More to the Story About Oldest Woman to Give Birth
The recent news that a 70-year old woman in Haryana gave birth to a baby boy elicited the usual flurry of barely-researched, recycled personal interest stories that get published every time an elderly Indian woman miraculously delivers a baby. (Yes, this happens more often than you’d think.)
Before we all get too excited about the marvels of modern reproductive medicine, or the divine intervention that brought this couple a child after 40 years of trying, let’s peel back some of the realities of the human body.
It is biologically impossible that this couple – aged 79 and ~70 – conceived using the mother’s own eggs, as reported by NDTV. (Interestingly, the Guardian piece announcing this birth quoted the fertility doctor as saying the egg came from a donor.) Menopause, by definition, is when the body no longer has any more eggs to “produce” in an ovulation cycle. Women are born with a finite number of eggs; there is really no chance that someone 20+ years into menopause could magically create new eggs. As of 2014, the verified oldest woman to give birth after becoming pregnant using her own eggs was 46 years old.
Despite that, older mothers can carry pregnancies to term using donor eggs. In fact, with advancements in fertility treatments, women are routinely carrying donor egg fetuses, implanted via IVF, and giving birth well into their 50’s.
However – this endeavor involves a long, complicated, and expensive process of hormone treatments to pull the mother out of menopause and rejuvenate her uterus to carry a baby; only after her body has been “tricked” back into its childbearing years can a second long, complicated, and expensive process of implanting viable embryos – IVF – begin. (For pre-menopausal women, the preparation of the uterus is not required and the second process is the beginning of IVF treatment.)
This isn’t to say it’s impossible. But the fact that the three Indian women who have recently claimed to deliver babies at inordinately old ages are all being treated by the same doctor at the same hospital raises a skeptical eyebrow. And doesn’t it seem fishy that there is no independent verification or scholarship around their cases, as there is for most major, global fertility breakthroughs?
We can’t shake the feeling that there is more to this story. Pick a point: the PR reversal about the source of the egg; the probability of a 79-year-old man’s sperm creating a fetus without chromosomal defects; the likelihood of a 70-year-old woman with a history of fertility problems suddenly being able to carry a fetus to term; the coincidence of three such pregnancies occurring out of the same facility in such a short span of time; the depth of pocket required to afford the prohibitive price of such a treatment; or the lack of independent verification or authentication of the pregnancy. None of it adds up.
Will pregnancy after menopause ever be possible? Study says maybe.
So why is the media reporting on what is, at least in part, a suspicious tale? Wouldn’t it be better, more informative, to explore what might have incentivized these couples to urgently seek out babies, when, given the average life expectancy, they should more reasonably be planning a final pilgrimage?
Perhaps, we surmise, that’s just it: imminent death.
Given the complexity of inheritance laws and their surrounding social pressures in many Northern states, it’s no surprise that a couple facing their own mortality might be desperate to confirm the existence of an heir.
The publicized cases coming out of the National Fertility & Test Tube Baby Centre in Haryana all have one thing in common: Couples in the last years of their lives who either have no children — or no male children. A quick scan of the homepage (and only page) of this medical facility’s website reveals a portfolio of elderly couples who have all achieved parenthood in their 60s and 70s, after decades of marriage.
It all seems a little too convenient; where does this small medical facility in Haryana get the funding to accomplish a statistically unlikely proportion of fertility feats? And does it not seem curious to the press reporting on these stories that none of these cases have been studied and verified by independent medical journals, especially given the astounding success rates this clinic allegedly has?
Perhaps we prefer to turn a blind eye because we’re conditioned to believe in the cult of motherhood, that this particular human experience can and should be universal. Or maybe, at some level, we’ve all internalized the pressures that these couples are feeling to produce an heir, so we don’t ask too many questions about where those heirs really came from. Or maybe we just want to be believe in miracles.
We don’t have the answers. We’ve contacted the National Fertility & Test Tube Baby Centre for comment but received no response by the time of publication. We haven’t travelled to Haryana to meet the (old) new parents or tour the facility. And we can’t definitively say that these events didn’t really happen the way they’re being reported.
But we know there’s more to the story.