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The Miracle of IVF: At 49 the Oldest First-Time-Pregnant-with-Her-Own-Egg-In-Vitro-Mom

| December 6, 2009 18 Comments
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What Do We Celebrate?

A 49 year old woman gave birth last month to a baby conceived with the help of IVF using her own egg, at the New Hope Fertility Center, a Park Avenue fertility clinic founded by Dr. John Zhang. She becomes the oldest first-time-in-vitro-mom on record. Undeniably, this is a cause for celebration for the happy parents, for the world of reproductive technology, and for the millions of women in their forties who long to experience pregnancy and motherhood.

Dr. Zhang’s “less is more” approach to IVF and hormone stimulants, the idea of retrieving one or two eggs in a cycle, rather than blasting the ovaries to hike up egg production to thirty times the number a woman’s body was designed to release – is clearly a step in the right direction But before you rush to reserve your place in line at New Hope, or shelve all your eggs in a freezer of the closest IVF clinic, consider another reading of this story.

To me, this pregnancy has proved what many of us have witnessed: Yes, even in our late forties some of us still have healthy strong viable eggs. And yes, we can take action that might bolster these survivors in their valiant effort to morph into healthy babies.

The majority of pregnancies in women in their forties and even a handful over-forty–five pregnancies that I’ve seen in my practice as a fertility educator in the last decade and a half – began in the privacy of bedrooms. I myself conceived the old-fashioned way and gave birth to a feisty little girl six months short of my 45th birthday.

On the wall of the Fertile Heart Studio in Woodstock hangs a collage of cards, pictures and birth announcements from former workshop attendants and people I’ve worked with privately. Some of those babies were conceived with the help of IVF. And their moms and dads did all they could to give those babies the healthiest, strongest physical, emotional, spiritual foundation for their human journeys

IVF is a tool that helps or harms depending on how we use it.

When it comes to New Hope, and the promise of a biological pregnancy for women over forty-five, Dr. Zhang tells us his clinic treats 60 to 80 women over 45 each year. Five to eight of them give birth. What about the remaining 72 women who go home to an empty nursery?

What is left out of the celebratory rhetoric of this latest medical miracle, is the level of desperation that draws forty-five-plus wannabe-moms into a staggering series of invasive tests, egg retrievals, and changing IVF treatment protocols — in spite of the known and not-yet-known health risks and scrimpy chances of success. Might they be better off investing their emotional energy and funds in less self-punishing attempts to beat the odds?

What is far too often omitted from public fertility debates are the widely known side-effects such as — cysts, hot flashes, disruption of menstrual cycles following extended use of birth control, and an increased risk of ovarian cancer — with patients undergoing repeated cycles of Clomiphene Citrate. Clomid is a commonly prescribed drug at New Hope and clinics worldwide. The FDA requires manufacturers to include warnings about prolonged use, yet such guidelines are routinely ignored. As one of my clients put it, “After 11 cycles, my doctor said, he’ll keep going until I tell him to stop.”

If technology is the route you choose to take – my hope is that you do so by listening closely to the impulses and promptings of your inner fertility-authority. It might serve you as well as it served the young woman who insisted that her doctor perform an intra-uterine-insemination in the cycle between retrievals. Or the woman who refused the protocol of birth control pills and asked her doctor to stop quoting statistics during embryo transfer. Or you might be as fortunate as the couple who after a consultation at one of the top IVF clinics and after being told they could never conceive without technology, chose to raise the bar of love-making-gusto and gave birth two weeks before the wife’s 46ths birthday.

To paraphrase Wendell Berry, one of the sanest voices of our time: What makes us human is not the “human genius” but the intelligence of the heart. It’s an intelligence that created our holy-human-loaves as infinitely mysterious organisms. It’s an intelligence that remains invisible to those who choose not to see it. For those of us who seek it, it becomes the one force that makes a fully human experience bearable, even thrilling. It is without a doubt a force to heed when it comes to making babies.

