It’s just after 8 p.m., a few minutes past Oliver’s usual bedtime. He’s sucking on a bottle. His eyes start to flicker, and his sucking slows.
His father, Tom Hebert, runs his hand along the thin line of dark fuzz on the boy’s head. At times, Tom wonders what it will be like when Oliver is nearing adulthood and his parents are nearing retirement.
When only a few drops of milk are left in the bottle, Oliver’s mother, Amy, picks him up, begins rocking him and kisses his head. She and her husband start the closing song to the old Lawrence Welk Show:
Good night, sleep tight and pleasant dreams to you. Here’s a wish and a prayer that every dream comes true…
Then another song: Jesus loves the little children…
Tom props the little boy with the dark brown eyes on his shoulder and carries him up to his crib. Amy walks beside him. She winds up the mobile of stuffed frogs and turtles hovering above him; a lullaby plays, and they gently close the door. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t wake up until about 7 the next morning, making sounds like he’s trying to talk and waiting to lock another bottle onto his lips.
Oliver’s middle name, Fortune, reveals how his parents feel about having him. Amy was 48 when she became pregnant; Tom was 45. They had been married eight months. They hadn’t counted on pregnancy, but they hadn’t tried to prevent it. It would be a long shot, they figured.
Then, in the summer of 2005, Amy had an unusual menstrual cycle. She went to see her doctor, who had told her a couple of years earlier that she might be entering early menopause.
A few days after the appointment, the doctor called Amy at work and asked her if she could talk in privacy. Then the doctor told her she was pregnant.
"I said, ‘Yeah, but are you sure?’ " Amy asked.
It felt like a miracle. How else could she explain it?
Amy called Tom and said, "You’re not going to believe this." Then she told him. There was a long silence.
"I said, ‘Are you there?’ I didn’t hear anything," Amy recalled.
Tom didn’t know what to say. He was excited yet scared. Could he rear another child? It had been over a decade since he had taken care of a baby. He has a daughter and a son, both now teenagers, from his first marriage.
Amy was single until she married Tom in November 2004 and they moved to Lewis Center in southern Delaware County. She always had hoped to become a mom. If she never married, she’d adopt, she thought. And she and Tom considered adoption.
"We knew the limited odds of getting pregnant," Amy said.
So in the summer of 2005, it was thrilling to find out she was pregnant, but she feared for the baby’s health because she was so much older than most mothers-to-be.
During the first few weeks, she bled. And each time, she thought, Could I be losing my baby? She and Tom braced to make it to week four, then week nine, then week 12. They didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy until 17 weeks and a couple of ultrasounds had passed.
In a lot of ways, it was hard for Amy to believe, especially because she had never felt any morning sickness. She was a little more tired than usual, but not excessively so.
Childbirth among older women has become increasingly common nationwide, but it’s still not typical. Six children out of every 10,000 born in 2005 had a mother age 45 to 49, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s triple the rate in 1990.
Unlike Amy, many other women who have babies in their 40s have used fertility treatment.
That’s because the steepest drop in a woman’s fertility is between ages 40 and 45, said Dr. Richard Paulson, who directs the endocrinology and infertility division of the University of Southern California’s medical school.
The age and quality of a woman’s eggs — not her uterus — determines her ability to get pregnant, Paulson said. And the biggest factors influencing the quality of her eggs are her genes and whether she’s had a sexually transmitted disease, he said.
A 40-year-old woman has a 30 percent chance of getting pregnant if she uses her own eggs, Paulson said. By age 44, the odds drop to 5 percent.
The biggest risk of delayed motherhood is that a woman has a greater chance of getting diabetes or high blood pressure during the pregnancy, said Dr. David Ruedrich, a Riverside Methodist Hospital obstetrician-gynecologist who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
And the risk of having a baby with a genetic abnormality also grows with the mother’s age. At 40, a woman has one chance in 63 of such a pregnancy. At 48, the odds rise to one in eight.
"I’ve had patients say, ‘I’m 37. I’ve had two healthy babies. Doesn’t that mean I’m more likely to have a healthy third baby?’ "
Not so, Ruedrich tells them.
Still, plenty of women over 40 give birth to healthy children, said Amy’s doctor, Dr. David Colombo, an Ohio State University Medical Center obstetrician who handles high-risk pregnancies
The mother’s age "is not the big issue that people make it out to be," Colombo said. "I think a lot of that stuff is overblown. I spend half the time telling people they’re not as bad off as they think they are."
TODAY'S BOOK SUGGESTION:
Rewinding Your Biological Clock: Motherhood Late in Life
by Richard J. Paulson M.D., Judith Sachs
-- In 1996, Dr. Richard Paulson assisted a 63-year-old woman to conceive using in vitro fertilization with a donor egg, and she became the oldest woman in the world to give birth.
This incredible example of how assisted reproductive technologies, or ART, can change the course of nature, raises tough biological, emotional, and ethical issues.
Rewinding Your Biological Clock is a unique exploration of each of these issues, especially the "how-to" of peri- and post-menopausal pregnancy.
Written by a leading fertility specialist and a health educator, this original and daring book rethinks society's most fundamental beliefs about motherhood, aging and life itself.
Paperback: 356 pages - Click to order/for more info:
Rewinding Your Biological Clock
US | Canada | UK
Hardcover: 288 pages - Click to order/for more info:
Rewinding Your Biological Clock
US | Canada | UK
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