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More and More Women Are Getting Pregnant After 50 Years Old

Frieda Birnbaum and family/Brian Doben/AARP

The Short of It

Believe it or not, getting pregnant after 50 is a growing trend in the United States. But while technology supports this lifestyle choice, does our society?

The Lowdown

We're no longer shocked by celebrity moms who give birth in their 40s. Gwen Stefani welcomed her third son at the age of 44. Susan Sarandon had a son at 45, and Gina Davis birthed twins at the age of 48.

Given the star power behind this trend, one would expect that society at large embraces the idea of (much) older moms. But a recent survey of about 2,000 British citizens revealed that 75 percent thought that women having babies after their natural childbearing years was completely unacceptable.

Nonetheless, statistics point to a sharp uptick in moms who are having babies later in life. In 2013, 13 babies were born each week to moms age 50 and older. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, births by women between the ages of 50 and 54 increased by more than 165 percent from 2000 to 2013.

Um, are these older mamas just extremely fertile?

Actually, most women who get pregnant at age 50 do so with the help of in vitro fertilization. And given that the average age for menopause is 51, older moms typically use donor eggs of younger women in order to conceive.

This was true for New Jersey parents Frieda and Ken Birnbaum. They welcomed a son when Frieda was 53 and twins when she was 60. The Birnbaums had to travel to South Africa to undergo IVF because doctors in the U.S. said the cutoff age was 50. And she still lied about her age abroad to get the treatments.

Frieda is not the oldest woman to give birth. That title goes to Rajo Devi of India, who gave birth at 70.

The Upshot

Women decide to get pregnant after 50 for many reasons. Some want to have children in second marriages; some are just not ready to be mothers before their fifth decade.

No matter the impetus, it's important to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of conceiving a baby later in life. Older moms face a host of increased health risks, including a higher likelihood of developing gestational diabetes and hypertension and having a stillbirth and a preterm delivery. The expense of using IVF is another huge factor to consider—as is the sad truth that an older mom will have less years to spend with her children.

On the flipside is procreative liberty, the idea that a woman can choose when she wants to have children. Interestingly, the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities is often mitigated by the fact that donor eggs are used for conception.

What do you think?

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