Austin project promotes benefits of pregnancy after 35


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist Dennis Thomas

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on July 8, 2013 at 8:06 AM

Updated Monday, Jul 8 at 9:21 AM

AUSTIN -- Having children later in life is becoming more common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year's pregnancy rate for women over 40 was the highest it's been in four decades. One Austin woman not only decided to begin her family at age 40, she's now helping other women with the same dream.

A mom playing with her kids on sunny summer day. There's nothing too unusual about that. What makes Sharon Munroe's situation different from most moms with kids is that she waited until she was 40 before having her first child.

"I wanted to be ready," said Munroe. "I was not ready to have children prior to age 40."  

Munroe wanted to concentrate on her career and education. When she was ready to start her family she quickly learned the medical community -- for the most part -- was not supportive.

"Being 35 or older, we're all given this label - this stamp - on our medical charts," said Munroe. "It's called the advanced maternal age stamp."  

Munroe says it labels women 35 or older as high risk when it comes to pregnancy.

"All the books and articles that had been written to date really talked about these risk factors," said Munroe. "They didn't talk about the rewards. They didn't talk about how you could have a healthy baby at age 35 or 40 or older and didn't provide a lot of support and comfort to women who were making that life choice."

Munroe now has three children. Patrick is five. Jasmine -- who was adopted -- is three. She gave birth to Shannon almost two years ago. Last year Munroe founded the Advanced Maternal Age Project.

"It's a way for women to share stories, resources and ideas to overcome some of those barriers or some of those risks," said Munroe.

"I think it's a really cool project," said Dr. Natalie Burger, a reproductive endocrinologist and reproductive specialist at Texas Fertility Center. "I feel there aren't a lot of resources for moms who are at an older age when they're becoming moms."  

Munroe is one of Burger's patients. Burger says getting pregnant at an older age definitely has its challenges -- starting with the number and quality of eggs that decrease as a woman ages. And there are other issues.

"Things like pre-term labor, the need for C-section and diabetes," said Burger. "So we can't completely ignore those factors, no matter how easy it is for a person to get pregnant at an older age. The good news is if the person is taken care of appropriately and monitored appropriately, the overall success rate is very, very good."

Munroe says she's living proof that motherhood can start and thrive for women 35 and older.

"I wanted to have the maturity to put aside some of my own priorities and needs," she said. "I really wanted to be able to focus on my family and to give them everything I really wanted to give my children."

The Advanced Maternal Age Project is a non-profit that Munroe currently funds herself. A workshop involving a dozen mothers like her is planned for September.  Go here for more information.