Last month, leading fertility expert Professor Bill Ledger accused women of
“sticking their heads in the sand” about their fertility by delaying
motherhood to focus on their careers. He advised all would-be mums to take
an MOT test at 30 to see how much time they had left.
We sent eight women, aged between 22-42, to check just how much time remained
for them to have a baby. They had ovarian reserve testing – a blood test
that checks the number of healthy eggs left in the ovaries – to see how much
of a difference age can make to a woman’s fertility.
‘I’M DEVASTATED – I’VE LEFT IT TOO LATE’
Sera Dinmore, 36, a dancer from Stevenage, is married to driving instructor
Chris Lowe, 33.
says: “I’d always planned to focus on my career until I was 40, then
dedicate my life to raising a family. Chris was behind me 100 per cent, and
neither of us thought it would be a problem.
I knew I could conceive because I fell pregnant at the age of 25. But doctors
discovered I had an irregular heartbeat – it was slower than normal. It
turned out my baby might not survive, and I could die too.
I was told I needed a termination. It was hideous, but I had no choice.
Now, my heart rate is normal and I’m really fit from dancing, so I assumed
that we’d have a family. I was devastated at the test results, and so was
My GP has sent me for another hormone test to see if I’m near the menopause,
so I know how much time I have to try to conceive naturally. Hopefully then
I can make some informed decisions. But at the moment I don’t know what to
think as it’s not really sunk in.”
Dr Eric Asher of London’s Third Space clinic says: “Sera has a low
number of eggs, which is unusual for a woman of her age. It could be very
difficult for her to conceive, as there may not be an egg to be fertilised
every month. She should try to conceive naturally for no longer than a year.
After that, she should take advice on using donor eggs or harvesting some of
her own eggs for IVF.”
‘NEXT YEAR IS FIND-A-HUSBAND YEAR’
Rachael Drewitt, 38, a business development coordinator from St Albans, is
says: “When I hit 35, I started to panic about my fertility. I hadn’t
met Mr Right and was convinced my egg levels were plummeting and I would
never have a child of my own.
I even thought about freezing my eggs, but then I decided I’d rather do things
the natural way or not at all.
I’d love to become a mum but I think it would be selfish of me to run to the
sperm bank and have a child alone. I had the test done because I want to
know how long I have left to conceive. My mother had twins at 40 and I hope
I’ll stay fertile for a few more years.
The fact I have a good number of eggs left is a relief. But I’m definitely
going to try to speed things up in terms of looking for Mr Right!
I’m so glad I had the test – I feel empowered knowing where I stand with my
Mr Rami Atalla at Hertfordshire’s Spire Harpenden Hospital says:
“Rachel has an excellent ovarian reserve with plenty of eggs. She has a good
chance of conceiving naturally.”
‘I HAVEN’T HAD A PERIOD FOR TWO YEARS’
Sophie Hurford, 22, is a ski instructor from Peterborough. She’s single.
says: “Although I’m young, I’ve been really worried about
whether I’m ever going to be a mum. I stopped taking the Pill two years ago
after a long-term relationship ended and I haven’t had a period since then.
It’s something I’ve found very upsetting, but my friends don’t really
understand. They’re doing their best not to get pregnant, while I’m freaking
out over whether I’ll be able to! Luckily, my mum has been really supportive
and has encouraged me to do everything I can to find out what’s wrong.
I’ve been to my doctor several times and last month blood tests revealed I’m
not actually ovulating.
My GP said that as I’m young and fit, my periods will start again naturally.
But I’m still worried.
Although I’m happy I have lots of healthy eggs, I’m also frustrated because I
still don’t know why I’m not having periods.
The fertility doctor recommended having more tests to find out why I’m not
releasing any eggs. He also suggested I try complimentary medicine like
acupuncture or a fertility drug to try to help restart ovulation, so I’ll
follow this up with my own doctor.”
