Trying for a late-in-life baby

You’ve conquered the corporate world — but have you showed up too late to the mummy party? We look at what it takes to have a later-life baby.

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Janet Jackson made headlines again, announcing in May that she was pregnant at 49 (some insist it’s 50). But she was upstaged by Daljinder Kaur who gave birth at age 70+ (she’s unsure of her exact age) in Amritsar, India.

          Jackson is keeping mum about how she was able to get pregnant, but Daljinder Kaur and her husband openly praise IVF and donor eggs for their son.

          While it’s your right to delay child-bearing, the truth is, the longer you wait, the tougher it is to conceive. Along the way, you might even uncover existing medical issues in your own body as well as your eggs, which would make your journey towards motherhood that much more challenging.

          Age is not just a number when it comes to fertility, notes Dr Kelly Loi, a gynaecologist and fertility specialist. “Women today are postponing motherhood because they want to secure their careers and finances, but this comes at a personal cost.”

          In her late 20s, a woman has a 20 per cent chance of conceiving every month. By the time she’s in late 30s, this figure has halved to 10 per cent. This is because the number and quality of eggs produced diminishes with age, Dr Loi explains. While infertility can hit a woman at any age for a number of reasons — including irregular ovulation, non-ovulation, damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids, cysts and endometriosis (abnormal cell growth outside of the uterus) — such problems are usually detected only after you’ve decided to have a baby. 

          As for male infertility, this can be caused by low sperm count, poor motility (the sperm’s ability to swim towards an egg), irregularly-shaped sperm, or erectile dysfunction, notes Dr Jothi Kumar, an infertility and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) specialist at O & G Partners Clinic for Women and Fertility Centre.

 “Women today are postponing motherhood because they want to secure their careers and finances, but this comes at a personal cost.”

          Still, all is not lost. Assisted reproductive treatments have given fertility-challenged couples an alternative route to becoming parents. These include intrauterine insemination (IUI) — injecting sperm directly into the uterus, as well as IVF, when the egg and the sperm are fertilised in a dish, then implanted back into the uterus. This trend of conceiving with the help of fertility treatment is on the rise, too. Health Ministry figures show that the number of babies conceived in Singapore through IVF has nearly doubled, from 720 in 2006 to 1,308 in 2010. And from 2009 to 2013, 11,979 fresh cycles of IVF were performed for Singaporean couples, and the success rate was 22 per cent, reports the ministry.

One IVF story

Michelle Jones-White, was 30 when she married Alan White, then 43, a decade ago. Two years into their union, the Whites tried for a baby, but realised that something was wrong when four years had passed and their efforts had not paid off.

          Jones-White, who used to publish a magazine, recalls, “I took a blood test and found out that I had Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. So, my thyroid was producing more oestrogen than necessary and this affected my hormones, which subsequently affected my menstrual cycle.” She then started acupuncture to regulate her blood flow and menstrual cycle.

“Women younger than 35 stand a 40 per cent chance. Past 40, you only have a 10 to 15 per cent chance that it will work out.”

          Several months later, Jones-White tried IUI. Though she fell pregnant on the fourth round, her joy was short-lived when she miscarried at seven weeks. “It was a horrific time. Even Alan, who was at that point resigned to not having a child, realised just how much he wanted one after we lost the baby.”

          After eight more rounds of IUI, Jones-White took a break to focus on getting her health back on track. Four months later, in November 2011, she underwent IVF at the age of 38. 

          Dr Loi notes that IVF’s success rate dips with age, just like natural fertility. “Women younger than 35 stand a 40 per cent chance. When they are over 35, it falls to 30 per cent. Past 40, you only have a 10 to 15 per cent chance that it will work out.”

          Though her chances were slim, Jones-White was optimistic. After seven of the nine eggs retrieved were fertilised, four grew into embryos. After two were transferred into her uterus, one egg was implanted successfully. Nine months later, the Whites welcomed their son, Callum Pip Ernest. 

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