‘Generation IVF’ – does it exist?

You may have heard about the forum organised in New York last month for women struggling to conceive who had experienced unsuccessful IVF. It is an important subject because it is so often ignored but looking at a review of the forum this morning, I was interested to read about an apparent “Generation IVF” of women who “were raised to believe that science can surpass Mother Nature in the tricky dance of conception”.

I know there are women who will leave it until they are approaching 40 to try to get pregnant and hope that fertility treatment will help if they’re too late – but I think most women in this situation are there by circumstance rather than by the assumption that IVF offers miracle solutions to reproductive ageing.  I wonder whether the situation is slightly different in the US where the marketing of fertility treatments does seem to be more aggressive and where there is not the same regulation around clinics and the reporting of success rates.

Here, the HFEA publishes the IVF success rates for each age group nationally, and for each clinic – and so it is quite clear to anyone considering IVF that the success rates for a woman of 43-44 are 5% and for a woman of over 45 drop to just 2%.  The age cut-off for treatment in the NICE guideline also sends a message that IVF is not advised for women who are over the age of 42, and would only be suggested for women aged 40 – 42 who still have a good ovarian reserve.  For women in this age bracket the national success rate is 14%.

So what does drive women who are given very low odds of success to try IVF over and over again? The report says that the women at the forum talked about the pressure to keep trying even when the odds were very low, but where does that pressure come from? Should we blame clinics for agreeing to treat women who have a low chance of success? Or the media for hyped headlines about how fertility treatment can work and stories about celebrities who have had babies in their forties? Or is it something more fundamental to do with human instinct and the desire to reproduce?

Interestingly, the report says that the women of this Generation IVF have grown up with “the reproductive freedom to delay pregnancy” as if this is a given. Of course, women are free to prevent pregnancy, but they certainly don’t have the freedom to confidently delay it. I have never come across a fertility expert who would suggest that fertility treatment gives women the freedom to delay pregnancy either.  Education is obviously key here – we need to work harder to get the message across that IVF cannot turn back the biological clock – but can we lay the blame for hope against the odds at any one door?  I’d be interested in your thoughts..


5 thoughts on “‘Generation IVF’ – does it exist?

  1. Kate,
    A thought provoking article. Here are my thoughts.
    From my experience and speaking to many women I don’t think you’re completely right in your assessment in para 2 as to why women wait. Whilst obviously there are many women who do not have a partner, there are also many other women who don’t know how quick their biological clock is ticking .I have spoken to many women who waited until they were 35 to start trying & others who read the stories in the press about women giving birth early & assume that it will be Ok for them. And often it isn’t.
    I agree that the stats are freely available, however if one were just to read the national press one would assume that success rates were higher. Women I speak to are staggered that failure rates are so high.
    For me the pressure to continue comes from 3 aspects, the human desire, the clinics and even if the chances of success are low, they are not zero, so there is still a chance.
    As you say education is key – and I believe in 2 areas:
    Women need to know how rapidly their fertility declines with age so that they can make informed decisions,
    and at the same time the success/failure rates need to be more publicly available.

    If this information had been available 20 years ago I know many women who would have made different choices.

    • Thanks Lesley for taking time to comment. I think it is interesting that in your experience women are not aware of IVF success rates and of the realities of the biological clock – and that’s all the more reason for more education about this. We still don’t tell children in school about infertility, focusing instead on the risks of unwanted pregnancy, when in fact a handful of the children in each class will struggle to conceive – far more than will experience teenage pregnancies.

      The situation is not helped by those who have been claiming recently that the biological clock does not tick as fast as we are warned. One of these is Jean Twenge who has had a lot of publicity for her theories about this.

      I am also interested that you do feel there is some pressure from clinics. Talking to clinicans, they feel that they are very honest with women about their chances of success – but perhaps it is the very fact that they are willing to offer treatment that leads to that feeling that it is worth having a go. And you are certainly right about the hope against odds which is perhaps just human nature…

  2. My situation currently is that I can’t afford IVF. I’m in a same sex relationship and although I have pcos, we aren’t entitled to treatment on the nhs where we live.

    My options appear to be limited: to go to uni and train as a midwife, something I’ve always wanted anyway but would also provide a high enough salary to pay for IVF, but that’s a 3 year course. I’d be 34 by the time I qualify, so realistically 36+ before I could even start trying.

    It terrifies me. I know I need to start trying now really. But I can’t. I would’ve had kids at 25 if I’d had the choice.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. It is so difficult – and completely unfair – with the current funding situation when whether or not you qualify for IVF depends entirely on where you live.

  3. Interesting piece. I think there ate a lot of social issues at play, with women nowadays expecting a fulfilling career, financial freedom and other opportunities, including travel etc, means having children is delayed. However, there is also a trend of men and women not taking responsibility of their fertility, leading unhealthy and often stressful lives. Again, a social issue, I guess?

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