- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007


We’ve become accustomed to the tourists in Washington wearing clothes more appropriate for the beach, but seeing Victoria’s Secret attire at a meeting of professionals is another matter entirely. The four- to five-months pregnant woman filled her little top bountifully; there was no way not to notice. The amazing display was definitely pushing the envelope; a Los Angeles-style invasion of the D.C. workplace.

Of course everyone maintained the polite fiction that there was nothing out of the ordinary about her appearance. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, about the reactions of the other women around the table. I knew at least two of the women were married without children — one in her late 50s and the other in her early 40s. Short of asking directly — which I wasn’t about to do — there was no way of knowing the degree to which other women around the table were consciously confronting the issues her “condition” highlighted.

All the participants in the policy meeting know the research data relating to marriage and the family. The average age of first marriage continues to rise as does the average age at which women have their first child, whether married or not. Today, many professional women face a future where the likelihood of finding an eligible and willing marriage partner to father a child are about the same as getting hit by lightening.

The research about the effects of delaying marriage and childbearing is sobering, particularly to middle-aged women whose biological clock is running down despite advances in medical technology pushing forward the age at which women may conceive. Evidence is growing about the deterioration of the quality of a woman’s eggs as she ages.

Despite all that medical science can do, it is not uncommon for middle-aged women to face difficulties conceiving, especially those who have had abortions or whose tubes have been scarred by infections.

Fertility treatments have benefited many women, but they can be costly and are not without problems. More and more women are having their first child after their 35th birthday, especially married women, and a great many have used fertility treatments to accomplish this.

An analysis of 20 years of mother-child data from some 79 million birth certificates reveals some important facts about middle-aged pregnancy.

From 1985 to 2004 the percentage of first births among married women accounted for by those 35 and older rose from 3.4 percent to 12.2 percent. Of these births, the share of plural births increased from 1½ percent to 5.7 percent. There was a small increase in the percentage of plural births to married women 20-34 years old but not nearly as great as that of the 35-and-older women; the result was the rate of plural first births for married women 35 and older increased from 1.3 times the rate for 20-34 year olds in 1985 to 2.4 times the 20-34 year-olds rate in 2004.

Women who delay marriage and childbirth often must use fertility drugs if they desire children; these treatments frequently increase the likelihood of plural births (the majority of which produce low-birthweight babies). Women who follow this path need to know and fully absorb all the facts about the prevalence of the associated preterm deliveries and low-birthweight babies and what this implies in health risks to the child both as an infant and on through childhood.

In 2006 the National Center of Health Statistics reported, “The weight of the newborn is an important predictor of future morbidity and mortality. For VLBW [very low-birthweight] infants, the risk of dying in the first year is nearly 100 times that of normal-weight infants; the risk for MLBW [moderately low-birthweight] infants is more than 5 times higher than that of heavier newborns.”

A delay in childbearing into the age range 35 and up of married women, by itself carries a moderately higher risk of delivering a first-born infant with low birthweight (a one-third increase from 6 percent to 8 percent when the infant is not a plural birth). But if that first birth is a plural birth (twins or more), the risk of having low-birthweight infants is nearly 9½ times as great as that encountered by a married women 20-34 years old having a single birth (57.4 percent as compared with 6 percent).

For unmarried women, it is much the same: Delaying the first birth increases the risk from 8½ percent to 12.7 when the infant is not a plural birth with the rate going to nearly 60 percent when the infants are part of a plural birth.

These sobering realities about middle-aged pregnancy contrast sharply with the glowing picture of the young woman who flaunted her pregnancy with such abandon and enthusiasm. When I think of her brash immodesty in light of the realities of middle-age pregnancy, I am a bit more forgiving of her behavior. Her appearance at that meeting is one of those occasions when the recklessness of youth deserves, if not a pass, at least an indulgent smile.

Janice Shaw Crouse director and senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America.

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