health

Let's calm down a little about the fertility time bomb.

Did you feel the pressure to have a baby before the age of 30?

If you haven’t had a baby by the time you are 30, you may as well give up trying.

Is that the message you got in your late 20s?

I remember it clearly. It was constant. The clock ticking. The fertility time bomb. Don’t leave it too late, the headlines screamed. Columnists devoted inches to statistics showing just how much trouble you would be in if you hadn’t begun to pop them out by the age of 30.

That constant roundabout of media stories reiterating the theme that by the age of 30 it was all over, that fertility of yours (if you even had it in the first place if you were a drinker/smoker/underweight/overweight/ over exerciser/ under exerciser) was about to fall off a cliff.

And that was it.

Chances over.

We heard the heartbreaking stories of women who “left it too late” and we pondered exactly what “too late is.” Many of us knew women who found themselves struggling to fall pregnant, women with whom we held hands and feel a deep ache that their life had not taken a different path.

Several years ago I had a mentor, a woman I deeply respected and cared about who shared with me her battle with IVF at the age of 42. Ten years younger I wanted to take her pain away, while at the same time vowing to listen to her advice and not find myself in the same situation. I vowed to have my babies early. I felt the pressure. I bought into the hype.

I considered myself one of the lucky ones.

The author of the book “Creating a Life”,  Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that, in fact, 42 percent of the professional women she interviewed in corporate America in 2002 had no children at age 40, and most said they deeply regretted it. Her book added to the many layers of media scare mongering.

Statistics like hers startled us 13 years ago, surely we thought back then it should have galvanised a new generation of women to have their babies earlier.

The media hype should have galvanised women into action, but it didn't.

But not so.

In fact, according to the ABS since 2000, women aged 30-34 years have continued to record the highest fertility rate of all age groups. In 1990, the fertility rate for this age group was 102 babies per 1,000 women, rising to 123 babies per 1,000 women in 2010.

In fact, since 2005, the fertility rate for women aged 35-39 years has exceeded that of women aged 20-24 years.

But should we be worried?

Once again, we woke up to the news that women's fertility was in the headlines with a top British doctor saying that women who wish to start a family should start trying for a baby before they turn 30.

Consultant gynaecologist Professor Geeta Nargund has been lobbying the government with a sternly worded letter saying that fertility issues were placing a “costly and largely unnecessary burden on the [UK medical system]”.

She urged fertility lessons to be included for teenagers in the national curriculum in the UK, saying it was imperative to teach young women about the dangers of delaying parenthood.

“I have witnessed all too often the shock and agony on the faces of women who realise they have left it too late to start a family,” she wrote in the letter according to The Daily Mail.

“For so many, this news comes as a genuine surprise and the sense of devastation and regret can be overwhelming."

“Information is power and the best way to empower people to take control of their fertility is through education."

“Ideally, if a woman is ready for a child, she should start trying by the time she is 30. She should consider having a child early because as a woman gets older, her fertility declines sharply.”

It is once again that frightening message and if you are in your 30s you might be simply hearing this message:

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You have left it too late.

But have you really?

Dr Ric Porter, a highly regarded obstetrician with more than 30 years experience and resident medical expert on the Nine Network’s Today told iVillage the warnings are excessive.

"I  hope no one is telling women they have to have a baby by the age of 30," he said. "All medical science is doing is showing that a woman’s fertility declines after the age of late 20’s."

"The chances of conceiving each month, with no known fertility problems are at 25 years old: 30-35% per cycle, at 35 years old: 15-20% per cycle and at 45 years old: 3-5% per cycle."

"We need to educate women about their reducing chances of getting pregnant as they get older so they can make informed decisions about priorities such as career vs children." he said.

Dr Porter recommended that "if that if a woman (less than 35 years old) is not pregnant after 12 months of trying she should get checked out.  If older than 35 then after 6 months of trying, chat to your doctor about possible factors that may be lessening your chances."

How to have a baby - Men try out labour pains stimulator. Post continues after video.

An article by Jean Twenge for The Atlantic in 2013 examined the various studies which were used by the media telling us that 30 was the be-all-and end-all for fertility.

She found that the widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction.

She found that the data the statistics were derived from were from French birth records from 1670 to 1830.

“The chance of remaining childless - 30 percent - was also calculated based on historical populations. In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment. “

With sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year.

She also found that more recent studies, of which there weren’t many were more “optimistic”.

“One study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2004 and headed by David Dunson examined the chances of pregnancy among 770 European women. It found that with sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds “ she wrote.

Dr Porter said we need to calm down. "Blowing out your 30 candles does not suddenly make you infertile! It’s just a gradual downhill slide on the graph."

It’s a gentle message we need to be spreading to women about education. Don’t panic, just be aware. Don’t buy into the hype about 30 being your cut off, but also don’t believe your fertility is a gift that will always be there either.

Having a baby needs to be about both your heart and your head.

Dr Porter recommends women check out this resource. 

Want more? Try this.

5 things to know when you start your IVF journey.

“If I believed all these stories, I will never ever get pregnant.”

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