Why It’s Not So Rare to Get Pregnant after 45

Hope for Older Women Trying for Healthy Babies

Current conversations about fertility are failing the millions of women around the world who are 40 or over and trying to get pregnant. When we talk about when women should get serious about trying to conceive or of how much fertility declines with age, we talk past a huge community of women who are hoping to become mothers after age 40.

I remember the recurrent sorrow and crazy-making frustration of trying to get pregnant, starting when I was first ready to become a mother—not until I was 41—and lasting until I was lucky enough to conceive my first child at age 45. She was born when I was 46 and she is, I’m incredibly grateful to report, now a healthy, happy 3 and a half year old. I also remember how unhelpful much of the discussion around fertility and age was, during those years when I was trying and failing to get pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to term.

Because here’s the thing: Women like these, and like I once was, are not in the position of deciding when to have a baby or whether they should try before reaching “advanced” or “very advanced maternal age.” The ship has sailed on that one. The reality is, they are already in their 40s. And the teeth-aching desire to meet and hold their baby has not declined with age.

But I’ve realized recently that, surprisingly, the most relevant—and it turns out, most hopeful—information for my fellow 40+ year olds isn’t even found where people tend to look during discussions of fertility. Instead of focusing on studies comparing fertility at various ages or surveys of ART successes and failures, we should look to US census data on births and, perhaps paradoxically, to statistics on abortion, menopause, and sterility.

To be clear: I’m not arguing women should wait. I’m not arguing they shouldn’t. I’m saying, is that if a woman happens to be in her 40s and trying to conceive, she should know there actually is some hope, tempered though it may be. The chances are certainly smaller than when she was 25, and even 35. But that’s immaterial now. And it doesn’t by any stretch mean there is no chance. This point bears stressing and examining in the absence of comparisons with younger women.

Besides having given birth to a healthy baby conceive naturally when I was 45, I’ve also been unusually lucky to have heard from over 500 women, aged 40+ who are trying to conceive or who are already pregnant and who have found me through this blog and  left comments here or contacted me directly. I love hearing from all of you and am grateful to be privy to some of the uncensored thoughts, concerns, questions, and emotions being shared among this population.

Especially for those women 42 and older who get in touch, I hear frequently that they’ve either heard or just feel they have “no chance,” a “0%” likelihood of becoming mothers with their own eggs. A significant number also tell me they feel ashamed, have been told they’re “crazy” for thinking they might have a shot. These are the women I’m writing this for now. (And you go, ladies, for trying!)

Overlooked Stats Show Hope for Women 40+

Census statistics on live births & medical abortions

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/report002.pdf: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, there were 111,848 births, (1.1% of population) to women 40-44. This covers all births, not just births to women who were trying to conceive, suggesting that if all 40-44 year olds in 2016 tried to conceive every month, the percentage of women in this age group who’d had babies would be considerably higher. To women between 45-54 (with the great majority falling between 45-49), 9,025 babies were born.

Combining these stats with those on abortion in 2015 for the 40-44 age group, (20,962)–the latest age group and last year in which statistics were collected–and then dividing this number by 3 (accounting for expected 33% miscarriage rate in this age group), we could expect to add around 7,000 babies, totaling close to 120,000 births. This number would actually be a low estimate, since many miscarriages occur before scheduled abortion dates.

All together, we could expect between 125,000-130,000 live births in 2016 to women 40-49. Put into context, that’s a population of babies likely greater than the total population of most of our hometowns.

Perhaps most significantly, these statistics hold steady or decline only somewhat when viewing births before egg donation was available in the US (See births 1933-1998 @ https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/natality/mage33tr.pdf.)

Sterility & menopause

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12268772: According to a review of the literature pertaining to declining fertility with age, the likelihood of permanent sterility at age 40 is about 40% and at age 45 is about 80%, meaning one of out every five 45 year olds should be able to become pregnant at some point during their 45th year.

http://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/pregnancy#1: As explained by executive director emeritus of the North American Menopause Society Dr. Marjory Gass, pregnancy even in the mid-to-late 40s is not impossible for most women. “Never assume, ‘Oh, I’m too old to get pregnant,’” Gass has said. “Unless you have gone a year without a period–the technical definition of menopause—pregnancy remains a possibility.”

Birth defects & miscarriage

I get a lot of questions over email and on this blog about whether getting pregnant in the 40s, especially in the mid-40s, guarantees a miscarriage or a child with a genetic abnormality. Many women, myself included, field questions from family members about whether it’s even wise to get pregnant or hope for a positive outcome given the dire statistics on Downs, etc., for older mothers.

When viewed from the perspective of high the risks are compared to pregnancy at 25, the numbers do look grim. But when viewed from the perspective solely of the chances for a healthy baby at various ages throughout the 40s, the numbers are much more hopeful (and again, relevant):

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071156/: “For women at 42 years of age, more than half of the intended pregnancies (54.5%) resulted in fetal loss…The risk of spontaneous abortion [was] 84.1% by the age of 48 years or older.” So yes, these are scary statistics, and they aren’t great, but they are better than many people fear and assume, especially if we look at them in reverse, from the perspective of a positive outcome rather than negative: a 45% chance of success for a 42-year old to carry a pregnancy to term, and even a 15% chance of success for a 48-year old.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6455611 & https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Genetic_risk_maternal_age : The estimated rate of all clinically significant cytogenetic abnormalities at age 40 is 15.8 per 1000, meaning we can expect between 98-99% of all babies will be born genetically healthy. For age 45, it’s 53.7 per 1000, or between 94-95% of babies. Even for women giving birth at 49, only 12.5% of babies will carry a genetic abnormality, meaning 87 out of every hundred babies will be born genetically average.

