Australians have ‘poor understanding’ of fertility, experts say


For many years now, Australians have been pushing back the start of a family until after the age of 30, opting to instead focus on a career and further education.

What many women and men don’t realise, is that by the age of 30 a woman’s fertility is already on the decline.

Like many people, from a young age Rachel Altman had wanted to have children and start a family of her own. She said it was part of her life plan after high school.

“I thought that I would go to university, get started on a career, have some success, meet a wonderful man, have some children, continue to have a career. I thought I would have it all,” she told SBS News.

By the time she was almost 30-years-old, Ms Altman had a long-term partner, they’d bought a house and decided to have a baby.

Rachel Altman talks to SBS News.

Rachel Altman talks to SBS News.

SBS News

Then, after nine months of trying, she fell pregnant, but the pregnancy was ectopic and she lost the baby.

Doctors told her the only way she would be able to have children would be by using in vitro fertilisation.

Ms Altman then went through years of IVF without achieving the desired result and at the age of 38 was told her chances of getting pregnant were near impossible.

She said the news was unbearable. 

“It’s heart breaking. You have your life mapped out and you expect it to include certain things. You have to re-think your entire life.”

Ms Altman’s story is one that’s becoming increasingly common.

Many Australians don't realise the ages in which a female's fertility rate declines.

Many Australians don’t realise the ages in which a female’s fertility rate declines.

SBS News

After surveying more than 380 childless Australian men and women between the ages of 18 and 45, a Flinders University study found many are overestimating the effectiveness of IVF and don’t realise the ages in which a female’s fertility rate declines.

Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Flinders University Kelton Tremellen was one of the researchers behind the report and said many couples misunderstand how difficult it can be to fall pregnant beyond the age of 35.

“By the time a woman reaches 35 it will take her twice as long as 30 year old and by 40 it will take her four times as long.” 

The report’s authors are calling for woman to undertake ovarian screening tests at a younger age to learn about their fertility.

Although experts agree testing is important, many say it only offers one insight into a larger picture.

Brisbane-based gynaecologist and obstetrician Associate Professor Gino Pecoraro is among them.

“So it’s one part of the picture but it doesn’t provide all of the information and of course people need to remember that it takes two to make a baby and we do need to look at the male factor.” 

The report suggests that many men and women think delaying starting a family until well into their 30s is a viable option. 

But after becoming aware fertility decreases with age, 74 per cent of the women surveyed said they’d re-evaluate their reproductive planning.

Unfortunately for Ms Altman, that’s no longer an option.

Looking back, Ms Altman said she hadn’t realised the true impact of ageing on fertility and the need to factor egg viability into family planning.

“I certainly overestimated how much time there was for women to do everything they wanted to do. Freedom to me is making sure people have the most choice available to them for the longest time possible and I definitely overestimated how long that window of choice would be open for.”

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