ORLANDO, Florida — A 46-year-old from Orlando has become the oldest woman to have a baby through in vitro fertilization using her own fresh, not frozen, biological eggs.
Belinda Slaughter delivered her first child, a healthy baby boy, last September. Her son, Jackson, “is wonderful and perfectly healthy,” said the proud mom.
She wasn’t trying to set a record.
“I didn’t think this was so special,” said Slaughter, now 47, who is a dental hygienist. “I thought, ‘There are women older than I am having babies.’”
That’s true, but not with their own eggs.
While many women older than 46, even into their 60s, have delivered babies through IVF using donor eggs or frozen embryos from when they were younger, Slaughter made medical history because of the age of her eggs, not the age of her uterus, said Dr. Mark Trolice, founder and medical director of Vivere-Winter Park Fertility Laboratory, who worked with Slaughter and her husband, Torrance Slaughter, 42, to conceive.
The case was published in the May issue of Fertility and Sterility, a journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Such firsts are hard to verify, but the fact that this birth was reported in the medical literature gives it credibility, said Dr. Richard Paulson, a well-known fertility expert and medical director of the fertility program at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
“What’s remarkable about this case is not the age of the mother so much as the age of the egg, which was 46 years old,” he said.
“If a woman freezes her eggs at age 40, and at age 47 has those eggs implanted through in vitro fertilization and has a baby, that would not be as scientifically remarkable as if she got pregnant using an egg harvested at that day and age,” Paulson said.
The oldest person on record to have a baby naturally, without infertility treatment, was a 59-year-old British woman who gave birth in 1997, according to Guinness World Records.
A New York infertility doctor claims that in 2011 his patient had a baby at age 49 using eggs she had frozen when she was 48, but that case was never verified in medical literature.
“People can make claims,” Paulson said. “Many do press releases, but scientific journals validate them.”
Slaughter, who had a history of infertility, knew her chances of getting pregnant with her own egg were slim.
“Dr. Trolice said that because of my age, I had only a 1 percent chance of conceiving, but I still wanted to try.”
In March 2013, Trolice harvested eggs from Slaughter’s ovary, fertilized them with her husband’s sperm and three days later transferred four embryos into Slaughter’s uterus. One took.
A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have. As she ages, so do her eggs, which not only dwindle in number, but also have a greater chance of conferring a chromosomal defect.
For instance, at age 30, a woman’s chance of having a baby with any chromosomal abnormality, including Down syndrome, is one in 385, Trolice said.
By 35, the age at which doctors recommend women have genetic testing, the risk jumps to one in 192. By age 46, it’s one in 16.
“In the world of reproduction, nothing gets better with age,” Paulson said.
Nonetheless, thanks to women’s desire to postpone pregnancy and advances in infertility treatment, the number of women having their first child at age 35 or older has increased ninefold from 1970 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, fertility experts don’t encourage women to defer pregnancy.
“In no way does a women want to use this example to defer fertility until they are older,” said Trolice. “After age 40, women still face huge hurdles. Their risk of complication gets higher every step of the way.”
If an older woman does conceive, her chances of miscarriage, high blood pressure, diabetes and problems with the placenta go up, so much so that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine tells doctors not to implant embryos in women beyond age 54.
Even Slaughter’s pregnancy was not without complication. Halfway through her pregnancy, her cervix grew weak and needed suturing to prevent a too-early arrival. After that, she stayed in the hospital for 10 weeks, until at 31.5 weeks (8.5 weeks shy of full term), she had a cesarean section and delivered baby Jackson, who weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
“I always knew it was going to work,” she said, offering this advice to other women: “Pray for direction, then go for it. Don’t live with regrets.”