Fertility treatment has created more babies in 2021 than ever before, and New Zealand specialists say Covid-19 has something to do with it.
Information released by Stats NZ for the year ending September 30 showed an increase in live births from 57,753 to 59,382 – the highest since 2015.
The increase has been boosted by a boom in couples seeking help, with Fertility Associates Wellington director Dr Andrew Murray reporting the company’s busiest year by far.
“We would have made more babies this year than ever before … and there’s no doubt we’ve seen more patients than we’ve ever seen in the past,” he said.
“We are about 10 per cent up on this time last year in terms of workload. We’ve had to employ more nurses, more embryologists.
“It’s become so busy that we are expecting to set up an entirely new clinic in another north island city within the next year.”
Murray believes the pandemic has played a crucial role.
“I think it’s caused people to think about what really matters to them,” he said.
“The thing about fertility is there is a really limited window for women – they are having to think about the choices they are making for the next five to seven years or beyond.
“If having a baby is one of the things they know they absolutely want to achieve, many women in particular are thinking about where that fits in with the plans they have now.
“The women who are coming to see us about egg freezing are often in their mid 30s and may have – pre-Covid – been doing a bit of travel or carrying on a career trajectory.”
“They’re now pausing and thinking ‘I can’t travel’ … or some of the women I’ve met recently are still going overseas but they’re wanting to freeze some eggs before they go.
“Those sort of decisions are becoming increasingly common.”
During the 2020 lockdown, Fertility Associates had continued existing treatments but not begun new ones, result in a backlog when they returned. Demand had not stopped since.
In 2021 there were 15 per cent more first-time patients than in 2019, and a 15 per cent increase in those starting new IVF cycles. The age of women seeking treatment was skewing younger – with 50 per cent more women aged 30 than in 2019 – the greatest increase of any age.
Health psychologist Andy Leggat, who works with patients undergoing treatment through Fertility Associates, agreed the pandemic had made people think.
“Lockdowns, and Covid in general, have been a time of self-reflection for lots of people, a time to kind of sit and contemplate, ‘where am I at in my life right now? Am I actually living my life by my values and moving towards my goals?’
“At the moment we’ve seen globally an increase in people making major life decisions – things like entering into a new relationship or ending a relationship or moving house, relocating. And one of those is choosing to either increase your family or not.
“There’s been lots of research historically about things like baby booms after a natural disaster or in times of crisis,” Leggat added.
“It comes back to attachment theory really, where in times of crisis and distress people actually crave forces of comfort, and often it’s family.”
International research had also shown an increase in people contemplating or undergoing elective egg freezing, to preserve their future fertility – and there were several theories about why this had occurred.
Some women or couples had more money available finances, with lockdowns and closed borders restricting spending on other things.
And working from home made it was easier for people to have appointments without having to speak with their workplaces first.
It was also a way people could take charge of their lives when the future felt uncertain.
“Choosing to undergo fertility treatment or choosing to egg freeze is a way in which we can actively take a decision that is moving towards our goals – for a lot of people that’s really appealing,” Leggat said.
In places hard-hit by Covid-19, such as Italy in early 2020, there had been an initial delay in couples wanting to conceive a child. But this was also consistent with previous studies.
“There is evidence to suggest there is a delay in conceiving throughout the point of crisis,” Leggat added.
“However immediately after that when everyone starts to feel a little safer and more secure in their world, there is a baby boom after that.”
Murray said anything that encouraged people to think about their fertility earlier was a good thing.
“The odds of ending up with a successful outcome is always going to be higher the younger you are,” he said.
“The most fertile you’re ever going to be is today – and that’s always worth thinking about.”
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