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Racing against biological clocks to start a family

Kim Harper is a woman who created a career for herself, and found trouble later on in life when she tried to conceive.

Once she graduated from Michigan State University in 1990, she took some time to travel. She went back to school to get her law degree and began working as an attorney. She married in 2006, and her husband Jeff and herself expected to start a family soon after. “We didn’t marry until I was 38,” Kim says, “and we always knew we didn’t have a lot of time to waste.” A year has passed and she still had not gotten pregnant.

Kim didn’t think about fertility much as she was aging. It wasn’t until she started to try and conceive that she realized her age may have an affect on her ability to get pregnant. Many doctors warn that at her age, healthy pregnancies become much harder to attain.

Because pregnancy wasn’t happening quickly, Kim was referred to a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Beaumont Hospital for a battery of tests. The tests showed that her reproductive health was fine, and six months later she was pregnant. She was happy to be pregnant, but it was not a trouble-free pregnancy. She developed gestational diabetes in her first trimester, which can lead to jaundice, respiratory distress and low blood sugar and excessive weight in babies. Jeff Harper explained, “My overall philosophy is to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” But for the Harpers, ultimately the best prevailed. A healthy, 7-pound Katherine Anne Harper was born Jan. 18. “She was tiny and beautiful and perfect! Her cry was like music to my ears,” Kim Harper says. “I still thank God every day for my amazing little miracle!”


For couples like the Harper’s, it’s all about timing. Pregnancy at an older age is not impossible, but there are risks that every couple should know about.


The statistics might surprise some women:

  • At 20, the odds of getting pregnant when everything is timed perfectly are about 25% per cycle. By age 30, the odds drop to 10% to 15% each month, and by age 40, it’s 5%, reports Conceive magazine.
  • Women who get pregnant between the ages of 35 and 45 face a 20% to 35% chance of miscarriage, according to the American Pregnancy Association. That’s on top of common complications such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.
  • By the time a woman is 43, the risk of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome rises to 1 in 50, from 1 in 1,500 at age 20, according to pregnancy At age 35, the rate is 1 in 350.
  • The rate of in-vitro fertilization has increased 17% from 2003 to 2007, with the greatest increase seen among women ages 35 to 37, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. But age also seems to play a role in the success of the procedure. Younger women — those under 35 — have about a 40% chance of having a live birth with IVF. By the time a woman is 42, the live birth rate with IVF drops to about 11%.
  • Children born to older parents are more likely to develop autism. That’s especially true for first-born kids, according to a study in the December issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Also, a Swedish study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that children with fathers older than 45 were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.The trend of women having babies later in life shows no sign of slowing down. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the percentage of women giving birth for the first time at age 35 or older has increased eightfold since 1970 — from 1% to 8%.


The birth rate among women ages 30 to 34 grew 2% from 2006 to 2007. Among women 40 to 44, the birth rate grew 1% to 9.5 births per 1,000 women — one of the highest rates ever. “It makes sense that women are waiting longer to start families — college, careers, not meeting the right person earlier in life,” says Dr. Kristen Wuckert, an ob-gyn at Mission Obstetrics and Gynecology in Warren. Years ago, she says she might have seen an older woman once a week; now it’s a daily or twice-a-day occurrence.


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