A record number of women in the US are having children in their 40s and 50s — despite the health risks to themselves and their babies.
Women in their early to mid-20s have a 30 percent chance of getting pregnant naturally every month, but by middle age, that drops to just a couple of percent. The rise of IVF has changed the rules, however.
Karen Wilson, 53, from Florida, conceived twins in 2022 via IVF more than two decades after having her son. She told DailyMail.com: ‘The best thing about being an older mom is the appreciation of the privilege, the whole giving birth, the whole pregnancy, not taking it for granted. Having two beautiful children this late in life – I think it’s a really great blessing.’
Nancy Zepeda, also 53 and from Florida , became a first-time mom in February. She was in her 40s when she realized, ‘I really, really knew that I needed to have a baby,’ but did not meet her husband until she was 48.
In 2021, there were 1,041 births to women aged 50 and over in America, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Prevention & Control. The figure is 10 times higher than in 1997 when only 144 births to women in this age group were reported. When surrogates are included, the numbers are likely thousands more.
Karen Wilson, 53, after she gave birth to twins earlier this year
Ms Wilson while pregnant with her twins
The above graph shows birth rates by different age groups. It shows that while there has been a downturn in younger age groups, older ones have seen a persistent uptick
The rising cost of living is leaving some mothers unable to afford to have children at a younger age. Others are delaying motherhood to focus on their careers or have not met a suitable partner.
Older moms have been normalized by Hollywood, with celebrities like supermodel Naomi Campbell, who first became a parent at age 50 and welcomed her second child at 53. Actress Halle Berry gave birth to a son aged 47, while singer Gwen Stefani had her youngest son at 44.
But being an older mom is not without its risks. Studies show the chance of miscarriage for women aged between 35 and 40 is between 20 and 30 percent, and rates rise significantly for people 40 and over.
The risk of babies born with conditions like Down syndrome also increases as women age. The risk of a baby with Down syndrome rises with the mother’s age, from one in 1,250 for a 25-year-old mother to one in 1,000 at age 31, one in 400 at age 35, and one in 100 at age 40.
Dr Stuart Fischer, an internal medicine physician in New York, told DailyMail.com: ‘The chromosomes don’t divide normally, and this is the cause of problems with microtubules in the dividing cells.’
He said: ‘When mitosis occurs, the cell splits in half, and it splits the chromosomes in half, they’re pulled by teeny little threads called microtubules. If you’re a certain age, they don’t work correctly; you develop three and one chromosomes instead of two and two. That’s part of genetic abnormality.’
Older women are also more likely to have children with birth defects, he added, because ‘the human body seems to have been designed to reproduce at a younger age.’
Women over 40 are also at increased risk for pre-eclampsia – high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy, which can be life-threatening – and gestational diabetes – atypically high blood sugar during pregnancy – which can result in low or abnormally high birth weights and premature and difficult deliveries.
Ms Wilson, who also has a 21-year-old son, ‘always wanted to have more children,’ before she gave birth to twins Lily Rose and Luke Ray in April.
She said: ‘You realize what a blessing and a true gift it is, being able to have babies this late in life. All my friends are all grandmothers.’
Ms Wilson did note, however, a downside of being an older mom: ‘the knowledge that I’m an older mom and I’m not going to have as much time with them on this earth that I would have if I was a younger mom.
‘My mom just passed away, and I’m 53, so I see the detriment that that caused on me. Obviously, I feel sad for my kids because we’re not going to live forever. But I think the main thing is if you’re healthy and in the frame of mind to take care of babies.’
In her younger years, Ms Wilson said she ‘just didn’t find the right opportunity. I didn’t meet the right guy.’
For the twins, Ms Wilson was able to use the sperm of her 66-year-old partner, who already had four children aged between 39 and 21 years old from a previous relationship. He is also a grandfather to two, and with the birth of his twins, he now has children younger than his grandchildren.
Ms Wilson joked: ‘Don’t ask me how that’s all going to work!’
The mother-of-one was approaching her late 40s when she decided she ‘really wanted [more] kids.’
‘Time was passing me by, and I thought to myself, if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to be able to do it,’ she said.
She tried to foster but was told she was ‘too old’.
IVF is one of several fertility treatments available to conceive a baby. During the process, an egg is removed from the ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a lab. This embryo is then implanted into the woman’s uterus to grow and develop.
Twins and triplets are more common when conceiving via IVF because more than one embryo is transferred during the procedure.
In April, Ms Wilson gave birth via C-section near Tampa, Florida.
Her twins are now almost five months old, healthy, and she is able to breastfeed them both.
She told DailyMail.com: ‘I never in my wildest dreams thought that I’d be a mom to two wonderful little babies. I’m so lucky.’
She added: ‘I have a lot more patience than I did when I was younger, and things like the baby crying and stuff doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I had my [first] son.’
Despite her joy of having twins as an older mom, Ms Wilson has experienced some negativity from people around her.
‘Friends would say, “You’re crazy, why would you do that?”
‘The way that I look at it is, your time is your time. You could be a 25-year-old mom and get killed in a car crash. A lot of people say, “What are you going to do when you’re not there?” But you know, life’s all in God’s hands.’
Ms Wilson thinks the number of old moms is growing because ‘the opportunities for women are so much greater than when I was younger.’
Nancy Zepeda, 53, with her son Jason. She told DailyMail.com: ‘Sometimes I’ll go to the grocery store, and people say, “Oh, it’s your grandchild,” and I say, “No, he’s my son.”‘
Mrs Zepeda, from Florida, became pregnant using a friend’s donor egg and gave birth in February
Meanwhile, Mrs Zepeda became pregnant using a friend’s donor egg and gave birth to her first child Jason in February.
Ms Zepeda was married at 18 but divorced a few years later and without any children. She didn’t meet her current husband until she was 48 years old.
She told DailyMail.com: ‘We’re both very thrilled, very happy. He is our joy.’
Most of her pregnancy was uneventful, but Mrs Zepeda started to have high blood pressure in her third trimester and needed medication.
‘Overall, I did very well. I was very surprised. I managed to get around very easily. Like most pregnant women, I had a bit of shortness of breath, but I was surprised I handled it pretty well.’
She said: ‘There are some more famous fertility clinics that won’t do this for older women. The doctor that I went to has even helped older women. He told me that one of his clients was 59.
‘I feel good about it. I know that there are actually some women who frown on women my age having babies, even to the point of being ugly about it, but actually, [my son is] very fortunate.
‘My husband is retired, so either me or my husband is with him all the time, instead of having to pay a caregiver, and we’re financially more well off than younger people, which is an advantage. He’s gonna grow up in a very nice lifestyle with him being very loved’.
Mrs Zepeda had always wanted kids.
‘Since I was a little girl, I couldn’t wait to grow up so that I could have my own child,’ she said.
‘About 10 years ago is when I really, really knew that I needed to have a baby’.
Mrs Zepeda said she feels more equipped to be a mother at an older age.
‘We’re more mature; we can teach him more things because we have more life experience,’ she said.
‘When he’s older, I’m going to probably be less active because of my age, but I’m pretty healthy, and I plan to live a long time and be there for his grandchildren and help take care of them, too.’
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