Fertility education – a teenager’s view

Sex_educationThere has been a lot of debate on the subject of fertility education and whether it would be helpful for young people to know more about their future fertility. Having come across so many people who’ve told me they wished they’d known more and would have made different decisions if they’d realised how rapidly their fertility could decline, I’ve always been very much in favour of more fertility education. It can be part of a more general fertility awareness to ensure young people know more about their bodies than my generation did.

All too often, there are warnings that this might just lead to anxiety for young people who already have enough to worry about which is why this article from the online newsletter Bionews written by a young woman is particularly important. It’s interesting, well-written and worth a read.

Fertility education – what do you think?

120px-Classe-merikanjakaShould we be educating pupils in school about fertility? Or would it just be worrying and confusing for young people? That was the subject up for discussion at last night’s Progress Educational Trust debate at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The evening began with short talks from each of the speakers. Fertility specialist Dr Melanie Davies began with a neat summary of the biological facts, illustrating how fertility declines with age, how the rate of miscarriage increases and how IVF success rates follow that pattern. Infertility Network UK‘s Chief Executive Susan Seenan followed, talking about the charity’s Scottish education project which is funded by the government there. The project has exposed a lack of knowledge among students about basic fertility facts, and has shown how learning more can influence their choices going forwards. Helen Fraser, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust sounded a note of caution about the realities for young women today, and discussed how going to University, having a career, finding the right person to have children with and a suitable home can all lead women to delay childbearing. Finally sex and relationships educator Justin Hancock who writes at bishuk.com spoke about what is wrong with today’s sex and relationships education and why all too often it doesn’t give young people the information they need.

The discussion which followed, chaired by Professor Adam Balen of the British Fertility Society was fascinating with many varied views – is it essential that everyone is properly informed about fertility or would fertility education just be placing adult problems on children? Does fertility education imply that lifestyle choices might be to blame for infertility? Is it time for a complete overhaul of the way we talk to young people about sex and relationships? The audience included a good number of young people who actively engaged in the discussion making interesting points and asking questions.

So would fertility education be a good thing? Should it be an essential part of every young person’s education to ensure they are properly informed? Or do we risk giving them yet another thing to worry about at a time when they have so much to deal with already? My own view is that we miss the point if we focus on teaching about “infertility” as what really matters here is fertility awareness – and I do believe young people should be taught about their own fertility in a way that my generation wasn’t. But what do you think? Would knowing more about your own fertility have made a difference to you?

Fertility education

120px-Classe-merikanjakaIt’s always a slightly controversial subject, but I’ve had a couple of online pieces published today about the need for more education about fertility after an Infertility Network UK survey of more than 300 young people found that most of them didn’t feel they knew enough about the biological clock. You can find the piece for the Huffington Post here – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/kate-brian/young-people-want-more-fe_b_9399942.html and the piece in Standard Issue magazine here – http://standardissuemagazine.com/health/educating-fertile-minds-about-fertility/

Have a read and let me know what you think about more fertility education for young people…

Call for 16-25 year olds to fill in a survey

Do you know a 16-25 year old who might be willing to spend a few minutes (that is really all it takes) answering a survey for Infertility Network UK in exchange for the chance to win a £30 Amazon voucher? See info below – it’s a really important survey and we’d be hugely grateful if you can ask anyone you know of the right age to fill it in! The details are below.

If you are between the ages of 16 and 25, we’d like to ask you a few questions. They will take less than five minutes to answer and are about fertility. You don’t need to think about them for ages, just your instant response is great – and please don’t look anything up – we won’t know who has said what!
We are a charity that works to support people who are having difficulty starting families, and we want to help ensure that young people are fully informed about fertility in the future. To thank you for your time, if you let us have your email address we will enter you into our draw for a £30 Amazon voucher. Thank you!
Here is the link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/V32973X

Should women be encouraged to get pregnant earlier?

images-1There has been a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation in the current debate about fertility education and whether women should be having children younger which hasn’t been very helpful. Fertility consultant Geeta Nargund’s letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan about fertility education has sparked a fierce debate.

We’ve had angry replies from those who say that women already know all about the biological clock, that pushing them to have children earlier is adding too much pressure to already pressured lives and that schoolgirls should not be encouraged to be defining themselves in terms of their reproductive capacities.

Fertility education is not just about age

As someone who is very much in favour of fertility education, I think we need to be clear about what it actually means. It doesn’t mean telling girls that they need to have babies by 30. It’s about allowing them to make informed choices. It’s about teaching girls and boys that sexually-transmitted infections, eating disorders, smoking, weight, excessive drinking and recreational drugs, including bodybuilding steroids, can all have an impact on your future fertility. It’s about making girls and boys aware that fertility does have time limits and that treatments such as IVF can’t do anything to turn back the biological clock.

Do women really understand the biological clock?

Despite the protestations that women know all they need to about their fertility, most specialists in the field see people every day who don’t really understand how age impacts on their chances of success and who expect IVF to be able to offer solutions when they are older. In fact, IVF is far less successful for older women – it’s a treatment for fertility problems not for age. Fertility specialists are sometimes reluctant to spell out to women whose treatment hasn’t worked that this is most likely to be down to age, and success rates for IVF sink to single figures for women over the age of 42.

There has been a lot of focus from those who think women already know about their fertility on the fact that women can still successfully get pregnant in their late thirties and their forties. Of course they can – but not everyone will be able to – and this debate is about preventing heartache for the group who feel they didn’t know the facts.

The other thing that has been entirely ignored in the discussion is the miscarriage rate which goes up as your fertility declines. Women of forty and over are more likely to miscarry than to have a baby if they get pregnant. It’s a horrible fact and not one that most of us like to think about, but it’s true. It’s all very well to keep insisting that women can still get pregnant at this age, but pregnancy is not the aim – it’s a baby.

Fertility education isn’t about telling girls what to do – it’s about educating people, that’s boys and girls, about the choices they make that can have an impact in the future.

 

Should children be taught about fertility problems at school?

120px-Classe-merikanjakaDo you think children should learn about infertility as part of sex education classes at school? It’s an issue which has been raised again recently, and one which I wrote about a few years ago for The Guardian.

Now Geeta Nargund, who runs the CREATE clinics, has been working to bring the question of fertility education onto the agenda with articles in The Guardian and The Telegraph on the subject.

What do you think? Do you wish you’d known more at an earlier age? Might it have made a difference, or would it have felt too far away to be relevant? Is there a risk that telling teenagers they might not be able to get pregnant could increase the rates of teenage pregnancy? Or is it just part of what ought to be a thorough understanding of human reproduction and fertility?

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?