Female students at Cambridge to be given fertility lessons

It has become ‘almost forbidden’ to ask women about plans to have children, says Murray Edwards college president Dorothy Byrne

Kate Ng
Sunday 10 October 2021 14:49 BST
(Getty Images)

One of Cambridge University’s last all-female colleges is set to introduce fertility seminars to teach women to start planning to have children by their mid-thirties or risk “forgetting to have a baby”.

Murray Edwards College will teach the classes alongside consent and sexual harassment classes this term, reported The Sunday Times.

It comes after the latest data from the Office for National Statistics showed the total fertility rate in England and Wales has decreased from 1.58 children per woman in 2020 to 1.53 in the first quarter of 2021.

The ONS said there were “relatively steep decreases in monthly fertility rates” between December 2020 and January 2021.

Dorothy Byrne, the new president of Murray Edwards, said the new lessons would help “empower” female students to understand more about their fertility.

Byrne, who gave birth to her only daughter at the age of 45 through IVF treatment, told the newspaper that it had become “almost forbidden” to ask women about plans for children, adding: “We have swung too far one way.”

“Young women are being taught that they all have to do well in school, get a degree, be successful in their career, and be beautiful,” she said.

“The thing that is getting lost along the way is that you forget to have a baby, which I nearly did.”

The 69-year-old former head of news at Channel 4 continued: “I was a woman thinking about her career and thinking one day I will have a baby but not putting enough attention into it.”

The average age for giving birth in the UK is 30 years old, but studies show that female fertility starts to decline in the mid-thirties, especially after the age of 35. According to the British Fertility Society (BFS), women’s fertility will continue to decrease every year as the number of her eggs decreases with age.

Byrne added that young women are receiving information “about how not to get pregnant” from doctors, parents and teachers, but are not being taught sufficiently about their fertility.

“We are teaching about consent, we are teaching about harassment, but we are not teaching them the facts about their own fertility,” she said. “It is a woman’s right to choose to have a baby.”

Earlier this year, Professor Adam Balen, former chairman of the BFS, said women wrongly assume they will remain fertile in their mid-40s due to a rise in celebrities giving birth at that age.

Prof Balen told the Daily Mail: “The chance of [fertility treatment] working goes down with age. The high-profile celebrities who have children in their mid-to-late 40s may be doing so with donated eggs rather than their own eggs, but, of course, they often don’t say that.”

He said that women who want more than one child should start trying to conceive before they turn 30. For example, women who want two children should start trying to conceive at the age of 28, while those who want three children “probably have to start trying when you’re 23”.

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