“No lie. I’m sitting here at my age thinking, ‘I just had a newborn,’ ” Higgins said. “Yes, I’m scared and I’m anxious, but I’m so excited.”
Baby Jack, who weighed in at 5 pounds, 13 ounces, was born to the couple via in vitro fertilization.
The arrival of a baby bookended years of grief for the couple, who were already parents to daughters Gracie and Molly. In 2016, Molly, 13, died of a brain tumor. When the couple explored whether it was right for them to have another child, doctors discovered a brain tumor in Higgins, as well, the Monitor reported.
After the tumor was successfully removed, the couple continued on the path to parenthood once more. Higgins stressed to the Monitor that grieving for Molly and conceiving Jack were separate, but linked.
“It likely wouldn’t have happened if she was still alive, but she’s not the reason we did it,” Higgins said.
Higgins may not be the oldest women to give birth via IVF, but she’s not far off: In 2004, Jacilyn Dalenberg of Ohio gave birth to her own grandchildren at 56 when she served as a surrogate for her daughter, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Outside the United States, women in their 60s and even 70s have given birth via IVF.
The age at which American mothers give birth to their first child has gradually ticked up over the years to 26.3 years old in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics; the percentage of people who give birth for the first time past age 35 grew from 7.4 percent in 2000 to 9.1 percent by 2014.
Still, stories like Higgins’s are rare in the United States for a number of reasons, including the tiny market for patients in their 50s and older who want to carry a pregnancy, and certain medical guidelines that discourage IVF in patients older than 55, said Eve Feinberg, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University.
“I’m inspired by the miracle of science,” Feinberg told The Washington Post. “They took a really big gamble; they luckily ended up on the favorable side of things.”
Feinberg, who is the immediate past president of the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, said she recognized how important Higgins’s pregnancy journey must have been for her and her family and trusts that it was made thoughtfully and safely.
At the same time, she said she’s concerned that rosy portrayals of such high-profile and outlier cases tend to gloss over the serious health risks to the parent and baby and can contribute to misinformation about the risks and realities of IVF, especially for younger patients.
She is particularly critical of reporting that did not address the source of the egg used in cases that became media sensations, like during Janet Jackson’s headline-grabbing pregnancy in 2017, when the R&B star first became a mother at 50. None of the stories about Higgins’s delivery detail which IVF protocol was used; Higgins did not immediately respond to The Post’s requests for comment Saturday.
“There’s never been a live birth with a woman’s own egg over 46 years old,” Feinberg noted. Higgins’s embryo might have been created with an egg of her own that she froze when she was younger, or the egg might have come from a younger donor.
“It gives this sense that, ‘if at 57 she got pregnant, and I’m so much younger, I’ll be successful, too,’ ” Feinberg said.
As a result, patients may have unrealistically high hopes of a treatment’s outcome, they might believe they can use their own eggs longer, or they might delay assisted fertility interventions (ARTs) like freezing their eggs or starting IVF therapy thinking they have more time than they really do.
There are also ethical considerations to people becoming parents much later in life, like the increased prospect that a child could lose one or both parents early in life — or conversely, become caregivers at an early age.
Higgins told the Concord Monitor that her community had been overwhelmingly supportive of her and her husband’s choices. Higgins maintained her rigorous workout routine until she gave birth, while her husband told the newspaper he feels better at 65 than he did a decade ago.
“For a person who wants to say to me, ‘aren’t you reckless for making this decision?’ Well, no, because I never made a reckless decision,” she told the Monitor.
During an interview with CBS Boston, she admitted, in reference to her age, “none of these numbers make sense.” At the same time, she mulled what lies ahead for baby Jack’s future.
“Maybe he’s supposed to be a custodian at a school and he notices kids who are lonely, maybe that will be his calling,” Higgins said. “Maybe he’ll invent some great thing that will save millions. I don’t know. I just do feel I didn’t go through all of this and produce him for it to be for naught.”