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Older Mothers: Who is Too Old and Dr. Oz

Posted by Iris Waichler, LCSW on with 3 Comments

  by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.

            I was channel surfing this week and landed on the Dr. Oz show.  The topic of the show was “When are you too old to become a mother?”  That title certainly made me stop and listen.  This article on Dr. Oz’s website interestingly points out that according to the Centers for Disease Control “the only group of women to show an increase in fertility for two years running was over the age of 40.”

I want to fully disclose that I had my daughter one month before my 46th birthday on my final in vitro fertilization attempt, thanks to an egg donor.

            The show offered a variety of guests looking at many sides of the question of becoming a mother later in life.  A reproductive endocrinologist presented the costs for different type of infertility treatment and the statistics regarding age and the relationship to success rates.  A medical ethicist discussed her concerns about information like allegations of fertility drugs and cancer risk not being presented in an open way.  Another physician discussed her concerns about “the shame and embarrassment

about older-age mothers”.  She said that oftimes, later-life moms are judged by much younger mothers and others for having a child.  I have felt that in my own life. Audience members revealed their personal stories about why it was so important for them to have a child and how they would repeatedly undergo the necessary financial, medical, physical and emotional challenges in their quest to become a parent.  Another guest described her realization that she didn’t need to have a biological link to her child and the joy she found adopting her 2 children.

            I had many reactions to the show as did the people who left their comments on his website responding to this show topic. I was really glad Dr. Oz tackled a topic close to my heart that isn’t often discussed on television in such an open and frank forum.     

           There are no easy answers to the question Dr. Oz posed.  The reality is that the manner and time in our lives that we choose to have a child is the most personal of decisions and cannot always be carefully planned.  We don’t all have the option of having a child when and how we want.  A unique mixture of health, career, finances, life circumstances, significant others, changes in personal priorities and values, all blend together to determine the convergence of our family planning desires and what happens in our lives. There are no guarantees and often times there are many surprises both good and bad.

            The medical technology that is available today and that continues to evolve offers

women more fertility treatment options with better success rates than ever before. Each woman needs to think carefully about her own age, lifestyle, and the stability of different areas of her life. Dr. Oz recommended that women ask themselves several questions to determine if being an older mom feels right. His list included:

         1.  “Why do you want a child?

         2.    What will you sacrifice to have a baby?

         3.    Why do you want a biological link?

         4.    What would you have to give up and are you prepared to do that?”

             He also suggested that you try to imagine what your life would be like in 20 years.  He asked viewers if they would alter any of those choices.  None of us can anticipate what the future holds for us.  Life would be much easier if we could.  I can say my personal experience is that having a child later in life offered more medical challenges for me than it might if I would have had a child in my 20’s.  I also know that as a 40+ mother I offered my daughter greater financial stability and a loving father who was nowhere in sight when I was 25 or 30.  I am certain I am a calmer, wiser, more grounded mother now than I would have been 20 or 30 years ago.

Dr Oz. ended his show by commenting that he advised all women as they become 30 to begin to look at their parenting options.  I am not certain how realistic this is and if that is something many women are able to do or would choose to do.  My hope is that women can continue this important dialogue, that we don’t judge each other for the parenting choices that we make, and that as women we do step back and take the opportunity to explore our choices, life circumstances, and personal reasons for building our families.  I hope the answers you find help create the right path for you in your parenting journey.

 Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years.  She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility.  Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.


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Marna Gatlin Jan 31, 2012 3:39pm

Thank you for a thoughtful post about a subject that's tender to many. My response to his show was as follows:

I have been asked over and over again to weigh in on this topic and so here I am. This is going to be a long rant of sorts so please hang in there with me.

Please realize I am not a doctor. Nor am I a nurse. I am just a mom via egg donation who's followed literally thousands of women over 40 who have had children via third party reproduction over the past 15+ years.

First of all while I love Dr. Oz, and he's a doctor he's a cardiac surgeon, a personal friend of Oprah, and cardiac medicine is his specialty and expertise. Secondly, I spoke to the producers of their show as they contacted me for information about third party reproduction and namely what my opinions were about women over 40 having children, and they didn't get the sensationalism from me as they wanted. While they were kind and gracious it was clear I wasn't going to help them with ratings because I don't think there's anything wrong with having a child via egg donation, OR being over 40.

