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The 39 Club: why many women have their last child at this age

THEY say that life begins at 40. But for many, the big four-0 looms before us, acting as a deadline for all the things we want to do or feel we should have done by then.

It is the ultimate fertility deadline for most women and many approaching 40 are giving it one last shot before it's too late.

Dr Walsh says that couples who already have children often put off the decision to have more. "You can understand the inertia, they've got their family to keep them occupied and it's only really when the deadline comes up that they have to do it."

However, Dr Walsh warns that a woman's fertility starts to decline at about age 32, with the decline becoming progressively steeper at age 35 and again at age 38 and steeper still at 40.

While a 32-year-old can expect to become pregnant after an average of six months trying, a 38-year-old can take a year and a 40-year-old will take two years on average. Add to that the increased risks during pregnancy and the increasingly higher risk of miscarriage (about 40pc at age 40) and you'll see that it's not always a good idea to wait for that baby deadline.

My own pregnancy at 39 was unplanned. Or, at least, I never planned to be pregnant at 39. I had hoped to be done and dusted at that stage with three kids under my belt.

My first pregnancy, at 33 (which resulted in my son, James) had been straightforward and I had no reason to believe anything would be different when I started trying again a year later.

I did conceive after four months, but sadly miscarried. I thought, it's just one of those things, happens to one in four pregnancies, that was my turn.

However, five further miscarriages later, two cycles of IVF, three IUIs (intrauterine insemination – a less invasive procedure than IVF) and several rounds of fertility drugs and we were starting to run out of options – physically, emotionally and financially. Finally, with the help of all of the fertility and miscarriage support drugs available, we conceived our daughter and carried her to term.

There are no words to describe how lucky we felt. Our friends and family were so thrilled and relieved that we had finally come to the end of our long and difficult journey. But I had other plans... As soon as Anna was born safe and sound, I knew I wanted to try again. I wasn't sure what I meant by that as I couldn't imagine putting the four of us through infertility again, yet I understood that the inevitability may well have been out of my hands. And time was not on my side – I was 38 with very poor fertility.

Speed

I knew I would breastfeed exclusively for at least six months as I didn't want to sacrifice one real baby for another that might never be. And yet, as the weeks went by, I couldn't stop thinking about the return of my (in)fertility – when I would start seeing signs, what I could do to speed it up and how I would feel about it when it happened.

I can't imagine there are many people who chart their fertility signs in the early weeks postpartum while breastfeeding exclusively, but I am one of them.

When Anna was six months old, I started ovulating again. I called my fertility clinic and organised a prescription.

Two months later, at the age of 39, I was pregnant again and a month after my 40th birthday, Harry was born. It didn't happen as originally planned but I made that deadline in the end. As have countless other women in 'the 39 Club'...


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