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  1. Amie says:

    Hi Molly- I am a patient also at New Hope in NYC and I believe the doctors and staff there reach out to help people in what could be described as “out of the box” fertility circumstances. My only known fertility issue is 100% male factor but I am also in my forties so that is in itself a factor in conceiving #2 which I have been working on for four years now .
    I had my daughter the first try at 40- so i thought it was all so easy!!
    I think you are in good hands at NH and I am wishing you all the luck and hope in the world. I have no idea what your age is but it sounds like you are doing the smart thing by banking your embryos.
    Once you hold that little baby in your arms it will all be worth it-and it sounds like you are taking the practical steps to achieve your dream–
    good luck and keep the faith-it works!
    A

  2. Molly says:

    Late to this thread but just wanted to note that not all IVF treatments are the same. I’m a patient at New Hope with Dr. Zhang and am having all natural IVF–that’s right–no meds due to cancer history and am banking my frozen embryos until I’m cleared to get pregnant by my oncologist. I’m having to fly from North Carolina to NYC for treatment because no one local will do this. If it weren’t for New Hope, I would have nothing.

  3. Amie says:

    Thanks or your personal reply, Julia-
    My question is, what are those couples putting in the IUI? I know IUI is a fairly simple procedure that a midwife could certainly perform but if frozen sperm is being used (which was how I conceived my child and my donor is from Scandinavia) the sperm must be stored in a nitrogen tank and thawed properly in a medium by an embryologist under laboratory conditions before the IUI for it to survive.
    I looked into home inseminations which I would love to do in order to avoid the whole RE experience but in my state (NY) it is illegal to buy or receive fresh sperm from donor companies. The only other option would be to ask a trusted male friend to act as a donor as many lesbian couples do and then have a midwife or nurse practitioner do the IUI.
    In my case, in a married heterosexual relationship, you can see that would complicate things.
    I suppose my case is pretty unusual-it’s highly frustrating to have to “jump through these hoops” as the saying goes, but I do have a wonderful, healthy child from all the efforts and am still working on #2 the same way so I know it is indeed possible
    Loved your book by the way, it was very insprational!
    A

  4. Amie says:

    One thing that may be overlooked here is the situation in which a female patient needs medical treatment for fertility due to 100% male factor sterility. Trying for a baby in “the privacy of bedrooms” is all well and good when you have a fertile partner but without that a sperm donor must be used and that requires the help of an RE. I now have a daughter who was conceived with the help of IVF/donor sperm, not because of any fertility issues with me but because I married someone who had had a previous vasectomy that could not be reversed.
    I don’t like using hormonal drugs either but IVF was my only option in these circumstances.
    I am trying for #2 now and am having to go through the same thing again for the same reasons-I am not even a fertility patient but I have to go to a fertility clinic in order to get help with having another child. Unfortunately, the hormonal drugs are necessary for the cycle to succeed. Whatever your political views, female gay couples must go through the same thing also, whether IUI or IVF, they need a donor in order to achieve the goal of pregnancy.
    Just another perspective on this matter…

    • Annie, thank you so much for your input and congratulations on your little girl. First I’ll say that I have supported many of my clients in their IVF journeys because that’s the road they chose to travel. My hope is that the work we did together strengthened them on all levels and contributed to healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
      I’ve also worked with women who used a sperm donor and with lesbian couples who did the same who didn’t use stimulants and conceived in the privacy of their bedrooms with the help of an IUI administered by a midwife with the hopeful partner holding a flashlight and wishing for the best. It’s wonderful that you are healthy and strong and I’m just wondering what it feels like to think of yourself as a “female patient who needs medical treatment” when seemingly all you need is some solid well shaped sperm. You have inspired me to search through my archives for one of the testimonials of women who conceived this way, I will put that on my to do list and attach a link here as soon as I find it.
      Best of luck with everything and thank you so much for your comment.
      Julia Indichova

  5. Cindy says:

    Julia, this is such a wise and compassionate blog entry. Thank you for it, and for all the truly insightful, compassionate, moving work you do. Thank you to all those (commentors) sharing your stories, too. You also inspire me. (Julia’s work and community has had a tremendous, positive impact on me as well.)

  6. Robin says:

    I recently attended Julia’s workshop and am very grateful. I had always seen obstacles to pregnancy as insurmountable. Julia emphasized how much what we think and feel effects our physical body, hormones included. I particularly feel blessed by Julia’s imagery.

