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Pregnancy after 40 ripe with possibilities

By Samantha Grice, CanWest News Service

TORONTO - It's like an angst-filled ticker tape running through your mind: "You'd better have a baby soon. Before it's too late. Quickly. Hurry." It can whip a woman zooming through her thirties into a major panic.

But if your life circumstances are such that having a child at that time is not viable, what are you left to do but worry? You want to have children one day, but the timing is simply not right. In short, times have changed and female biology is out of sync with sociology.

And so, to assuage the panic, such a woman might cherish every report of a 40-plus celebrity birth (Geena Davis was 48 when she had twins! Tony Blair's wife was 45!) and devour all other tidbits that defy the notion that having a child past 35 is a dicey proposition.

The third issue of Plum magazine (tagline: "Something especially prized"), a pregnancy guide for women 35 and up, brings plenty of relief in its 200-plus pages.

A feature right off the top looks at how 35 became the dividing line for high-risk pregnancy. Vivian Dickerson, a past-president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explains there is a continuum of risk that increases through a woman's reproductive life, but age is not the only determining factor.

"I've cared for 20-year-olds who were at far greater risks for problem pregnancies than were their 40-year-old counterparts," she says. "The majority of pregnancies over 35 and even over 40 go just great, but they do need more attention and diagnostic procedures." That's what we want to hear.

The issue's cover story shows off designer Cynthia Rowley's take on maternity fashion in a 12-page spread. Rowley is also a "Plum mom" who, in lieu of divulging her age, joked she half-expected to be in diapers before her daughter was out of them. (Rowley is 41. She had her second daughter, Gigi, when she was 40.)

Plum was founded by Rebekah Meola at the end of 2004 to serve one of the fastest-growing demographics in the U.S.--pregnant women over 35. Between 1970 and 2003 in the U.S., the Centre for Disease Control reports that the birth rate among women between the ages of 35 to 39 increased by 38.17 per cent.

The trend in this country is similar: According to Statistics Canada, 48 per cent of births in 2003 were to women over the age of 30.

Meola says the aim of the magazine was both to educate women on risks of later child-bearing and to soothe anxieties so they could relax and enjoy their pregnancies. "High risk can sound very scary," says Meola. "Plum was brought about to help women understand what high risk means. It doesn't have to be doom and gloom -- it's just being aware and having all the information and managing the risks."

While Plum doesn't encourage women to postpone pregnancy and is quick to alert of the fertility issues that come with delaying children until your 40s, Meola says that as more women in their thirties give birth successfully, those examples have removed some of the anxiety previously associated with later terms.

Ultimately, Meola says if you're a 35-year-old woman not ready to have a child, it doesn't help to panic. "But we need to address the issues and find real solutions for reconciling women's biology with women's roles in society. As a society we are just beginning to address this and the fact of the matter is, there is a biological clock."

© The Edmonton Journal 2006