Research Profile - Tick tock, tick tock – can technology allow you to ignore the clock?
Modern technology is a wonderful thing. If we want to put off having children, technology will help us conceive when and how we want – or will it?
There are, apparently, a lot of misconceptions out there about what assisted human reproductive (AHR) technologies can and cannot do. Such misconceptions can result in disappointment when they influence decisions about having children.
Judith Daniluk, a professor of Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia wants to explore how beliefs about the powers of AHR and knowledge about later childbearing influence women's childbearing decisions. Daniluk's experiences counseling women about fertility sparked her interest in the current research project.
At a Glance
Who: Dr. Judith Daniluk, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
Issue: Many women delay having children in the belief that technology can help them overcome biology. They may not have the knowledge they need, though, to make the best decisions.
Approach: Dr.Daniluk is surveying more than 3,000 women to assess their knowledge levels about questions of fertility and assisted human reproduction.
Impact: The research could result in educational programs to provide women with the knowledge they need to make informed childbearing decisions.
"I've counseled so many women over 40 years of age who walk through the doors of a fertility clinic and announce 'I'm ready' and who are shocked that their fertility has already declined and that technology might not be able to help," she says. "It's unfortunate that so many women don't have the knowledge they need."
Daniluk has been surveying women to learn more about their knowledge of fertility and AHR. She says that one thing stands out – how little women know. Regardless of age, education, or socio-economic status, the knowledge gap, she says, seems to be "pervasive and pronounced". It's not surprising, though, she says.
"Where would women get the information they need? We don't teach it in high school. Their GPs often don't know about the limitations of AHR," she says. "Women only seek information when it becomes an issue – and that can be too late."
"But it took Céline Dion, aged 42, six IVF attempts to have her twins," says Daniluk. "That's incredibly expensive and hard on your body."
Plus, she says, most women having children in their mid to late 40s must use donated eggs, because their own eggs are no longer viable. That's just not an option for many women, because of cost and availability.
Daniluk intends to use the survey to assess what kinds of information are most urgently needed and identify groups in particular need of information. She will then design an education campaign based on this knowledge. "You can't make informed decisions without this information."
Putting off children
1979: 4.6% of births were to women aged 35 and older.
2004: 17.2% of births were to women aged 35 and older.
Having children later in life is associated with increased risks for both mother and baby, including miscarriage, low birth weight and chromosomal anomalies such as Down syndrome.
The media don't help – newspapers, radio, TV, online sites are all full of women in their 40s and beyond having children.
"You can't make informed decisions without this information."
In Canada, the number of first-time births occurring in women aged 35 and older rose from 4% in 1987 to 11% in 2005. Many women appear to believe that assisted human reproduction (AHR) technologies can compensate for age-related fertility declines. However, AHR is expensive, limited in availability and with low success rates, leaving some women unintentionally childless. Judith Daniluk is surveying women to assess their knowledge about fertility, attitudes toward delayed childbearing and awareness of AHR, in order to develop targeted and effective educational strategies and interventions to support informed reproductive decision making. The Fertility Awareness Survey (FAS) will be administered to some 3,000 childless and presumed fertile women between the ages of 30 and 45 who may elect to pursue a pregnancy in the future, to assess their knowledge and beliefs about fertility and AHR as well as their preferred sources of fertility knowledge. The findings of the study will help to guide the development of public education programs and materials to support informed reproductive decision making.