Over 40 and pregnant

I’m concerned by a growing trend among female celebrities who are having children well into their 40′s. I think they’re sending a message of false hope to young women that having children later in life is as easy as Linsey Lohan avoiding prison.

Television lawyer, Nancy Grace, actresses Geena Davis and Holly Hunter all had twins at 47 years old. Al Pacino fathered twins with actress Beverly D’Angelo when she was 49, and most recently, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, age 47, are about to welcome a new edition to their family.

The birth rate for women age 40-44 increased 4 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contrast that to the birth rate for women below age 40, which went down as much as 3 percent from 2007 to 2008.

The March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists published the following statistics:

Higher risk of miscarriage

At age 20: 1 in 10 women
At age 35: 1 in 5 women
At age 40: 1 in 3 women
At age 45: 1 in 2 women

Higher risk of any chromosomal disorder

At age 20: 1 in 526 births
At age 30: 1 in 385 births
At age 40: 1 in 66 births
At age 45: 1 in 21 births

Higher risk of Down syndrome

At age 25: 1 in 1,250 births
At age 30: 1 in 1,000 births
At age 35: 1 in 400 births
At age 40: 1 in 100 births
At age 45: 1 in 30 births
At age 49: 1 in 10 births

At birth a woman is born with all her eggs. As a woman ages, so do her eggs. It is a commonly held belief that for a woman to conceive naturally after age 45 is next to impossible. So then how did these women do it? The answer is simple: in vitro fertilization (IVF).

IVF involves combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory. Once an embryo or embryos form, they are then placed in the uterus. IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.

The clue that most celebrities in the forties are conceiving with IVF is that they are having multiple births, in most of these cases, twins. The chance of any of these women giving birth at their age without in vitro is unlikely. Yet, many of them do not disclose how they conceived.

Why?

I don’t know and there lies the problem.

IVF is not without consequence. It’s expensive. Sometimes it can take multiple attempts before a viable fetus comes to term, and these women have to endure hormone therapy which can affect mood and personality. But more importantly, IVF is really available only to those who can afford it.

The beauty that is motherhood

Also there is the risk of multiple viable embryos. The most famous cases: Kate Gosselin and Nadya Suleman. Many couples have some of the embryos terminated in order to avoid multiple live births.

A vision in stretch marks

Recently, Sarah Jessica Parker had a surrogate carry her twins. I am going to go out on a limb but my Spidey senses tell me that she probably didn’t use her own eggs. Sure it’s possible that she had viable eggs. They would have had to been harvested and then fertilized in vitro with her husband’s sperm. Then implanted into the surrogate. I suspect that the likely scenario is that she purchased healthy eggs and then had them fertilized by Matthew Broderick’s sperm before implantation into the surrogate. It is also possible that Ms. Parker had her eggs harvested years ago with the foresight that she might want to use them later. Many couples harvest eggs, have them fertilized and then frozen for future use. I read that Celine Dion’s husband Rene had his sperm banked prior to radiation therapy so that they could attempt to have a child in the future.

My sister had all four of her children starting in her late 30′s. She had them all naturally and without in vitro. Thankfully, they are all healthy. She told me the benefit of having children later in life is that she was able to become established in her career. Also she felt that she and her husband were more financially secure when they were about to start a family.

I think having children at any age is courageous but the media and doctors need to be very clear that in vitro, harvesting eggs and surrogacy are all very expensive options that are not covered by insurance in most states. Hell, surrogacy is not even legal in every state. Yet, once a woman has delivered multiple births, the care for these babies is covered by insurances and most times, the babies are born prematurely. Do you know what kind of cost those kids incur before they are ready to leave a hospital? Let’s just say they could pay for college with that money.

BTW I don’t have any children and if I was going to, I’d adopt like Sandra Bullock but without Jesse James as the father.

