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Why Are British Women in Their 50s Requesting In Vitro Fertilization?

British women in their 50s are seeking out IVF more.

May 15, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

Women around the world have been having children later in life-- a trend that has seen the age of parents increase each year. The average age of first-time mothers in the UK in 2016 was 28.8 years old-- and seems to be older each year. If women are at their fertility peak between the ages of 25-35 years old, what does this mean for women who pass this window without having children? Most women past 40 years of age turn to fertility treatments such as IVF. But what about women into their 50s who are interested in having children?

In this article we’re going to examine:

  • Why the increased requests for IVF treatment in women in their 50s?
  • What do the critics think of this?
  • A success story

pregnant woman
British women are demanding more access to IVF treatments to have children later in life.

Why Do Over-50 British Women Want IVF?

Women biologically start to decline in their fertility around the age of 35. But between the ages of 20-35, they are expected to graduate from university, start a career, get married, and have all their children. If this seems like an impossible task, you’re right. Most women have to sacrifice one or the other-- either their career or having children while they’re younger. There just isn’t enough time to do everything. However, British women in their 40s and into their 50s are pushing back on this. So much so that there has been a noticed increase in the number of women in their 50s who are requesting IVF treatment for the first time.

This is largely due to the fact that currently there is no age limit for the treatment in the UK-- and women are taking advantage of this. Doctors believe that they can successfully help women up until the age of 55 undergo IVF. The woman must prove that she is fit and able to carry a pregnancy to term in order to be considered for the treatment. There are greater risks involved with pregnancy past menopause, including miscarriages and pregnancy complications.

The London Women’s Clinic has already accepted eggs from 26 women who are aged 51-54 for use in IVF treatment. There is clearly a want for older British women to have a chance at being a parent-- this increase in IVF requests proves that age shouldn’t be the end all with regards to pregnancy.

pregnant woman
Doctors note that there is a higher risk of pregnancy complications and miscarriages the older the mother is.

What Do the Critics Think?

Although National Health Service (NHS) doctors still recommend having children before age 40, they admit that there is no legal barrier to private clinics assisting women in their 50s with IVF. Doctors who are assisting older women with pregnancy think it’s sexist to think that older women shouldn’t have a chance to have children-- when men are allowed to do it all the time.

However, as mentioned earlier, every year past 40 there are an increase in complications that can develop if an older woman becomes pregnant. There is also the chance that an older mother will not have as much time with her children-- and that they will have to experience possible sickness and death while they are still at a young age. Even though these women might feel young, their older bodies create a greater risk of hospitalization, stillbirths, and pre-eclampsia.

Some doctors believe it would be wise to put limits on the age for IVF treatment, and insist that clinics are only looking for another way to make money off women’s fertility.

woman with a baby

Image courtesy of The Guardian. Elizabeth Adeney is the oldest UK woman to become pregnant via IVF.

Success Story

Regardless of what the critics think, IVF treatment in older women can be successful-- and produce a health baby. Elizabeth Adeney became the oldest woman in the UK to give birth in 2009 at the age of 66. She joined other women in seeking help abroad-- before more clinics were available in the UK to help older women with IVF. She traveled to the Ukraine for her fertility treatment-- and used a donor egg and sperm. She had undergone fertility treatments for two decades beforehand-- and was not about to let her age determine if she could have a baby or not. This is encouraging news for older women-- who either due to infertility in the past or simply missing their biological window-- who want to still have the experience of being a parent.

Women want more time to have a career-- as well as have children. By allowing women to continue, or start, IVF treatment into their 50s they are offered this chance that has not been a viable option in the past. Perhaps with more older mothers, society can get rid of the stereotype that women shouldn’t be considered suitable first time mothers later in life.


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