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Sharron Davies' IVF hell

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Wednesday, December 19, 2007 | 0 comments

Cuddling her baby son Finley, Sharron Davies looks smitten.

And no wonder. She endured eight rounds of IVF, two miscarriages and even sought treatment in Cyprus to have him.

Unsurprisingly, as they racked up over £100,000 in bills, there were times she feared it would never be possible.

"It was not only the physical, but the mental side of what I went through that was so painful," she recalls.

"People see the injections or the drugs you have to take and think, 'That must be so awful.' But that was a walk in the park compared to the emotional rollercoaster of hoping you will get pregnant every month.

"Then the desperation when you're not. You watch your body for any silly little sign 'Is my period due? Am I feeling this, am I feeling that?'

"Then the depression when your period arrives. Generally if you've had quite a few goes at IVF, you will probably end up with a few miscarriages as well and that's terrible to deal with. It was a strain trying to carry on with life as normal."

As it happened, Sharron, 45, was on the verge of taking up a friend's kind offer of an egg donation when at last her little miracle happened. On her final attempt at IVF she conceived Finlay, the baby she'd so longed for.

"I'm quite stubborn and I honestly think I would have kept going till it happened," she says. "We just stuck at it and we were blessed."

Champion swimmer Sharron, who plans to write a book about her IVF experiences, won double gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and a silver at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Since retiring from the sport she has a TV career and has founded her own charity, Swim for Life.

She has two older children - Elliott, 13, and nine-year-old Grace - from her former marriage to athlete Derek Redmond.

But when she wed British Airways pilot Tony Kingston, 39, in 2002, after three years together, the couple were keen to have a child of their own.

"As soon as we got married we started trying," she reveals. "I thought it would be easy as I'd had no problem conceiving my other two children and I was fit and a non-smoker."

Although Sharron did conceive naturally she suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks. And after a year had passed with no success she began to panic.

"When I was about 41, I started thinking we should have tests," she recalls. "They all came back positive. But after another six months of trying, we went back again and this time were more insistent. I told them: 'We want children together and I'm not getting any younger.'

"My fertility was dropping so they suggested IVF. We thought it would be a quick fix, a lot of people do, but statistically once you're over 40 the success rate is very low.

"I think women should be aware of that - don't leave it too late. I would hate anyone to go through what I did or miss the boat."

Over the next three years, Sharron embarked on eight different kinds of IVF. As she was over 40 and had children already, she was considered too old to have treatment on the NHS so Sharron and Tony had three IVF cycles at a private clinic in Sheffield.

"It was cheaper than some and the success rate was good. Everyone at the clinic wanted it to work and they were heartbroken when it didn't."

They cashed in endowment policies to fund the treatment, which cost £5,000 each time, and then sold Tony's house in Chamonix, France.

Their fourth course of IVF was at an Oxford hospital near their home.

"The foetus wasn't developing but at eight weeks, they found a faint heartbeat. 'Is that good?' I asked, but they told me it wasn't and I better go home and miscarry. I had to wait two weeks before it happened. It was so horrible."

Battling on, Sharron then had a fifth treatment at a Harley Street clinic.

"I had to have two operations in one day to remove my eggs - one under sedation and then a general anaesthetic. But in way, we were lucky to be able to have so many attempts.

"It was heartbreaking at the Oxford clinic when a couple who were coming down in the lift with us were distraught because they couldn't afford another cycle. They were so young."

When they too experienced yet another failure, Sharron and Tony decided to try egg donation. With the long waiting-lists in Britain, they went to Cyprus and found a Russian donor. But after two more rounds, they were back to square one.

Sharron says she was starting to feel defeated. But then she heard of an IVF technique that reduced the risk of miscarriage in older mums.

"I was at the stage where I almost couldn't take much more disappointment," she admits. "I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact it wouldn't work and maybe it would be my final go."

But astonishingly, she was proved wrong. At last, the £9,000-a-time treatment did work. Hardly daring to believe it was true, the couple couldn't tell family and friends for weeks that a baby was on the way.

"The most emotional point was the seven-week scan," says Sharron.

"Everything was perfect. Then the sicker I got, the happier Tony got. He would ask me in the morning, 'Do you feel sick?' And when I nodded he would go 'Hurray!'

When Finley arrived at the end of January, the whole family was at their Cotswolds home to lend support.

"It was an 18-hour delivery," she says. "Gracie was in the birthing pool with me rubbing my back. Elliott got bored halfway through and went off to watch telly!"

Thankfully all the stress and heartache of fertility treatment made Tony and Sharron even closer.

"It is either going to push you apart or pull you together as a couple and we were lucky, it pulled us together," she says.

Sharron laughs as she remembers their first meeting - on a BA plane heading to Australia where she had been making a film for travel show Wish You Were Here.

"Those were the days when you were invited on to the flight deck," she says. "There was an instant attraction and that was it.

"We had lots in common - he loves sport and travel. We just connected."

Sharron says she was not on the look-out for another romance after being bruised by the discovery that her ex-husband repeatedly cheated on her during their eight-year marriage.

"It wasn't a very amicable split," she admits. "Derek was quite a selfish person and although he is a good dad, it was better to be apart than stay together for the sake of the children.

"But it left me a bit battered. I found it quite scary being single again but I wasn't looking. I was just lucky I met Tony."

Despite once being the golden girl of British swimming, with her striking blonde looks and figure, Sharron says she now rarely swims. Instead she is shifting the baby weight with gym workouts.

"The idea is to do something three times a week, but if I've got ironing to do, or I've got to pick up Grace, then exercise goes out of the window."

At 5ft 11in and a healthy 11 stone, Sharron would like to drop a few pounds, but she's not obsessing. "I've got out of the habit recently because of the baby and been a bit lazy.

"When I'm in the gym, I motivate myself by thinking, 'I can go off and have my Friday night curry now!'"


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"In 2005, there were more than 104,000 births in the United States to women ages 40 through 44, and over 6,500 to women 45 and older. In 2004, there were 1,786 live births to women over 42, using donor eggs."

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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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