There’s an interesting piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free written by Barbara Ellen about a paper in the Lancet suggesting young women might freeze their eggs or ovarian tissue for future use. She is quite right to be concerned about the uncertainties around freezing as a solution – it is relatively new, expensive and comes with no guarantees – and yet having come across many women who are still unaware of the realities of their fertility I don’t think all women are aware of the way that fertility declines.
There may be endless screeching about this through the “media megaphone” as she describes it, and yet I regularly meet women in their forties who think that being fit and healthy and still having periods must also mean being fertile. I’m not sure where the disconnect is here, and whilst it is quite true that there are many women who may be unnecessarily anxious about their fertility in their early thirties, the realities of fertility in your forties still comes as a surprise to many others.
I’m not sure why this is – is it that women who are now in their forties didn’t get this message when they were younger? Is it that they are putting too much faith in fertility treatments to solve any problems? The realities of IVF success rates of less than 2% at the age of 45 combined with miscarriage rates rising to 93% at that age are still something too few women really appreciate.
You may have seen the campaign to “Get Britain Fertile” fronted by a poster campaign featuring TV presenter Kate Garraway made up to look like an older-than-she-is pregnant woman. The idea of educating women about fertility may seem to be a good one, but this campaign has already sparked considerable controversy. Barbara Ellen, writing in The Guardian, points out quite rightly that the reason many women delay having children is not because they are career-obsessed or just enjoying their party lifestyles – it’s more often because they haven’t met a man who is ready and willing to think about becoming a parent. On one women’s forum, the campaign was described as ‘patronising’ and ‘offensive’, and the National Student website headlined it as ‘all kinds of wrong’.
There is room for more education about female fertility. Although women are aware that their fertility declines with age, they don’t always know quite how early this begins to happen – and many still assume that fertility treatment is able to sort out any problems that may arise from leaving it late to conceive. However, of all the women I’ve met who are trying to conceive later in life, there are very few who have left it late through choice; the vast majority are in this position because they hadn’t met the right person to have children with earlier. I’ve lost track of the number of women who felt that they wasted years in relationships with men who “weren’t quite ready” or couldn’t decide whether they really wanted children.
Whatever one concludes about the campaign, I can’t see the point of the picture of Kate Garraway made up to look like an older pregnant woman which seems completely wrong on every front to me – What is it meant to be saying? Are we supposed to be horrified at the idea of a wrinkly mother? I suppose the advertisers have achieved their aim of “getting people talking” about the campaign, but perhaps not in the way that they might have intended.