If you are pregnant and you and/or your husband are over 30, please don’t read this. It will be of no use to you and may worry you needlessly.
In fact, I have hesitated to link to this article at all because I would hate for it to be misinterpreted as me commenting on anyone else’s life choices. My readers know I’ve been thinking about having a fourth child. After reading this, I think it’s too late for us.
Some highlights from the article:
-While it is true that age affects a woman’s fertility more than a man’s, scientists are finding that age affects the quality of men’s sperm as well. Advanced paternal age as well as maternal age increases the risk of a variety of birth defects and other genetic mutations that may not even manifest until the child is in their 20s (like some psychological disorders).
-Yes, the risk of Downs Syndrome increases with maternal age, but that is only one of many trysomies that can occur. “The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2-3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties.”
-Parental age (not just maternal) has been linked to all sorts of motor-skill delays, sensory integration disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and autism. “The Nature study ended by saying that the greater number of older dads could help to explain the 78 percent rise in autism cases over the past decade.”
-Older dads are more likely to father children with “dwarfism, Apert syndrome (a bone disorder that may result in an elongated head), Marfan syndrome (a disorder of the connective tissue that results in weirdly tall, skinny bodies), and cleft palates.” Although men produce sperm throughout their lives which generally means their fertility window is longer than women’s, the older men get, the more genetic mutations appear in their sperm. “…The number of genetic mutations that can be acquired from a father increases by two every year of his life, and doubles every 16, so that a 36-year-old man is twice as likely as a 20-year-old to bequeath de novo mutations to his children.”
-Children of older dads are more likely to have social and behavioral problems. The risk of having a schizophrenic child increases with a father’s age. “’It’s been my hypothesis, though it is only a hypothesis at this point, that most of the disorders that afflict neuropsychiatric patients—depression, schizophrenia, and autism, at least the more extreme cases—have their basis in the early processes of brain maturation,’ Dr. Jay Gingrich, a professor of psychobiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute”
-Artificial Reproductive Therapy is largely unregulated. The ever-popular ovulation drug, Clomid, has been known to build up in a woman’s body with repeat usage and can cause birth defects.
I knew NONE of this when I made my life plans. My plan if I didn’t marry Chad Carter in second grade, was that I would:
1. Marry at age 26
2. Have one child at 30, one at 32, and one at 34. That would mean I’d be done by 35 and totally out of the danger zone for infertility or Downs Syndrome. I thought age 30-35 was the golden window of childbearing for women. I never for a single moment considered my husband’s age. He is five years older.
What actually happened:
1. I married at age 25
2. Had one child at 30 and twins at age 33.
If I had it to do over again, I would have “aimed” to have my family during my mid twenties (Kent’s early thirties) to give their brains and bodies the best possible chance of being healthy.
I say that, but would I really have been willing to sacrifice those years of work and education? Children can be such career killers. It’s unfortunate that the most important educational and career-building years are also the prime years for having children–both for women and men.
Depending on what long-term affects are discovered from the explosion in use of artificial reproductive therapy (fertility) treatments of our generation, I may advise both my daughter and sons to have some zygotes frozen when they’re 23. But then they’ll delay gestating my frost-grandbabies until I’m too old to see them! Bleak. This article is bleak.
Kids are changing. In my entire (though tiny) elementary school, there was one girl on the autism spectrum and one girl with lactose intolerance. Just since the turn of this century, there’s been an explosion in autism, attention deficit disorder, and food allergy. (Now, I’ve never heard anything about food allergy being related to parental age, but this article did make me curious whether their might be genetic mutations that happen as a result of parental age that cause food allergy–just thinking aloud here.) Sure more diagnosis and even overdiagnosis may explain part of the incredible surge in attention deficit disorder, autism and the ever expanding variety of developmental delays, but parents delaying family until later in their lives could turn out to be the big story.
Now, having your children young doesn’t mean you won’t have any problems any more than having them when you’re older means you for sure will. However, the simple facts are that the older you get, the more likely you are to have a child with one or more of these issues. What psychologists call “optimism bias” tells us “I’ll be one of the lucky ones,” and “surely it won’t happen to us.” When I look around at the people I know, though, I realize it can happen to absolutely anyone.