By Tayla Larsen
Fertility rates among Queensland women aged over 35 have significantly increased over the past two decades, with the average rising by 61.31 per cent.
Data from the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office shows more women are successfully conceiving at an older age, especially those over 45 where the fertility rate has risen 300 per cent over 20 years.
Throughout the past 10 years the overall average fertility rate of women over 35 rose to 77.24, however this figure has dropped slightly to 76.24 during the past five years.
Experts say assisted reproductive treatment has been a driving force behind increasing women’s chances of becoming mothers.
Queensland Fertility Group consultant and gynaecologist Dr Petra Ladwig says the advancement of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in particular has given patients more options to successfully conceive and carry a baby to term.
“If they’re older then they’ve got decreased biological potential in their eggs which nothing can change unless they’re willing to go to donor eggs,” she says.
“But for people with potential problems with ovulation or low egg supply or where there’s a male factor, things like sperm injection have given them a lot of choice now which they wouldn’t have had in the past.”
Another choice women now have is to freeze their embryos at a younger age and save them for transfer later in life.
Frozen embryo transfers have been more receptive in women over 40 than fresh embryo transfers and usually result in live births.
This is a step forward for women as the data shows a woman’s fertility decreases significantly after 35.
Between the ages 35 and 39 the total fertility rate over 20 years is 1107, which decreases 81.21 per cent when a woman is aged between 40 and 44. This figure further drops 94.9 per cent once a woman reaches 45.
Dr Ladwig says the modern medical testing involved in IVF is helping to increase the likelihood of older women delivering healthy babies.
“We do a lot of genetic testing as well now so we biopsy the embryos, particularly for the older patients, to see if their embryo’s actually chromosomally normal,” she says.
“We do more and more of that because by the time you’re 40 probably only one in five of your embryos will be actually chromosomally normal, so you can have a lot of transfers of ones that are never going to go anywhere.”
Despite the medical advances, people still are asking why older woman are having babies.
Surprisingly it’s not entirely because of the societal belief that women are delaying having children to focus on their careers.
Dr Ladwig says while this may be the case for some women many factors like relationships, years of trying and medical issues are the main reasons why women seek IVF treatment.
Couples may have been trying to conceive for years both naturally and through IVF, but now medical advancements have increased their chances of becoming parents.
Lisa Nugent suffered two ectopic pregnancies and went through 12 years of IVF before she fell pregnant with her twins at age 39.
Mrs Nugent says the majority of people still assume women are simply putting off having children, but don’t realise how long a couple may have been trying to conceive.
“I know there is a very big misconception that people are doing this because of their career,” she says.
“I don’t know anyone – no one – and I know a lot of people who have gone through IVF and not one of them is because of careers and leaving it until the last minute.
“It’s generally always medical issues.”
Throughout her IVF journey, Mrs Nugent encountered numerous medical issues with the process costing her and her husband close to $200,000.
Polycystic ovaries initially decreased her chances of falling pregnant and these chances further fell when her ectopic pregnancies caused her to lose both of her fallopian tubes.
She was also placed in the intensive care unit for three weeks with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition which injectable hormone medication causes.
However, during her 12 years of IVF treatment fertility rates for women in her age group rose 55 per cent.
Mrs Nugent says technological advances have helped women like herself overcome medical obstacles and is what ultimately helped her finally have her babies.
“This hyper syndrome … which stopped a lot of women, they’ve worked out ways to avoid that now too because when I did IVF it wasn’t new, but it wasn’t as streamlined as what it is now,” she says.