Every time there's a call in the media for women to be more aware of their declining fertility, it is followed by suggestions that this will cause unnecessary anxiety as women are already well aware of reproductive ageing. Now, a new survey of young adults for the leading fertility charity Infertility Network UK has found that the majority of young people who responded don't feel that they have all the information they need about the biological clock.
The survey of 16-25-year-olds found that just 4% of them thought that there was too much information about the way fertility declines with age. More than half said that they didn't think there was enough information about the subject, and a further 24% said they didn't really know much about it at all. They also tended to overestimate the average chances of IVF success and to underestimate the chances of miscarriage.
The vast majority (98%) of the 346 young people who responded to the survey said that wanted to have children and most felt that the ideal time to start a family was under the age of 30. Given that around a fifth of women are currently childless at the age of 45, the reality is that many of these young people are going to end up disappointed.
One 35 year-old volunteer for the charity who is currently going through treatment admits that she'd thought any age-related decline in fertility only happened to much older women;
"I've always been aware that fertility declines with age, but had associated that with ladies in their late thirties and early forties. I didn't realise that for some this can happen earlier. With this in mind, it's a real shame that it can take such a long time for primary care to refer patients to secondary care; some of us don't have this kind of time to waste!"
She believes it is not just more education for young people that is needed, but also for GPs who she feels don't always act quickly.
"I wish my GP hadn't fobbed me off for so long. I wish I had been more pushy from the beginning and demanded a referral earlier on,especially as I had a feeling something was wrong. I also wish the GP had known which tests to order so that the NHS consultant might have realised the urgency of the situation and we hadn't wasted precious time. It's now been nearly three years since we started trying to conceive, but it's been such a frustrating journey, it feels like an eternity."
In Scotland, Infertility Network is in the third year of an education project funded by the Scottish Government to help to raise awareness of the issues surrounding fertility and to prevent, where possible, the heartache of infertility for a future generation. The project ensures that people are informed about the impact of lifestyle choices on their fertility and about how and when fertility declines.
Creating a better understanding of how lifestyle issues can affect future fertility, and giving young people clear information allows them to make an informed decisions about their lives. When the university and college students who'd met the Infertility Network Scotland workers were surveyed in 2015, 99.5% of those who responded said they would give more consideration to present and ongoing lifestyle choices that could affect their future fertility thanks to the project.
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