‘I spent 6 figures on IVF for 6 years and had 2 miscarriages before I finally had my son – now I’m helping women going through the same thing’

“If I’m honest, I never really thought I would have a family,” says Charlotte Gentry.

“I’d spent the majority of my 20s and 30s working or at the airport. Suddenly, I woke up one day, aged 39, and realised that I wasn’t on track to have a family – I hadn’t even met the person that I thought I wanted to have that family with.”

Brought up in London, Charlotte founded a corporate communications agency, which she has run for almost 20 years. She started her first business at 25, and spent her 20s and 30s working hard.

But then, at 40, she met her husband.

READ MORE: ‘I was having IVF when diagnosed with cancer – now I can’t have a baby’

“I would have moved heaven and earth to have a family with him,” says Charlotte.

“That’s really what drove me to IVF. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for me because of the lifestyle I’d led, leading up to my age.”

In vitro fertilisation, or IVF, is a technique used to help people with fertility problems have a baby.

It involves removing an egg from the woman’s ovaries and fertilising it with sperm in a laboratory. The embryo is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow.

The chances of success with IVF are relatively low: for women under 35, they sit at just 32 per cent.

But for women over 40, like Charlotte, the chance of success is just 11 per cent, according to the NHS.

“If you were standing on the edge of a cliff and someone said to you: ‘you’ve got an 80 per cent chance of falling off this cliff’, would you take those odds?” says Charlotte.

“It was an incredible experience – and one I feel very lucky to have been able to go through,” says Charlotte

“[With IVF], because it’s a very emotive thing you’re doing, you’re thinking: ‘I’m going to be one of the 20 per cent – it’s going to be easy.’ And it’s just not.”

Charlotte’s experience with IVF lasted six years, involving six egg retrievals, three embryo transfers, and two miscarriages.

Charlotte refers to her six-year experience as a “journey”, a term that captures the length and developments of the process, with all its ups and downs.

“Anybody who goes through IVF is on a journey. Some people get on the journey and get off it much faster than others,” says Charlotte.

“I look at my story – and my story was six years’ worth of journey – but there are plenty of other people I have talked to who have had horrific experiences going through it.

“In some respects, I feel quite lucky that it didn’t take longer to come out the other side.”

Ineligible for IVF on the NHS, Charlotte sought private treatment.

Her journey got off to a rocky start when she was recommended a clinic, which, she says, was an “unmitigated disaster”.

Charlotte described her IVF treatment as a ‘journey’, with all its ups and downs

Initially, Charlotte says the clinic’s bedside manner was poor, getting her name wrong when she went to scans, and sedating her halfway through an egg retrieval.

After completing two egg retrievals, Charlotte believes that the clinic may have lost her results.

She’d just married her husband and called them on the last day of her honeymoon for her results.

“They basically fudged it and told me that I didn’t have anything worth implanting, and they gave me some results that I still don’t believe are mine,” says Charlotte. “I was so upset and so angry.”

Later, when Charlotte had moved to Guy’s Hospital — which she describes as “a unicorn in the industry” — she learned that she’d been paying almost double the rate for medication (£2000 to £2500 instead of £1000 to £1200).

Charlotte says her experience at Guys Hospital was “absolutely phenomenal”, and they were successful in getting her pregnant twice. “But very sadly, they didn’t last.”

Charlotte’s first miscarriage was at 10 to 11 weeks and the second was at an even earlier stage.

Charlotte found her journey to have a child incredibly stressful, both emotionally and financially

“When I lost the first one, it was horrific for me emotionally…I was nearly over the threshold,” she says.

“The second time it happened, you just become a little bit tougher, I think. But after that happened, I was like: ‘That’s not happening again. I can’t put my body through it.'”

Miscarriages are more common amongst older mothers. According to the NHS, half of pregnancies will result in miscarriage if the mother is over 45, an age Charlotte was approaching.

But knowing this – and being aware of the slim chances of success with IVF – did little to soften the blow.

“You are very, very surprised when it doesn’t work,” says Charlotte.

“When you start, especially if you’ve never been pregnant before, all you see is the excitement of having something implanted in you as a new lease of life…You just don’t consider the fact that it may fail.”

After having gone through the pain of miscarrying twice, what made Charlotte continue with IVF?

“You end up criticising and berating yourself,” said Charlotte about the IVF experience,

“I had to view it in the same way as I would view a job. It sounds awful, but…I just became incredibly pragmatic,” she says.

“You can either fall in a heap on the floor and your marriage disintegrates, or you just keep pushing forwards and work out a way that you’re going to be successful.”

At this point, Charlotte decided to solicit further opinions to advise her on her next steps.

After several recommendations, she chose to seek further IVF treatment in the USA, where “the embryology departments are a completely different class”.

For Charlotte, it was the right call. In April 2020, after six years of trying, she gave birth to her son, Archie.

“Now, I have the most extraordinary bond with my son. He’s a piece of heaven on earth, and I value him so much because I thought he’d never exist. I feel very, very lucky,” she says.

Today, Charlotte is helping other women avoid some of her own negative experiences.

Charlotte pregnant with her son, who was born in April 2020

In November this year, she launched IVF Network, an online membership platform designed to offer a range of professional opinion, community and support to women undergoing IVF.

“Without having clear knowledge and understanding, you’re doing it on a wing and a prayer…there’s always a different perspective, and I think that’s really where we’re trying to help people – to give them complete clarity,” says Charlotte.

IVF Network offers live broadcasts with experts and a space for people to ask questions.

Soliciting expert opinions can be extremely costly – Charlotte says that consultancy fees alone come in at £350 – and the platform is intended to make this kind of information more affordable.

Of course, IVF is already an expensive process. According to the NHS, private clinics can charge more than £5,000 per cycle of treatment.

In Charlotte’s experience, rounds can cost between £4,500 and £15,000 in the UK – for which there is no guarantee of success.

In the USA, she points out that IVF is around three times more costly than in the UK – and her total spend over the six-year period was in the six figures.

Charlotte and baby Archie

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Most of all, the financial investment influences the decisions you make, sometimes driving women into debt to have a child.

“It’s a very, very expensive process, and you just end up throwing good money over bad at times,” she says.

For Charlotte, it was her sunk costs – the amount she’d already spent on the process that could no longer be recovered – that also pushed her to carry on with IVF, despite her two miscarriages.

“I knew that I had to continue on the journey because I wasn’t prepared to write that kind of money off,” she says. “That’s the other dynamic – it’s so incredibly expensive that people are dealing with that [financial] stress at the same time as the physical and emotional stress.”

By talking about her own experiences and creating IVF Network, Charlotte is keen to raise awareness of the issues women face in undergoing treatment.

“One thing that I found very, very hard, is that it’s the one thing you have absolutely no control over…To anybody that’s going through it, you can’t allow yourself to feel like you’re failing, because that can be quite overwhelming,” says Charlotte.

Her advice for women going through the same thing?

“Don’t give up,” she says. “Get the right support from the right people. If you don’t know where to get that from, reach out to me and I’ll help. I will. There are so many rabbit holes you can go down, and endless pots of money you can spend.”

Do you have a story you think we should be covering? If so, please email emma.magnus@reachplc.com.

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