The idea of having a child when you can’t has tormented many women throughout history and continues to do so. But in 2023 we have an advantage: science has advances to achieve the miracle that biology sometimes insists on not giving. Having a child from the age of 45 stopped being news a long time ago, but what about the age of 50? It’s possible? Yes, but with the ovules of the pregnant woman frozen a few years before or with those donated by another younger woman.
This is what happened to María Pérez (fictitious name). She never wanted to be a mother and when she did, she realized that it was too late. “I was with my boyfriend for 15 years and we both had a life full of travel, with a very stressful work schedule. Although we once talked about having a child, it was never a priority; however, everything changed when we broke up and I was fired from my job, ”she recalls. At that moment this woman, who was then 47 years old, began to consider many things. “And curiously the idea of being a mother crossed my path,” she recalls.
The first thing she did was visit her gynecologist, who told her that her ovarian reserve was certainly not that of a young woman, although she was by no means entering premenopause. “From the beginning she advised me that, if I wanted to try it, I should do it with donor eggs to avoid genetic complications derived from old eggs,” she recounts. Maria she made three attempts before having a girl at age 49, in 2019: “I have one more frozen ovum, but I’m not going to use it.” Like María, 3,501 women between 45 and 49 years old were mothers in 2022 and 295 were over 50 years old, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics.
There are big physical differences between starting maternity at the age of 20 than doing it in your fifties or being in it. One of the main ones is that many women are on the brink of menopause; This stage of the woman implies spending 12 consecutive months without the rule. However, according to the specialist in fertility and nutrition Beatriz Méndez del Río, “until we reach this stage we go through a period called perimenopause, which is the transition from childbearing age to the total loss of the period.” Méndez del Río argues that this transit can last up to 10 years and it is precisely at this time that the main differences occur because the hormones begin to undergo changes, giving great fluctuations in both estrogen and progesterone levels. The expert maintains that these two ovarian hormones are the ones that predominate in the menstrual cycle: “Although we must not forget that, whenever there is ovulation, there can be pregnancy.”
The truth, as she explains, is that young women have better quality eggs, which is why age affects the possibility of becoming pregnant or not: “As we get older, the number of eggs decreases, as well as their quality. This makes it more likely that there are chromosomal failures; increases the incidence of autism, Down syndrome…”. “Regarding getting pregnant,” she continues, “the number of recurrent abortions, implantation failures, problems in the development of the fetus, among others, increases,” she warns. Méndez del Río recalls that, in statistical terms, the probability of pregnancy in a normal cycle, having sexual intercourse on fertile days, is 20% to conceive each month and 85% to achieve it after a year of trying: “ From the age of 35 this probability drops substantially every year”.
The emotional component of having a child at 50
If it is not the same to be a mother on a physical level at 30 than at 50, it is much less so on a psychological and emotional level. Paz Grau Arcís, family psychologist, explains that logically it is not the same to have a child at one age than at another because life is a long road in which there are different stages and in each of them there are a series of challenges that they have to solve to move on to the next one. She gives an example: “People between the ages of 25 and 35 are still building their lives and looking for stability in terms of a partner, job or home. On the contrary, in many cases, at 40 all this has already been achieved and many look back on the road and ask themselves: ‘Is this that I have built what I really want in my life?’. And while some women feel so, others think no.”
In these cases, and according to the psychologist, there are those women who, although they have already achieved what they wanted, want to be mothers: “But it is not the best age to conceive. At this stage, many are entering the menopause, where they will no longer have that possibility of being mothers and where everything is different, both physically and emotionally. For Grau, women have to understand that it may not happen and believe that if they have walked wisely through the previous stages, undoing internal knots, healing childhood wounds, menopause can also be a stage of stability and serenity: ” To enjoy everything learned and also to achieve many challenges beyond motherhood ”.
Getting pregnant at one age or another also has its emotional implications. “At 20 years old, people are still in the process of maturing and, in many cases, being parents is going to be a real challenge for them,” Grau points out. In addition, in the opinion of this psychologist, they are people who still need to explore life in order to reach a stage of more maturity, and to be able to focus on motherhood. “On the other hand, with 40-something people have lived longer, they have gone through different experiences that have strengthened the person, there is more maturity to be able to carry out and face the process of raising”, she adds. Although he also points out that this does not mean that motherhood at this age is without difficulties: “I often see parents in therapy who have not gone through this process, and who are still a bit adolescent in raising their children, with all the consequences that this has.
And at 50 years? “Here the woman and the man have already begun to descend the mountain of their lives. It is a stage in which, usually, the children have already grown, are adolescents or adults ”, she emphasizes. Grau explains that when a woman decides to become a mother at this age, she has to be aware that two stages of her life will overlap: the one that corresponds to her age and that of parenting. “Raising requires being there for the other, for action, openness and disposition for that child,” she adds. And their emotional stability also depends a lot on the attitude with which they face that pregnancy: “It depends on whether it has been desired and planned, on whether they have psychologically prepared themselves to give their child the best possible welcome or on whether they have the ability to open up to everything unexpected that can arise after being a mother”.
Pregnancy care at 20 and 50 years
Once the pregnancy arrives, the care is not the same depending on the age of the pregnant woman. Each moment has its peculiarities. On the one hand, there are the preventive ones in pregnancy in terms of food, which are the same regardless of age: “Always avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs, also avoid raw meats, sausages, cured and smoked products by the risk of toxoplasma and listeria. Always eat pasteurized dairy products, wash fruits and vegetables very well, avoid raw eggs… These are things that all pregnant women should take into account, regardless of age,” recommends Beatriz Méndez del Río, a specialist in fertility and nutrition.
On the other hand, there is care that could be called “age-dependent”. In medical terms, “any pregnancy of a pregnant mother over 35 years of age is categorized as a geriatric pregnancy, which, although it sounds terrible, does not mean anything other than that there is a greater risk for both the mother and the baby and what must be done a more specific and protocolized follow-up”. For example, continues Méndez del Río, “older mothers have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes and the screening protocol is carried out a little earlier in this type of pregnancy, compared to another one involving a younger woman.”
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