Older moms giv­ing birth to a bur­geon­ing trend

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - CAL­GARY HER­ALD

As An­gus Wat­son, a happy, per­son­able lit­tle guy, goes about the daily thrills and spills of ex­plor­ing his south­west Cal­gary home, his mom keeps a close eye on him, clearly de­lighted by her ac­tive first-born.

The chubby-cheeked 18-month-old came into the world Aug. 27, 2007 — one of 16,543 ba­bies born in Cal­gary hos­pi­tals be­tween March 31, 2007, and April 1, 2008.

What’s re­mark­able is that, like An­gus, nearly 21 per cent of those ba­bies — one in five — were de­liv­ered by a mother over 35, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from Al­berta Health Ser­vices.

Fran Wat­son gave birth to An­gus when she was 43, hav­ing waited 20 years to find the right part­ner, get mar­ried and then have a child.

“What I feel as a mom who waited a long time is ‘My God, I’m happy,’ ” said the long­time pub­li­cist. “And what can pos­si­bly be wrong with that won­der­ful feel­ing?”

She is part of a larger so­ci­etal trend hap­pen­ing in Canada and other in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries: the pro­por­tion of women over 35 giv­ing birth in Canada has more than tripled from five per cent in 1982 to about 18 per cent in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Jan. 29 by the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for Health In­for­ma­tion.

Even so, we lag be­hind other de­vel­oped na­tions. The same re­port found that while the birth rate in Canada in 2006 was 44.9 per 1,000 women age 35 to 39, rates in the United States (47.3 per 1,000) and Eng­land and Wales (53.8 per 1,000) were higher in the same year.

On Feb. 3, the birth of twin boys to 60-year-old Ran­jit Hayer of Cal­gary thrust the is­sue of older moth­ers un­der the mi­cro­scope. While bear­ing chil­dren in one’s sev­enth decade with the help of re­pro­duc­tive tech­nol­ogy ob­tained in In­dia may be an ex­treme ex­am­ple, late-bloom­ing moth­ers now ap­pear to be the new nor­mal. And, like Hayer, who tried for decades to bear chil­dren, many older moth­ers strongly de­fend their choice, de­spite the con­sid­er­able risks.

On one’s last eggs

The prob­lems with wait­ing to have chil­dren are many. Women 35 and up are less fer­tile, have a greater risk of mis­car­riage or still­birth and more com­pli­ca­tions in preg­nancy such as di­a­betes and high blood pres­sure, said Dr. Jef­frey Roberts, a re­pro­duc­tive en­docri­nol­o­gist and in­fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist at the Pa­cific Cen­tre for Re­pro­duc­tive Medicine in Van­cou­ver, B.C.

Preg­nant women over 40 are au­to­mat­i­cally con­sid­ered high risk, and the ma­ter­nal com­pli­ca­tions dra­mat­i­cally in­crease over 50, Roberts added.

“Women as they ap­proach 45 and be­yond have al­most a 75 per cent risk of mis­car­riage,” he said, “and the risk of Down syn­drome be­comes more than one in 100.”

Moms over 40 also have a higher chance of pro­duc­ing more eggs at once, thereby in­creas­ing their odds of hav­ing preterm twins. Low birth weight ba­bies them­selves can have a host of health prob­lems.

He­len Van­der­burg was will­ing to take those risks.

A fit­ness pro­fes­sional and the owner of Heav­ens Fit­ness in Cal­gary, Van­der­burg said she de­layed hav­ing chil­dren mostly be­cause she wasn’t in a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship un­til she was older; build­ing her ca­reer played a secondary role.

Af­ter meet­ing and mar­ry­ing Terry Kane, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist, their first child Kiah was con­ceived nat­u­rally. They des­per­ately wanted a sec­ond, so much so that Van­der­burg went through five years of in vitro fer­til­iza­tion treat­ments at the Re­gional Fer­til­ity Pro­gram in Cal­gary.

She guesses it cost about $20,000. “I think I tried to erase the mem­ory.”

In the last round, she had three em­bryos im­planted, but only one de­vel­oped. She un­der­went a full com­ple­ment of test­ing to rule out any ge­netic ab­nor­mal­i­ties and, at 45, gave birth to daugh­ter Sage.

She hasn’t per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced any re­sis­tance to older women hav­ing chil­dren — “It could be the world I travel in, where peo­ple are more ac­cept­ing of that” — but she bris­tles at the fact most peo­ple wouldn’t think twice about an older man hav­ing chil­dren.

At 50 she still sees her­self as young.

“Women in their 40s and be­yond are much fit­ter, health­ier and stronger than the gen­er­a­tions be­fore us. In ev­ery phys­i­cal way, they are young,” she said, be­fore neatly sum­ma­riz­ing the co­nun­drum she and other older mom face.

