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TV Review: The Midwives - Old Mum, Young Mum

2 September 2013
Appeared in BioNews 720

With the highest birth rate seen in the UK in the last 40 years, it's no wonder that pregnancy and childbirth now dominate the small screen, with midwives as the new stars!

This episode of the second series of the BBC's 'The Midwives' documented some of the varying difficulties experienced by older and younger mothers. Among the issues covered, it highlighted the potential risks associated with older women conceiving children through IVF, including the higher rate of multiple pregnancies.

The first mother, Lisa, was a 38-year-old single mother who had conceived using donor sperm and gave birth to non-identical twins. Her story illustrated the greater risks associated with multiple pregnancies including the fetus not reaching full term and the greater risk of preeclampsia, both of which led Lisa to an early delivery by caesarean section five weeks ahead of her due date. Both babies were born healthy but needed time in post natal care. However, the neonatal unit was full and the twins had to be transferred to another hospital on the other side of the city. Due to a shortage of beds, Lisa could not go with them and had to deal with being separated from her children.

Lisa is open and honest about using a sperm donor and states she doesn't see the need for a partner, but I found her comments about the development of the twins particularly interesting. She spoke about looking forward to seeing how the twins develop: in their mannerisms, personalities and passions. A normal parental instinct, but, of interest, she wanted to see what they get from her - for example, her skill in art - and what they 'inherit' from the unknown donor. I found this curious because it went beyond 'would my child look like the unknown donor', to 'would they share similar skills or personalities'.

The second mother was 48-year-old Artemis, who conceived with husband Bill, aged 50, using IVF after meeting later in life. It was never openly stated whether the couple had used egg donation, but it does seem likely given Artemis' age and by her comments afterwards as to her intention to conceive another child in 2014.

At 48, Artemis did not qualify for IVF on the NHS at Birmingham Women's Hospital, where the upper age limit is 43 to 44 years old. Instead, she went to a private clinic. Artemis had different complications to Lisa and suffered from gestational diabetes, not an uncommon complication for older mothers. She gave birth to a boy, George, by caesarean section ahead of their due date because of a risk of stillbirth.

The show also featured two young mothers and in an excellent non-judgmental way (sadly unusual when discussing teenage mums) compared and contrasted the different but equally difficult challenges for the mothers. The older parents suffered typically from more complex pregnancies and labour, whereas the younger mothers had far simpler births but had to deal with the sudden responsibility of parenthood.

Overall I think the show highlighted the change in perception towards IVF and the increased specialisation of midwifery as a practice. The change in perception was best described by Bridget, who had been in midwife for 46 years, who explained that she was once sceptical about IVF because of the health risks and the interference with women who would be unable to conceive naturally, but that her opinion had now changed to a more positive view of assisted conception.

20 July 2015 - by Associate Professor Hana Konečná 
What happens if you ask children what age they would like their parents to be, and should this influence the debate on age limits for assisted reproduction?...
25 February 2013 - by Michelle Downes 
Women over the age of 40, same-sex couples, and people with disabilities have been addressed for the first time in the updated NICE guideline on fertility treatment...
11 February 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
Figures released by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reveal the number of IVF cycles performed each year has continued to rise while the overall multiple pregnancy and birth rate has declined....
21 January 2013 - by Cathy Holding 
Women who conceive using IVF are at a higher risk of lethal blood clots during pregnancy compared to women who conceive naturally...
11 June 2012 - by James Brooks 
Use of assisted reproductive technologies like IVF carry with them an increased risk of complications for mother and child, a report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists highlights...
24 October 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
Women who have conceived through IVF may be more likely to develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy than pregnant women who have not, according to a recent study in the US...
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