Dr Eric Asher says: “Although Sophie has a high number of eggs, she
isn’t ovulating for some reason. She needs to take further steps, such as an
ultrasound, to find out why.”
‘I’M STILL DETERMINED TO BE A MUM’
Charlotte Lundqvist, 42, an interior designer from Chelsea, London, is
says: “In the past couple of weeks I’ve split from my boyfriend of two
years. He was older than me and had two children from a previous
relationship. He felt that part of his life was done, whereas having a child
is something I’d really like to do – and now I finally feel ready to be a
Before him, I’d never met any guy I could see myself having children with,
although I did fall pregnant accidentally when I was 36. My then-boyfriend
and I were totally incompatible, but we decided to keep the baby and try to
make things work between us. However, at 10 weeks I was told the pregnancy
wasn’t developing properly so I had to have a termination. But at least I
knew I could get pregnant.
That was six years ago. I took the test because I wanted to know how much time
I had left to try for a baby. If I could still conceive at my age I would be
able to decide whether I should look for another relationship with a man who
wanted children or think about a sperm donor instead.
But I’d prepared myself for the worst and I’m glad I know now that it’s
unlikely I’ll have a baby naturally.
If I want to be a mum, I’ll have to do something about it now. I can’t put it
off any longer and egg donation may be something I have to consider.”
Rami Atalla says: “I would expect a low level of eggs in a woman of
this age. There’s nothing wrong with Charlotte, it’s simply because of her
age. If she wants to conceive, egg donation would be the best option because
it would be very difficult to harvest some of her remaining eggs.”
‘WE CAN WAIT A BIT LONGER’
Julia Cross, 31, works in PR and lives in London with her boyfriend of four
years, Nathan, 32.
says: “My periods have always been irregular and when I was 25, they
stopped completely. My GP sent me for a pelvic ultrasound scan, which showed
that although I had ovarian cysts, they were unlikely to affect my
My periods started again in 2005 – around the same time Nathan and I got
together. Like me, he wants children, but neither of us feel ready just yet.
However, with my history, and the fact my mum tried for 10 years before
having me at 42, I was a bit worried about how much longer we should leave
Now I feel really reassured, and so does Nathan. I don’t think I’ll risk
waiting until after I’m 35, but it’s nice to know we’ve still got a couple
of years together to do the things we want before we start trying for a
Dr Yehudi Gordon of London’s Viveka Clinic says: “Lots of eggs is
a good sign, but it’s no guarantee. I know Julia wants to wait, but I’d
advise her to start trying sooner rather than later, just in case.”
‘IT’S PUT MY MIND AT REST’
Olivia Hoban, 26, a teacher from Islington, north London, is single.
Olivia says: “At the moment, I’m
really happy being single.
I don’t feel ready to settle down and have children, but I definitely want to
be a mum one day. I come from a big family – I have three sisters and a
brother – and I love working with children in my job.
I took the test because although I would rather wait until I was about 32
before having kids, I keep reading about women who have waited until their
30s and then discovered they have fertility problems and have left it too
late. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to know it’s OK for me to
wait without risking my chances of having a baby.
I feel really reassured that everything is fine with my fertility and I’m
confident with my plans to wait a few years before starting a family. I
hadn’t been particularly worried about the test results but I’m so glad I
had it done. It’s really put my mind at rest.”
Mr Atalla says: “These results are excellent and perfectly normal for a
girl of this age. If Olivia wants to wait a few years to have children, I
see no problem with that.”
‘I’M SO FERTILE, WE’LL HAVE TO BE CAREFUL’
Gemma Sharp, 24 is a PR Consultant from Ruislip, west London. She’s been
dating Mark, 25, who works for the police, for four years.
Gemma says: “Not being able to
conceive is my biggest fear. There’s no reason behind it as most of the
women in my family are very fertile – my mum got pregnant with me on
honeymoon. But I know that if I couldn’t have children I would be absolutely
distraught. It’s the one thing I couldn’t live without.
