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The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part II

Last week, in Part I, we began this discussion of Judith Shulevitz’s The New Republic article, “The Grayest Generation,” in which she lamented the societal and biological risks of older parenting.


Men over 50 are three times more likely than men under 25 to father a schizophrenic child.

Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in culture media teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development.

Commonly used, “Clomid . . . came out particularly badly in a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART [assisted reproductive technology] and birth defects,” reports Shulevitz. “ICSI (intracytoplasmic) sperm injection shows up in the studies as having higher rates of birth defects than any other popular fertility procedure.”

A child with trisomy-18

Trisomy-18 child. Photo:

While she recognizes that women do not want to cut their careers short for the sake of having kids, Judith points out that if they don’t have children, they’re denying themselves s full life.

But older parents have emotional disadvantages. “Procrastinators” become members of the “sandwich generation,” caught between toddlers tugging on one hand and elder parents sharing the latest updates on their ailments. Elderly grandparents provide less support than their younger counterparts.

What haunts her about her own kids is the gamble of dying before they’re ready to set out on their own.

And these problems could proliferate if  “aging parents are, in fact, producing a growing subpopulation of children with neurological or other disorders who will require a lifetime of care. Schizophrenia, for instance, usually sets in during a child’s late teens or early twenties. [British psychiatrist] Avi Reichenberg sums up the problem bluntly. ‘Who is going to take care of that child?’ he asked, ‘Some seventy-five-year-old demented father?’”

The birthrate has dropped by a significant 45 percent around the world since 1975. By 2010, the average number of births per woman had decreased from 4.7 to 2.6.

While Shulevitz is making compelling arguments about older parenting, ones with which we agree, the goals of her arguments are where we part company. She makes the case that society needs to reform itself so that parents become parents at earlier stages of life. That way there will be fewer disabled children, more individuals to care for older generations, and enough workers to replace the aging people who will be better able to adapt to new technologies. She concedes that fewer people means less demand for food, water, land and energy.

Let’s start with the latter first. As we have written on several occasions, when societies move into the middle classes, their per capita consumption of food, water, land and energy skyrocket. Bigger homes, conspicuous consumption, wasted water, cars, heating and air conditioning; you get the picture.

It seems to us that there are three choices for the career-focused. Have your career or your kids. If you want them both, do as many others have done, and burn the candle at both ends earlier in adulthood. But making kids in order to provide preceding generations with a support system is selfish, reckless, and the world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme. We have to stop at some point. Are the projections of 10 billion-plus devourers of natural resources, clean air, and water by the end of this century not enough to scare the bejeezus out of us?


The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part I

The average age of first-time mothers has increased by four years over the past half century, according to science editor Judith Shulevitz in the December 20, 2012 issue of The New Republic. Many professional urban couples are postponing making babies until their 30s and early 40s. The downside is, as Shulevitz herself has experienced, recent rises in developmental disorders.

            Some examples: The average new mother from Massachusetts is 28; in Mississippi it is 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother is 29.1; African American 23.1. A college-educated woman has a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older.

           Shulevitz decries late-in-life reproduction, due to the amplified risks to the child and because delayed childbearing will result in a shortage of younger people to support, and replace, their progenitors. While we agree with the former, we dissent from the latter because of its societal self-serving motives. 

Judith Shulevitz


           Judith and her husband weren’t ready for parenthood until she was in her mid-30s and her husband was “forty-something.”  The doctor started her on a regimen of ovulation-stimulating hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid, or Serophene.

            If the Clomid didn’t work, she might move on to: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), or even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). The Clomid and IVF worked.

            “My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay.”  He needed occupational therapy for his mild case of “sensory-integration disorder.”

            She soon found what she describes as, “a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older.”

            Subsequently, the couple had a “natural” daughter. But Judith found herself meeting women of approximately her age with kids who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and sensory-integration disorder.

            As we have previously discussed on this blog, and in our book, Enough of Us, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays are on the rise.  Between 1997 and 2008 there has been about a 17 percent increase in these disabilities. According to Shulevitz, one in six American children had a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.

            Scientific evidence indicates that aging bodies of potential parents should elicit more cautious behavior than they apparently do. Would-be parents consistently underestimate how sharp the fertility drop-off can be for women after age 35. Inversely, the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy—which includes Patau and Edwards syndromes—increase.  Patau syndrome gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year. Edwards syndrome, features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life. In previous posts we have given the examples of the unfortunate offspring of politicians Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

            The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. When born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight—leading to chronic health problems later in children’s lives—increase.

