[Paleopsych] Wired News: No Magic for Older Moms
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Sun Jan 23 18:23:56 UTC 2005
Wired News: No Magic for Older Moms
By 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 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 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 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 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
"I think it is really borderline unethical because so many young women
look up to these women," said Cara Birrittieri, author of 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
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 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 preeclampsia and
gestational diabetes, and the majority will require a Caesarean
delivery, according to a 2002 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
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 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."
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