Is your biological clock ticking?
With the average age of first-time mums rising to 30, Australian women are being warned to have kids earlier.
You may be young and fabulous, but your biological clock doesn’t care for your career, killer body or impromptu trips to Tahiti. Problem is, you mightn’t hear it ticking until it’s too late, says Dr Evelyn Lewin
Kay Shubach always assumed she would be a mother. "I just took it as an absolute given," she says. But when the author of autobiography Perfect Stranger found herself in a long-term relationship with a partner who showed no real desire for children, she began to feel the impact of her biological clock. "Something inexplicable happened to me around [age] 38," she says. "It drove me to become quite desperate for a decent father for the baby that I wanted."
So when Shubach met Simon, who shared her desire to be a parent, she thought she had found the ideal partner. Soon after meeting Simon she left her long-term boyfriend for him. She says her "underlying panic" to fall pregnant was part of the reason she started a relationship with a stranger, who sadly turned out to be violent and abusive. "What happened to me was that when I started to feel that the [biological] clock was reaching midnight, I panicked a little and it allowed me to make some unwise decisions."
So what is the biological clock?
According to psychologist Jo Lukins, from Peak Performance Psychology, the term ‘biological clock' is often used to refer to "the increased maternal instincts of (particularly) women as they get older". She says this occurs while the "perceived and actual ‘window' of opportunity to become pregnant reduces". In other words: the older you get, the cluckier you become, and yet the lower your chances are of getting pregnant.
And while men can ‘feel' the clock ticking too, she says they generally don't have the same urgency attached to this feeling, as there is no defined upper age at which a man can father a child. However, Lukins is quick to note: "There is debate as to whether the ticking biological clock in relation to reproduction is a real physical and automatic psychological response, or a conscious wish for children and a socialised experience."
So what do doctors think?
According to Professor Bill Ledger, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at The Royal Hospital for Women and advisor to Clearblue, we mustn't confuse the medical guidelines about when it's best to have a baby from a health and fertility point of view, with the social phenomenon referred to as the ‘biological clock'. He says the ‘biological clock' is simply a term people use to describe a fall in fertility associated with increasing age. Meanwhile, he explains, medically, the best age to get pregnant is "between the ages of about 20 and 35". This is because between these ages a woman is most fertile and least likely to have other complications.
Despite these medical recommendations, Yahoo News suggests that the average age of first-time mums in Australia has risen to 30, as many women establish careers and travel before settling down.
And yet with increasing age comes reducing fertility. Consequently, more and more women are facing the fact they may have delayed motherhood for too long. So why is this happening? "It's very complex," says Prof Ledger. "It's about people wanting to do more in their lives before having children.
"I think the greatest achievement of the 20th century is to have equality of the sexes. I think that gives women great opportunity to do more interesting jobs, to have a career and do the things that men have been doing for many years. But the downside to that is that this biological clock is still ticking." He cites high cost of housing, needing two incomes for living costs and not being able to take time out from work as other factors influencing this growing trend.
Whatever the reason, many women (like Shubach) certainly feel the clock ticking more loudly than others. "Women who feel pressure to have children (and wish to) are more likely to have elevated concern or anxiety as they age if they have not had children," explains Lukins.
Do I still have time?
Often the length of time you're fertile runs in your family, says Prof Ledger. "So if mum had children at 45 and grandma had children at 45, that woman as an individual is likely to be blessed with a long fertile lifespan. So she's under less pressure than someone where Mum and Grandma both had their menopause in their late 30s to early 40s." His advice? Firstly, check your family history.
"Secondly, don't believe everything that you read about movie stars because some of the women who've had kids in their late 40s, such as film stars, have used donor eggs, but they don't tell you that in the article because it's their own private business," warns Prof Ledger. "There are some very high profile people who've had these ‘miracle' babies close to [age] 50, apparently with their own eggs." He says, "It's likely that they've actually had a donor egg but they didn't want to come out publicly and say so - which is fine for them as individuals, but of course it misleads average people...[who] see someone having a baby at 49 and think ‘Oh, I can do it too' and then when they get to that age of course they're way past [the age at which we can] help."
