Babies and the Big 4-0: The Real Story

I came across this article recently, about “Rise of the Mid-life Mom” (Faye Brennan; Women’s Health, January 2014 print edition).  Initially intrigued, I was immediately disappointed as the article toted many misnomers about fertility in our later years. After firing off a letter to the editor, it got me thinking more about the realistic side to pursuing motherhood in your mid-life years.

First, here is something that the article got right. Yes, more and more women are deciding to take the motherhood plunge in the later 30’s and early 40’s. Yes, women can and do get pregnant in their 40’s, although, who and how is a moving target.

In my years working in a High Risk Ob/Gyn clinic and Birthing Center, I encountered women at age 40, 41, 42 who became pregnant, sometimes expectedly; many times unexpectedly given they thought “it couldn’t happen because I was too old.” More so, I met a whole lot of women, me included, who got pregnant via fertility treatment and who now had the dubious chart distinction of being labeled  ‘AMA’ -Advanced Maternal Age. In layman’s terms it’s the heads up to anyone that we come with a host of increased risk factors for our pregnancies.

Another misnomer in the article in a side box labeled “Eating to Extend Fertility…making conception friendly diet choices to up your odds”; the false impression that eating well and taking care of your body will prolong your fertility well into your 40’s. Fertility in our later years can’t be predicted or willed into happening by eating a certain diet, living a certain way, or banking on statistics. Yes, eating buckwheat and avocados is good for you, but will it make a baby happen when your 43? The odds aren’t great given that we genetically have a fixed amount of follicles (the cells that grow into mature and fertile eggs) and follicle developmental quality can vary and dimension over our reproductive life span.

Finally and probably most erroneously the article nonchalantly proclaims, “These days just because you’re out of eggs doesn’t mean you can’t use someone else’s and carry a baby to term (assuming you have the funds-assisted fertilization procedures can run upwards of $10,000).” If your reading this blog, you’re probably laughing right now because we all know that the said and done price for fertility treatment is a lot higher (try $30,000-$50,000 for one IVF cycle using donor ovum). Add in the costs of the ‘extras’ - laparoscopic surgery to correct uterine anomalies, testing, counseling, agency fees, and the list goes on! Don’t even get me started on our sisters with cancer or uterine issues that prevent carrying or our LGBT friends, who really get stuck with the high price and inequities of fertility care (average cost of a surrogate is $23,000-$50,000 in compensation alone).

What I wanted to read in this article was the real conversation that the media and women need to have about later year fertility planning; our bodies are to be understood and there is no shame in saying you had a little help along the way. The truth is we are entering a new age of fertility. An age that our parents and grandparents could never have dreamed about - an age in which it is normal for our ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) children to share their own creation and birth stories (just think about playground talk comparing notes on who’s got two Dads, who’s an IVF kid etc?)

Yet, there is still a deep shame in admitting that our bodies didn’t wait for us and that we needed to look and think about options that weren’t easy for us to comprehend. But we are here.  We are older and wiser than our younger selves. We are gay, straight, single, coupled, and everything in between.  And we are having babies. That’s the real story!
By Anne N. Cheever, MSW, LCSW

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