More and more women, both in Australia and around the world, are putting off having children until their 40s, putting aside biological fertility limitations with the help of IVF.
But there is much that the booming fertility industry would prefer you didn’t know, about IVF success rates, about fertility over 40, and about just how necessary IVF really is. Especially in light of this week’s news that a 63 year old woman just gave birth to her first child (which is great for her!!!!!).
Here’s the truth, as we see it.
The Truth About Fertility Over 40
It’s a hard fact to swallow, particularly with all the pressure that women feel to put off having a family until they achieve success in their career and relationship, but fertility over 40 is not a successful picture. Women over 40 often struggle to get pregnant naturally, and are at a much great risk of miscarrying and having complicated pregnancies. Of course, there are some women who fall pregnant naturally, but most fertility specialists consider these women to be the exception, rather than the rule.
This means that when women in their 40s decide they’re ready to have children, they often choose, or are encouraged to choose, IVF as a treatment option. If a woman has not frozen (younger) eggs previously, the IVF treatment she embarks on is called a stimulated treatment cycle. Basically, it means starting from scratch, with daily hormone injections to stimulate egg production. Those eggs are then collected, fertilised, and transferred back into the body where they hopefully latch and begin to grow.
However, for women over 40, this is not always a smooth procedure. The eggs may not grow into embryos, they may not implant properly, and even successful pregnancies can end in miscarriage.
Success rates (of a live birth) for women aged 41-42 are 5.8% for each initiated cycle. By the time you’re 43-44, it’s just 2.7% per initiated cycle. Over 45, it drops to 1.1%, that’s a 99% chance of failure every single time.
So then, why are so many older women in the public eye having children into their late 40s?
Miracle Pregnancies Are A Myth
The answer is simple: egg donation.
Women aged over 45 are almost never successful in carrying a baby to term using their own eggs. Instead, they rely on younger egg donors to supply the eggs that the older women carry, for a higher chance of a live birth.
However, many women, particularly those in the public eye, choose not to reveal that they have used donor eggs as the resulting children are not biologically connected to them. In the eyes of many, accepting donor eggs is a ‘failure’ towards natural conception, as women are unable to pass on their own genetics to the children they carry.
As the situation becomes more prevalent, more women are speaking out about the realities of IVF after 40. Television host and celebrity Sonia Kruger is one of them. She decided to go public about her IVF journey, and how she came to conceive and deliver her first child, Maggie in 2015 aged 49. She said that her doctor had been clear about her slim chances, and she’d opted to use a donor egg, but she wanted to be frank about it.
“I wanted to be very clear about the fact that I didn’t have a ‘miracle’ pregnancy,” she said.
Unfortunately, Kruger is far from the rule when it comes to admitting the use of donor eggs. Many mums, celebrity and otherwise, choose not to address the issue, which leaves many IVF patients with false hope about their chances.
Channel Nine presenter and journalist Leila McKinnon told news.com.au that it was important for the public to be more honest about how slim those chances are, so more realistic decisions can be made.
“The public does have unrealistic expectations because they hear the success stories about older women in Hollywood having babies. These women aren’t necessarily open about whether they used donors or not,” she said.
Experts Believe IVF Is Being Overused
When we think about fertility treatments now, IVF is the one that comes to mind. However, experts are urging patients to look outside the IVF bubble, at the many other options available for couples having trouble conceiving. One of these experts is fertility specialist Professor Rob Norman. He believes that IVF is becoming overused due to our lack of understanding about fertility treatment.
“I think with the commercialisation of IVF that’s occurring, there’s a pressure in every single clinic to use IVF more, and IVF brings in more money for a clinic.”
According to Professor Norman, many of the women who are undergoing an invasive IVF treatment could have failed pregnant without IVF, but with simpler, less invasive, and cheaper options.
“My estimate is probably 40-50 per cent of people will get pregnant without IVF, and that is by understanding their fertility window, by tracking their cycle properly, by losing weight and exercise or having ovulation induction,” he said.
“So I think a large number of people who are assessed properly can avoid IVF.
“You may not need IVF in the first place.”
Unfortunately, these methods, while they are less invasive, are also less subsidised on Medicare, meaning they are less taken up by fertility-challenged couples.
What You Should Remember
It’s important to remember that everyone’s fertility journey is different. There is so much information that it can feel overwhelming when you start, but if you read up on all the options, find a doctor you trust, and talk frankly with them about those options, things will start to make sense.
You might be one of the women who finds success with IVF, you might find that donor eggs are the only answer, or perhaps there remains a chance for you to conceive through other methods, all you can do is start, keep your expectations realistic, and see how it turns out.