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Column: Family Briefing
Early this year, Janet Jackson became a mother for the first time—at 50 years old.
She's not the first celebrity to welcome a child rather later in life than is typical. Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Kelly Preston, and Mariah Carey all had babies while in their forties. But whenever an older female celebrity has a baby, feminist writers like to talk about the new, delayed motherhood. It's true that women are having babies at older and older ages these days. Thirty is the new twenty-five when it comes to childbearing. But there are a few inconvenient facts that no one discusses.
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Some Inconvenient Facts
First, there is a big, big difference between having your first baby at 40-plus years, and having a second or third or fourth birth at that age. For some reason, bearing and delivering a first child under the age of about 30 makes it vastly easier for a woman to conceive and bear to term subsequent children.
The second fact is that fertility is becoming quite the big-bucks business these days, and it is preying upon the hopes, health, and finances of women. A recent and illustrative entry into the fertility biz is Prelude Fertility, a $200 million startup featured in the November 8, 2016 issue of Forbes.1 The company claims that women can "press pause" on their fertility and then have a child when they want to through the "Prelude Method," which has several steps:
(1) First there is "fertility preservation," which is maintained through egg or sperm cryopreservation until conception is desired.
(2) Then comes "embryo creation," when the eggs and sperm are thawed and united in a test-tube or Petri dish.
(3) This is followed by "genetic screening," when the newly created embryo is tested to make sure it is disease-free.
(4) And finally, there is "single embryo transfer," when an approved embryo is implanted in the woman's womb.
"We're about helping women and couples have healthy babies when they're ready," company founder Martin Varsavsky tells Forbes.
The price tag for all this? Prelude aims to keep its upfront costs and fees low, but keeping eggs frozen starts at $199 a month. "Prelude is betting that young women will pay a few grand a year to alter the equation between career and family," says Forbes.
High Risk, Low Return
Such businesses make it seem like getting the perfect baby at the perfect time is a sure deal. We live in a Brave New World, one in which parenthood can increasingly be chosen and achieved outside the limits of biology—
or so we like to think. But IVF, even if you can accept the morality of creating and then destroying vast numbers of tiny human lives, is not foolproof. The 2014 CDC report on ART (assisted reproductive technology, primarily IVF) lists the success rate for live births as hovering at only around 40 percent until a woman reaches age 30. After that, the rates drop steeply. For women aged 38–40, the success rate is under 20 percent, and it is almost nonexistent for a woman older than 44.2
That says nothing about the danger that IVF poses to women and babies. The technology is still young, but so far, there seems to be a link between heightened rates of ovarian cancer and having undergone IVF treatment. A recent study out of Scandinavia found a significant increase in the risk of both pre-term delivery and stillbirth in women aged 30–34 compared with women aged 25–29.3 These are women in their thirties, mind you. Not their forties. A recent article in London's Daily Mail reports on a study by Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which found that "test-tube babies" have a six-fold increase in the risk of suffering from a combination of birth defects that also increase their risk of developing cancer.4
These shouldn't be surprising facts. When you pump a woman with drugs designed to stimulate her ovaries, surgically harvest her eggs, freeze them, thaw them, inject them with sperm that also may have been frozen and thawed, grow a baby or babies in a dish, and then implant said baby/babies in a uterus (not necessarily the mother's), it should surprise no one that somewhere along the line, some very important genetic material has been compromised.
In the meantime, however, millions of women worldwide are making life-altering decisions about fertility because of the false hopes fed to them by purveyors of assisted reproductive technologies. Without realizing that such treatments often fail, many couples use their retirement savings, put a second mortgage on their home, or take other extreme measures to finance a dream that will never come true.
And while fiscal insolvency and impaired health are a high price for adults to pay, for the tiny human beings whose lives are snuffed out when they've barely begun, the price is incalculable. Marcia Segelstein reported in Salvo 36 that, of the 3.5 million human embryos created for IVF purposes in the U.K. from 1991 through 2012, 93 percent of them never generated a pregnancy. More than half of them were simply thrown away. And those are just the figures from the U.K.5
So the next time you see a very pregnant, stunningly beautiful actress waddling up to the podium at the Golden Globes, remember that what you don't see is how much was lost through miscarriages, fertility treatments, and rounds of IVF in order for her to achieve her lovely girth. •
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