7 Comments

  1. Posted May 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    i don’t know Doc, I was born in 1960 and my mother was 38 or 39… she laughed at the dr. when he told her because back then it was nearly unheard of. She thought she was too old to concieve. Needless to say, I was a wonderful healthy surprise…
    .
    …however sometomes I wonder if my neurotic tendecies or depression was due to this…
    I
    I have recovered since and have a gerat life. Hard to say… it was all natural in my case and seemed to have went well… im still kixking!

    Phillip

  2. pognyc
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    The above was done with the hand held, hence the spelling errors…

  3. pognyc
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I forgot to add that I think it is a good idea because people having kids too young don’t know what they are doing, and since the planet is overburdened with people, the longer women wait, the more the chance that they won’t have children at all and reduce the surplus population.

  4. Posted May 25, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    I know several gay couples who have been trying to adopt kids (not even infants), with no success.

    I think that adopting will soon only be for the rich as well.

  5. Mich
    Posted May 26, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    i agree with phillip … if we can convince the young to delay pregnancy until late in life, the may acquire the wisdom not to further burden the planet with surplus people.

  6. Mark Curry
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    To the above posters, how young is young? If you’re talking teenaged, then perhaps there are other factors in wanting to have a baby to love than mistakes or an inability to wait. Dr. Spinelli’s sister waited till she had a career established, but what if you come from a background, social class etc where the mere thought of a career is as near impossible as a woman over the age of 45 conceiving naturally. It’s very easy to be prescriptive without appreciating exactly why teen pregnancies within certain sections of society are so abundant. And then again whose to say that late pregnancies are always wanted, planned, thought out or will result in a more affluent or well balanced home economic life. In strongly Roman Catholic countries such as Ireland women were popping out kids in double digits from the day they got married at a young age till the day they could no longer physically conceive because birth control was counter the Church and a woman couldn’t say no to fulfilling her “duties”. A friend of our family had her first children, triplet boys at 37 precisely because she’d been told she could never conceive when she was in her early 20s, it ended her marriage, but with her second husband and advances in IVF over the proceeding 15 years she was finally able to have the kids she’d longed for all her life.
    I think the real issue Dr. Spinelli raises is the risk of birth defects, crippling cost and actual great difficulty of actually conceiving with IVF, which are extremely pertinent and important. What is sick is the habit of grossly unscrupulous fertility clinics in Russia which allow women in their 60s and 70s to become mothers. This isn’t addressing nature’s inequality whereby women have a limited time to reproduce whereas men can as long as they can produce viable sperm, you don’t even need an erection just a harvester – this isn’t working with nature but against it. And I do agree that if you want a child to love adoption or fostering is a wonderful alternative, especially given the huge numbers of children orphaned or in care – you just have to be willing to greatly compromise or readjust the desire for a “perfect” child, though such a thing simply doesn’t exist.

  7. Rose Costigan
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    To be honest I looked up this site because I don’t know whether I’m pregnant or going through the menopause and generally asked the question whether it was possible for a woman in her late 40s to naturally conceive. I’m 48 (will be 49 in August) and I am well over 2 weeks late. Although I’ve always had irregular periods, I’ve never ever been this long overdue.

    I agree with some of the comments I’ve read in that it’s a good idea if women to wait until they’re a little older to have children because, from what they’ve learned in life, they can pass on their wisdom and experience. I’m not downing teenage pregnancies at all, but have those teenagers actually lived a life? The reason I say that is because I had my first child just shy of 31 years of age and my fourth child at 42 years of age. Whatever I learned in the world of work and the world in general I am able to pass on to my children.

    I was told with my second and third children that there was a high risk of birth defects and I was offered all sorts of tests; which I refused. The doctors tried arguing with me, but my attitude was (and still is) I’ll take what I am given.

    It’s just a shame that there is so much scare mongering going on with older women wanting to become mothers. Yes there “may” be some difficulties and according to statistics their children would be more at risk of a child with birth defects; but consider this: I know a woman of 45 who gave birth to a perfectly healthy child, yet in the same hospital a 23 year old woman gave birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome. There comes a time when you think “it’s not about statistics, it’s just luck of the draw”.

    Just a thought.

    Rosie


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