Age and fertility
In the last couple of days, two news stories have appeared that, at first glance, might seem to contradict one another.
One warns women of age 35 and over not to stop taking contraception, with the Family Planning Association launching its “Conceivable?” campaign that reminds women to remain vigilant.
The other cites fertility doctors who suggest that age is still the most critical factor in whether couples can conceive, despite the wealth of new reproductive techniques emerging each year.
Contraception until menopause
The abortion rate for women aged 40-44 is now the same as for under-16s — four per 1,000 women — in England and Wales.
This suggests there is a real issue with women who believe that, past 35, they have next to no chance of becoming pregnant.
There are many reasons why some women opt for an abortion – including birth abnormalities in the baby, which are more common when the mothers are older.
But FPA says its anecdotal evidence suggests some of the abortions are because women wrongly assumed they could not get pregnant because they were too old.
The FPA’s chief executive, Julie Bentley, said, “Whilst the message about fertility declining with age is an important one, it is often overplayed, alongside disproportionate messaging about unplanned teenage pregnancies.
“It sends an inaccurate message to women and society that only the young fall pregnant and is leading older women to believe their fertility has gone long before it actually has.”
The advice for older women who don’t wish to fall pregnant is simple: continue taking contraception until after the menopause.
Fertility doctors suggest that there are no more people needing fertility treatment than a decade ago.
What’s changed is the anxiety levels surrounding having a family.
Fertility clinics are full of patients who have delayed starting a family and believe that assisted reproductive treatments such as IVF offer them a guaranteed insurance policy of becoming parents.
Unfortunately, these expectations may not be realised, and a quick glance at the latest HFEA national data in the UK shows that only 24% of all IVF cycles resulted in a birth. This drops to 12% for women aged 40-42, and a heart breaking 3% for women age 43-44.
These cold statistics hide an emotional rollercoaster of stress, anxiety and often enormous financial strain.
They do, however, very effectively demonstrate the huge impact of female age on the chance of conceiving.
It does seem unfair, and you can bet there are plenty of women experiencing the “wrong” thing.
There will be those who fall pregnant unexpectedly who are aghast at the prospect, while others desperate for a family watch the years tick by without children coming.
It proves that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to fertility.
Fertility treatments aren’t guaranteed, and while age plays a factor it’s not conclusive.