By the time most women reach their 60s they’d expect to be a grandmother, not an expectant mother.
But Lina Alvarez of Spain recently welcomed her third child at the age of 62 — a healthy baby girl — after undergoing controversial IVF treatments. (It’s not known whether Alvarez used her own eggs or donor eggs for the procedure.) She’s already the mom to two boys, aged 28 and 10.
“I couldn’t feel happier,” Alvarez told The Telegraph, who’s an IVF doctor herself. “I’m looking forward to resting for at least a couple of days now so I can enjoy time with my daughter and recover.”
The little girl, who shares the same name as her mother, was born two weeks early at 5.2 lbs. via Caesarian section after Alvarez was admitted to the hospital for observation after experiencing high blood pressure.
Of being an “elderly mother” Alvarez, who’s from the Galician city of Lugo, told the publication, “When [my daughter] is 30 I’ll be 90. She’ll have been raised and life expectancy for women is growing all the time.”
But her daughter’s conception and birth have not been without controversy. Galicia erupted in debate last month when Alvarez announced she was eight months pregnant, The Telegraph reports. Many called for an age limit to be placed on women seeking fertility treatments.
Many doctors even turned Alvarez away. Eventually, she found a gynecologist who agreed to help her.
“They said there was only a six per cent chance of success but I got pregnant with a baby girl,” she says. “I feel like I’m having a second chance and the pregnancy has made me younger and stronger.”
She joins a few other women around the world who have been able to conceive children through IVF after 60.
Daljinder Kaur of India gave birth last year at the age of 70 after two years of IVF treatments. Her baby was born weighing 4.4 lbs.
Elizabeth Adeney of Suffolk in Britain welcomed a son in 2009 at the age of 66 .
When it comes to having children later in life — even with IVF treatments — the risks often far outweigh the benefits, says Dr. Jeff Roberts, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society (CFAS).
According to a 2014 CFAS annual report, women in Canada over 43 only achieve a live birth through IVF 12 per cent (which isn’t very high).
“The risk of diabetes, blood pressure issues, stillbirths and pre-term delivery and just poor outcomes in general are much higher as women age, typically over 40,” says Roberts. “But when you get into extreme ages, the risks are thought to be too high.”
Interestingly, a study released Monday by the University of Adelaide found that babies who are born to women over 40 using assisted reproduction have fewer birth defects compared with babies from women who conceive naturally at the same age.
While the researchers say in a statement this could point to “more favourable biological conditions in IVF specific to pregnancies in older women,” they’re still working on determining the exact cause of why that is.
Another 2014 study by the North American Menopause Society also found that women who have babies after the age of 33 were twice as likely to live to an unusually older age than those who have children earlier.
But because the chances of conceiving continues to dramatically drop as a woman ages into her 40s, Roberts says many clinics in Canada do not see the benefit in investing clinical and financial resources in older patients who have very little success in conceiving.
That, he says, is part of the reason why some provinces in Canada set an age limit for IVF candidates, like in Ontario which places an age limit of 43 for its provincially-funded program.
“If your pregnancy rates are below five per cent and an IVF cycle costs over $10,000 to the public, then it’s not a good use of public funds,” says Roberts.
He adds many fertility clinics have different age cut-offs depending on the type of eggs used in the IVF process. For example, if the woman’s own eggs are used, many clinics won’t allow women over 45 to undergo treatment (eggs are known to decrease in quality after someone is in their mid-30s); if donor eggs are used, the cut-off will often be age 50.
But in the end, Robert says the decision to use IVF depends on the patient and clinic involved. The best thing to do, he advises, is to do your research.
“Know the specific pregnancy rates for your age group for the clinic you’re attending because there can be variability… in general, it’s safe to think about the national data,” Roberts says. “You’re [also] always going to want to make sure [you] have a complete [medical and blood] work up before treatment because some factors can either increase or decrease your chances of getting pregnant.”
He adds: “[Fertility] is such an individualized thing that you just can’t paint everyone with the same brush.”