[Paleopsych] Wired News: No Magic for Older Moms

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Wired News: No Magic for Older Moms

    By [22]Kristen Philipkoski
    02:00 AM Jan. 19, 2005 PT

    When a 66-year-old Romanian woman on Sunday became the oldest woman
    ever to give birth, the news may have wrongly comforted many women who
    want to postpone childbearing.

    If technology could help the mature Romanian [24]get pregnant, the
    thinking goes, surely having a baby at 40 is a piece of cake.
    Unfortunately, fertility technologies are not quite keeping up with
    the modern woman's reproductive demands.

    What is often overlooked in stories like Adriana Iliescu's is the fact
    that the woman's own eggs were not used in the procedure. Both the
    eggs and the sperm used were donated. Iliescu was essentially a
    surrogate for strangers' DNA.

    "What we're seeing here is a pregnancy, but not a woman giving birth
    to a biological child," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for
    Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Which raises the
    question: Why would anyone put a 66-year-old woman through pregnancy?"

    News reports about Iliescu's pregnancy revealed that donor eggs and
    sperm made the pregnancy possible, although that fact could escape
    headline skimmers. And many famous [27]women who gave birth in their
    40s and 50s, including Joan Lunden, Geena Davis, Cheryl Tiegs and Jane
    Seymour, welcome press coverage of their new children, but won't
    answer questions about donor eggs.

    "They are not always forthcoming, and it sends the wrong message,"
    said Dr. Alan DeCherney, a reproductive endocrinologist at the
    University of California at Los Angeles and editor in chief of the
    journal [28]Fertility and Sterility.

    These stories convey to women: "It is never too late. You are never
    too old. It is just in your mind." That's a quote from [29]Aleta St.
    James, a self-described celebrity "healer" who gave birth to twins in
    November 2004, three days before her 57th birthday.

    Do these women have, besides wealth and fame, superhuman fertility?
    Not likely, experts say. Tiegs has said in interviews that she used
    her own eggs and a surrogate at 52. But studies have found that just
    0.2 percent of women at that age, supermodel or not, can produce
    viable eggs.

    "I think it is really borderline unethical because so many young women
    look up to these women," said Cara Birrittieri, author of [30]What
    Every Woman Should Know about Fertility and Her Biological Clock. "If
    you walk into a clinic at 45 or 50 you might be able to have babies
    but you can't use your own eggs, and that's the part that's missing in
    a lot of these stories."

    In her mid-30s, Birrittieri found herself single and staring at a
    magazine cover featuring a 52-year-old celebrity proudly displaying
    her newborn twins. Birrittieri tucked away the reassuring thought that
    modern medicine would provide her plenty of time to have kids. Just
    one year after having her first child at 40 with no problems, in vitro
    fertilization attempts ended in using a donor egg to conceive her
    second child, born seven months ago.

    Birrittieri writes: "Don't be misled, enjoy the news these celebrity
    older moms impart, be happy for them, and at the same time, be mindful
    of separating their reported miracle or good fortune from your
    biological clock."

    Celebrities do have one advantage over mere mortals: huge bank
    accounts. In vitro fertilization runs about $12,400 a pop in the
    United States, according to the [31]American Society for Reproductive
    Medicine. And even if a woman can afford it, her success is far from
    certain. The procedure's success rate -- 30 percent -- is not stellar.

    There are also potential complications to consider. The risks for a
    66-year-old woman in the finest health, as well as for her unborn
    children, are going to be great, Caplan said. Indeed, Iliescu carried
    twins, but one, which weighed just less than two pounds at the time of
    Iliescu's Caesarean section, did not survive, according to the
    Associated Press. The surviving twin weighed just three pounds at

    "It is as experimental as anything in medicine, and one death is
    inexcusable," Caplan said.

    Women over 50 are at increased risk for [32]preeclampsia and
    gestational diabetes, and the majority will require a Caesarean
    delivery, according to a 2002 [33]study published in The Journal of
    the American Medical Association. Nevertheless, the researchers also
    said age alone was not reason enough to prevent older women from
    attempting pregnancy.

    Reproduction clinics are not regulated by any government agency in the
    United States, so they are free to set their own age limits.

    Other high-tech options for older mothers-to-be have seen some success
    in recent years. More than 100 children have been born using frozen
    eggs. Egg freezing's success rates are increasing, but they are still
    much lower compared to in vitro fertilization with fresh eggs. In one
    of the most recent studies reported on the technology, 237 of 737 eggs
    survived after thawing. The Italian researchers achieved fertilization
    with 123 of the eggs, transferred embryos into 104 wombs, and achieved
    15 pregnancies and 13 births. That's a success rate comparable to in
    vitro fertilization for a 42-year-old woman using unfrozen eggs.

    Still, some women (the company will not reveal how many) are so
    confident in the promise of this research that they pay $400 per year
    for [34]Extend Fertility's egg-freezing services. Extend Fertility's
    officials purport to help women "stop the ticking biological clock."

    In other experiments, doctors have frozen ovarian tissue from women
    faced with radiation or chemotherapy for cancer, treatments that
    typically leave women infertile. When the women are in remission,
    researchers can implant the ovarian tissue in the women's arms or
    other parts of their bodies where, if all goes well, it will produce
    eggs. Researchers using this technique have reported one pregnancy.

    Researchers are making progress in extending women's fertility, but
    technology still lags behind many women's expectations, Birrittieri
    said, especially professional women striving for certain career goals
    before starting a family.

    "They're trying to make a difference and they're excited about their
    careers and they're doing it for great reasons," Birrittieri said.
    "But the fact of the matter is there does come a time when they're
    going to be extremely disappointed and traumatized by not being able
    to have their own genetic children."


   22. http://wired.com/news/feedback/mail/1,2330,0-31-66322,00.html
   24. http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20050116/od_uk_nm/oukoe_odd_romania_pregnancy_2
   27. http://www.mothersover40.com/celebrities.html
   28. http://www.asrm.org/Professionals/Fertility&Sterility/fspage.html
   29. http://www.energytransformations.com/
   30. http://knowyourbioclock.com/
   31. http://www.asrm.org/
   32. http://www.preeclampsia.org/about.asp
   33. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/288/18/2320
   34. http://www.extendfertility.com/

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