Why your biological clock can keep ticking after 35
MANY women about to hit 35 can almost hear the ominous ticking of their biological clocks, thanks to doom-laden warnings about declining fertility.
But an American academic has refreshing news — time might not be running out so fast after all.
Psychology professor Jean Twenge has questioned often-quoted statistics which claim that one in three women over the age of 35 will still not be pregnant after a year of unprotected sex.
These figures were based on a study which appeared in the science journal Human Reproduction in 2004.
But now Jean has pointed out that the researchers based their findings on church birth records from rural France between 1670 and 1830.
The boffin at California’s San Diego State University says: “Isn’t that amazing?
“The statistics on which women today are making decisions about their careers, relationships, and when to have children are based on a time before electricity, antibiotics or fertility treatment.”
Jean also found evidence contradicting claims that women over 35 often experience a higher rate of birth defects.
Among women aged 35, 99.5 per cent of babies will be chromosomally normal at delivery and 0.5 per cent, or one in 204 will not be.
For women aged 40, 98.5 of babies will be chromosomally normal, and 1.5 per cent, or one in 65 will not be. Even for women aged 45, 95 per cent of babies will be born chromosomally normal.
Jean claims that the majority of Down’s syndrome babies are actually born to women under 35.
She says: “There are so many of us struggling with this issue and we’re being bombarded with conflicting advice, all of which points to our 35th birthday as being the moment to fear. But it’s just not true.
“Fortunately fertility is still very high in a woman’s late thirties. I’m not saying fertility doesn’t decline with age. It does, but it doesn’t decline by that much.”
Fertility expert Zita West agrees. She says women often feel a sense of panic when they hit 35 if they’ve not yet been able to have children.
She says: “There is an idea that terrifies women and it’s this figure of 35 — the notion of fertility going over a cliff.
“It creates a real sense of panic. Many women today have been on the Pill since they were 15 or 16 and come off it in their early 30s and this just seems to add to that concern.
“Sometimes women may not be in the right relationship, or they may be busy building a career and so they are having children after the age of 35.
“It may be that the woman wants a baby but the man isn’t ready to commit.”
But Zita says plenty of women go on to have children in their late thirties and early forties. She continues: “In my experience, everybody has different levels of fertility. This is not a case of one size fits all. There is a decline in healthy eggs from 35 but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any at all.
“I have treated many women in this age group who have had healthy babies and, of course, there are many fertility treatments available now if they do have problems. We really need to try to get past this idea of a biological clock.”
Professor Simon Fishel, from Care Fertility, agrees that more older women are having healthy babies than ever before.
He says: “Many women who delay starting a family and then experience fertility issues may feel guilty they did not try earlier — but was the issue related to her age?
“With better diet and lifestyles, there is no doubt that women are able to conceive naturally later than their predecessors of several generations ago.”
And even if you do leave it too late to have a baby naturally, there are many treatments available to help.
He says: “Not all women can plan their pregnancy to a preferred stage of their lives, so many circumstances arise that cause a woman to delay having children.
“Thankfully modern fertility practice can help couples conceive in almost all circumstances.”
Meanwhile, Nick Macklon, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Southampton’s Complete Fertility Centre, says a woman’s lifestyle may play a larger part than her age when it comes to fertility.
He says: “It’s your ovarian age that really matters, not your actual age.
“The chances are that if you look young and healthy, your ovarian age will be young, as the rate of ageing and your biological clock are linked.
“Those who smoke will see their ovarian age increase much faster than those who don’t.”
He adds: “We seem preoccupied as a society about the so-called best age to have a child.
“I’d argue that the best age is one when a woman has met Mr Right and they’re ready for the responsibility of parenthood.”
THEATRE director Katy Arnander, 46, lives in west London with partner Scott, 50, who runs a mobile phone business. The couple have two children, Lydia, four, and Adelaide, three. She says:
“When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was so busy enjoying my career and travelling that I barely gave a thought to being a mum.
