Motherhood at 50 without egg donation. Really?

On the cover of the Guardian Weekend magazine today is a picture of a naked, pregnant woman.  It’s in profile with hands covering her nipples, very tasteful, very wonderful.  The miracle of birth is clearly near.  The woman is apparently 51 years old.

Inside the mag is a long article by Naomi Gryn who became pregnant with twins (one subsequently died in utero) following a last ditch attempt at pregnancy with frozen embryos created at a Barcelona clinic when she was 50.   There is no mention that egg donation was any part of the process.  Agnes Mayall, another 50 year old woman quoted in the article admits to ‘technical assistance’ in helping with her pregnancy, baby due any day now.

And yet the article quotes statistics that seem to be widely accepted, that by age 44 there is only a 5 per cent chance of a woman conceiving using her own eggs.  Professor Brian Dale, director of the Centro Fecondazione Assistita in Italy is apparently used to working with older women and favours using a women’s own eggs whenever possible.  But even he is quoted as saying, “The oldest lady I remember getting pregnant with her own eggs was 46.  But most people who come to us aged over 45 are already psychologically primed to go on the egg donor programme.”  So what do we make of Naomi and Agnes’s pregnancies then?  Egg donation or not?  And if so, does it matter?

Well it matters for at least two reasons.  Not admitting to needing help from an egg donor continues the myth that pregnancy with a woman’s own eggs remains possible in her late forties and early fifties when for the vast majority of women this is just not true.  Many women, in fact, are unable to conceive with their own eggs in their early forties and sometimes late thirties.  The fastest growing group of new families to join DC Network are couples who conceived their first child in their mid to late thirties without help and then find that a second child a couple of years later is not possible without an egg donor.  Women need to understand that looking and feeling young on the outside does not mean that their eggs are not ageing on the inside and that IVF is not a magic wand that can be waved over their abdomen to create a pregnancy at any time of their choosing.

The other reason why it matters that egg donation is acknowledged is because children/young people/adults created this way should not be deceived about their genetic origins.  They should not be misled into believing that their mother’s genetic and medical history is part of their inheritance.  And for all the reasons that put honesty, integrity and trust at the heart of good family relationships they should not have this information withheld from them.

There is no shame about needing egg (or sperm) donation to help with family formation.  Why not be up front and proud about it and at the same time help women (and their partners) to be realistic about the chances of conceiving for the first time without donor help after about 44.  That, and being honest with their kids.   It would save a lot of heartache.                   See also Celebrities and Egg Donation 11th December 2011

Update at July 2013: Excellent blog from Kate Brian giving HFEA stats for live births following IVF with own eggs up to age 45.

Bio-News 22nd July 2013: Old Fertility Science is Still Painfully Relevant for Today’s Women

Bio-News 16th September 2013: Fertility declines after 35 researchers remind women

22nd October 2013:  BBC News 24 story of single woman of 56 with a two year old son apparently conceived just with IVF.  What it does not say, and I know because she is a DC Network member, is that she had double (egg and sperm) donation.  She is out and proud about this but somehow the media do not think this is a relevant fact to broadcast.  It is.

December 2013: Bio-News reports results of research: Every step of IVF impacted by a woman’s age

February 2014

3rd April 2014 Kate brian’s blog Fertility Matters

18th September 2014 Once again Kate Brian tells it like it is

16th June 2015  Kate Brian blogs about research presentation at ESHRE that recommends that women over 44 do not try to conceive with their own eggs

7th August 2015  Another great blog by Kate Brian with good links to information about how late you can leave starting a family

October 2016  Janet Jackson’s pregnancy:

 22nd August 2017.


About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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7 Responses to Motherhood at 50 without egg donation. Really?

  1. Kriss Fearon says:

    Well said.

    Having said that I do know someone who was born when her mum was 50 – she’s now 44, so well before fertility treatment could account for it. But people use outliers to justify hope, and for all sorts of other reasons.

    And yet I don’t think whether someone has used egg or sperm donation is anyone else’s business except their family’s to be honest, particularly since it may be a sensitive matter for the child. It’s frustrating because of the judgements ignorant people make about fertility, but there’s plenty of real information out there if people want to inform themselves of the facts.

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Kriss
      I suspect that your friend was not a first child. Women who have had three or four children when younger seem to be able to conceive more easily in their forties. Not being a medic I don’t understand this, but it appears to be true. I agree that not everyone needs to know about egg or sperm donation but if people choose to tell their stories in a public place I think they owe some honesty to their readers. Also, if children are told early about their donor conception they are rarely sensitive about it.

  2. Alana Newman says:

    I have a hunch that many donor-conceived people (especially egg-donor conceived) are having to deal with the death of their parents at much earlier ages than the rest of the population. So many adults decide to conceive using egg or sperm donors after they discover cancer for example. That puts us in a doubly difficult position because not only must we mourn our biological parents that we were deliberately denied a relationship with, but then again we must grieve the loss of our social parents too.


    • oliviasview says:

      Yes, I can see that you may well be right Alana. And if they find out about their donor conception following the death of their parents, then the sense of double bereavement is likely to be even greater.

  3. marilynn says:

    I looked at the birth stats from the 1950s and there were women giving birth in their 40’s and up to 50 but like Olivia said they had other children. My own great grandmother in Norway had children right up to 50 years old but she had a child every single year most of her life and a couple sets of twins. There were like 20 kids I think maybe I’m exaggerating but it was near 20. Pregnancy makes you more fertile that is the old wives tale. I think it would be so great if we could trick nearly infertile women’s bodies into thinking they were pregnant just in order to replicate whatever process it is that makes women more fertile after miscarriage or birth.

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