            Researchers suspect a link between the 78 percent rise in autism over the last decade and the rise of parental age. One theory “is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb airborne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides.”

We will continue this discussion next week in Part II of this post.






Risks of Becoming Older Parents Affect the Famous as Well as the Rest of Us

      You may have heard about recent presidential aspirant Rick Santorum’s daughter, Bella, and her battle with a rare birth defect. That defect goes by the name of trisomy 18 (pronounced TRY-so-mee 18), also known as Edwards syndrome. It is similar in its genesis to defects like Down syndrome in that it means the person who has it has three of a particular chromosome instead of the usual pair.

          As you may know, Rick Santorum has spoken out against the widespread use of contraceptives. And he delights in all that Bella has given the family. Nevertheless, the poor girl has been in and out of hospitals for various ailments that accompany her condition. In fact, it is rare for Edwards babies to survive to their first birthday. Their symptoms include:

  • Severe developmental delays including mental retardation
  • Heart defects
  • Kidney problems
  • The esophagus doesn’t connect to the stomach (esophageal artesia)
  • Clenched hands
  • Pocket of fluid on the brain (choroid plexus cysts)
  • Rocker bottom feet
  • Delayed growth
  • Small jaw (mycrognathia)
  • Small head (microcephaly)
  • Low-set ears
  • Strawberry-shaped head

          Bella just got out of the hospital on Monday after being treated for double pneumonia, which she battled in January as well. The long-term outlook for anyone with trisomy 18 is poor. In any case, she will never be self-sufficient.

Let’s move on to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. They have been famous for churning out almost one child per year since they married.

They even have a reality TV show about their profligacy. The Today show does irregular updates on how fantastic they are. But none of the media outlets seem to give a rat’s ass about the example they are setting by saying, in effect, “ecology be damned.”

          But Michelle’s last two pregnancies have been disastrous. Michelle was 42 when her 19th child was born 15 weeks premature via an emergency C-section that almost killed Michelle and the baby, who weighed less than two pounds. Michelle’s 20th pregnancy, at age 45, ended in a miscarriage. While the Duggars believe that God has wanted all these pregnancies, we wonder whether they believe that God wanted them to take the risks associated with older mothers? But they’d better get back to the horizontal mambo if they want to match the gamblin’ Santorums.        

Sarah and Trig Palin


That brings  us to Sarah and Todd Palin and their brood. And if you think we’re ganging up on Republicans, hold onto your hat. Wait until we get to our final subject our final subject. Sarah Palin gave birth to their son Trig when she was 44. Trig was born with Down syndrome. The statistical odds of a Down pregnancy in a 44-year-old woman are greater than three percent.


          The point here is that people are willing to assume the risks involved in bringing kids into the world for purely selfish reasons. In fact, there are no unselfish reasons for having kids. It’s certainly not done as a favor to someone who has not yet been born. And even when aware folks like the Santorums, Duggars and Palins know that advanced age raises the stakes substantially, they jumped right in without regard to what may happen as a result. It’s like gambling using someone else’s well-being as collateral.

          So while Rick Santorum talks about all that Bella has given his family emotionally, we don’t wonder why he doesn’t speak of what he and Karen have given Bella.

          You may not be familiar with Robert Kennedy, Jr. He is the son of the late attorney general, U.S. senator and presidential hopeful

Robert Kennedy. However, Kennedy, a devoted environmentalist and former candidate for the Democratic nomination for New York governor, has six kids. It escapes us how anyone who has devoted his life to protecting the environment can justify having that many children, both on the grounds of overpopulation and the gamble involved in creating children.

          The Kennedy family history is rife with tragedy, from violent calamities, to scandal, to severe emotional issues, to mental disabilities. Robert, Jr. himself is a one-time felon who was a heroin addict.

          We question the ethical and moral decisions of these families who don’t seem to consider the emotional and environmental hazards involved in their indulgences. Evidently, when planning more Santorums, Duggars, Palins and Kennedys, they are just not very conservative –  various interpretations of that word – about deciding there are enough of us. And they certainly haven’t thought twice about it.