Through the Ages
Pregnancy and motherhood at 20 30 & 40
Know the risks
Despite the good news, there are increased risks of bearing children in the 40s. For example, medical complications and chromosomal abnormalities go up dramatically with age. “At the age of 45, the risk of chromosomal abnormalities is one in 20,” Artal says.
Just as the rates of abnormalities increase with age, fertility rates plummet for women in their 40s. A couple in their 30s with no reproductive problems have an 18 percent chance of becoming pregnant per ovulatory cycle. But for every 1,000 women ages 40 to 45, only seven have babies, according to 1996 statistics from the National Health Center. The rate is .3 for every 1,000 women ages 45 to 49.
The drop is attributed to lower egg quality, which decreases the chance of normal embryo development and increases the risk of chromosomal abnormalities. “At age 43, a woman has a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant per cycle, but it goes up to 50 percent using a donor egg,” Ringler says. “The dramatic difference can be seen by [reducing] the age of the egg.”
Costume designer Shelley Promisel-Ryan, 43, is aware of the problems that can accompany pregnancy. After taking fertility drugs combined with in-vitro fertilization, Promisel-Ryan, who divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, is 32 weeks pregnant with her first child. The path to pregnancy has been arduous.
Two years ago, Promisel-Ryan became pregnant, but her fetus died in utero in the first trimester. She later learned that she suffered from ovarian failure, a condition in which the ovaries stop producing eggs. Infertility treatment enabled her to become pregnant again at 42, but Promisel-Ryan’s body began producing antibodies in response to the fetus, which increased her chances of miscarriage. Her obstetrician remedied the condition by having Promisel-Ryan give herself twice-daily injections of the anticoagulant heparin to help her body sustain the pregnancy. During the fourth month, she stopped taking the heparin and now is taking baby aspirin.
“I wanted two or three children,” says Promisel-Ryan, who didn’t marry until she was 40. “When the baby is born, I will be 43. ... I always say, ‘We charged our baby.’ After we pay the infertility expenses off, we’ll adopt.”
While each age group brings its own strengths to mothering, women in the different decades of life are equally competent in their roles as mother, Mercer says. And women of all ages describe the process of becoming responsible for another human being as one that weighs heavily on them but fills them with joy. But it is this rite of passage that they have felt driven to win for themselves.
“Somebody came to my baby shower with a stroller,” Promisel-Ryan says. “I wheeled it across the room and
started crying. It was the moment of realizing ‘God, I’m going to be a mother.’ It’s really happening. And I can’t wait.”