Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pregnancy over 50 by Cyma Shapiro

I’m a little enamored of a Wikipedia category called “Pregnancy Over 50.” In it, it provides a historical timetable of women who gave birth over the age of 50. Women like Elizabeth Greenhill, born in 1615, who had 39 children with her husband William Greenhill, and gave birth to her last child (naturally) in 1669 at age 54,with London surgeon Thomas Greenhill. She is the first woman noted in this lengthy list. 

In 1996, Judy Bershak, of Los Angeles, gave birth to her first child at the age of 50. Bershak got married at the age of 44, and after failing to both conceive naturally and adopt, she went through IVF treatment and became pregnant on her first attempt. In 2000, Elizabeth Edwards, 50, wife of the former U.S. Senator John Edwards, gave birth to a son in 2000. And in 2010, Karen Johnston, from England, gave birth to twins at the age of 54 after undergoing IVF in the Czech Republic. All of these women fall under the 50-54 category.

In the 55-59 category, a 57-year-old Indian woman gave birth (with IVF) in Melbourne, in 2010, setting a record to become the oldest mother in Australia. 

In the 60-64 category, Arceli Keh, of California, gave birth to a daughter in 1996, at the age of 63.  In 2010, Bulgarian psychiatrist Krasimira Dimitrova, 62, gave birth to female twins, also using IVF. Dimitrova decided to become pregnant after she was refused the option of adoption because of her age.

In the 65-66 category (why they’d have a category for one year confounds me), in1999,  Harriet Stole, 66, from North London, gave birth to a son, after agreeing to be a surrogate mother for her infertile daughter in-law. One year later, Jennifer Hong, age 65, gave birth to her second child, in Canada. Becoming a mother later in life, she is quoted as saying, "It doesn't matter how old you are. It just matters that I have a family which I love.”
Finally, in the 67-70 category, Wikipedia lists only two women, both of whom accomplished the same achievement in the same year. In 2008, Omkari Panwar gave birth to twins in India via emergency cesarean section at the age of 70. Omkari became pregnant through IVF treatment, which she and her husband pursued in order to produce a male heir. Omkari has two adult daughters and five grandchildren. In response to hearing that she'd possibly broken the record for world's oldest mother, Omkari stated, "If I am the world's oldest mother it means nothing to me. I just want to see my new babies and care for them while I am still able." Also, Rajo Devi Lohan gave birth to a daughter at the age of 70. Lohan's health deteriorated soon after and she claimed she had not been informed of any dangers. Her doctor said, "Even though Rajo's health is deteriorating, at least she will die in peace. She does not have to face the stigma of being barren.” 

In total, nearly 100 women are listed in this Wikipedia article - a mere fraction of the real total throughout the world. In fact, since I’ve interviewed a few of the women listed here, I know that some of the dates and facts are incomplete. Nevertheless, this list remains a “Who’s Who” of pioneers and women from around the world who broke barriers and cultural traditions, simply by having children. (Remember, too, that this group doesn’t count any later-age women who have chosen to adopt/foster/guardian children). While this list is intended to inform and educate, it reads like a List of Champions – world record-holders who must surely have received some medal(s), as they unintentionally topped one another.  I fear not…

What strikes me the most is that my initial reaction to reading this was, “Wow! These women are (too) old!” Silly words for a woman who began her (second) family at age 46, and 48, respectively. Sillier, too, for someone who has worked tirelessly to bring websites and an art gallery show entitled NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers to this country - projects intended to celebrate and educate the public about the newest chapter in the women’s movement – the new middle age for women and the lives of new older mothers. MotherhoodLater celebrates this very thing; we all know it, because we are living it!

However, the innate biases remain the same. Once taken out of context, I am the culprit, as I’m sure are you!  For this reason, alone, the topic of new older motherhood deserves more conversation and more debate. This increasingly common and popular trend does not seem to be diminishing, and therefore deserves to be out of the closet. And, yet there are hundreds, if not thousands of women who remain fearful of being in this category not just because of potential medical complications, but for the stigma attached to their having made decisions (that were right for them) during their Advanced Maternal Age.  (Wikipedia’s definition of this is: an increase in the age at which women give birth to their first child, [which] is now a widespread, and indeed [a] near universal phenomenon across the OECD countries.)
Footnote: The AMA age in America is 35 and older.

Because of this, many women opt not to move forward in obtaining their goals and fulfilling their desires – that is, to simply be mothers. I do not mean to minimize the intricacies involved here; there are many facets to this complicated situation.

Wikipedia’s debate section concludes with the following: “Pregnancies among older women have been a subject of controversy and debate. Some argue against motherhood late in life on the basis of the health risks involved, or out of concern that an older mother might not be able or around to care for a child as she ages, while others contend that having a child is a fundamental right and that it is commitment to a child's wellbeing, not the parents' ages, that matters.

A survey of attitudes towards pregnancy over age 50 among Australians found that 54.6% believed it was acceptable for a postmenopausal woman to have her own eggs transferred and that 37.9% believed it was acceptable for a postmenopausal women to receive donated ova or embryos.

Governments have sometimes taken actions to regulate or restrict later-in-life childbearing. In the 1990’s, France approved a bill which prohibited postmenopausal pregnancy. (At the time) The French Minister of Health was quoted as saying it was "...immoral as well as dangerous to the health of mother and child." In Italy, the Association of Medical Practitioners and Dentists prevented its members from providing women aged 50 and over with fertility treatments. Britain’s then-Secretary of State for Health, Virginia Bottomley, stated, "Women do not have the right to have a child; the child has a right to a suitable home."  However, in 2005, age restrictions on IVF in the United Kingdom were officially withdrawn. Legal restrictions are only one of the barriers confronting women seeking IVF, as many fertility clinics and hospitals set age limits of their own.”

I do not have any answers, here, nor do I wish to share my personal feelings on the subject. However, I remain convinced that everything in life deserves attention, especially when it reflects an individual’s (truths and) true needs and desires. For this, and for these women, motherhood remains everything…

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John Edwards, gave birth to a son in 2000. And in 2010, Karen Johnston, from England, gave birth to twins at the age of 54 after undergoing IVF in the Czech Republic. All of these women fall under the 50-54 category.

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