It’s awesome having a baby bump. On my birth certificate it says I’ll be 45 in two weeks. But that is so relative. If you’re 65, then 45 is still young. You’re in the prime of your life. Pregnancy is all about abundance and here I am a pregnant, voluptuous woman in the prime of her fertile years.
I was just on Dr Christiane Northrup’s show Flourish talking about fertility after 35 and thought it would be interesting to elaborate on some of the issues we discussed.
Debunking some myths about pregnancy after 40
1. It’s much harder to get pregnant
Most of you have probably heard about it by now: The statistics about fertility declining drastically after 35 are based on flimsy data about women who lived in thatched-roof huts without electricity and died before they reached menopause. As for the statistic about having a 5% chance of conceiving after 40, it seems nobody really knows where that came from. It may even be made up. Based on these warnings about becoming barren around the time everything has fit into place for motherhood, generations of women have gone into panic mode. We changed our lives, stalled careers, chucked (to use a very British expression) boyfriends who weren’t ‘ready’, froze our eggs for ridiculous amounts of money and spent countless hours obsessing about getting older and that life wasn’t working out the way it should be.
But getting pregnant after 35 or even 40 happens all the time to women all over the world. Our cultural expectations and barriers may even be holding us back because we know that other cultures, for example the Huichol Indians, have high fertility rates in women over 40. Maybe because they expect it to be so? It is a new phenomenon of modern life that women are starting families at the age they were dying 100 years ago. So, as Dr Northrup says, “Tap into your fertility birthright”.
When I conceived the baby I’m now carrying in-utero it was one of those ‘Oops, that time of the month’ days. We weren’t actively trying to conceive and my husband got a bit anxious immediately after ‘the act’. I remember joking to him, “Oh don’t worry. You know what the doctors say; I have about a 0.2% percent chance at my age.” Plenty of women I know who conceived after 40 have similar stories. One was on the last day of her period and thought it would be ‘safe’ to have intercourse. Another was ‘reuniting’ with a long-term partner whom she had separated from for a year.
These babies wanted to be born. They are miracle babies because having a child is a miracle. And we mustn’t forget the spiritual aspect to conception. Maybe we should hand over some of the ‘control’ to divinity.
2. You’ll have pregnancy complications
This is another statistic which isn’t confirmed by a large, controlled, randomized study (the kind doctors like to rely on). In fact in the qualitative study I did for my book, quite the opposite was the case. The 60 women taking part in the survey had less pregnancy complications than average. A formal study published in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing showed that 86% of pregnant women over 35 were promoting their health to accommodate pregnancy and a study at Texas University showed older mothers had healthier babies.
In none of my three pregnancies after 40 have I had a single, serious pregnancy complaint. Maybe nausea in the first months and some lower back pain towards the end, but this is completely normal. In fact I avoid most of the tests and screenings because I can feel I’m healthy and so is my baby. As I mention in my book – and this is based on studies and an interview I did with a world authority on pregnancy, Dr Michel Odent – the industrialization of obstetrics has led to too much focus on potential problems. For example, the blood test to detect anaemia gives a false diagnosis because it isn’t taking into account the increased blood volume of pregnancy. Millions of women are then prescribed pharmaceutical iron supplements which lead to digestive disorders and inhibit zinc absorption. Another example is being told you may have pre-eclampsia due to increased blood pressure in late pregnancy. If there is no protein in the urine, an increased blood pressure is actually linked to good birth outcomes.
3. You’re too old and will get more tired
Energy levels are such an individual thing. Actress Halle Berry, who just gave birth to her naturally conceived son at 47, famously said she felt so energetic during pregnancy, she wished she always had this amount of energy. My youngest sister, who at 28 is also pregnant right now, is constantly knackered and goes to bed at 9pm most nights.
Maybe the difference is that if you are over 40 and complain about being tired then everyone thinks it’s because of your age, not because you happen to be carrying a growing baby inside your womb and an extra 10 kilos of weight.
4. There’s an increased risk of birth defects
As I mentioned on the show, the commonly cited statistics for an increase in Down’s syndrome are based on computer charts, not actual life births. A 40 year-old woman is told she has a 1 in 100 % chance of having a baby with trisomy. Turn that statistic around and you have a 99% chance for a healthy baby. Pretty good, if you ask me. We also know that birth defects can be avoided by creating the right environment for sperm and egg health.
An increase in birth defects is unfortunately increasing in the population in general, regardless of the age of the parents. Why? Blame toxins in our food supply and environment. The chemical industry has developed more than 90’000 man-made chemicals with active ingredients over the last 60 years. That is 2000-3000 every year. 85% of them have never undergone testing for their impact on the human body. Since 1990 2.8 billion kilos of pesticides have been released onto the market. Male sperm are sensitive to toxins and easier to test than female eggs for damage. We know that certain herbicides (hello Monsanta!) destroy testosterone, cause DNA damage and lead to poor sperm quality. Conventional farmers using pesticides and men in pesticide-related jobs have a high proportion of abnormal sperm and are 10 times more likely to have fertility issues. We also know that the average sperm count of a North American college student today is less than half of what it was 50 years ago. Nearly half the male population has reduced sperm motility and 85% of sperm produced by the average male today is believed to be DNA damaged. Another shocking statistic: Boys born with penis abnormalities and genital defects has increased 200% in the past two decades. This is all very bad news. What is the good news? We can detox and we can choose the food we eat, the cosmetics we put on our skin and the household cleaning products we use. Did you know that organic farmers have 5 times the average sperm count?
For more information on fertility after 35 listen to Dr Christiane Northrup’s show Flourish. The show aired originally on October 9th 2013 and will replay various times before being archived.