Do breakthroughs in science mean we are too old to have a baby? "With assisted reproduction, there are no limits — you can get pregnant through egg donation [eggs donated by a younger woman] at any age, once the womb is there," says Dr David Walsh, medical director at Sims IVF clinic.
Because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. "Our job in the clinic is to simulate what may happen in the natural world. There have been recorded pregnancies in the 50s, but they’re few and far between." (From 2000 to 2010 inclusive, 33 live births in Ireland were to women aged 50 or older — ESRI).
The age trajectory of natural female fertility takes no prisoners. It’s over 10 years before menopause — and women are menopausal by age 51. If you start trying to get pregnant at 30, you’ve got a 90% chance of succeeding. If you wait until you’re 40, you’ve a 40% chance of not getting pregnant.
These are the hard facts of age-related, declining female fertility, but Irish women aren’t listening, say experts. "For most women, fertility’s coming to an end at 41 or 42. We all know women who conceive at 44 or 45, but they’re the exception. It’s massively difficult to get this message across in Ireland," says Anita O’Neill, fertility midwife specialist and manager of the London-based Zita West Group, which runs monthly fertility clinics in Dublin and Cork.
Women in Ireland are "not realistic" about their chances, says consultant gynaecologist and medical director of Clane Fertility Clinic, Peter Brinsden. "In the UK, national figures come out every year — you can easily look up your chances of getting pregnant using assisted fertility. In Ireland, women tend not to be so well-informed."