29 September 2011

Some Older Women Just Have to Have a Baby

Say hello to Fiona Palin, 49 years old in this photo. You see her with her healthy daughter Kiki, age 5 months. Fiona is just one of many older women who are unwilling to be without a baby, despite getting on in years. Among the financially comfortable and well off, this is becoming something of a trend.
In 2008, Brad Van Voorhis, head of the fertility clinic at the University of Iowa, decided he wanted to measure how well children conceived through in vitro fertilization do on intelligence tests, hoping to dispel lingering concerns about their cognitive abilities. So he and his team compared the standardized-test scores of 463 IVF kids ages 8 to 17 against the scores of other kids in their classes. They found that the IVF kids scored better overall and in every category of test—reading, math, and language skills. And they found that the older the mother, the better the kid performed.

...Some evidence even suggests that having babies late extends a person’s life. Boston University’s Thomas Perls has been studying centenarians since 1995. He found that women who gave birth to children after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than those who did not. His study has nothing to do with reproductive technology or adoption: It shows a connection between an unusually healthy reproductive system and longevity. But longevity is complex, and Perls hypothesizes that there’s something about living with kids—all that running around, all that responsibility, all that social connectivity in the shape of picnics and playdates—that maintains health. People who’ve made a big investment to have little kids take care of themselves, and people who take care of themselves live longer.

...The relative wealth of older parents blunts their supposed shortcomings in other ways. Research supports intuition: Rich people live longer than others. Demographers at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have found that the gap in life expectancy between richest and poorest Americans has widened since 1980 to four and half years from three. Rich people are likelier to have good health insurance, and insured people live longer because they can avail themselves of checkups and screening tests. Rich people are likelier not to be smokers, they’re likelier to be thin, and they’re likelier to have good cardiovascular health.

...It is nearly impossible to have a baby at 50 by accident. “Oops” does not happen; that momentary abandonment of good sense or caution will almost never result in a pregnancy. No matter how a child is procured, whether through technology or adoption, her 50-year-old parents have likely gone through some kind of hell—paperwork, blood tests, questionnaires, waiting, visa applications, mood swings, marital discord, and recalibration of expectations—to have her. These are the most wanted of children. And their parents, some would argue, can give them something that the youngest and prettiest don’t have: the wisdom of age and an abiding sense that life is a precious gift not to be wasted.



Fiona Palin started trying to conceive ten years ago, when she was 38. She underwent six failed IVF cycles and three miscarriages—including, the final time, a miscarriage of triplets. Depressed for years, she decided to give up hope, go back to school, and become a tourism consultant. She investigated adoption. She was keeping herself busy.


Last August, when she and her husband, Nick, who is 63, decided to thaw and use their last remaining embryo, abiding in a freezer since 2002, they were done “with everything but the crying,” she says. “I thought, This won’t work. Don’t put any hopes on it.” It did, though. Fiona learned she was pregnant in the bathroom of a Ralphs supermarket in Los Angeles, where, in anticipation of a long, boozy evening with relatives, she took a do-it-yourself urine test, just to be safe. “I screamed. I was crying hysterically in the toilet. If anyone would have heard, I’m sure they would have called security. I got myself together and went outside, and Nick was there. He said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ and I told him, and then he started crying. So we’re crying in this parking lot of this supermarket.” According to her obstetrician, Fiona’s pregnancy was “flawless.” _NYMag
In affluent countries, healthy 50 year olds often have another 30 years of relatively vigorous life left in them. If they want to -- and are able to -- nurture and raise another child or generation of children, who is to say they cannot?

Recent research from Karolinska Institute in Sweden demonstrates that older men are more than capable of siring healthy and intelligent children -- in younger women or older.

If older women plan ahead and freeze their young eggs ahead of time, they can birth healthy and smart babies using their even older husbands' sperm. If they have no frozen eggs of their own, they can buy eggs from healthy young females willing to part with a few. Either way, IVF can help. Some older couples even have frozen embryos patiently waiting for the couple to commit to bringing it into the world as an instantiated being. And then, there are always surrogate mothers, willing to bear another couple's child for a fee.

The objections to having children at an older age can generally be met and dealt with by persons who are smart enough, healthy enough, and affluent enough. But have they truly thought about how they will deal with the teenage brain, when the time comes? I suspect that the pivotal factor in overcoming that challenge, will be how well the parents can honestly and emotionally engage the child from the earliest age up to the teenage years. And how well the parent can limit the child's exposure to an extremely dysfunctional popular culture, educational culture, and the culture of dysfunctional peers of childhood.

For many people, having to raise their own grandchildren -- when their own no-good kids fail to raise them -- will provide them with as much child-raising satisfaction in their middle and old age as they can stand. But don't be surprised if this trend toward maternity among older, childless women of affluence, begins to pick up momentum.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Ene said...

Are these studies controlled for IQ of parents?
Older women who can get pregnant could be more intelligent on average. Older fathers too, it's not easy for an below/average 50+ year old male to have a sexual life with a younger woman if he is not well financially suited. Also, if you're an average male in your 30ies your chances of finding a woman to impregnate falls drastically with age, but if you're an alpha male, I'd say your chances stay high.
Of course these are speculations I came up with in few seconds.
But doing any research which include parents and their offspring has no meaning if not controlled for genetics.
Of course such studies are much more difficult to do and also goes in violation against PC religion but reality doesn't care about that.

Thursday, 29 September, 2011  
Blogger neil craig said...

Not surprising since such women tend to be well off to start with. However I can see good evolutionary rerasons whyhaving a late baby will tend to make the body try to live longer. If this is true, independent of the correlation between wealth and longevity it would suggest ways of promoting longevity research.

Thursday, 29 September, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Ene: The point of the study was to test the null hypothesis: "IVF babies are less intelligent than babies conceived naturally." For this particular group of children, the null hypothesis was refuted. Nothing more can be inferred.

Neil: Right. There is a distinct rejuvenating effect of pregnancy, along with some definite health risks.

Thursday, 29 September, 2011  
Blogger Bearhawk said...

The longevity point struck me as a unique one. My initial reaction follows the completely intuitive one that, "D'uh, you've got young kids and then teenagers that you have to stay active just to cart them around, then you probably are working longer to pay for college and want to live to see your grandkids so you are keeping invested in life.

The other, rejuvenating effect of pregnancy struck me though. I thought of the recent studies regarding longevity and health of conjoined mice (young-to-old). The effects reach the brain as well. So it crosses the blood brain barrier...so the youthful elements (proteins, etc) should also cross from fetus-to-mother. I wonder if this also impacts the generic increased life expectancy of women versus men? It seems like a fairly logical progression...no?

Thursday, 29 September, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

You might want to check out this PDF study from UC Davis:

http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~mueller/FrCanpdf.pdf

Excerpt: The relation between fertility and post-menopausal longevity is investigated for a sam
ple of 1635 women from a historical French-Canadian cohort who lived past age 50. We
find that increased fertility is linked to increased rather than decreased post-reproductive
survival. Post-reproductive life expectancy extension is found to be tied to late births.

The question hasn't really been studied as much as you might expect. Feminists are probably split on the issue, and since feminist dogma controls much of what the public (and university students) is allowed to think about, and what researchers are allowed to study, we may have to wait for more definitive studies.

Thursday, 29 September, 2011  

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