And they lived happily ever after. So many young lovers picture their future as a fairy tale, falling in love, setting up house—and when they’re ready, simply getting pregnant. Few couples are prepared for the realities of fickle fertility.
“In the media, you see celebrities getting pregnant and having babies later in life—into their mid 40s and even 50s,” says Judith Daniluk, a professor of counselling psychology in the Faculty of Education. At this age, most women are not using their own eggs: “You’re not getting the full story and this is driving a lot of misperceptions.”
Daniluk is an expert in women’s sexual health and reproduction; as a counseling psychologist she works with men and women who are dealing with fertility decisions and challenges. She says many are surprised that getting pregnant, especially later in life, can be so difficult.
Not surprisingly, people are turning to the Internet for health and fertility answers. Unfortunately much of the information found online is by fertility clinics promoting their services. Daniluk wanted to create a website with accurate, impartial and easy to understand information.
Myfertilitychoices.com provides men and women with information about fertility, readiness, decision-making, relationships and more. Users can also share their personal stories or ask an expert their burning questions—reproductive, medical or mental health specialists post answers to the site.
“We wanted people to have the information they need so they can know their options. It is about empowerment,” she said.
Before launching Myfertilitychoices.com, Daniluk and PhD candidate Emily Koert surveyed childless Canadian men and women to assess their knowledge of fertility and assisted human reproduction. They found that most Canadians knew only a few basic facts about fertility.
Although most of the 3,345 women and 599 men surveyed knew that fertility decreases with age, a significant majority incorrectly believe that good health and fitness is a better indicator of fertility than age. Most women and men are also incorrect in their belief that until menopause, reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF) can help them get pregnant.
The survey also showed that few people realize the cost, health implications and limitations of IVF treatments. Both men and women did not realize that a man’s age is an important factor in a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.
Koert, a doctoral student in counselling psychology and a MyFertilityChoices.com website and content manager, wasn’t surprised by the survey results—she has heard these things from both her peers and her clients. Koert works with individuals and couples that expected to have a family and are coming to terms with the fact that they won’t be able to get pregnant. The most common things she hears is: “But I didn’t know” or “I thought I had more time.”
Koert says women have little access to accurate information about fertility. Many don’t know how to talk to their partner about wanting to have children, or find themselves with a partner who is unwilling to have children. Koert says the grief and loss that these women feel made her want to get involved in the website project.
“Many women who delay childbearing are devastated when they reach the end of their childbearing years and have been unable to become a mother,” said Koert. “They often feel a sense of powerlessness in being able to create the right circumstances to have children.”
Since the website launched in mid-June, it has been visited more than 7,500 times, and has had over 49,000 pages viewed by people in 116 different countries. The most popular post so far is about men having children after the age of 50.