Are Older Parents and Fertility Treatments Linked to Increases in Developmental Disorders?

Health & Wellness on 01.22.13
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Family Growing Options Abound

The other day, a friend and I talked casually over coffee about scanning for viable eggs. At this point in my life, I know people who've grown families in all different ways: through adoption, sperm donation and even surrogacy. All these baby-making options seem very high-tech when you consider close to half of all pregnancies in the United States are accidental.

The high-tech options are a result of advancing medical technology and women delaying childbirth. I'm now in the 35 and up category, labeled by many OBGYN offices as high risk because of advanced maternal age. Not only is it harder to get pregnant, but, for example, the risk of having a stillborn doubles over the age of 35.

And yet most of my friends had their first child in their early thirties and the second or third in their mid to late thirties. It seems clear that while many women are better equipped personally and professionally to have babies in their thirties and forties, our bodies are better equipped to make and carry babies in our twenties.

Should We Worry?

Last month, Judith Shulevitz wrote an article for The New Republic called, "The Grayest Generation: How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society." In it, she wondered about the ways in which fertility treatments and the trend towards older parenthood might be linked to rising rates of developmental disorders in kids. Shulevitz, with the help of fertility treatments, had a son at 39, and he suffered from a mild sensory disorder.

I had my daughter, Maia, with my first husband at 29. Now my husband, Trey, and I are contemplating adopting or trying to get pregnant. But the high risk looms, especially since Trey is 50. Men have a long history of becoming fathers late in life, because, let’s face it, they’re not carrying the babies. We’re familiar with the stereotype of the handsome, sixty-something with gray hair (think Jay Pritchett from Modern Family, minus the handsome) starting his second or third family with a young wife.

Recent research suggests that advanced paternal age might also contribute to birth defects. A study published this year showed that men pass on more genetic mutations as they age. Shulevitz urges further research about the ways in which fertility treatments and older age impact babies. I am always in favor of more information, but I wonder what we would do with the extra information. Would women make different choices?

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