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Any time a prophet of doom is required for the over-40 motherhood platform, Dr. William Ledger, Head of the Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, University of Sheffield (see link below), is the go-to guy for UK journalists.

He’s been almost evangelistic in his public criticism of IVF treatments for older women, consistently peddling the notion that midlife mothers selfishly ‘put off’ parenting until later life, and should have a ‘fertility MOT’.

Until recently, I was unaware that he’d wheeled in a female sidekick to pump it up a notch on the virtual ‘scare floor’ of age-related infertility.

While internet ‘window browsing’, I came across a report of a meeting of The Royal Society of Medicine’s Forum on Maternity and the Newborn (http://www NULL.rsm NULL.ac NULL.uk/academ/form_n NULL.php) which appeared in Midwives (http://www NULL.rcm NULL.org NULL.uk/midwives/in-depth-papers/birth-after-35-the-older-mother/), January 2009 issue,  where Dr. Ledger reminded us that fertility treatment had little to offer over-40 women if they could not conceive naturally.

“The ideal age for a woman to have children is between 20 and 35” said Dr. Ledger. “I speak biology, not sociology.”

Despite this, he went on to lament that in the past 20 years, the average age of pregnancy for UK women had shifted from 25 to 34, and that “there is no appreciation of the health risks of pregnancy in older women.”

Conjuring the faint hint of a bony, shaking and pointed finger, he sums up with:  “Nowadays 40 years is the new 20; but women are living to 85, while their fertility is still failing at 40 as it was hundreds of years ago when women died at 45.”

(A Dark Ages fetish, perhaps?)

His co-author—and self-proclaimed “bad news doctor of older women”—Dr Katrina Erskine (http://www NULL.homerton NULL.nhs NULL.uk/gp-information/our-consultants/erskine-dr-katrina/), Consultant Obstetrician and Physician, Homerton University Hospital (UK), went on to produce a lengthy scroll of health warnings from stress incontinence and obesity to stillbirth and ‘reduced energy’.

As if lining up arguments for a grand jury, she left nothing out, including the accentuating addendum—“and grandparents are more likely to die earlier in a child’s life”.

Fortunately for the ‘accused’, the Royal Society had also invited some more humble guests to administer our ‘defense’.

Ms Lowri Turner (http://www NULL.dailymail NULL.co NULL.uk/femail/article-516949/Why-older-women-turn-better-mothers NULL.html), UK broadcast presenter, journalist and over-40 mother reported that “older women who read and otherwise attend to the media are panicking”.

According to Turner—who suffered with polycystic ovaries and still conceived naturally between 35 and 42—“Research has concentrated on the diminishing reserve of our ovaries and has omitted studying positive aspects.”

She went on to point out that many younger women “who are binge drinking and smoking are not in the best condition to have their babies, either.”

“Even at our age the medical profession patronizes us,” she continued. “we’re not given credit for mature decision-making, but it is we who are taking folic acid and have…informed ourselves of the risks we run.”

David Alpert, Founder of the International Institute for Anti-Aging (http://www NULL.iiaa NULL.eu/) in London—which seeks to extend healthy years and reduce the risk and incidence of age-related disease—said that biological age can be significantly less than chronological age.

“ A 74 year-old non-smoker with a low alcohol consumption who is active and eats five daily servings of fruit and vegetables has the same risk of dying as a 60 year old who has none of these advantages” he explained. “This is anti-aging behavior.”

Alpert went on to cite other lifestyle factors aside from age known to adversely affect fertility.

He mentions sexually transmitted diseases, environmental pollution, smoking marijuana (in men), smoking during pregnancy (affecting the fertility of offspring), and high intake of carbohydrates (ovulatory infertility) and, of course, stress.

His real concern, however, was that women were being advised to avoid Vitamin A in pregnancy despite its role in “healthy cell differentiation, DNA repair and apoptosis (a form of programmed cell death in multicellular organisms).”

“When giving subfertile women nutritional advice” he warned, “we must separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Or perhaps, the good news doctors from the bad news ones.

Notes for this blog:

Dr. William Ledger’s bio: http://www.shef.ac.uk/medicine/staff/ledger.html (http://www NULL.shef NULL.ac NULL.uk/medicine/staff/ledger NULL.html)

His views on older women getting pregnant: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_39453.asp (http://www NULL.bionews NULL.org NULL.uk/page_39453 NULL.asp)

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