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The Perfect Pregnancy Age

Posted by Lara Salahi  April 9, 2013 03:07 PM

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Upon hearing that 46-year-old actress Halle Berry is about 12 weeks pregnant, I immediately thought about whether it was a good idea for her to announce her pregnancy so early on. If she was about, oh, say, 20 years younger, I wouldn't have thought this about her pregnancy. But the truth is, no matter how fit she looks, her risk of pregnancy problems – including miscarriage -- is extremely high. That fact is based solely on one number: 46.

Women who conceive between ages 35 to 45 have a 20 to 35 percent chance of miscarriage -- nearly double the risk compared to younger women, according to the American Pregnancy Association. That risk only increases with age.

If she did in fact conceive naturally, she surprisingly surpassed a less than 5 percent shot. Still, regardless of whether she made sure to take her prenatal vitamins while trying, Ms. Berry’s egg quality is the probably lowest it’s ever been before.

Medically speaking, Ms. Berry has passed her pregnancy prime.

But culturally speaking, her decision is no anomaly.

In fact, many couples are choosing to start a family later because of factors such as delayed marriage, advancement in careers, or the shaky economy.

Considering many women are successfully conceiving later in life, maybe we need to stop regarding later pregnancies as a medical mystery (or miracle, depending on how you look at it). After all, it’s possible to have a healthy pregnancy (and a high risk one) at any childbearing age. And, in perhaps every other aspect of a woman’s life – i.e. financially, socially -- a pregnancy in our 40s may be the perfect age.

Perhaps those of us 20-somethings who are planning for pregnancies are behind the times. In fact, nowadays, we may be getting more flack for, culturally speaking, getting pregnant “too young,” even though, medically speaking, our egg quality is at its prime. (Can you tell I’m writing from experience here?)

So, what is the perfect pregnancy age? The answer is, there isn’t.

Does age really matter in pregnancy? The answer is, it doesn’t.

That’s because, at some point in your family planning, you may come to the realization that no matter what age you set your sights on birthing a baby – depending on what factors you find important in your life -- the statistics will never totally be in your favor.

Any age will seem like a terrible age. Here’s why:

If you’re in your 20s, the reason you may feel the need to reproduce is because you’re finding yourself a few years into a solid partnership or marriage. A decade or so ago, getting pregnant in your 20s seemed culturally acceptable – but now, the numbers suggest pregnancy is no longer popular. The U.S. birth rate for women your age is at a historic low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Add to that with the fact that the divorce rate is the highest among your age group than among those who are older, and it may no longer seem like the 20s is the right age to build a family. You may also read about older, seemingly more experienced and accomplished women who will (falsely) declare that you – a family and career driven person -- can’t have it all. Your eggs may look amazing, but statistically speaking your career looks bleak, they’ll tell you. Negative thoughts may consume you.

If you’re in your 30s, your chances of getting pregnant during each cycle drop to 20 percent. Women in their late 30s who turn to assisted reproductive technologies such as intrauterine insemination may only have a 10 percent success rate, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. By age 35, you’re considered “high risk.” Words like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes may be more likely to enter discussions with your physician. Negative thoughts may consume you.

If you’re in your 40s, you may have less than a 5 percent chance of conceiving naturally, and less than 20 percent chance of conceiving using fertility methods like in vitro fertilization. The risk of miscarriage just during the first trimester can be as high as 80 percent, according to American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Fertility through a donor egg can cost upwards of $30,000. By the time you’re eligible for retirement benefits, chances are your child will only be entering his or her teen years. Negative thoughts may consume you.

Every age has its challenges. So what should we do?

Understand the numbers, but tune out the negative thinking.

“Perfect” pregnancies should not be measured by statistics or a certain age. Instead, they should be measured by the decision to follow through the pregnancy we have chosen, after weighing the challenges that matter most to us.

Ultimately, the perfect pregnancy age is the age you decide for yourself.

Halle doesn’t give a hoot about what I think about her pregnancy anyway.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Lara Salahi is an award-winning multimedia journalist whose specialty is reporting health and medical stories. She has worked in local, network, and cable television, international print, and documentary film. She More »

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