China’s decision to allow all married couples to have two children is driving a surge in demand for fertility treatment among older women, putting heavy pressure on clinics and breaking down past sensitivities, and even shame, about the issue.
The rise in in vitro fertilisation points to the deferred dreams of many parents who long wanted a second child, but were prevented by a strict population control policy in place for more than 30 years.
They have a very low chance to get pregnant so they are in a hurry. They really want to have a child as soon as possibleDr Liu Jiaen
That, in turn, is shifting prevailing attitudes in China regarding fertility treatments - formerly a matter of such sensitivity that couples were reluctant to tell even their parents or other family members that they were having trouble conceiving.
“More and more women are coming to ask to have their second child,” said Dr Liu Jiaen, who runs a private hospital in Beijing treating infertility through IVF, in which an egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish and the resulting embryo transferred to a woman’s uterus.
Liu estimated that the numbers of women coming to him for IVF had risen by 20 per cent since the relaxation of the policy, which came into effect at the start of the year. Before, the average age of his patients was about 35. Now most of them are older than 40 and some of the women are fast approaching 50, he said.
“They have a very low chance to get pregnant so they are in a hurry. They really want to have a child as soon as possible,” he said. Chen Yun is 39 and was in the hospital waiting to have the procedure for the first time. She and her husband already have a 7-year-old son and their families are encouraging them to have a second child.
“We are coming to the end of our childbearing years. It may be difficult for me to get pregnant naturally because my husband’s sperm may have a problem, so we want to resolve this problem through IVF,” she said. Chen said she hoped having a brother or sister would make their son happier, more responsible and less self-absorbed.
“We had siblings when we were children. I had a younger sister and we felt very happy when playing together,” she said. “Now that every couple has one child, two generations - parents and grandparents - take care of the child. They give the only child too much attention.” If her son has a younger brother or sister to look out for, he may not “think too much about himself like a little emperor,” Chen said.
Over the past two decades, IVF technology has developed rapidly in China, where about 10 per cent of couples are estimated to need the procedure to conceive. In 2014, 700,000 women had IVF treatments, according to the health commission’s Women’s and Children’s Department, which said in a statement that demand for all types of fertility treatment had risen following the policy relaxation, including the use of traditional Chinese medicine.
“Currently, fertility centers at renowned medical organisations in Beijing and Shanghai and others are under increased pressure for treatments,” the department said.
Previously, China limited most urban couples to one child and rural couples to two if their first was a girl. There were exceptions for ethnic minorities, and city dwellers could break the policy if they were willing to pay a fee calculated at several times a household’s annual income.