Kate LeahyThu, 1 April 2021, 3:58 pm
Like many women, I reached my 30s and noticed an audible change in the discourse surrounding my fertility. As if a klaxon had sounded and overnight my chances of parenthood were deteriorating as fast as my body was supposedly shedding eggs. Yet, despite positive figures that show women are successfully having children in their 30s and early 40s, the same generic statistics and views were indicating that the only thing I could – and should – do was panic.
While I had relationships during this time, none amounted to a family. So, at the age of 36, single and knowing that I’d like one, I decided to assess my options by looking into my own fertility rather than engaging in the one-size-fits-all data. So, I booked myself in for a fertility MOT.
At around £300 for an assessment, it’s a far cheaper first step than egg freezing, which can cost thousands and be gruelling with no guarantees. And, it was less committal than creating embryos with a sperm donor when I still had time to meet someone. I wanted to know how my own biology was fairing before making any rash decisions.
The assessment at a clinic in London consisted of a blood test to check my Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) levels, an internal scan and blood flow doppler to look at the condition of my ovaries, the amount of egg producing follicles I still had and the lining of my uterus. I then had an in depth chat with a consultant to discuss my medical and family history. It was a stressful few minutes of number crunching before the doctor confirmed my ovarian reserve and “environment” were above average for my age.
I felt beyond relieved to know things seemed in good working order and that I still had a chance to conceive but, as with any fertility treatment, the results can’t tell you if you will definitely be able to have a baby or not. Some women with a good ovarian reserve may still struggle and, likewise, those with a low reserve may not, which is why, according to the experts, the family and medical history is such a key part of assessing fertility markers.
Dr Raj Mathur, a Senior Fertility Consultant at Manchester Fertility and chair of the British Fertility Society says, “The assessments are to be treated like any other piece of information about your health. They don’t give you a complete picture but there are situations where the tests give you information you might be able to use in planning your next steps, your life and treatment.”
Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director at Create Fertility in London, a pioneer of the MOT, agrees, “A fertility assessment is really a proactive test to understand your fertility status. Knowledge is power. If you know where you are with your fertility then it can give you reassurance or help you to plan for the future, improve your natural fertility in the form of changes to lifestyle or by addressing any underlying medical, gynaecological or pelvic conditions. It’s a comprehensive assessment.”
And, it’s becoming more popular as women realise the option is available to them. In 2019, 730 women undertook a fertility MOT at Create compared to 117 women who committed to egg-freezing based on a risk of declining fertility. They expect that number to be even higher when normal service resumes post-lockdown.
The information I received didn’t just give me peace of mind but it enabled me to make a more informed decision, rather than panicking myself into one. Soon after, I met my partner but I didn’t want to force the relationship down the family path just because of my age when we were still getting to know each other.
After a lot of research and thinking, and a year after my first MOT, I made the decision to freeze my eggs. I felt positive it was the right option for me. Prior to treatment, I had another fertility assessment which gave me similar results to the first one – a sort of comfort that the overnight deterioration women over 35 are constantly told to expect wasn’t a done deal.
I’m now pregnant with twins age 42 via ICSI, a more precise form of IVF. My partner and I needed it as his sperm had been frozen due to cancer treatment. The same fertility assessment was performed on me before we started and the same results appeared, the doctor declaring I had the fertility of a 25-year-old.
Had I listened to the panic klaxon, I’d have perhaps felt forced to make choices I wasn’t ready for at the time. As it turns out, I’m unlikely to ever use the eggs I froze at 37.
The notion that we need to jump into a decision based on generalised statistics – even in our 20s when we are said to be at our most fertile – is demoralising and forces many of us to take unnecessary action. We are all individuals. Arm yourself with your own data rather than putting your eggs in the same basket as everyone else.