Fertility expert wades into the debate about when is best to have children.

ticktock
A “top NHS chief” has become the latest person to warn against waiting until your 30s to have children but Prof Geeta Nargund has gone a step further by calling on the government to teach teenagers about the dangers of delaying parenthood.

According to news reports at the weekend, the consultant gynaecologist wrote a “strongly worded” letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan stating that fertility lessons should be included in the national curriculum.

She appears to be motivated by witnessing the “agony” of older women who are unable to have children along with the “spiralling cost to the tax payer” of expensive and often unsuccessful IVF treatments, according to one report.

Her advice is that women should start trying for a baby before they reach 30 because their chances of getting pregnant start to dwindle as they age – a fact which she seems to suggest comes as a surprise to many.

I am sure witnessing the undoubted heartbreak and devastation of women who want to but are unable to have children in their 30s and 40s is hard for her to see day in and day out but I do wonder whether she, and the others who have waded into this debate, are missing the bigger picture here.

Teen pregnancy.

When I think back to when I was 15, and 21 seemed ancient, I wonder what someone telling me that my biological clock was already ticking would have done? While I am sure it would be taught in a sensible way, as a teenager I had the ability of only hearing certain bits. The headline, mainly. What if I took from it was that if I wanted children, I needed to get pregnant? And fast.

Haven’t we spent many years and lots of money trying to curb the rates of teenage pregnancy? According to a different story earlier this year, a study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has found that “rates of conception for under 18s in England and Wales are at their lowest rate since 1969”. Finally. That doesn’t mean we can be complacent.

Meeting the right person.

I was 35 when I got pregnant the first time and, after two losses, 37 when I had a healthy baby. It wasn’t so much a choice to wait until I was in my 30s to try for children but more a necessity – I didn’t meet the man who would become my husband until then.

What difference would it have made if I had been told as a teenager that I needed to get on and have children before I was 30? Would I have, in something of a panic, simply settled on someone I knew, deep down, probably wasn’t right for me simply so I could have a child?

Working conditions.

It also seems assumed that people are putting off having children in favour of a career – and isn’t being able to go to university, be successful and, if we are lucky, have a job we love something we have also rightly promoted? In my opinion, it shouldn’t be an either or situation. What is needed is not extra sex education but work further down the line to encourage a more flexible working environment where women can take a career break without being penalised.

Of course, even that wouldn’t have made a difference to me. In my case, I spent my 20s working long and often unsociable hours but I still managed to date. The problem was, I couldn’t see myself having children with any of them.

IVF miracle.

Anyone who thinks IVF is an easy option should read some of the blogs of those undergoing what is often painful – physically and mentally – treatment. And yet often it is portrayed as the answer to our prayers. Perhaps if more honest accounts of what undergoing IVF is like were mainstream rather than just the success stories, it might also help?

We are not stupid.

There are also many reasons why women wait. Illness, for example. We should also remember that just because you are young doesn’t necessarily guarantee you can have children. However, in my case it wasn’t like I was unaware of the fact that I might find it harder to conceive, how could I be? The message that our fertility fades – and the problems in pregnancy increase – as we get older is not new. Aside from it regularly appearing in the media, I was often reminded by, hopefully well-meaning relatives and even women at the bus stop, that I needed to get a move on or it would be too late.

And it almost was.

After my losses, at one point it seemed like we wouldn’t be able to have children and it was, as Prof Nargund, said “agony” but how could I have wished I’d got down to it sooner when I didn’t know my husband – the only man I wanted to raise a child with – then? I remember thinking at the time that I wouldn’t have done anything differently, I wouldn’t have given up any of the experiences I had  over the years because those are what would make me a better mum.

Not that I am saying older mums are better. I know some fabulous teenage mums, who are now becoming grandmothers just as I have started my parenting journey.  I often, after yet another sleepless night, lament the fact that I am not younger but I think long-term sleep deprivation would take its toll even if I was 25. I believe, no matter what your age, we all have the potential to be a good or bad parent (or somewhere in the middle which is possibly what many of us feel we achieve on a daily basis).

