real life

Could you identify the age when fertility starts to decline?

Louise Johnson
Louise Johnson

By LOUISE JOHNSON

Like MamaMia writer Kate Hunter, I am a woman and a mother and  I’ve had many conversations with other women about children and family. I also work in the field of assisted reproductive treatment and fertility, so my conversations with hairdressers, taxi drivers and people at parties usually touch on the subject of having children.

As the CEO of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority and the spokesperson for the Your Fertility campaign, I read with great interest Kate Hunter’s article on MamaMia ‘The conversation no woman wants to have with her new boyfriend.’ That conversation being the one about whether he wants to have a family – and when.

Like many women around the world, Kate’s interest was piqued by a current UK advertising campaign ‘Get Britain Fertile’ in which 45-year-old British TV host Kate Garraway is depicted pregnant (and it has to be said, looking quite haggard!).  The message behind the campaign is that women should start thinking about motherhood at a younger age than Kate Garraway’s generation did. In Kate Hunter’s article for MamaMia, she says the aim of the ‘Get Britain Fertile’ campaign was to ‘start a conversation’ about fertility and ‘how it declines markedly at age 25’.

As the Your Fertility campaign involves informing people about how age and lifestyle factors affect fertility, there are a few things I’d like to say in response.

I don’t know if the ‘Get Britain Fertile’ campaign states that fertility declines markedly at age 25 but this is untrue. The age at which a woman’s fertility starts to decline is about 32 and then fertility declines more rapidly in the mid to late 30s. By age 40, a woman’s fertility has halved.

Kate says that the women she knows are all-too-aware of their declining fertility and the issue for them is either they haven’t met someone with whom they’d like to have a baby, or their partner isn’t ready to start a family. Fair enough.  We at the Your Fertility campaign get this. That’s why we put forward the message that age isn’t something we can control but if you’re ready and able to start a family, or want to add to your family, consider your age and that of your partner in deciding when.

We’ve also aimed our campaign at men in the knowledge that it takes two to tango. Men, too, deserve the opportunity to avoid the emotional and financial difficulty of IVF, or the heartache of not being able to have the child they and their partner want. Men also need to be aware of the facts about how age affects fertility  –both their fertility and women’s  – and if their partner is female, understand that, for women, conceiving and having a baby gets more difficult and riskier earlier in life than it does for men.

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In those conversations at the hairdresser or at parties, I too often find myself talking to a woman of about 40 who says she doesn’t have children but she’d like to have them ‘one day’. Unfortunately, this unrealistic belief that conception will happen at any age reflects a media saturated with stories about Hollywood stars ‘Pregnant at 46!’

Before we started the Your Fertility campaign, we did some research. We asked Australians of reproductive age, who either already had children or wanted to have children, when they thought a woman’s fertility starts to decline and when a man’s fertility starts to decline.

Here’s the thing: yes it’s true that, like Kate’s friends, most women know that fertility declines with age. But in our survey, only 25% of women chose the correct early 30s age range as the age at which fertility starts to decline. Thirty six per cent thought it started to decline in the mid to late 30s (which is, as I said, when the decline speeds up).

YF Full LogoMen had similar responses about when a women’s fertility starts to decline, with a slightly smaller percentage of men (17%) nailing the 30-34 age range as the period in which women’s fertility starts to decline.

Here’s what was most worrying: while most people say they want to have children, nearly 25% of women thought their fertility starts to decline at 40 or older and nearly 40% of men nominated age ranges of 40 or older as the start of women’s fertility decline. As I said earlier, by age 40, a woman’s fertility has halved.

I don’t have the space to go into details here but for the record, a man’s age also affects his fertility and has the potential to affect the health of his children. You can find out more at here.

We can’t do anything about our age, or stop the process of getting older. But we at the Your Fertility campaign can give women and men the facts about how age and lifestyle factors affect fertility, so that when you have that conversation about having children, you’ll both be well-informed.

The Your Fertility campaign is brought to you by the Fertility Coalition, a coalition of four independent, not-for-profit organisations: Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, Andrology Australia and the Robinson Institute. Louise Johnson is VARTA CEO & Your Fertility spokesperson.

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