Mark and I have discussed kids and we both agree we’re not ready to have them
yet, but hope to start trying once we’re married – which will hopefully be
in the next three years. Even so, I really wanted to have the test to put my
mind at ease.
The night before, Mark and I went through all the what-ifs. He said we would
work it out together if there were any problems. We even talked about
whether we’d want to adopt, something we’d never spoken about before. So
that made me feel a lot better, but I was still really nervous on the day. I
almost didn’t go through with it and had to force myself to sit down in the
Thankfully my results were all good – I felt so relieved and called Mark
immediately to tell him. Now we feel much better about sticking to our plan
to wait until I’m 28.
I came off the Pill last year after 10 years and switched to condoms instead
to give my body a break – however, knowing how fertile I am now, I think
we’ll have to be extra careful!”
Dr Eric Asher says: “Gemma is a healthy young woman with a good reserve
of eggs and good ovarian function – exactly what I would expect to see in
someone of this age.”
‘I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’LL DO’
Jasmine Labana, 44, works in marketing and is from Ealing, west London.
She’s been in a relationship for four months.
Jasmine says: “Although I’m 44,
I’ve always been very healthy – I don’t drink or smoke and have a very
active lifestyle so I thought that would mean I would hopefully still be
able to conceive.
Of course my age worries me slightly, but when I was 38 I was married and
It wasn’t planned as we hadn’t really thought about having children, but I was
still upset when I miscarried at just under three months as I was slowly
warming up to the idea of children.
I split from my husband two years later and put the idea of having children to
the back of my mind.
I only started to think about it again recently when I noticed so many people
around me having families and, all of a sudden, I wanted that too.
Having seen my results and knowing my chances are so slim has made me want a
child now more than ever, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do.
I need to talk to my partner and stop using contraception immediately as I
still feel there is a glimmer of hope I could conceive. I wouldn’t consider
IVF, I can’t afford it, but I would like to look more seriously into
I’d always thought that if the chances were low I’d be disappointed, but not
devastated. However, seeing my results in black and white, I’m much sadder
than I thought.
I’ve realised that no matter how healthy your lifestyle is, age does play a
big role in your fertility.”
Dr Asher says: “The chances of a woman with these results getting
pregnant naturally is so low, it’s virtually nil. Jasmine will need help to
conceive, probably in the form of egg donation as the eggs she does have
left may not be of great quality and could result in a baby with congenital
FERTILITY: THE FACTS AND FICTION
You’re born with the total number of eggs you’ll have throughout your lifetime
Most women have around two million eggs. They age with you and are never
Caffeine affects your fertility
FACT: Women who regularly drink
several cups of coffee a day can find it three times as difficult to
conceive as those who don’t.
Fertility declines sharply at 35
FACT: It tails off slowly in your
early 30s. After 39, it virtually halves each year.
When you come off the Pill, it takes months for your body to readjust
It depends on what Pill you’re taking, but if you stop, you’ll start
ovulating again. Around 10 per cent won’t ovulate immediately.
If your mother had fertility problems, you will too
FICTION: There is
no proven link to show you’ll inherit the same problems. However, PCOS and
endometriosis may be hereditary.
A HELPING HAND
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant without success for a year, the first
step is to see your GP, who can refer you and your partner for tests.
For advice about fertility problems, visit Infertilitynetworkuk.com.
For support with polycystic ovary syndrome, go to Verity-pcos.org.uk.
If you suffer from endometriosis, visit Endometriosis-uk.org.
For information on egg donation, visit Hfea.gov.uk.
An ovarian reserve test costs around £90 at private health clinics, or ask
your GP for more information.
WORDS: CLAIE WILSON, EIMEAR O’HAGAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: LANCTON, PHOTOLIBRARY.COM THE THIRD SPACE (THETHIRDSPACE.COM),
SPIRE HARPENDEN HOSPITAL (SPIREHEALTHCARE.COM), VIVEKA CLINIC (VIVEKA.CO.UK)