By the age of 40, the average Aussie wants 1.5 more children they actually have. Our smaller families are the product of more than four decades of declining fertility, of women having children later than they did in the past.
Fertility clinics are booming as a result, with couples seeking the advice of specialists and the assistance of assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF and IUI to create their ideal family.
But are would-be parents skipping a step?
According to some fertility specialists, many couples lack comprehensive understanding of ways to naturally optimise their chances of falling pregnant, including tracking ovulation, basal body temperature and monitoring cervical secretions.
Professor Bill Ledger, gynaecologist with the University of NSW and Royal Hospital for Women, says basic knowledge such as this is crucial, and often lacking.
“It’s important that couples understand the best age, the best time in the cycle, and best ways to improve their fertility health and fitness, in order to optimise their chances of conceiving,” he said.
“This information is particularly relevant as women continue to wait longer before deciding to try for a baby.”
LISTEN: Monique Bowley and Rebecca Judd speak to the experts about the often-complicated process of conception. (Post continues below.)
Canberra woman, Aerin Gordon Heinrich, would have started her family a lot sooner if she could have. But by the time she found her partner, Carl, she was 32. And he was four years older.
“I’ve always been acutely aware of the science, the biology, when it comes to having children [in your 30s], so I was quite conscious of that,” the 34-year-old told Mamamia.
“I knew what the steps were: you try naturally for a while, then you go to the doctor, then to a specialist.”
The couple left it entirely to nature for the first few months, but after no success Aerin started researching ways to improve their chances. On the advice of a fertility nurse friend, Aerin tried conceiveplease – a fertility kit containing male and female pre-conception vitamins, information about correctly timed sexual intercourse, medical tools and devices to track ovulation, and pregnancy tests.
“The reason [the kit] appealed to me was that it was giving me all the tools I needed to try and get pregnant on my own, so that if did get to the point where I needed to see a fertility specialist I could say, ‘I understand my cycle, I understand the role of temperature, I understand when I’m ovulating,'” she told Mamamia.
“Unless you do your own research, or talk to a specialist or your doctor, you don’t really understand that there are so many tools out there to help maximise your chances.”
According to Sydney-based fertility nurse, Pru Sweeten, many couples underestimate the importance of timing in conception, even those who have been trying to conceive for 12 months or longer. Information around ovulation, for example, is based on averages and not every woman operates on a 28-day cycle.
“Knowledge and accuracy is pivotal when it comes to planning a pregnancy. However, most couples with whom I work, base their conception plans on general, non-personalised information from apps, websites or even from the experiences of their friends and/or families," she said.
“Using accurate tracking techniques, such as changes in basal body temperature or hormone surges detected in urine, will enhance the chance of conception when timed with sexual intercourse. These are simple, holistic solutions to overcoming fertility challenges for couples who are able to conceive naturally, and don’t necessarily need to go down the reproductive technique route."
As it turned out, Aerin and Carl were among those fortunate couples. They are now parents to 2-year-old Alexander, conceived after a month of using the conceiveplease kit, and are already hoping for a sibling for their little boy.
"Given my age now, I understand it will be a little harder again," Aerin said. "But I'm arming myself with all the information and tools to give ourselves the best shot. And depending on what happens, we know that we've done our best."
For more information on starting a family and fertility aids, please talk to your doctor or a health care professional.