  7. Renee says:

    Thank you, Maria and Gal for your kind wishes. It’s amazing how supported and kind I felt towards myself and my girlfriends who came over ins support for this special day. I bought myself flowers and kept reminding myself of the gift of being pregnant and event the blessings from having lost the pregnancy. YES, giving thanks for even the loss! It’s amazing what I can do with the love of friends, Spirit and UM! I loved making a homemade hearty Tuscan Bean soup for my friends, who also shared their challenges and tears… lots of hugs abounded.

    I also wanted to say THANKS to Kristen for sharing the subtle but powerful details of finding your center on your way toward this pregnancy. I wish you EVERY blessing!

  8. MM says:

    I just want to say that my life changed completely, for the better , after attending Julia’s workshop 3 years ago, and since participating in the phone circles. I am 45 and found my child not through conception, but through adoption. However, I do not consider myself to be infertile. Thanks to Julia I realize that fertility comes in many different forms, and I actually feel more fertile than ever thanks to this work. Thanks, Julia.

  9. KD says:

    Hello everyone, I recently attended the Fertile Heart workshop and am grateful to be a new member of this wonderful community. I feel truly blessed to have come across Julia’s books several months ago just after my first (and not so pleasant) experience with a reproductive endocrinologist. Seeing the doctor, getting all the tests, and being compared to the various “norms” of the RE world, was challenging for me. I really resisted the doctors and felt that I was putting my fertility in their hands – I felt like a bystander. I really questioned this resistance and came to realize that this route – the medical route – just wasn’t for me. I came across Julia’s books around this time and they were just what I needed. While I “knew” that the medical approach wasn’t working for me, it wasn’t until I started tuning into my UM and really listening to what she was trying to tell me, that I realized I had made the right choice.

    Since the workshop, I’ve been using the Fertile Heart tools and I can feel myself moving forward in a good, and really positive direction. I’m being kinder to myself and I’m learning about what I need when I feel anxious and can’t quiet my mind enough to do the imagery work. This morning, for example, I couldn’t calm my mind down enough to do the imagery exercise, so I tried the exercise on page 141 of The Fertile Female. I was able to give a voice to my anxious feelings and I even noticed that my body started moving in a way that it needed. Various images/feelings were coming up and I was “seeing” and “feeling” my baby’s birth – it was pretty powerful and made me smile.

    Of course, some days are easier than others, but I’m taking one step at a time. In fact, there are two paragraphs on page 140 of The Fertile Female beginning with “As sages…” that move me through some of the more challenging moments. (You’re brilliant, Julia!)

    I’m growing from this experience and am walking toward the beautiful baby I know we will one day be blessed with. Thank you, Julia, for your work and for creating this wonderful community!

  10. Kristen says:

    Hello Everyone,

    This post rings so true. To follow your heart is sometimes the hardest, yet most rewarding thing you can do. I remember when i first went to see a fertility specialist i was shocked that they told me nothing about diet or that they didnt give me any tips on when to even try to make a baby. I was thinking “how do they even know i am trying at the right times?? Wouldnt they at least go over the basics with me to make sure i knew what i was doing?” I was 39 at the time and didnt know anything about FSH, but i was told mine was 21 and that i would be lucky to have another baby. I had an ectopic pregnancy 6 months prior to this visit, in which i lost my left tube, and kept thinking “if i could get pregnant 6 months ago naturally, how can the doctor be so sure that i wont get pregnant on my own again? now” While i waited for my doctor to consult with his “team” over how to proceed, I went home and really dove into The Fertile Female and began changing my diet. I was going to show them…

    My doctor decided that natural IUI was the way to go for me at that time. I asked him again about my diet and exercise and he said it didnt really matter, it couldnt hurt but it probably wasnt going to change things for me…and in so many words he said i was just “getting old”. I was heart broken, i was sort of ready at this time to hear they would start IVF, but i kept on my fertility diet and decided to try one natural IUI. It didnt work. I then decided to really be strict with my diet and to try again in a few months. I became pregnant on my own 2 months later, but miscarried very early. Then my cycles became really long and irregular and i feared the worst…that menapause was starting, but i refused to give up. I listened to my heart and tried to help my body naturally.

    After many private sessions with Julia, countless phone circles, nightly imagery exercises, 2 workshops and many other natural specialists to help me clear my mind and body I was ready for my second natural IUI this time with Ovidrel. It was 1 year after trying my first IUI and i became pregnant. I honestly dont know if the IUI resulted in the pregnancy or if i became pregnant before the IUI, we tried before going in, but i do know that i was a different person going into this second IUI than i was the first time. I was ready and i was ready for the results, positive or negative i knew more than ever that i would have a second child even if it wasnt from this IUI.

