There 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.