My husband Charlie and I are delighted to share the news that we’re expecting a baby. The timing is uncanny, the announcement coming in the same month as my documentary Fertility and Me airs on BBC1, but as we all know, it’s impossible to plan these things.
We’d always hoped we’d be fortunate enough to start our own family, and feel lucky that it was straight forward for us.
However, when I embarked on making the documentary, I was starting from a neutral position: we were a couple in our late 30s, unaware of how fertile we were and concerned by alarmist headlines urging us “Not to leave it too late!”
I was 38 when I got married last year and there was every possibility that, like one in seven couples, we’d struggle to conceive, but I found actual hard facts about fertility and conception hard to come by.
It’s ridiculous that we go through school, our teens and university without being educated about conception beyond the basic biology. With an emphasis on contraception, no one explains that conditions such as fibroids, polycystic ovaries or a low sperm count might make starting a family difficult.
Most people in their 30s know a couple going through IVF or who’ve been told by their GP to “keep trying”. Among my friends it was a hot topic of conversation as we thought about starting families. But not enough people are talking about the subject openly. Fertility is still a bit of a taboo.
When difficulties arise, how frustrating that attitudes towards women haven’t become more understanding. It’s utterly shameful that women without children get labelled “selfish career women” when, in many cases, they haven’t gone out of their way to leave it too late to have a baby.
Many have yearned to have babies but may not have met the right partner, or might not be able to fund multiple attempts at IVF, which, in any case, is a precarious process, while others are happy to concentrate on their careers and have never harboured dreams of a family and that too is their right. We need to stop labelling women.
I came to realise that the best way to describe conception is “Russian roulette”. Women often blame themselves for miscarriage, but in a very high number of cases it’s actually the male sperm that causes the miscarriage.
Male fertility falls dramatically after the age of 40. Nobody brings that fact to the fore. It highlights just how much pressure falls on women.
One of the things I was most surprised about is that two basic tests are available on the NHS, which should be every woman’s first port of call – yet how many people are aware of them?
An ultrasound scan can reveal fibroids, cysts or polycystic ovaries; a blood test can indicate hormone levels. Once you’ve had those tests, you have a better picture of how easy or difficult conception might be, and can make informed decisions.
Just before having those tests myself, it struck me that my “clock” might have stopped ticking or an underlying condition could crush my hopes of having a child. While waiting for the results, I spoke to my mum about her experience. She revealed she’d started going through the menopause really young at 43.
That was an eye-opener. It was with a big sigh of relief that I received the news that my fertility outlook was still good.
A few months after finishing the documentary, we’re happy to share the news that we are expecting, but it was amazing to read the stories about my pregnancy: “The One Show presenter… who feared at 39 she’d never have a baby.”
Hang on! We need to go back to basics here. It takes two people to have a baby. I feel strongly that it’s very much a case of “they” and “we” as opposed to “she” or “I”.
Making this film has really opened my eyes to how difficult and heartbreaking a journey fertility can be. But with advice from some of the best in the business and a first look at some pioneering techniques, I hope it will give those who want to be parents some much needed hope.
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