So what to do?

I don’t doubt that what Prof Nargund says is true, the inability to have biological children when you desperately want one is heartbreaking – and that’s an understatement – but I don’t believe fertility lessons in schools are the answer.

What do you think? Should it be included in the national curriculum? 

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9 thoughts on “Fertility expert wades into the debate about when is best to have children.

  1. I snuck in under the wire at 41 with the help of IVF.
    Fertility and relationships should be taught hand in hand. Like you I didn’t meet Mr Right until I was in my 30’s and for me having children earlier would have been a mistake. That having said I wouldn’t wish the roller coaster of assisted conception on anybody.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. From what I have read about IVF it sounds brutal so I’m sorry you had to go through it (although happy it worked for you). Yes, perhaps a mix of both is the way to go. So difficult to know.

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  2. It’s a tough one, isn’t it?

    As you say, finding the person you want to have children with is tough in your 20’s and holding off having children until your 30’s becomes a game of fertility roulette.

    I’m not sure including fertility issues in sex ed is the answer.

    The fact of the matter is: there is no “one answer fits all”. Women’s life experience, fertility choices etc must not be slung into boxes. We’ve got to make the best decisions we can, given the current circumstances.

    I wanted more children after Boy. Very much so. A divorce and lack of suitable long-term company put paid to that. In the end, I decided that being a mum (again) in my 40s was not for me and took necessary steps. A decision I remain very pleased with.

    See? Personal decision. One size does not fit all.

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    1. Yes, you’re right. I don’t know what the answer is but to me it seems like the people suggesting things are not looking at it as part of a bigger picture. Even if they did I am not sure what the answer is because, as you say, it does come down to a personal decision.

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  3. I think education always tries to use a one size fits all approach which isn’t helpful. I don’t think there is any harm in including fertility in sex education however. It’s important to know. I have three close friends who can’t conceive because they left it too late. Of course you need to find the ‘one’, but this is part of it. I didn’t want children in my 30s so I started young (23) and worked part time. Although I had a fourth at 37 so I feel very lucky. X

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    1. Thanks for commenting, I think you are right, as part of sex ed seems sensible. It was a long while a go but I’m sure they had a bit on things getting harder as you get older even when I had those lessons. I’m sorry for your friends. It must be very hard to come to terms with.

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  4. You can’t win these days! like you’ve mentioned it wasn’t that many years ago that raising awareness and education to stop teenage pregnancies was top priority, then we’re told over population is draining the planets resources (which I agree with), and now, ‘hurry up and have kids’.
    I think it’s all down to personal choice and personal circumstances, I think most people are well aware that fertility starts dropping off the older you get, but some of us have no choice and like you have mentioned, some of us don’t meet our partner till later in life. I only met Tom when I was 35, then I got breast cancer and couldn’t have kids for a few years, its just how it goes. I wouldn’t of entertained having children in the relationships I’ve had in the past, because I knew none of them were ‘the one’ and everyone would of ended up miserable.

    I know plenty of younger women who have struggled to have children, as I know women my age who have had no problem. I am starting to get a lot more aware that my clock is ticking faster and I worry about that, but I try not to as it’s not going to do any good and whatever I have to face in the future, I can face it with Tom.

    Really interesting post, I’ve been missing you’re posts of late, WordPress had stopped sending me email notifications, sorted now 😀

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    1. Thanks for such a great comment. That’s the thing really, you never know what the future holds. Yes, it’s ok to be aware that your fertility fades as you get older but I’m not sure that’s what you should base lifetime decisions on – especially as it’s not always the case.

      I’ve had a problem with WordPress unfollowing people, although it hasn’t done it for a while, that I’ve seen. Maybe it was trying to save you from another rambling post? Hehe.

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