So if you’re out there now and are trying to conceive in your 40s, please know that I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and hoping you have the same good luck I—and almost 9,000 other women aged 45-49 in the U.S. last year—had. And please know that I and thousands of other women are out there, pulling for you.

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

(Note: For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see An Honest Take at Getting Pregnant Naturally at 45Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45 and On Delivering My First Child at 46, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility, although some of the content from these is reproduced in this post. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about my pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve written a bit more about those in the Washington Postonline and in Brain, Child Magazine online — although please note that the picture in this latter article is not my daughter! It’s a stock photo the magazine used. In any case, I will continue to keep you all in my thoughts. Finally, if you’re *still* interested in my story [bless you for your patience if so!], the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband–a bit late in life– and then went through years of IVF and finally got pregnant naturally, is in my book The Good Shufu.)

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32 thoughts on “Why It’s Not So Rare to Get Pregnant after 45

  1. Thank you,
    I am in my late 30’s, have been presented with obstacles and setbacks, you could say I got a late start to life. I feel stress, pressure and worry, even fear when thinking about if I will get the opportunity to have a child. Your story, positive outlook on the information given and interpretation of the state give me some calm, confidance and for that I am so grateful.

    With Gratitude

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    1. Hi Melanie. Thanks for leaving your comment. It sounds like you have been through so much. I remember how hard the years were when I was trying to get pregnant in my 40s, and I’m sorry you are struggling with this now too. But I’m keeping everything crossed that you have the same good luck I did. In the meantime, please know that I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts, too. All my best,

      Tracy

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    2. Wow what a positive and wonderful read! I’m 46 years old and naturally my husband and I have conceived baby #3. My older children are 8 and 5 and I had easy,uncomplicated pregnancies. Last week I had my 11-13 week ultrasound scan measuring spinal fluid ( trisomy 21 marker) along with looking closely at soft markers for other trisomies. With these scans and blood work they were able to determine my “risk level”. I think the genetic counsellor and my Dr alike were quite shocked to see my numbers come in as they did. I have defeated the odds for my age and results show my risk is equivalent to that of someone 11 years younger. It’s reassuring to see something positive with so much negativity placed on us “older” moms. It’s clearly not a guarantee I will carry to term but I am staying positive and I hope this gives hope to any others. I should mention, I’m now 13 weeks pregnant and no signs of trouble 🙂 I would love to hear of others experiences, especially those over 45

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Nicole. Huge congratulations on your pregnancy and making it to week 13, and thanks so much for sharing your great story with all of us here! I know many of this blog’s readers will be really encouraged to read about your wonderful news. If you get a chance (I know, with 2 kids a and a third on the way, not likely…), I’d love it if you could come back and update us as your pregnancy progresses and as your little one comes into the world. Besides the comments you see her, I also get so many emails from women who are encouraged that I was able to get pregnant naturally and have a healthy child at 46 (especially after so many years of failures), so I’m sure many others reading this now will be doubly encouraged to see the proof that I’m not the only one! In the meantime, please know that I’m wishing all the best for you and your family, and keeping everything crossed that your pregnancy continues as easily and well as it’s been so far. Thanks and congratulations again!

        Tracy

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      2. Hi…I am 45 this year and have been trying to conceive. The gynae don’t seem confident that I can conceive naturally with a healthy child. I am doubting myself too…the feeling of longing to carry my own child with my own egg is there but the fear of giving birth to a child with birth defect due to my age frightens me. Feel depressed at times.:(

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      3. Hi Catherine. Thanks for posting. I remember how hard and taxing the years were when I was trying to get pregnant, and I’m sorry you are struggling with this now too. It is really hard, I know.

        Please know that we are all pulling for you. I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and wishing you all the very best luck in the world.

        Warmly,

        Tracy

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  2. i want you to know the fertility clinics will lie to you as well. I was 42 when I decided to marry and have a child. I made sure to ask my future husband if he wanted children and to have him checked out. he insisted he was fine, so did the fertility clinic. I was told in no uncertain terms that I would never have a child. heartbroken , if found out later, my husbands sperm count was only 50 million, 85 percent malformed, he never told me. neither did the clinic. my chances were stolen from me, when I reported this to the college of physicians and surgeons, they just supported the clinic. some lies, are just cruel, and you cannot forget them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sandra. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experiences. I’m so sorry to hear you had such a terrible experience with your clinic and with your husband. I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and hoping that your next dreams come true. With all my very best wishes,

      Tracy

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      1. Thanks for such positivity.. my story is far from it.. started trying at 41 (I have 2 older kids) and 2 miscarriages later finally successful pregnancy at 44. Unfortunately ended by abortion at 16weeks due to positive test for T21… now 45 I am still dreaming. ..I have not been the same since, but trying to slow recover mentally and still hoping.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Tamara,

        I’m so sorry to hear of your losses. It sounds so devastating. Please know that I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and my heart, and wishing you a peaceful recovery, as well as all the luck in the world with your continued hopes.