    The difference? I listened to my heart. It may have been little things but they all added up to me feeling like a different person. Instead of going to acupuncture as i had for the past 3 years, i stopped and then heard of this shaitsu masseuse from a friend who was said to work wonders, not specializing in fertiltiy, but she could make stress in the body dissappear-so i was told. I went and loved it even though it was painful, i felt better. I walked regularly with my husband and son. We kept thinking we didnt have time to wakl together, but i pushed the issue with my husband and we all seemed to enjoy it. For me, it was the best time of the day and i really looked forward to talking with my husband while we pushed our 4 year old in the jogger, yes he was much too big for a jogger but loved relaxing in it at the end of the day:-) I starting listening to music that i loved and that made me feel good instead of the “relaxation” tapes i had for fertility. I even brought my Ipod to the IUI and listened to some great music while i waited after the procedure on the table, it made me feel good and the time went by without me stressing about whether this IUI would work or not. These are just some of the changes i made. I also kept up with Julia’s work and continued sessions with her and the weekly phone ciricles. These may not seem like big things but they all came about by me listening to my heart. I would never have gotten to this place in my mind without Julia’s work. It continues to support me as i approach my third trimester. I feel so blessed to be pregnant and i feel like it is a result of me really doing Julia’s work faithfully and learning to listen to my heart. Thank you Julia and thank you to everryone on the phone circles and workshops that also listened and supported me.

    All the best,
    Kristen

  11. jasmin sanders says:

    HI All,
    It it wonderful to read these posts and I must say that I often come to this blog when I need to get grounded and connected with my UM and visionary. I have not taken many drugs in my fertility journey except for the last few months. I decided a month ago to go off these medicines for now even though they were very low doses. I am feeling a lot and giving myself space to feel especially feelings of shame. I am learning compassion towards my orphans and more and more having success at being able to stay inside myself instead of disappear (another orphan). This is incredible work and learning to really trust and honor my own heart and mind is such a nurturing way to live and feed myself. While the approach that New Hope fertility takes, challenges some of the more mainstream fertility industry practices…I believe that there is still a way to go in terms of women really taking the lead in unfolding our own fertility journeys outside of this “industry” that is driven by profit and as well as sexism. I am taking a risk to share my heart and thinking here which is bringing up my orphan saying “don’t share that out loud”! but what better place to take risks to share my truth than this. thanks julia and all the women that show up for this process. Happy Hanukah. may the light of the candles remind each of us of our inner brightness and the goodness all around
    ~jasmin

  12. Anna says:

    Hello Dear Julia,

    Another beautiful and touching post. Thank you for keeping us sane :-). Love, A

  13. Sharmini says:

    Thank you for this very thought provoking post Julia. I can relate very closely to this as I was a patient at New Hope until about 2 months ago. I was a patient there for over a year. I felt it was a much better fit for me than the other major clinics I went to to NYC that prescribed high doses of injectible meds cycle after cycle. The cycles rarely made it to retrieval as even though I was 32 years old when I started ivf cycles my body did not respond with 10 or 20 eggs like the “doctors wanted” or even 3 of the same size, so the cycles kept getting canceled or changed to IUI’s.

    Fast forward 5years and I am 37 now and I would still be going through yet another cycle with clomid (with birth control and sometimes estrogen pills to prep for the cycle) if it was not for the fertile heart work and my private sessions with Julia that gave me the strength and guidance from my UM to finally listen to my body and stop taking the drugs.

    I was at New Hope Fertility for over a year and while the stimulation does not involve a lot of injectible drugs I still took clomid for 7 or more cycles. Every time I got one of those dreadful calls to say that the embroyos did not make it to day 5, or the numerous cycles we ended up with no eggs because nasal spray given to induce ovulation did not work for me, there were instructions to start yet another cycle. The instructions only stopped when I said “No” I don’t want to take any more drugs.

    I am so grateful for this work and our fertile heart community. It has saved my life. In this the Season of Giving I am looking to give back…

  14. gal says:

    Thanks for the blog topic Julia.