Thirdly, Dr. Oz is not a fetal maternal medicine specialist, a GYN, OR a Perinatologist. These guys aside from being medical doctors undergo about 3 years of additional specialized training. Much like Dr. Oz did when he became a cardiac surgeon. Perinatologists train in learning to assess and manage of higher risk pregnancies that may or may not have to do with age of the mother. Women who have special medical issues like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, previous miscarriages, still births, preterm labor, multiple pregnancies, high blood pressure and yes being over 40.

I wouldn't for instance take the advice of my RE about a cardiac issue I might have, nor would I go to a Neurologist if I had a toothache - nuff said about that.

Last but not least -- Any of your talk shows are going to sensationalize issues. Today it's being pregnant over 40, tomorrow it's going to be the latest diet or botox treatment. I think last year it was all about being obese, weightloss, and gastric bypass. The year before it was sexual abuse, and drug addiction. Oprah was famous for those kinds of topics. While I think it's great to have information out there, it annoys me to no end when they make everything scary.

Pregnancy regardless of your age is not easy -- people under the age of 40 have complications every single day. Before the age of 35 I had experienced 9 miscarriages, with my first occurring at the tender age of 22. Labor and delivery is the equivalent of a 1/2 marathon or running about 13 miles. It's hard for a reason -- pushing a bowling ball out of your vagina can't be easy for anyone -- and we all know if men had children, each family would have one child - right?

Are women more apt to have more complications after the age of 40 regarding pregnancy. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

Centuries ago we didn't live much longer than our 40s and 50s and we haven't changed the basic biology of how our ovaries and uterus work. That's why third party options are helpful for those of us who are choosing to have children after the age of 40. However, we are living longer now, much longer, with the help of science.

Over 40 you are at higher risk of developing certain complications during pregnancy – like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, placental abruption (in which the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall), and placenta previa (in which the placenta lies low in the uterus, partly or completely covering the cervix). These things are supported by hard data, it's just the way it is. We also know that studies some that older mom's sometimes may need pitocin during labor and we have a higher rate of C-sections. Research shows as well that we sometimes have smaller babies than those under 35.

Now while I get that all of this can sound super scary but what the studies don't know and haven't taken into account is if those mom's took good care of themselves, if they received the right kind of prenatal care, etc.. And my guess is (again I am NO DOCTOR) if you take care of yourself and get the right kinds of care having a baby should be like those women who are under 35.

Please do not get me started on Jennifer Lahl. Jennifer Lahl is not a doctor. She was a pediatric critical care nurse in California. She feels passionate about those who don't have a voice. She is very critical of ART - she even made a documentary called "Eggsploitation" to support her argument that egg donors face health risks and are not told about those risks by the infertility professionals. Some say she has a religious bias against ART and many disagree with her about the idea that egg donors are exploited.

The bottom line -- regardless of how old you are when you conceive and have a baby proper prenatal care is a no brainer. We all know that. We don't live in the pioneer days when there was no prenatal care to be had. And for goodness sakes if you create your child through IVF or ART -- you can bet your bippy you are going to be seeing more than one doctor.

Don't let talk shows like this or society for that matter dictate to you what's right for your body or your family. At the end of the day these are personal decisions that are to be made by you and your doctor.

Iris Waichler Jan 31, 2012 5:43pm

Hi Marna:
Thanks so much for sharing your insights,experience, and comments. You may not be a doctor but your personal 15 years of experience following many women over 40 and the field of third party reproduction plus your contact with the show's producers lends much credibility for me in terms of all of what you had to say. You obviously have much personal knowledge regarding this topic. I couldn't agree more with you on your bottom line and your opinions about many talk shows. You said it all so perfectly in your last statement, the final decisions are individual and very personal in nature and what matters is what is said between you and your doctor. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond.
Iris Waichler

Sharon Munroe Apr 26, 2012 10:49pm

Hello Iris. This and so much of your writing is really important. It strikes me as highly relevant to our new effort The Advanced Maternal Age Project and worth sharing further if you are comfortable doing so. Would you please look at our website and see if you might want to support us in some way? We are now collecting stories from Expert Voices - those who have counseled other women and also received the AMA stamp on their medical chart as we did (age 40 and again at age 43). See and please let us know your thoughts. Thank you in advance! -Sharon