As we watched Sharon Marshall speak so openly about her heartbreaking IVF battle on ITVs This Morning program last week, we wanted to jump through the screen and squeeze her tightly
Not only did we want to comfort her, to tell her that we feel her pain, but to thank her for speaking out, for sharing the lessons she learnt during her long and difficult IVF journey. We always say, that by sharing the lessons you have learnt, you may be able to save someone just starting out on an IVF journey, just some of the pain that you have endured.
Sharon has been on such a difficult (to say the very least) IVF journey. It was also a hugely costly journey, with the arrival of her daughter Betsey costing her £70,000 following six years of IVF, with two miscarriages along the way.
In the interview, Sharon spoke of the “failure” she felt, as each round of IVF failed. With this “failure”, came a sense of shame, embarrassment and worthlessness – a feeling shared by so many women struggling to conceive. This shame, and the feeling that she was wasn’t a complete, functioning woman led to her completely avoiding the conversation with anyone around her. No one knew how low she had sunk. No one knew that with each failed round she was sinking further and further.
“Year after year I sank into despair as attempt after attempt failed”
Part of the reason for this sense of failure, was that Sharon had not been told the facts at the beginning of her journey. She had been fooled by the false statements that so many clinics shout from the roof tops, with rocketing percentages of pregnancy rates. As each round failed, she thought she had failed whilst other women were becoming mothers.
She thought she was “a freak”
“About four years into my attempt, several thousand pounds down, and having been told that yet another cycle had failed, I found myself sobbing down the phone to the nurse who had delivered the news, asking if I was some kind of freak. Was I the ‘only one’ in the clinic who wasn’t getting pregnant? She told me no. The glossy marketing posters don’t admit it, but the vast majority of IVF cycles fail.
“I know of one woman who took 25 attempts at embryo transfers before she finally had a child. If we were more honest that it often doesn’t work, women would feel less isolated and less of a failure.
She stressed that the percentages you see are not live births, but pregnancies, and wondered if someone had seen her statistic on the wall. Had another struggling woman read that as a success, when in actual fact Sharon had been pregnant twice but suffered two miscarriages? That wasn’t success, that was “failure”.
Following each “failed” round of IVF, Sharon was left to pick up the pieces alone. With no counselling offered to her, she grieved the loss of each embryo that didn’t implant, and the loss of the two that did.
Sharon also spoke about the strain that her loss had impacted her marriage
“He was wonderful through it; it must have been so hard. I did say to him once, ‘I know you want a baby but I don’t know if I can ever give it to you. If you want to leave me then that’s OK.’”
Everything changed though when Sharon made some life changes – instead of keeping her journey a secret, she started talking about it. Soon enough, Sharon realised that there were multiple men and women that she knew who were also fighting to come parents.
She also took control of her body – she started running, and taking good care of herself. The more she looked after her body, both physically and mentally, the more in control she felt.
Sharon’s fertility hindsight really is valuable:
- Don’t feel that you have to keep journey a secret. Know that it is OK to speak out to good people about how you are feeling.
- Be realistic about IVF success rates. The chances of a first success round of IVF is relatively low, so do not think you have failed as a woman.
- Be prepared for a round not working, and arrange to speak to a counsellor, even if your clinic doesn’t offer it.
- Look after your body and take that control back.
Although she did not speak about it in her interview with Holly and Phil, Sharon has spoken about the importance of not googling too much. Instead, she chose her publications carefully:
“It’s really easy to start googling and get sucked into message boards and forums about IVF and fertility. But these revealed so much pain I had to stop reading them.
“Instead, I found the website ivfbabble.com a great source of information, as is the website of IVF pioneer Professor Robert Winston – robertwinston.org.uk.”
Take a look at the full conversation here:
Read more about the things Sharon wished she’d known: