In the United States pregnancy in older women is becoming progressively more common. For a number of years, US national birth data has demonstrated that women above age 40 now represent the most rapidly growing age group having children.
Different societal developments contribute to this development. More women are in the work force, there are fewer and later marriages, higher divorce rates and, of course, medical progress has allowed older women conceive into their 50s either with their own eggs or via egg donation.
Norbert Gleicher, MD and Medical Director of New York City’s Center for Human Reproduction (CHR) – a leading clinical and research center in infertility – has recently brought attention to the rising number of older women becoming mothers. In a blog published by CHR he notes that a number of media reports recently presented the pros and cons of pregnancy in older women. All reports, however, missed the most important conclusion to this seemingly sudden societal development (which in reality has been growing quietly for over a decade): the developed world is in the midst of a reproductive social revolution in which we will increasingly see older, and often single, women becoming mothers.
So far, the medical profession, academia and government have failed to address potential societal consequences of an increase in older mothers. The public and medical establishments are similarly skeptical and to a degree hostile to what some have derisively called “grandmothers having children.” Yet, Dr. Gleicher notes, “The trend [of pregnancy in older women] is irreversible, and can only be expected to accelerate.”
Dr. Gleicher further points out that at CHR the median patient age, which a decade ago was around 35 years, passed 40 in 2011. Egg donation, mostly utilized by older women who no longer have use of their own eggs, is CHR’s most rapidly growing in vitro fertilization (IVF) program. Trends also can be seen nationally based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention data. Between 2004 and 2008 percentages of IVF cycles as a proportion of all IVF more than doubled above the age of 42. By 2008, egg donation cycles already represented 12.3% of all IVF cycles in the US.
“Medicine is not ready to manage pregnancy in older women safely and society is not ready to help them cope with older motherhood,” warns Dr. Gleicher. “Affected medical specialties have to develop the necessary expertise, whether they agree with patients’ decisions to be pregnant at advanced ages or not.” Feeling strongly about the subject, he concludes, “As we do not withhold care from smokers with lung cancer or from overly obese diabetics, it would be unethical to withhold care from older women desirous of motherhood.”
Center for Human Reproduction (http://www.centerforhumanreprod.com) is a leading infertility center in New York City treating patients worldwide. CHR is well-recognized for its major clinical research program, which has contributed a number of essential breakthroughs to the IVF process. Dr. Gleicher is available for further comments.