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Infertility Podcast Series: Journey to the Crib: Chapter 31: When Are You Too Old to be a Mother?

By David Kreiner MD

October 12th, 2012 at 9:44 am

Welcome to the Journey to the Crib Podcast.  We will have a blog discussion each week with each chapter.  This podcast covers Chapter Thirty-One: When Are You Too Old to be a Mother? You, the listener, are invited to ask questions and make comments.  You can access the podcast here:http://podcast.longislandivf.com/?p=143

 When Are You Too Old to be a Mother?

Over the years, there have been reports of women as old as in their 70′s having babies as a result of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) performed using donated eggs from a young fertile donor.  Immediately after these reports appear, I am bombarded with questions and criticisms about how wrong it is that we (somehow I am included as part of the responsible party as an IVF practitioner) allow women to have children beyond that which is not just natural but also reasonable. Those of us in IVF have had many experiences with making the news as this medical technology pushes to the edges of what society views as acceptable. 

We are often put in the position of making decisions with our patients that have even larger implications to society than the individual patient.  I do my best to look at each patient and each situation as unique and treat them accordingly.  Regarding the age of a prospective egg recipient however we are dependent on the patient’s honestly reporting such to us.  Unfortunately, there are circumstances where patients have misled their doctors and in the case of one 70 year old mother, she had reported to the clinic that she was in fact 53. 

Even so, it is the responsibility of the IVF provider to ensure that a woman is healthy and capable of bearing the pregnancy, giving birth and being a mother.  There is not an absolute age cutoff at which point a woman is universally unfit to undergo IVF and become pregnant. 

My personal oldest woman I helped achieve a pregnancy was a 53 year old who delivered at age 54.  She had a normal stress test, EKG and was cleared by an internist, perinatologist and psychologist. 

Some point out that beyond a certain age, it is unnatural to become a mother and that it puts the family at risk that she may not be around to help raise the child or that perhaps the woman lacks the energy and stamina to raise the child properly.  I personally struggle to separate my own feelings about the proper age to have a child which may be inappropriate for others who have a different perspective.  My responsibility as the physician is to the health of my patients, the well-being of the child and for the good of society. 

Many women in their 50′s have the health and energy to carry a pregnancy and bear a child with no more risk than many women 10-20 years younger.  That being said, what about the risk that the mother may not be around to raise the child to maturity?   There is no question that a young healthy couple with sufficient financial support and emotional maturity is ideal to raise a family.  But, happy, successful families can take on many different faces.  Single parent families exist, survive and often thrive.  One can never be certain that the condition of the couple at the time of conception will continue through the child’s birth or for that matter until the child has reached maturity.  In addition, at least 50% of couples in the U.S. become divorced.  One can argue that couples at risk of divorce should not get pregnant. 

I apologize that I cannot offer an answer to this question, when are you too old to be a mother.  For me personally, it is more a question of health …for the mother and baby… which needs to be evaluated individually for each case utilizing testing and experts to make the best assessment.  Otherwise, I feel it is an individual’s right to choose as long as society is unaffected or supports the individual in those cases where the pregnancy has a significant impact beyond the immediate family. 

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Was this helpful in answering your questions about what fertility doctors might consider when questioning if an older woman may be able to conceive and carry a pregnancy?

Please share your thoughts about this podcast here. And ask any questions and Dr. Kreiner will answer them.

 

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