Pregnant at 53: Childbirth at any age? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.11.2012
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Pregnant at 53: Childbirth at any age?

An Italian dancer is pregnant at the age of 53. She appealed for people to "understand" her desire to have a baby and not judge her, but is it a woman’s right to experience motherhood regardless of her age?

In Italy recently, the gossip pages and airwaves have been dominated by the news that the 53-year-old dancer and showgirl, Carmen Russo, is pregnant, and expecting a child in March.

Russo is a familiar face for Italians, having been on most of the country's TV shows since the 1980s when she got together with her now 63 year old husband Enzo Paolo Turchi, and formed a dance duo.

The couple describe themselves as "eternal children" and have done everything they can to keep their years at bay. Their shocks of blonde hair, TV friendly faces and supple bodies, from years of dancing, help them keep up this image, and there has been much speculation about the amount of cosmetic surgery that Russo may have undertaken to keep herself looking so young.

But, young as they might look, it's still caused a bit of a stir that they are announcing "their" pregnancy long after most people would be able to conceive naturally.

'I might be 53, but what is so bad about that?'

"Myself and my husband will become parents in March, I'm four months pregnant at the moment" said Carmen Russo to the Berlusconi owned weekly magazine "Chi" (Who), "I know I'm 53, but what is so bad about that?" Russo said, appealing to the public not to judge her for her age and promising to "keep as young and healthy for as long as possible for their future child". She went on to explain "We’ve been trying for a year but things always went wrong, until in July, we had this beautiful surprise…this is a gift from God." The couple are both very religious and say that male or female, they will name their child after the saint to which they are both devoted.

Late blooming motherhood: a celebrity trend?

The Italian rock singer Gianna Nannini who had a baby at 54 two years ago (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

The Italian rock star Gianna Nannini had a baby two years ago at age 54

"I know that people might be thinking that at my age I shouldn't be trying to get pregnant, but I wanted this child so badly, and put everything I had into it." She explained. "Whoever wants to kill my happiness can step forward now….I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but our child just didn't want to arrive by natural channels, that's when I decided to ask for help with assisted fertility." In using IVF, or other methods of assisted fertility at an older age, the couple have joined a bit of a celebrity trend. Fellow Italian, the rock singer Gianna Nannini, had a daughter two years ago at the age of 54. And women in several countries around the world have hit the headlines in recent years after bearing children in to their fifties and sixties. So much so, that having a baby at 40 or 41 now seems comparatively young.

The risks

But the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in Britain, still advises that the best, safest and healthiest child bearing years for a woman are 20 to 35. After that "risk of complications becomes ever higher,… with not only worsening reproductive outcomes, more infertility, and medical co-morbidity [but] an increase in maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality" said the college. Defying the laws of nature then, sounds like a bad idea.

Reasons for leaving it so late

A graphic of conception (Photo Graphic: Fecundation © Sashkin #35780004 -

Science has helped push the boundaries of conception

"My only regret is that I dedicated too much time to my career, and it would have been better and more logical to start thinking about this 10 years ago." Russo added, "But nevertheless, this is a very positive thing for us, and I ask everyone not to judge me or my husband for this."

Of course, some people will always judge, and the Italian comic, Luciana Littizzetto, satirized the pregnancy, and how difficult it might be to give birth for a 53-year-old, in one of her stand-up routines over the weekend, but generally, the comments in Italy have been relatively positive.

This is perhaps not surprising in a predominantly Catholic country where the cult of motherhood is revered and most people agree that every woman should be allowed to experience being a mother.

Alessandra Martines, a fellow late blooming actress, interviewed in Italian Vanity Fair this summer, who is pregnant at the age of 49, summed up the views of many in Italy when she said that although her conception was entirely natural, a woman must have the right to motherhood in any way she can. "I’m in favor of any means that allows a woman to have children, and not just for those who are too late to conceive naturally. There are lots of young women who can't have a baby and perhaps for them it's even harder."

Being an older mother can be good

A picture of a pregnant woman's stomach (Photo by Miguel Palacios/Cover/Getty Images) #89407974 GettyImages

The cult of motherhood is still strong in Italy, whatever the age

In Britain, there are sites for people who are pregnant at 35 and 40 plus, offering support, facts and figures, and happy examples of famous late births. Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had her son Leo at 45. Madonna had Rocco at 41 with the director Guy Ritchie. Sarah Brown, wife of Gordon, another former Prime Minister, had her sons at 40 and 42. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, both American actresses, had their babies at 46. Arlene Philips, the choreographer, had a child at 47 and Carla Bruni, wife of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, had her second child at 43.

The website also reassures that once the baby is born, excepting chromosomal abnormalities, the child is no more at risk from birth defects than the offspring of younger mothers. It also says that older women are more likely to have left-handed children than those born to younger parents, which some interpret as a sign of a higher IQ.

Is it safe?

A picture of a line of women showing their pregnant bellies.(Photo: Patrick Pleul)

Women are able to have children later and later

But how safe is it for the mother to go through a pregnancy perhaps after her reproductive system has shut down? There has been much speculation attached to potential risks when pumping yourself full of hormones, which your body may have long stopped producing, but the jury is still out as to how high those risks really are, Dr Daghni Rajasingam, RCOG spokeswoman said:

"Increasing numbers of women are having babies later in life. Women over 35 years of age are at increased risk of early pregnancy and obstetric and neonatal complications. The older woman is more likely to experience stillbirths, miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Other complications associated with increased maternal age include gestational diabetes, placenta praevia, placenta abruption, hypertension and caesarean section," she said.

But the fact remains that we are living longer, eating more healthily, and working longer, so why not have children later, too? Perhaps some people will accuse women of wanting to have it all - a career, fun, a life, and then children - whenever she wants them; that with modern technology we might be able to defy biology, but that this is a selfish desire and unfair to the child, who will suffer from older parents who may not be around to help them later in life.

The American College for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recognizes that in the US, the number of women post-45 who gave birth doubled between 1980-2004 and now publishes a magazine, Plum, aimed at that demographic.

In a study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in the United States, researchers found older parents were more financially stable, had more patience and time to play with their children, and stuck to less traditional child rearing roles. Conscious that they were older, they "tended to plan ahead and be even more careful about diet and exercise to make sure that they were in the best physical condition they could be to take care of their children as long as possible".

These aspects are all regarded as positive aspects of being an older parent by the NICHD. It's worth remembering, too, that not so many people criticize older fathers who manage to do the same thing, so if health, technology and lifestyle permits, perhaps we will see more people like Carmen Russo in the future, despite the health warnings attached.

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