How late can you leave it…

What do you think? Are women leaving it too late to get pregnant?  The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, hit the headlines last week after expressing her concerns about the steady shift towards women leaving it later to try to get pregnant, and about the fact that many more women are choosing not to have children at all.

I went to Sky News to talk about this with author Daisy Waugh and presenters Jayne Secker and Sarah-Jane Mee.  There are all kinds of reasons why women are leaving it later to have children, and it’s unrealistic to think that by banging on about the risks we are going to suddenly see many more women opting to have their children in their twenties. This may be the ideal time biologically, but it’s not always remotely ideal in any other way. Many women in their twenties haven’t yet met the person they want to have children with, they may be still finishing their studies or looking for their first job, they may be living with their parents because they can’t afford a place of their own – and getting pregnant is certainly not on the agenda.

I was interested in some of the comments the story drew from those who were keen to point out that more and more women are having babies in their forties. It’s absolutely true that more women are having children at this age, but it is also true that it’s not so easy to get pregnant and stay pregnant in your forties.  I meet so many women who are feel they are in a battle against time trying to conceive in their late thirties and early forties, and who have assumed that fertility treatment will be able to offer a solution when IVF is not able to turn back the biological clock. I come across so many who are trying treatment for the first time in their forties, and who don’t realise quite how poor the chances of getting pregnant with IVF become. Success rates for IVF are around 5% for women who have reached 42 and fall to around 1% for women of 45.  The risk of early pregnancy loss is high for women of this age too, rising above 50%.

We don’t want to petrify women into believing that it’s virtually impossible to get pregnant naturally in your late thirties and forties because it’s simply not true – but at the same time, anyone leaving it until then does need to be aware that there may be problems.  I always think we talk about it a lot – but people still don’t appreciate how unsuccessful a treatment IVF becomes once you are heading into your mid-forties.

What do you think? Should we talk about it more? Are women still unaware of the realities? Or are we terrifying a generation of thirty-somethings, many of whom will still get pregnant without any trouble?


4 thoughts on “How late can you leave it…

  1. A very considered post Kate.
    My own experience & that of many women I know & have worked with is that they were not aware how soon & quickly their fertility declined. I & many others would have started trying for children when I was younger had I known.
    I fully appreciate that many women may not have a partner, & equally there are others who are married and believe that they can wait & that any problems will be solved by IVF.
    Surely knowledge is power and if women are aware of the stats then they can make informed choices.
    Maybe a few women might be panicked into having children, but more importantly we would ensure that countless others would not be sleepwalking into childlessness.

  2. I’m not sure if many women do actively decide to delay having children until their late thirties or early forties. My experience is more that some women don’t find the right partner at an earlier time when they would like to have had children.

    Another thing I do think is that there’s a misconception in the general public that IVF is used only by women who are too old to conceive naturally, and that if you are doing IVF it’s because you ‘left it too late’. Quite often it’s not only a female issue and if it is, it’s not always an age related one…

    • Thanks for taking time to comment – I’d absolutely agree with you. I don’t think many people actively decide to have children later, it happens that way for all kinds of reasons. And I’m glad you raised the question of male fertility problems too! I think one of the problems with this whole debate is that it is focused entirely on women having children later in life, and suggesting that they should have children earlier – there is another male half to the equation…

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment Lesley – I always feel as if we talk about this endlessly, but then meet so many women who really weren’t aware of the facts that it makes me realise something isn’t getting through. I think often it’s the idea that fertility treatment is a solution if you have left it later – and maybe that’s the issue we really need to address?

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