Sharon Marshall reflects on ‘best and worst’ decade after ‘gruelling’ fertility struggles

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Sharon Marshall has made a career out of drama. This Morning viewers will be familiar with her weekly soap updates on the show, and when she’s not filling Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield in on what’s happening in Weatherfield or Walford, she’s writing scripts for Emmerdale.

But alongside her busy career, the former tabloid journalist has spent the last decade going through a fair few dramas of her own.

And to celebrate her 50th birthday on 21 September, the star has decided to open up in a rare interview, to fill us in on the emotional journey she’s been on over the last 10 years.

Sharon is joined on our exclusive shoot by her beautiful three-year-old daughter Betsey, and it’s clear that the little girl is the apple of her eye.

This is no surprise given that Sharon and her fiancé Paul Fletcher had gone through seven gruelling rounds of IVF and two heartbreaking miscarriages to have her.

“We were really put through the wringer,” she explains. “She’s a miracle. When I first held her… I’ve never known happiness like it.”

Given that she conceived when she was 46 and had lots of letters from This Morning viewers saying she’d given them hope that they too could fall pregnant, Sharon felt duty bound to open up about the fact she’d had IVF, after keeping it to herself for years.

“I had to be honest and say, ‘Look, it was IVF, and it was very difficult,’” she explains. “It’s so important that women talk about it.”

Here, the star, who lives in west London, tells us why her relationship with Paul can survive anything after what they’ve been through, what kind of wedding they’re planning for next spring and why all she wants for her 50th birthday is to be surrounded by the people she loves…

Hi Sharon! Did Betsey enjoy taking part in today’s photoshoot?

She was really excited. I think the sight of so many balloons and the fact there was a real cake just made it the best day ever! She has been singing happy birthday all day! She’s a little diva. She loves to dance and bop about and is such a livewire. She came out hollering at the top of her lungs and she hasn’t stopped. I know everyone thinks their child is the most precious thing ever, but…

You had a long journey towards motherhood, didn’t you?

We had seven attempts at IVF over seven years. 5,000 women got in touch with me directly on Twitter to talk to me about it when I first spoke about it on This Morning after she was born. It’s so important that women talk about it. When you look at the IVF clinics, the marketing is all pictures of happy women holding little babies. They don’t ever talk about failure. I’ve gone through two miscarriages and the first time I didn’t tell anyone and to be honest, I struggled for years. But with the second one I told my friends and I got over it so much better and was pregnant three or four months later.

It’s so good that you’re openly talking about it all now…

I think we must have this honesty. I felt like I was doing an exam that I didn’t know how to pass. You think, “Why isn’t this working?” It’s very tough. But it’s also the most amazing technology and it gives us hope. Although a doctor told me that I needed to be careful as women become emotionally, physically and financially exhausted, so we did have a cap on when we were going to stop trying.

Was the seventh round your last chance?

I was going to have one more go. I told myself I’d stop when I was 47, and I was 46 when I conceived and gave birth three months before my 47th.

When did you start trying?

I was 40 when I met Paul and started IVF. I came out of my first marriage shortly after turning 40 and had feared I’d never have children. If you’d told me then that in 10 years’ time, I would be doing a shoot with my daughter for OK! magazine, I would’ve been like, “Oh my God. Really?”

Did you start trying as soon as you got together?

Paul and I were only about six months into the relationship, and I’d done a fertility MOT to see where I stood. That’s when they told me that things might start getting difficult if I left it too much longer. We started to try naturally and then we were doing IVF within a year of being together.

Has your relationship with Paul been dominated by IVF?

My forties were the best decade and the worst decade. They were the best because I’ve got my child and I met Paul, but it’s fair to say we went through the wringer because we both really wanted kids. There were a lot of tears because we just had such bad luck. We actually got pregnant on the very first go but it turned out to be a missed miscarriage. It’s the most devastating thing. And then after that, it was just time after time we were told it hadn’t worked. We had such terrible luck on everything. At one point an infection in the lab killed all the embryos.

That’s awful…

But then someone recommended a fabulous female doctor and she realised there were a few things wrong that were treatable that other doctors had missed. I had immune issues and an underactive thyroid. I had my sixth attempt with her, which sadly turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy.

And then the seventh time was a success…

I just remember walking along the street before finding out if it’d worked and I said to Paul, “We’ll have one more go at Christmas” and he said, “But we haven’t even had the results of this one yet.” And I said, “It never works.” Then I suddenly felt this weird sensation in my stomach that took my breath away. I literally felt it implant and I knew I was pregnant.

Did you know you were having a girl?

Even though you can’t tell that early, I knew.

Did you feel elated when she arrived?

[Welling up] It was pure happiness. It was just that moment when we both had her in our arms. It was just… I have never known happiness like it. I felt like, “We did it!” We were just staring at her. She came out and started feeding and I was like, “She’s having her tea!” I know IVF doesn’t work for a lot of people. It was truly a miracle. She was built on science and a little bit of magic. We were instantly besotted.

You said you kept your fertility struggles to yourself, but did nobody notice something was up?

Denise Robertson [This Morning’s agony aunt who died in 2016] could tell something was wrong with me after my first miscarriage and she took me out for a gin and tonic. People talk about influencers and Denise was mine. She was my real-life agony aunt. She told me to get a dog because she said it would be another heartbeat in the house when I got home. So, I got my little rescue dog Lily. It was brilliant advice. Even on those days when IVF hasn’t worked out and you just want to get under the duvet, you can’t when you’ve got a dog.

It must have been so hard to put on a brave face on live TV when you were going through so much?

There was one day, just after I’d had a miscarriage, and there was an item on the show about the most beautiful babies in Britain. I had a massive breakdown and confided in Amanda Holden and Gok Wan who were hosting that day. They were so lovely, and Amanda told me to go and get counselling, which I did. I got the loveliest message from her when I got pregnant.

Did you confide in anyone else?

Alison Hammond. And she offered to be my surrogate, bless her. She’s just so gorgeous. She has the most beautiful soul, to offer to do that for me. The one thing I miss in Covid times is my Alison hugs!

Are you and Paul more bonded because of what you’ve been through?

If you can get through IVF as a couple, you can get through anything. I went through a very dark time. I remember telling him that if I couldn’t give him a baby we could split up and he said, “If we can’t have a baby, it’s OK. I just want you.”

What kind of wedding will you guys have?

The plan is to have a small family wedding next spring, then a massive party for friends.

What was on your birthday wish list?

I’m rich – not financially after IVF! – but in the sense that I have a wonderful group of friends and my This Morning team. And I finally have my family and we have our daughter. That’s my perfect present. I want that, not diamonds.

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