Statement from Dr Gillian Lockwood, medical director at Midland Fertility on ‘The Fertility Time Bomb’
Issued: 13 June 2016
|“The UK media picked up on my comment that ‘you can’t Botox your ovaries’, and that I suggest that women should have their first baby at 25. But this is only a snap-shot of the picture I presented during The Fertility Time Bomb at Cheltenham Science Festival.
“Female age-related infertility is a major reason for women to seek fertility treatment. It is brute biology that on average a woman’s fertility is at its best at around age 25 and the chance of miscarriage is lowest, and that fertility declines after 35 while the incidence of miscarriage increases. After 35, on average it takes twice as long to get pregnant as it does before that age.
“One in six couples will need fertility treatment to have at least one child, so my message is that if a couple wants a child – or more – that they should ideally start to try to conceive when her fertility is at its optimum.
“But I am well aware that 21st Century Britain doesn’t make it easy to do this, with at least 50% of women being encouraged to complete higher education – in turn incurring a significant debt – and the new challenges of achieving any career path or job security. Then factor in the cost of housing, and finding a partner who wants the commitment of starting a family when it often takes two incomes to pay rent or a mortgage. And then there’s the cost of childcare and the possible ‘fertility penalty’ of a woman taking a family career break before reaching her career goals, which will cap her projected salary or promotion opportunities.
“Understandably this causes many women to delay trying to conceive until they are almost 30. The discovery then of any conditions which prevent pregnancy, after at least two years of trying to conceive, following investigations for both partners to determine the cause of the infertility, which can take at least one more year, and before she knows it, she’s edging towards 35 years old. And then the age-related decline in fertility will also begin to have an impact on her chances of conceiving either naturally, or even with IVF – even when the problem is male factor.
“Women who conceive in their late 30s or 40s often also find themselves caring for both an infant and a dependant parent – or two. This new 40 year generation gap can bring an additional pressure to many women and deprives many families of the usual benefits of a three-generation family.
“Some of the saddest consultations I experience are with couples who wanted to ‘do everything just right’ – get the education, start a career and get a couple of promotions, have some ‘couple time’, have a first home together, and then maybe buy or rent a home ready to fill with a family. Only to find that some pathology in him or her – or both – is preventing them conceiving, and they become one of the 17% of couples who need assisted conception to realise their dreams of a first baby. All their great planning and ‘perpetual postponing’ mean they will experience many more obstacles to being able to achieve this, despite all their best intentions.
“The media plays a big part in the perception that looking youthful is the key to eternal fertility, with stories of celebrities having babies well into their 40s and beyond, while consumers infer that exercise and an expensive beauty regime are all that are required to keep fit and fertile. If an article covering these celebrities’ babies ever refers to assisted conception, it never mentions that the babies were conceived with eggs donated from a woman half the celeb’s age. And while IVF with donor eggs is an important fertility treatment, it is a vital part of many of these stories, and its omission from any coverage deceives readers and viewers.
“As a fertility doctor, I am mindful of the reputation of this area of medicine and consider it a responsibility to try and help any couples to avoid the need for assisted conception wherever possible, as much as helping those for whom IVF offers the only chance of them ever being able to conceive.”
Dr Gillian Lockwood is the medical director of Midland Fertility in Tamworth, where more than 6,500 babies have been born following treatment, and which is currently achieving IVF pregnancy rates of +50% for women up to 40. She is a pioneer in age-related sub-fertility, and female fertility preservation – and consequently Midland Fertility is the UK’s leading egg freezing clinic. She lectures and broadcasts on ethical and social issues in all areas of reproductive medicine. In particular, she has published and lectures widely on the impact of modern life on fertility, and is an advocate of pre-conception ‘fertility fitness’.
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