pregnancy

'I don't want kids yet. But I'm already terrified about my fertility.' Let's talk about baby panic.

I distinctively remember the exact moment I knew I wanted children.

After years of not feeling particularly fussed about the prospect of having a family of my own, it was like something inside of me had completely switched.

Suddenly, my eyes were drawn to every baby I saw.

Watch the trailer for Mamamia’s new podcast, Get Me Pregnant, where hosts Rachel Corbett and Leigh Campbell talk all things pregnancy and fertility. Post continues below.

But after a few months of becoming, quite frankly, obsessed with babies, the fear set in.

Although I’m still quite a few years away from even thinking about having a child of my own, the ‘baby panic’ (a term coined by New York Magazine in 2002) has well and truly begun.

What if I struggle to fall pregnant? What if my time runs out? How do I know if I can have kids… even if I’m not ready for kids? 

From my teenage years to my early twenties, it’s been constantly drilled into my head that I need to get pregnant before it’s “too late.”

From doctors to family and friends, the message has been clear. In fact, even at 23 years old, I’m already being asked about when I plan to start trying for a baby.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried.

Listen to the first episode of Mamamia’s new podcast, Get Me Pregnant, below. Post continues after podcast.

The good news is, reproductive assistance is widely available in Australia. In fact, historically, the options are the best they have ever been.

But despite the hope of alternative options, it’s a fear I just can’t shake.

Among conversations with girlfriends, baby panic is a topic that comes up time and time again. At a time where women are considering motherhood much later in life, fear around fertility continues to manifest.

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I asked four women, all at different stages on the path to considering motherhood, to share their biggest fertility fears.

Here’s what they had to say:

“The pressure is causing me to panic.”

“I’m turning 30 this year and I am feeling a lot of pressure, which is causing me to panic. I’m not ready to have kids but there is so much pressure about having kids before it’s too late and I worry that if I wait too long, I could struggle and that could impact how many kids I can have.

“I worry about whether I’m being selfish too. What about my parents? I want them to be able to enjoy their grandchildren and the longer I leave it, the older they get.”

“The biological clock had never been ticking louder.”

“I am someone who has always been on the fence about having kids. I honestly think I will be perfectly fulfilled if I never do. But if I meet a partner who really, really wants them, I think I could get on board with that too.

“When I was 31, I fell pregnant by accident which sent me into a total panic. There was NO WAY it was a good time to have a baby – I’d just moved to another country, away from family, had no money, had no stability, no future plan, and wasn’t in a relationship with the guy, it was just casual. But I just kept thinking, what if I never get this chance again? And it made me question absolutely everything.

“Ultimately I made what I know was the right decision to not go ahead with the pregnancy, but at that time in my life, the biological clock had never been ticking louder. Now, I’ve relaxed about the whole thing again.”

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Image: Getty.

"I desperately want to check my fertility."

"I'm 23 and not wanting children in the near future but I desperately want to check my fertility. I can't stop thinking about it.

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"All of the women in my family are super fertile. I have three sisters who have all had kids and my mum was one of eight children. But I swear I am going to be the one unlucky person in my family that has a problem falling pregnant, despite having no reason to think this."

"I feel a pang of jealousy every time I see a pregnant woman." 

"I’m 39 and so very single. I have never really been in a proper serious relationship where children were even talked about. For various reasons I have just never gotten there.

"Now I’m staring down the barrel of never getting to have children. Egg freezing wasn’t a cheap thing 10 years ago when I would have done it and now it’s very likely I will never get to have kids.

"I see pregnant women everywhere and babies as well. I feel a pang of jealously every time I see a pregnant woman. It’s really hard sometimes. I wake up crying about it sometimes and it’s an ache I can’t articulate very well.

"So few women understand because either they chose not to have kids, or they tried and it didn’t work, which is different. I could have had children – I just never found anyone to have them with. I know I could maybe go it alone but I don’t have a family to support me and all my friends have their own stuff going on."

What do the experts say about baby panic?

Is 'baby panic' common?

'Baby panic' is a form of fear and anxiety which women often face about missing their chance to fall pregnant or struggling to fall pregnant due to fertility issues.

Speaking to Mamamia, IVF Australia fertility specialist Dr Michele Kwik shared that women are increasingly presenting with fears around fertility.

"I probably see at least one patient every week or two who will come in because they're in their mid-thirties and they're conscious about their age," Dr Kwik said.

"We're seeing more and more women coming in to freeze their eggs because they're working on their careers or they want to travel first or they just haven't met the right person."

When does fertility decline?

For many women, age is an undeniable concern when it comes to fertility.

"Going through high school, we're taught how not to get pregnant. But no one actually teaches us about the other end of the spectrum – that the egg reserve eventually runs out," Dr Kwik said.

According to Dr Kwik, the decline in women's fertility generally begins at 35.

"When you look at people trying to get pregnant, it’s relatively easy before 35," she said. "From 38 onward, it’s more of a steep decline in terms of fertility." 

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Image: Getty.
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Are there any tests I can do to find out more about my fertility?

For women that are concerned about their fertility, there are a number of tests available to get a better indication of the likelihood of falling pregnant.

"The main test we do when someone comes in and wants a fertility check-up is an 'egg timer test'. I'll also do an ultrasound to take a look at the ovaries," Dr Kwik explained.

The 'egg timer test', known as the AMH test, is a simple blood test which measures the Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH). The test estimates the ovarian reserve, which is the term used to describe the number of quality eggs left within a woman's ovaries.

"If someone’s got lots of eggs in the ovaries, there will be lots of the [Anti-Müllerian] hormone in their system, whereas if someone doesn’t have any eggs, their hormone level will be low," Dr Kwik explained.

Women are born with all the eggs that they're ever going to have. As they get older, the number of eggs starts to decline. Once the ovaries run out of eggs, the body doesn't produce any more.

Women can access an AMH test at their local GP or at an IVF Australia . According to IVF Australia, the test costs $80 and is not covered by Medicare. For woman on hormonal contraception like the pill, however, contraception can trigger a false low AMH reading.

In NSW, the government is now providing a rebate for out of pocket expenses related to pre-IVF fertility testing of up to $500. (You can find out if you're eligible here).

The rebate covers tests including the AMH test, pelvic ultrasound, ovulation test, semen analysis and specialist consultation fees, which are all available at IVF Australia.

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Is social egg freezing an option?

Amid the increase of baby panic, 'social egg freezing' is becoming increasingly popular.

Social egg freezing involves retrieving and storing the eggs of a healthy, fertile woman in order to have a pregnancy later in life. Women often make this decision in order to focus on their career or tick off items on their 'pre-baby bucket list', like travelling or buying a house.

After 38, however, egg freezing isn't always an effective option.

"If you’re going to freeze your eggs, you want to do it by the time that you’re 38. The best time would be in the early thirties. After 38, the quality of the eggs means that you need to freeze so many eggs to have a chance at pregnant down the track," Dr Kwik said.

Dr Kwik said women should also consider the costs associated with egg freezing. In fact, she often encourages women to consider trying for a baby if they are in a good position to do so, rather than going down the route of egg freezing.

"If you're looking at social egg freezing, for non medical reasons, Medicare won't fund IVF treatment to do that. Medicare will only fund IVF if there's a medical reason for you to do it," Dr Kwik explained.

"The woman’s age is the most important factor when it comes to getting pregnant. Yes, women can freeze eggs, they can freeze embryos – but there’s no guarantee that those are going to work. Because there’s no guarantee, if you know you want to have a family, often the only way to guarantee that is to start trying."

Feature Image: Getty.

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