“I also hadn’t met the right man. Scott and I met when I was 36 and it took a few years for us to make sure we wanted to be parents together.
“I was very caught up in my career and my adventurous life and I felt I hadn’t met the right man to have children with.
“But I found that being 40 really concentrates the mind.
“I realised that time was going to be precious and we started trying.
“I was so lucky in that I managed to conceive naturally, after trying for a relatively short time.
“I’m very glad that the biological clock exists within us. I felt: “I must do this now.” Then after Lydia was born I conceived again, just a year later.
“Having a baby when you are over the age of 40 isn’t as easy as when you are younger – your body doesn’t naturally snap back into shape and often I do feel absolutely exhausted.
“But I don’t think I would have been in the right place, mentally, to have had children in my twenties or thirties.
“It’s a hectic juggling act, working at a demanding job and looking after the girls, getting up at 5am and running around after them all weekend.
“But I love it – and I’m actually really delighted that I have had the children at this stage of my life.
“My only real regret is that I would have liked to have had four children but that isn’t going to happen.
“I’m also very aware that my time with them is precious and I’m going to be quite old when they go off to university.
“I want to be a grandmother, too, so I’m going to encourage my kids to have children young!”
LOUISE WELLS, 44, works in sales. She lives in Hampshire with sales rep fiancé Martin Berry, 36, and daughter, Summer, 21 months. She says:
“Throughout my late 30s I doubt there was a day that passed when I didn’t worry, at least once, about whether I had left it too late to have a child.
“I felt under pressure from family, friends, society and, above all, myself to have a baby before I hit 40. I could almost hear my biological clock ticking away.
“But the truth was I still hadn’t met Mr Perfect – the man I could imagine raising a child with.
“I’d had a couple of long-term relationships but neither of these men had seemed “dad material”. But as my 40th came and went I feared I’d been too picky.
“It struck me that I could have been a mother several times over by now, yet here I was facing a lonely, childless future.
“I met Martin through an online dating agency in 2009. We fell in love and got engaged four months later. Our little girl, Summer, was born in September 2011.
“I’m so glad I held out as Martin is a brilliant dad.
“I’m fit and healthy and so is my daughter.
“I might not enjoy the same levels of energy that a younger mum would have but I more than make up for that in patience.
“I’ve no regrets about having a baby later in life. It was right for me and I now have the perfect family.”
ELLIE STONELEY, from Cambridge, had daughter Hope, now 18 months old, aged 47. She works in social media for a charity. Her husband Roy, 50, is a house renovator. The 48-year-old says:
“I became aware that my biological clock was ticking when I was 41. Before that I had always thought I would be a mum some day, but once I hit 40 time did start to accelerate.
“When I was in my thirties, it just wasn’t the right time – I hadn’t met my husband and also my father was very ill.
“Roy and I married in our mid-forties – just four days after my father died.
“We talked about IVF but I fell pregnant naturally. Then I suffered a miscarriage and for the first time in my life, doubts started to creep in.
“The trauma and grief brought it forcibly home to me just how much I wanted to be a mum. But could it be that I’d left it too late? I became increasingly aware of how difficult it might be.
“But my brother has young children, and being with them brought it home to me how much I wanted to be a mum and how much family mattered to me.
“Along with the ticking of the biological clock comes the fear – what if I can’t have children?
“I was told IVF would be the only route for us and we went to a clinic in Spain. Our attempt was successful. I kept fit and ate healthily throughout my pregnancy and had Hope via a caesarean.
“Now 18 months old, she is a gorgeous, healthy little girl. Like any new mum I am exhausted at times but she has brought so much joy.
“When I was younger I always imagined I’d have two children, at the age of 29 and 31 – I had it that planned out!
“But this didn’t happen. Now I feel proud and privileged to be a mother. To be honest, I think I am probably a much better mother than I would have been when I was younger.”