What is the best age to undergo fertility testing?
Fertility testing is something that I have recently done. In the year 2016, I went through the worst year of my life. The Boyf and I had been trying for a baby for a year, then I suffered three miscarriages. I cannot tell you the total and utter heartbreak that came with those.
I will never heal fully from them. Undergoing fertility testing was, and let me be honest here, truly awful. It was expensive, invasive, embarrassing, confusing… and at the end of the day, we ended up with the diagnosis “unexplained” infertility, which means that everything is operating as it should; eggs and sperm are fine, fallopian tubes are clear, no apparent signs of endometriosis. In one way, we were “lucky”, but in another way, people who end up with a diagnosis of “unexplained” infertility have no clear path to follow.
Fast forward to January 2018, a mere 9 months ago, and we were blessed with our beautiful daughter. Some people who are diagnosed with infertility go on to have many babies, many of us end up with none. Where I live, in Australia, adoption is pretty much out of the question.
In Australia, egg and sperm donation and surrogacy are “known” (not anonymous) and must be altruistic, meaning that no money must change hands (apart from medical costs) – which means that surrogacy, and egg and sperm donation here is also very rare, with a huge wait time. Most women who need egg and sperm donations, or the use of a surrogate, go overseas, which can pose ethical and other issues.
But before you go through IVF, you need to undergo fertility testing
I worked with a journalist named Chris Barry to bring you the following information. The following article is his research, and may or may not be relevant to your circumstance. You must do your own research, and check local laws, as they vary not only country to country, but state to state.
If you would like more information from me about my own journey, leave me a comment down below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I would be very happy to chat with you about my personal experience.
The following article is Chris’ work; and I have added additional points with an asterisk*.
Greater access to contraception has given women greater control over when they start a family or add to their family. This has led to an increase in the average age of women having children. We are all familiar with the notion of a ticking biological clock, but how true is this idea?
In some ways, it has some weight. Around the age of a woman’s first period, usually about 12 years old, is when her reproductive age begins. The end of her reproductive age is the last menstrual period, or the beginning of menopause. Fertility has a “snowball effect” in that it slowly declines as you age and then dramatically declines in your mid-thirties.
Fertility in your twenties and thirties
While a woman is in her twenties, she is at her peak fertility and has the best chance of becoming pregnant. At this age, women have the highest number of quality eggs and a lower risk of pregnancy complications. Women are born with a finite number of eggs, about 1 million, which gradually drops over time. There is about a 25 per cent chance of becoming pregnant naturally each month during your twenties.
Fertility is on a downward slope throughout a woman’s adult life and hits a marked decline around age 35. This is the time in a woman’s life with the most variables when it comes to fertility. On average, after the age of 30 a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant drops to 20 per cent. By 35, this decreases again to 12 per cent, per cycle*.
*Remember that all stats like the figures above are done from surveys and tests. Everyone is an individual, some women are infertile in their twenties, some women remain fertile into their forties. It is individual, and the tests for this are still in their infancy. Usually doctors will ask you to have your AMH and FSH tested.
On average, fertility declines as you age
Women face a higher risk of miscarriage and genetic abnormalities because of the aging eggs. Complications in pregnancy and delivery are more likely to arise as well. By the age of 40, there is only a 5 per cent chance of a woman naturally becoming pregnant per cycle.
The chances of having a healthy pregnancy also decline, leaving the woman more susceptible to birth defects, stillbirth, and premature birth. Pregnant women over 40 are usually monitored much closer by their physician to watch for any potential issues.
When should you visit your doctor about fertility testing?
Depending on your age, your doctor may recommend different time frames for the “watch-and-wait” method of conceiving. If you are younger and in your reproductive prime, you may be advised to continue trying without assistance for at least another year while being monitored by your physician.
Healthy women in their twenties are usually advised to try to conceive for about a year before exploring any fertility options. Women in their thirties do not have the same luxury of time, so if they have not had a successful pregnancy within six months of trying to conceive they are commonly referred for fertility testing.
A doctor’s appointment will provide an in-depth look into your reproductive and physical health to ensure that you are in the best shape to have a baby. It is important to mention all past medical events, even those not gynecologically related, might have had an impact on your reproductive health*.
*A fertility test is not one test. There will be multiple tests, some quite invasive. Your partner will also require tests. This can be quite hard on a relationship, so it’s important to discuss what you’ll do if you get a bad diagnosis. Be prepared for all eventualities.
What to expect with fertility testing
Your doctor may run a series of blood tests that will test levels of hormones in your body and any STDs that could affect your fertility. Sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia are known to potentially have a negative impact on reproductive outcomes.
The hormones that your doctor will be looking at are those that involve ovulation, your ability to become and stay pregnant, and to make sure menopause has not begun. If any abnormalities are present in your blood work, your doctor may decide to begin fertility interventions or refer you to a fertility specialist to help you conceive.
Try to stay positive, but don’t feel you have to
*Infertility is hard. It’s probably the worst thing I ever went through. You might be experiencing something that your mother didn’t, or your sister or your friends. Sometimes it feels like no one understands. It’s embarrassing. It can be soul-destroying. It’s expensive too.
The decision to begin trying to conceive a baby is a very personal one that involves many complex factors such as age, the readiness to become a parent, and stability. You may be at your peak fertility but just not at the right phase in your life to become a parent right now. Likewise, you may finally feel ready to become a mother but have just not been able to conceive.
There is no one way to determine what the right age to conceive a baby is but your reproductive age and health should be taken into consideration as you grow older. If you do feel like you or you and your partner are ready to become parents but have struggled for over a year to conceive, it is time to give your doctor a visit to possibly explore fertility testing.
*Even though I have said that fertility testing is hard, expensive and embarrassing – most women will be used to the types of things required as we have been having pap smears our whole lives. The worst thing you can do is put it off in my opinion.
Also, if you don’t get the answers from one doctor, try another. IVF and fertility is still very experimental medicine and it’s improving every year. Good luck on your journey and I sincerely wish you all the best.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.