Do you think there should be a cut-off age after which people shouldn’t have children? Or is it fine at any age at which it is remotely feasible? And is it right that we ponder this subject so much when it comes to women having children later in life, and yet barely raise an eyebrow when Mick Jagger has a baby at the ripe old age of 73?
The subject has been back in the news again after Dame Julia Peyton-Jones, former director of the Serpentine Galleries, became a mother at 64. It isn’t clear how she had her daughter, although we can be sure she didn’t use her eggs and that she may well have paid for a surrogate to carry the baby too. I know we all feel and act younger than our grandparents may have done at the same age, but she will be 80 by the time her daughter is 16 – and I can’t help wondering what it would be like for a 16 year old to have an 80 year old mother? Or what it would be like to be responsible for a teenager when you were 80?
Of course, the other problem with news stories like this is that they muddy the waters when it comes to NHS funding for fertility treatment, as many people seem to assume that it is the NHS which is footing the bill for older women to try to have babies. In fact, in most areas there is limited funding for women up to the age of 39, and often nothing at all beyond that. At most women of 40-42 will get one cycle, but if you are older, there is no likelihood of funded treatment.
It’s finally here – National Infertility Awareness Week – and there has been lots of positive coverage in the media and social media today. It’s a shame though that one of the fertility stories hitting the headlines today is about a couple who are expecting four babies after they used two surrogates who are both now carrying twins. The couple – who travelled to India for treatment – apparently decided to increase their chances of success by having their fertilised eggs implanted into two surrogates at the same time.
This is just the sort of story that has people spouting off about the problems of fertility treatment when in fact it is light years away from the average experience of infertility and IVF – or even of surrogacy for that matter. The quotes from the couple concerned don’t help to give a positive picture of their attitude to parenthood – apparently they have no desire to meet their surrogates who they say are doing a job for them in the way that a builder or gardener might – and they’re not remotely daunted by the prospect of four babies as they are confident they can care for them financially. It’s a shame that cases like this can tarnish attitudes towards those of us who need help to conceive, and it’s important to remember that such an outcome wouldn’t be allowed to occur here in the UK where fertility treatment is tightly regulated.
This week is all about raising awareness in a positive way – and that includes explaining why cases like this are not typical and are not happening at a fertility clinic near you every day of the week.
According to the Daily Mail, 45 is apparently the new 35 when it comes to fertility with more and more celebrities giving birth in their forties. The article in question makes it sound as if fertility treatment offers not just hope but pretty much certainty to anyone who decides to try to conceive in their forties as apparently “scientific advances” have made conception at 45 and even 50 perfectly possible. The fact that many celebrities achieve this by using donor eggs or surrogacy does get a mention, but it isn’t made clear that this would be the only way for most women of this age to get pregnant – apparently the only downside to any of this is cost.
The reality is that fertility treatment for anyone in their mid-forties using their own eggs has an extremely poor chance of success. The article celebrates the fact that women who use donor eggs have just as good a chance of success as their younger counterparts, but most couples would want to think carefully before jumping ahead and using donor eggs or sperm as this isn’t something to be undertaken lightly.
The reality is that we are only half as fertile at 35 as we were at 25, and by the time we reach 45 our chances of having a child naturally – or with IVF – are very low and the risks of miscarriage are very high. Yes, there are ways around this using donor eggs or surrogacy – but these are more complex and costly treatments that come with implications that need thinking through.
So no, 45 is NOT the new 35 as far as female fertility is concerned. There may always be away for celebrities with limitless funds who are determined to have a child to find a way around their biological clocks, but even they can’t yet turn back time and rejuvenate their own eggs.