready to go home with mum and dad.
She adds: “When I held the babies in my arms for the first time I was overwhelmed. I had so much love for them and was exhausted from the journey I’d been on.
“Becoming a mother was the single most amazing moment of my life. To spend more than a decade coming to terms with the fact that you’ll never be a mother, and then be told you can have a child sends you on an emotional rollercoaster.
“But in that moment, all the pain washed away. Darcey and Avery are the most beautiful little girls in the world.
“Even now, I can’t separate Sam from the girls because he loves them so much. We’ve spent so much on these babies and it’s not just our wallets that are empty, we are emotionally exhausted.
“No matter what, it was definitely all worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat just for one cuddle with my girls.”