        With my warmest and best wishes,

        Tracy

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  3. I can say that I’m not trying to conceive at 46 but we aren’t taking precautions. He’s 53 and does not want any more children, especially because he has grandchildren.

    I feel that if I do get pregnant, the baby is a gift. I would certainly welcome another child into my family.

    I hope those parents who want to conceive can do so. Statistics are just that, statistics.

    I believe parenting at this age could certainly be very fulfilling and maybe even exhausting. Beware of people who make negative comments, I believe that secretly some couples would love to conceive and have another child in their forties. of course, adding a baby into an empty nest may not be a shared idea.

    I wish all parents who want to conceive later in life have the chance to do so.

    Emmy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing your story and fanning the small flame of hope… to finally marry for the first time and have a child. Believing once again… the wait was all still part of God’s plan.

    Like

    1. Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your lovely comment. I’m not sure how old you are, but I met my sweetie a bit late in life and didn’t get married until just before my 40th birthday, and I’m hoping that your own wait–for marriage and/or a little one–ends with your dreams coming true.

      Wishing you all the very best in the world,

      Tracy

      Like

  5. I conceived naturally at almost 46 and have had the opposite experience I’m devisatated and didn’t want more children . I feel deceived by all the press saying you have a less then one percent chance . Yes u can have my luck I don’t want it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello ladies,
    I’m 47 and very healthy, no pain, no complications at all. Exercise 5 days a week. I have 4 children: 29, 25, 15, & 11. All conceived naturally.
    And now that I’ve been single for 7 years and re-united with my high school sweetheart and father of my eldest son, we both wish to conceive a baby. He is 49 and I’m 47. We are very intimate, affectionate and sexually active 5 times a week.
    Please pray for me and wish me the best of luck to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby as I do to all of the women on here whom wish for the same.
    I will definitely come back on here to share my story – I will conceive and give birth to a healthy baby – AND SO IT IS..! :))

    – Jacquelynn B.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ok, It’s me Jacqueline..,

      It’s July 13th and I missed my menstrual period. 5 days late.. I feel the light nausea, I felt the cramps yesterday morning and followed by light brown spots, I feel one breast very soar, I got a cold, and lastly.., that sense of smell.. so odd…,

      Besides all of the above, I feel great. Still going to the gym 5 days a week for 45 mins and taking my vitamins: Vit D, Calcium, biotin, folic acid, spirulina mix, my protein shake and Turmeric Curcumin.

      I’m at 155 pounds, 5’5″ , no complicated menstrual cycles “ever” and never been to the hospital for any reason other than to give birth.

      So I am not worried at all…, as long as I stay away from the web-world… Searching up “pregnant and over 40…” all negative stuff that will make you have second thoughts and cause you to stress.

      Going to the doctor on Monday, 7/16. After that I’ll come back on here and give you details if I receive a BFP…!!! :))) YEH

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am 43, have birth in Jan to healthy baby girl all natural conception. 4th csection. I took maca root as did my husband. Not sure if it helped but either way just wanted to add my story to let others know it’s possible. May shoot for fifth baby in 2 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. when I went to the fertility clinic at Vancouver general hospital,, I was told straight out,, I would never have children. so forget it, I was 42. no one told me my husband was sterile. they left all that out. I found out by accident when I was approx. 50. I cannot believe the lack of concern for me that this clinic showed. Then they mocked me as mentally ill or “odd” for even imagining that I could have children.

      Like

  8. Thank you for your positive article. I am 44 years old and have 5 sons (24,21,20,19,17 &7). My husband and I just remarried and would love to try for our baby girl. Thank you for giving us hope when many others mock and laugh at us.

    Like

  9. Love this article! Thank you so much! I am 44 years old and 10 weeks pregnant with baby #9. This will be my 6th baby after 35. There are so many lies out there, and a general anti-baby, anti-family feeling, even at the OB/GYN office. We CAN conceive later in life and have healthy pregnancies. In our 40’s we are bettter moms than we were or would have been in our 20’s. Good luck to everyone out there who is trying for a baby and best wishes to all of you who have brought your lucky children into this world.

    Like

  10. My gyno told me when I was 42 yrs old that I shouldn’t waste my time or money on trying to get pregnant as it would never happen for me. Looking back, I was about a month pregnant when she said that. As I sat back in her room waiting for her to come in to see me about my news that I was pregnant, I heard her outside the door say to someone “crap, I told her she could never get pregnant”. Doctors are wrong all the time. If you want it, go for it. Ignore anyone who says you can’t.

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  11. I conceived my first baby naturally at 41 and delivered him at 42. He’s now 2 years old and the light of my life! Strongly considering having another even though I will be 45 in 3 months. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for even considering it. Thank you for your blog, it provides me with a lot of encouragement and hope.

    Like

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