    There does seem to be so much pressure out there for people to listen to the “experts” rather than themselves in more areas than just medicine. I as well used fertility meds last year when I didn’t get pregnant right away with a couple unmedicated IUI’s. Once I used the drugs I started having irregular cycles and a cyst here and there,and they didn’t work. I never thought during that time that the problems I started having were the meds, I thought it was just confirmation I was old and decrepit at 38. I got off that wagon about the beginning of this year and went on a soul search which did bring me to your work. It took time to work out of my mind and body the idea that maybe all I really needed was to start being real and taking better care of myself. I did all the tools, even at times when they felt futile, I just keep doing the tools. I feel I am healthier than I have ever been. My cycles have healed themselves and I have more apparent fertility now than when our son was conceived when i was 36. Overall I am feeling tremendously better and enjoying the people around me instead of just trying to carry on and not let it show I felt like I had a gun to my head most of the time.

    I don’t really understand why the medical world seems so clueless to really what the words “health” and “care” could mean. I think it is positive this doctor in NY has modified his approach to honor the inherent health of his patients. But as you say there is much more work to do.

    Renee, thankyou for sharing your story. I will be thinking of you on saturday.

    Take care,
    Gal

  15. Christina says:

    I discovered this website only a few days ago but it already helped me so much I’m also really grateful to have found it. I hate to admit it but in the last year I was one of those desperate over forty women you talk about Julia, who are grasping at straws. I really feel like I’m a recovering addict or something. I can’t believe what I put in my body and I really wish that somebody had told me to stop. I think what you are saying JUlia is really important for women like me to hear, because we’re like gamblers who can’t stop gambling. That’s what I have been doing and my body has been begging me to stop a long time ago, but I couldn’t. I am still not giving up but I am not putting anymore drugs in my body no matter what. So thank you for showing me that there are options. I love your idea of the Ultimate Mom and your beautiful definition of fertility.I know my baby is on the way and if it’s through adoption I am meant to become a parent I know it will be okay. but I am done with punishing myself. Thank you again!

  16. Maria says:

    I love having found the Fertile Heart!

    I am ONLY 36 years old, yet before finding this wonderful organization, I had starting to feel like I should have done things differently. I have never used any treatments like Clomid, everything I’ve done for the past 4 year have been as natural as I could. I now know, my UM was the one guiding me through this journey. When I was presented with the options of flooding my body with chemicals, it just didn’t feel right. Yet, after 4 years and 2 miscarriages, I was starting to doubt my self, was I too late now? Should I have done things the other way?

    I know now, from the bottom of my heart, that this journey, where I changed a diet of ice cream and pizza, for healthy foods, whole grains and greens. Where I learned to know my self, to hear my needs and follow my instincts is a great gift our baby is bringing us. It is amazing, that those little ones, start giving us so much, even before you get to know them.

    I will keep working, making sure that everything I can do its done, so when he/she comes, a lovely, warm family is waiting to take care of him, and to love him. I know one thing for sure: this baby will have certainty in his life that he was wanted and loved even before his/her arrival.

    Renne, this Saturday my heart will be with you, know that I will be sending you my love, I admire you for taking this step towards your healing process!

    Maria

  17. Renee says:

    Thank you for this post!

    As I’ve mentioned, I thought my window had closed for conceiving, but at 45 I made love with my boyfriend one day in March and became pregnant. When I miscarried, my OB, who is also a friend, made it clear to me that the statistics were extremely unfavorable that I would be pg again and give birth at my age. He encouraged me to “move on”.

    I challenged him and said that indeed, he would have never predicted that I would have conceived with having had sex once at my age. So there! What to make of that?

    I cannot be shuffled into the “statistics.” And, although tempted, I cannot rush myself madly to a RE– my UM says no, to wait. To hold, to grow, to listen, to breathe. This is powerful work that requires great discipline.

    I am deeply grateful to be in a community of women who are holding the higher vision for our lives and our fertility. Thank you!

    And this Saturday, an honoring will take place at my home for the baby that I conceived in March and miscarried in May. I am being guided to make a big pot of homemade soup and cornbread, to invite women in throughout the afternoon and to do some kind of planting. To speak of our dreams, our visions/intentions and to give thanks for all the richness and challenge of this fertile life.

    We may do some bodytalk or imagery as well.

    with love, renee

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