And by ‘help' he's referring, of course, to IVF. Prof Ledger explains: "In terms of IVF, I don't think there's ever been a successful IVF pregnancy in a woman older than 45 - ever - with her own egg. So if you want the kind of time where the high technology can help you, then early 40s is difficult and 45 is pretty much the absolute end of when we can help."
What should you do if your biological clock is starting to rule your life?
"This is a very challenging circumstance for women who feel this pressure," says Lukins. She suggests being "very clear" about why you want to have children, and looking closely at your resources, motives and desires before making the decision.
"The first thing to do is sit down and think it through," advises Professor Ledger. "Talk it through with your partner. Make a sensible choice rather than just putting it off and putting it off, which is what we all do when faced with a difficult decision sometimes. Get the information, read around on the internet or talk to a clinician. Get the facts." And once you have all the information, Kay's advice is simple: "Try to keep a level head...and not panic about your biology."
Check Your Clock
If you want to find out roughly how much ‘time’ you have left in which to become pregnant, speak to your doctor about getting your anti-Mullerian hormones (AMH) levels checked. Professor Ledger explains that this simple blood test gives you a rough estimate of the amount of hormone produced by your eggs. If your levels are high, this indicates you still have lots of eggs left (and therefore time). If your levels are lower, you may want to consider converting that second bedroom into a nursery sooner rather than later. Though it’s not covered by Medicare, Professor Ledger says the out-of-pocket expenses for the test is around $50-$80. Professor Ledger advises, “it’s worth having the chat with your GP and just seeing whether they think it’s worthwhile”.
So you’ve decided to start trying for a bundle of joy.Here’s what you need to know before that pregnancy test turns positive:
Take: Pregnancy multivitamins are ideal, but if you find them a little too pricey, make sure you take at least 500mcg of folic acid every day. It’s best taken for three months prior to falling pregnant. Taking folic acid reduces the chances of your baby having spinal tube defects.
Avoid: Any supplements containing Vitamin A – large doses can cause birth defects.
2. See Your GP
Are you immune to rubella and chicken pox? Is the medication you’re on safe in pregnancy? Don’t know? Then head to your GP to make sure all your immunisations are up to date and your medications are safe. Your doctor may also order some other blood tests to ensure all is A-OK before baby comes along.
3. Avoid Alcohol and Reduce Coffee Intake
Why? Alcohol can cause birth defects, while large amounts of caffeine have been linked to higher rates of miscarriage.
4. Get Healthy
Do moderate exercise (nothing too extreme), stick to a nutritious, well-balanced diet and say hello to healthier living. Oh, and I’m sure you don’t do this but just in case: quit smoking!
Choosing the best health insurance for you!
Good health insurance is now more essential than ever when having your bundle of joy. This is another thing to add to your list. You'll depend on your health insurance for almost the entire process from prenatal and maternity care for you to paediatric visits and immunisations for your baby and yourself.
To escape any surprise medical bills in the course of this delightful time of planning for a baby, it's vital to become familiar with your health insurance coverage now, especially those nasty waiting periods. You'll also need to think about your health insurance coverage if the worst happens and you lose or quit your job. Do a little homework and get the right plan that will suit you and your family.
Planning for Parenthood:
Before you book your first obstetrician appointment, here are a few questions to tick off:
- Will the pregnancy plan cover prenatal and maternity care?
- What are you covered for at the obstetrician? Will ultrasounds be fully or partially covered?
- What is the price difference between private or public hospitals?
- Will there be any waiting periods before you acquire this cover?
- Is there a directory of hospitals in your area? (In case the baby decides to come early.)
- How long of a hospital stay will your cover allow for after delivery? Will the pregnancy cover allow an extended stay if medically necessary?
Ensure you take out family health cover so that your new baby is covered on your health insurance. Singles/couples policies with pregnancy/obstetrics cover mean that you’re covered for the pregnancy but not for when your baby arrives.
If using singles cover for pregnancy/obstetrics, perhaps switch to family cover before the baby is born as this will ensure your baby is protected. Frank Health Insurance or GMHBA range of pregnancy/obstetrics hospital cover make it a stress-free time to look after your family’s health and offer you total peace of mind.