A press conference in Chennai on Friday has set off a debate among medical health professionals. At the meeting, Krishnan and Senthamilselvi were introduced as the proud parents of a baby girl born through In Vitro Fertilisation on May 21. At 63, Senthamilselvi is likely the oldest mother who bore a test tube baby in Tamil Nadu. Krishnan is 71.
For the couple, it was a four-decade dream come true. They had been married for forty years. Krishnan, who has worked in textile mills across Tamil Nadu, and Senthamilselvi had raised Krishnan’s elder brother’s sons as their own. It was the sort that one would do in a tightly knit extended family, says Krishnan.
The couple had considered fertility treatment but his bypass surgery in 1998 put a temporary stop to their plans. When his nephews grew up and settled in the U.S. they encouraged the couple to fulfill their long cherished dream – having a child of their own – said Krishnan.
Recent advances have made it possible for older couples like Krishnan and Senthamilselvi to try IVF even when the woman is approaching or past menopause. Some doctors, however, warn that the risk to the mother may outweigh the benefits. They also point to the practical problem of a mismatch between their children’s age and the parents’ when they grow into adolescence and adulthood.
Senthamilselvi’s doctor, Dr. Senthamaraiselvi of Palani Balaji Medical Centre acknowledges that it was indeed a high-risk pregnancy and Senthamilselvi was diabetic. Her uterus was in good condition although she was 10 years past her menopause. “I counseled them against having a baby but they were insistent. It turned out to be a normal pregnancy. The baby weighs 3.2 kg,” says Dr. Senthamaraiselvi.
“I counseled them against having a baby but they were insistent. It turned out to be a normal pregnancy. The baby weighs 3.2 kg.” — Dr. Senthamaraiselvi.
Dr. Senthamaraiselvi too talks about recent advances that facilitated the process. She says that against a typical Day 3 transfer of the embryo she went in for a Day 5 transfer. “We grew the embryo outside longer to ensure a better embryo,” she says, adding that the technique of blastocyst culture was adopted to minimize the risk of multiple pregnancies.
Dr. Senthamaraiselvi says the baby girl is doing fine. The couple who live in Gobichettipalayam have planned a naming ceremony in two days.
Some doctors say a line must be drawn on how old the mother can be. “Besides the risk to the mother, it is unfair to the child because of the question of who is going to take care of the baby,” says Dr. Chitra Shankar, an IVF specialist at Pearl Singapore Fertility Centre and Research Institute.
“I don’t advocate pregnancy beyond 45 years for the mother. Above 50th birthday, we don’t do transfer.” Dr. Chitra Shankar
I don’t advocate pregnancy beyond 45 years for the mother. A multidisciplinary approach would need to be taken to assess the risks. Above 50th birthday, we don’t do transfer,” she says.
While attesting that increasingly older couples are asking for IVF to beget children, counselors try to raise the issue of who will take care of the children. “I once counseled a 53-year-old woman and she said her relatives and extended family will step in to support the child,” says Neerajaa, an embryologist and counselor.
Srikanth Hariharan, who markets products related to IVF, says upgrades and advances in IVF technology are almost a daily occurrence and promise a better transfer of the embryo. “In my opinion, parents may need to be quite affluent to be able to afford appropriate care-givers and support system when the children grow up,” he adds.
Krishnan assures that his relatives are always on call and that’s how they have always lived. He dismisses the very suggestion that his baby girl may not get adequate parenting when she grows up.