“Older woman can have ba­bies be­cause they’re fit and healthy, but the re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem — and that’s the big lec­ture I got from the Re­gional Fer­til­ity Clinic — can’t be changed with diet and ex­er­cise.”

Be­ing in top shape lets Van­der­burg keep up with her girls, now 10 and 4, but she ad­mits she ini­tially won­dered how Ran­jit Hayer could do it at 60.

“I was see­ing my­self and think­ing ‘OK, add 10 years and could I run af­ter tod­dlers, es­pe­cially two boys?’ ”

But she feels moth­er­hood is in­tensely per­sonal; each woman has her own rea­sons about if and why she has chil­dren and when.

“The one thing I al­ways re­mind my­self is I don’t know the per­son’s story, so who am I to place judg­ment?”

A re­pro­duc­tive choice?

Like­wise, Arad­hana Par­mar be­lieves it is a woman’s right to have ba­bies when she chooses, at any age.

Why? Par­mar, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cul­ture at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary who teaches women’s stud­ies and de­vel­op­ment stud­ies, be­lieves a lit­tle per­spec­tive is nec­es­sary.

“The rea­son for this (trend) is that new tech­nolo­gies are avail­able in an era when women are pro­fes­sion­als and they spend lots of time fo­cus­ing on their ca­reers and ed­u­ca­tion, so by the time they are ready to set­tle down they are in their 30s.”

At the same time, she says our life span has greatly im­proved, so that par­ents will be around longer to care for late­born chil­dren.

“Log­i­cally, it makes ab­so­lute sense to me to have chil­dren when­ever it is con­ve­nient to them,” Par­mar said. “If you can raise a child, give them lots of love and af­fec­tion and fa­cil­i­ties, and even you’re 50 but healthy, why not?”

A re­cent re­port from Statis­tics Canada may sup­port her ar­gu­ment.

Pub­lished in Septem­ber, it looked at the grow­ing trend of first-time moth­ers over 35 and con­cluded that the chil­dren of older moms are gen­er­ally as healthy as those born to younger women.

The study found that while they are at greater risk of birth de­fects, once the chil­dren of moms over 35 are born, their health, be­hav­iour and cog­ni­tive out­comes up to the age of five were nearly the same as the chil­dren of moth­ers 25 to 29.

“I’ve talked to my grad stu­dents and my ma­ture stu­dents and they all want to have chil­dren — it’s only a ques­tion of time, money or part­ners,” said Par­mar, 57, her­self the mother of two grown chil­dren and a grand­mother.

She be­lieves moth­er­hood is a ba­sic in­stinct. “Some of it is cul­tural, yes, but the urge to cre­ate a life is so pow­er­ful.”

Fran Wat­son agrees with Par­mar that women have the right to have chil­dren at the time and age of their choos­ing, “so long as they have their sup­port sys­tems in place.”

“(Ran­jit and hus­band Ja­gir Hayer) have it all sorted out. Those kids have an abun­dant ex­tended fam­ily. The kids I feel sor­rier for are those born to moms who have no ex­tended net­work to sup­port them.”

Like Van­der­burg, once Wat­son fi­nally met and mar­ried her hus­band, James Wat­son, a 46-year-old com­puter pro­gram­mer, it was time “to pull the goalie.” How­ever, they were not will­ing to do so with the help of med­i­cal sci­ence.

Her first preg­nancy ended in mis­car­riage, so she be­gan us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral ther­a­pies to get preg­nant again: vi­ta­mins, licorice root and pro­ges­terone from wild yams. Luck­ily, her sec­ond preg­nancy was nor­mal and re­sulted in An­gus.

Wat­son said peo­ple are “so happy for us when they find out our age,” al­though some­one once re­marked to her “ ‘Your grand­son is so cute.’ That was hard.”

She said she en­cour­ages “any­one who has a strong feel­ing about this not to hold back be­cause of age. It’s only one fac­tor among many.

Gavin Young, Cal­gary Her­ald

VA­LERIE BERENYI First-time mom Fran Wat­son, 45, plays a game of “duck chase” with her 18-month-old son An­gus at home in south­west Cal­gary.

Stu­art Gradon, Cal­gary Her­ald

He­len Van­der­burg, with her hus­band Terry and daugh­ters Sage, 4, and Kiah, 10, spent $20,000 and took five years to have Sage. At 50, she still sees her­self as young.

Gavin Young, Cal­gary Her­ald

Fran Wat­son plays with her 18-month-old son An­gus. The Cal­gary mom, who gave birth to An­gus at age 43, says some­one once re­marked to her “ ‘Your grand­son is so cute.’ That was hard.”

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