I’m Furious about More Magazine’s Article, “10 Stars Who Had Their First Kid After 40″

I’ve had a subscription to More magazine, whose tagline is “Celebrating women 40+,” since I turned 40 last summer, because a writing instructor and memoirist who reviewed 15 pages of my memoir manuscript recommended that I consider submitting part of it to More.  I don’t read every issue cover to cover, or sometimes at all, because my life is incredibly busy; however, I have enjoyed the empowering features the magazine includes.  That is, until last night, when a piece I read in the October issue hit me as not uplifting, as perhaps it was intended, but misleading. 

Titled “10 Stars Who Had Their First Kid After 40,” the lead to the article is, “The birthrate for women ages 40 to 44 has more than doubled in the past 25 years, and Hollywood is no exception to the trend.  Here are 10 celebs who became moms at midlife.”

So, the birthrate for women ages 40 to 44 has more than doubled… 

Interestingly, More doesn’t provide any statistics, no information about what the birthrate has doubled from or to.

“More than doubled” sounds impressive, but I know the numbers from my considerable research as a 40-year-old, then 41-year-old, undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), and double of almost nothing is still almost nothing.

The reality is this, as excerpted from Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children (2002, Talk Miramax Books):

“There is a secret out there, a painful, well-kept secret:  At mid-life, between a third and half of all high-achieving women in America do not have children.  A nationwide survey of high-earning career women conducted in January 2001 shows that 33 percent of them are childless at ages 40-55, a figure that rises to 42 percent in corporate America.  By and large, these high-achieving women have not chosen to be childless.  The vast majority yearn for children.  Indeed, many have done to the ends of the earth to find a baby, expending huge amounts of time, energy and money.  They subject themselves to humiliating medical procedures, shell out tens of thousands of dollars, and derail their careers.  Mostly to no avail.  After age 40 only 3 to 5 percent of those who use the new assisted reproductive technologies (IVF and the like) actually succeed in having a child—no matter how much they spend, no matter how hard they try.”

Let’s do the math here:  This means that 95-97% of women ages 40 and above, 95-97% of those who can afford to do infertility treatments, will NOT have a child.

The reality is that for most women ages 40 and older, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) will be their only hope of having a child, yet these treatments are outrageously expensive and, more often than not, NOT covered by medical insurance.  And, only the high-earning career women mentioned above (or women tied to high-earning career men) will have the insurance coverage and/or financial resources with which to pursue these treatments.

In my July 18 post, “Uninsured IVF Costs Unaffordable for Most,” I listed each and every expense associated with my husband’s and my first IVF cycle, which took place in Chicago in May and June.  The total cost for the cycle was $29,608.98.  Our medical insurer has special reduced pricing with our IVF clinic, so our insurer was billed $22,571.59.  We have medical insurance in Illinois, one of only 15 states that has mandatory coverage for infertility, yet our out-of-pocket cost was still $7,156.73 because, due to our ages of 41 and 43, we elected to do pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of our embryos, which, at $4,000, is not covered by insurance, and we paid another uninsured $800 to cryopreserve one embryo.

My husband and I are blessed, unlike the majority of Americans, in that we have great infertility coverage, and I was able to pay the out-of-pocket by cashing out part of my retirement plan.

But, I didn’t get pregnant that time around, necessitating another try and more money.

In my July 20 post, “Giving Thanks for Infertility Coverage,” I list the 15 states in the United States—only 15 out of 50—that have mandatory medical-insurance coverage for infertility, including the restrictions associated with each.  The bottom line is that, even with infertility coverage, you need cash—and lots of it—in order to even try to get pregnant.

And, the above costs reflect using my eggs and my husband’s sperm.  Many women ages 40 and older are unable to use their own eggs, but that is never mentioned in any celebrity stories.

Five years ago, when I was 35 and attending infertility support group meetings organized by Resolve: The National Infertility Association, I met three women, each of whom got married for the first time at age 39.  All three immediately started trying to conceive, with no success.  And, each of the three was told by each of their three different reproductive endocrinologists that she had less than a 1% chance of having a child with her own egg.  One woman adopted a child, and, after I got pregnant and didn’t attend meetings anymore, I didn’t hear updates about the other two.  And, I would have, if either had had a child.  Infertile women love to share success stories.

Needing to use donor eggs, sperm or embryos can result in being excluded from infertility coverage altogether, not to mention the costs of procuring the necessary donor material.  In Arkansas, Hawaii, Maryland, and Texas, “the patient’s eggs must be fertilized with her husband’s sperm.”  This, of course, excludes not only married women with infertile husbands, but also unmarried couples and single women from receiving infertility coverage. 

And, let’s not forget the dramatic increase in chromosomal abnormalities being passed on as both women and men age.  When eggs and sperm are reproductively elderly, they are often abnormal. 

At my first consultation with the Center for Maternal and Fetal Health at the local hospital, the doctor presented me with a maternal-age chart outlining the likelihood of having a baby with Down Syndrome or any chromosomal aneuploidy.  Below isn’t the full chart, but just the odds at age 29 versus 39 to 49, where the chart stopped.

Maternal Age—Down Syndrome—All Chromosomal Aneuploidies

29—1/472—1/417

39—1/50—1/28

40—1/39—1/22

41—1/28—1/17

42—1/22—1/14

43—1/17—1/11

44—1/14—1/9

45—1/11—1/7

46—1/9—1/5

47—1/7—1/4

48—1/5—1/4

49—1/4—1/3

Isn’t it amazing that celebrities, regardless of how old, never give birth to children with chromosomal abnormalities?

Here is More’s list of celebrities who had their first child after age 40:

Holly Hunter, now 51, who had twin boys at age 47.

