After months of speculation, singer Janet Jackson confirmed today she is expecting her first child.
The 50-year-old revealed the news and details of her late-in-life pregnancy to People, which hits news stands Friday. Jackson married wealthy Qatari business magnate Wissam Al Mana in 2012.
In announcing her pregnancy, she said, “We thank God for our blessing.”
Jackson was believed to be expecting a child after calling off her live performances in April.
“We’re in the second leg of the tour and there actually has been a sudden change,” she told fans then. She also had reportedly spoken about trying to start a family and was said to have been spotted shopping for baby furniture.
Jackson is another example of how women are waiting longer than ever to start a family. Today, 20 percent of women are waiting to try to have their first child until after age 35. That is a 150 percent increase since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Women are waiting longer to have a child for a number of reasons, including the desire to get their career off the ground, become more financially secure, mature as an adult, and taking a long time to find “Mr. Right.”
However, while cultural norms have shifted toward pregnancy later than in the past, biology hasn’t changed. In fact, far too many women discover that when they are finally ready to become pregnant, it’s too late.
“Women are most fertile from basically the time they get their first period up until about their early 30s,” Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, a Los Angeles fertility specialist, explained. “There’s a definite decline in their fertility rates at age 35, and there’s a drastic fall-off-the-cliff at age 40.”
Steinberg adds that it is not only more difficult to conceive a child as a woman ages, the baby’s health can also be affected.
Babies born to women over age 35 have a greater risk of chromosomal abnormalities, low birth weight, and premature birth, according to The Mayo Clinic, who also point out that the risk of pregnancy loss is higher in women over age 35.
Steinberg says women who want to wait until later in life to have children but want to reduce the risks of infertility and health problems with the baby should consider freezing their eggs.
“It’s a simple procedure,” Steinberg said. “There’s no incisions; there’s no cuts. It’s all done with ultrasound guidance, takes about 30 to 45 minutes, does not hurt, and the woman is back to her normal activities the next day.”
A woman’s eggs are stored in liquid nitrogen, remaining in suspended animation until the woman is ready to use them to make a baby, which could be years down the road.
At that point, the egg is thawed, fertilized with sperm, and inserted into the woman’s uterus.
Steinberg says thousands of babies are being born this way. But just like regular conception, the younger the eggs are when they are frozen, the better chance for success.
“But the problem is, in their late 30s, they haven’t got nearly the chance they have in their early 20s,” he said. “So it’s a terrible dilemma for us. We wish they would have come in sooner.”
So while everyone wishes Janet Jackson all the best for her budding family, not all women are able to wait until age 50 to have a child. Women who are considering childbirth later in life should speak to their gynecologist about the risks and the benefits of that decision and map-out their best course of action.