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  • Eleonora Voltolina

People must know, promote and protect their own fertility: Karin Hammarberg's “life's passion”

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Approximately one in every six people of reproductive age worldwide experience infertility in their lifetime. In this episode of The Why Wait Agenda podcast we discuss the main causes of infertility - a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse - from a medical and social point of view with Karin Hammarberg, an Australian fertility expert and Senior Research Fellow at Melbourne's Monash University. «Infertility, no matter if primary or secondary, is pretty devastating» says Karin Hammarberg, a registered nurse with 20 years of experience as clinical co-ordinator of IVF programs: «Sometimes people with secondary infertility feel guilty about wanting to have another child, when people might tell them "well, you're lucky, you've got one child – or two children – already". But if you actually had a real hope of having two or three children and you only have one, the grief you feel is pretty profound, and I'm not so sure it's even helpful to try and compare the two».

As Hammerberg stated in an article about late pregnancy storylines in tv dramas, previously featured in the Why Wait Agenda – "Mothers over 40: it seems easy enough on TV, but what about real life?" – the chance of pregnancy is lower for women in their late thirties and forties. «Infertility has a range of causes, but one cause often under-reported is what we call age-related infertility» stresses Hammarberg: «Because women's age really does affect the chance of conceiving and having a pregnancy, once you reach 40 it really becomes quite difficult. A lot of women present to infertility clinics in their 40s and they want to know why they don't conceive: all the tests reveal that there's no blockages [in the ovaries], they do have periods, and there's no other cause of infertility. Often that is called “unexplained infertility”. But in fact you'd have to say that there is an explanation, and the explanation is that age has reduced their capacity to conceive. It's becoming a more and more common cause, unfortunately».

Hammarberg's advice would be to have children in one's 30s: «Planning to have children later in life is not a great plan, because there's risks associated with that. Physical risks, of course: for a woman in her 40s there's greater risks and there's greater risks for the babies as well. But also the fact that you know you're gonna be playing with the kid, get up at night 90 times,... there's a lot of hard work involved in having a child! You're better equipped to do that when you're a younger person than when you're an older person».

Hammerberg doesn't think that people know enough about infertility, nor about fertility for that matter. That's why her «strong passion in life» is to work on «what people can do to actually promote their own fertility, and to protect their own fertility, and to make sure they give themselves the best chance of conceiving without having infertility treatments». And that's precisely what she's doing by collaborating with the website Yourfertility, a national public health education program managed by the Fertility Coalition and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government Department of Health.

«Often infertility is presumed to be a woman's problem, but in fact one in three cases of infertility is because of a male factor» Hammarberg, who's also Deputy chair of the Ifei, the International Fertility Education Initiative – recently re-named Irhec, International Reproductive Health Education Collaboration – and a member of the scientific committee of the European Fertility Society, clarifies: «I hope that with more and more advocacy and information and awareness raising, we can reach a point where everybody understands that it's no one's fault. It's just sometimes biology, sometimes a disease, but it's not a personal responsibility – and no one should be blamed or shamed» for it.



This content, and the whole The Why Wait Agenda website, is produced by the Journalism for Social Change, a non-profit association carrying on an engaged kind of journalism, providing through information a secular and progressive point of view on the issues of fertility and parenting and pushing for cultural, societal and political change with respect to these issues. One of the association's means of financing is through its readers' donations: by donating even a small sum you will allow this project to grow and achieve its objectives.

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