Mariska Hargitay, now 45, who gave birth to her son at age 42.

Halle Berry, now 43, who had her daughter at 41.

Jennifer Beals, now 45, whose daughter “arrived after she was 40.”

Helen Hunt, now 46, who had her daughter in 2004.

Nicole Kidman, 42, who had her daughter at age 41.

Geena Davis, now 52, who miraculously had three children after age 45 with her fourth husband.

Marcia Cross, now 47, who had twin girls two years ago.

Beverly D’Angelo, now 57, who had twins with Al Pacino when she was 49.

And, most infuriating, Salma Hayek, now 43, who had her daughter at age 41 and is quoted as saying, “There is no reason woman should feel rushed to have a child.”

WHAT?

At the end of this article, More has a tag stating, “Watch Headline News’ Showbiz Tonight on September 23, 26 and 27 for more on these later-in-life moms.”

Oh, I will. 

And, I’ll compare the experiences of these moms with my experiences, those of my friends and neighbors, and those of the women who e-mail me because of my infertility blog.  None of us have unlimited financial resources, making our insurance coverage—or lack thereof—irrelevant.  None of us are easily having “miracle families,” defying not only the infertility odds, but also the odds of chromosomal abnormalities.

It would have been responsible and honorable for More, a magazine devoted to women 40 and older, to do more than list these celebrities, giving hope to its aging readers that they can still wait to try to conceive.  And, it was completely, inexcusably irresponsible to print Salma Hayek’s quote, “There’s no reason women should feel rushed to have a child,” without some sort of disclaimer.

Salma Hayek isn’t living in the world most of us inhabit.  She is a movie star, married to the super-rich son of a billionaire.  And, if she got pregnant naturally two years ago, it is yet another example of her freakish luck, not something any other woman should use as justification to postpone having children.  

Age-related infertility is avoidable.  Over and over, I cringe when media outlets fail to report the big picture to their viewers, listeners or readers, instead choosing to hype yet another sensational story about aging celebrities having healthy babies.

All the money in the world can’t turn back the biological clock.  Some, if not most, of these celebrity moms didn’t use their own eggs…

  1. HeatherW
    June 11th, 2010 at 23:20
    Reply | Quote | #1

    You have to remember, though, that out of all the over 40 women who get pregnant every year, MOST of them did not use donor eggs. Donor egg IVF is very expensive. Many Americans don’t even have health insurance coverage.

    And so what if someone does use donor egg? Is it no less her child?

  2. mk
    June 29th, 2010 at 09:28
    Reply | Quote | #2

    From my research over my seven years in the world of infertility, I know that few women over age 40 are able to conceive, much less have their pregnancies result in live births. Plus, most of the women I know over 40 who did get pregnant had to use donor eggs to do so.

    I’ve written about the high costs of IVF and the fact that only 15 U.S. states have infertility coverage at all, much of which is very restrictive. At the tail-end of age 40, my FSH was a relatively low 8.3, yet the only reason I have another biological child is that my husband and I had infertility insurance coverage, and I cashed out part of my retirement plan to pay $4,000 per cycle for Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis so healthy embryos could be transferred, increasing our chances of success. Still, out of three healthy embryos transferred in two IVF cycles, only one resulted in a living child, my newborn son.

    If women use donor eggs, their children are not their biological children, which, for every woman I know personally, was not her preference. However, every one of these women feels as if her child(ren) are wholly hers, just as do parents who adopt. My husband, who adopted my donor-conceived 5-year-old, is a testament to this: He says he feels exactly for our 5-year-old as he does for his three biological children.

    The point of this post is simply that, if women read about aging celebrities having healthy children and believe that they too can wait to conceive, many of these women won’t have the biological and/or financial ability to become mothers at all. Remember that adoption is no less expensive than infertility treatments.

  3. HeatherW
    June 29th, 2010 at 16:28
    Reply | Quote | #3

    If a woman has a donor egg baby, it is her biological child. Its just not her “genetic” child. But she is still considered the biological mother, since she gave birth. The developing embryo also gets cells from its mother, as it grows in her body, and after pregnancy, the mother and child share a small amount of DNA (according to very recent research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston). The doctors conducting the study felt there was most definitely a biological connection between the mother and donor egg child. This is something that could make the donor egg option seem better for women.

    I wish that women would not look at celebrities and think “I can do that too”. They should get medical information from their doctor, not expect an actress to give it to them. But that is the society we live in today. I know some late 40s and early 50s women trying now to conceive naturally, and thinking they can.

  4. mk
    June 29th, 2010 at 18:36
    Reply | Quote | #4

    I’m sorry if I used the wrong terminology in my response to you. In my donor-conception materials, the term for the egg donor is usually biological mother, with the egg recipient usually termed as the gestational mother. I look forward to learning about the research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital about the biological connection between mothers and their egg-donor-conceived child(ren).

    I think many women don’t pursue infertility information from medical professionals because they’re single and afraid of what they’ll hear because they’re terrified of taking action on their own. So they look for any success stories to stave off their fears of being childless,and celebrities’ insta-family features are prevalent. Then, when these everyday women finally marry or decide to go it alone, they are blind-sided by the realities of conceiving later in life. I hate hearing “if only I’d known earlier” over and over from women.

  5. jonesy
    July 17th, 2010 at 00:45
    Reply | Quote | #5

    i can totally relate; i was outraged by that article and i posted a comment on their website. i am 45 and was really stunned by how hard it is to try and conceive a child after 40. too many people believe that medical technology can save us. at my advanced age and experiences with several docs i have discovered that most cannot agree on the essentials; ie. what high fsh really means and when someone actually ovulates during a cycle. i am quite jaded by now. thanks for your comment.

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