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Celebrity pregnancy myth busters

Hannah Dahlen

Will she have a caesarean or a home birth? Will her parents be there? Is she too old to be doing this at 40? Has she got a baby bump … and then that wicked, unspoken thought — will she get stretch marks like the rest of us mere mortals?

Why do we love to know these details? What fascinates us about celebrity births? Is it because we're curious about the potential genetic perfection that could be seen in the offspring of a megawatt couple such as Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban? Or are we fascinated by the fact that birth is the one universal thing that links us, rich or poor, Oscar winner or not?

Whatever the reason for our fascination with movie stars, a more concerning issue is whether or not we make serious life choices based on the decisions, and sometimes whims, of celebrities.

Celebrities get pregnant in their forties, so why shouldn't I?
Yes Nicole Kidman was 40 when she fell pregnant. Celebrities such as Madonna, who had her last child at 42, Geena Davis, who had twins at 47 and even Cherie Blair (then British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife), who gave birth at the age of 45, make women think age is not an obstacle to fertility.

The reality is that for women over 35, getting pregnant is often the hardest part. Fertility declines as we get older and the drop is quite dramatic after 35 and especially after 40. Women release fewer eggs as they get older and these eggs are less likely to be fertilised or to implant in the uterus and grow a healthy baby.

As good as you may look on the outside (plastic surgery and Botox aside), your eggs are as old as you are. They are on a biological timer — hence the term "biological clock".

The rate of miscarriage in older women is significantly higher than in younger women. The very public miscarriage of Cherie Blair at age 47 in 2002 reminded us of this. The rate of recognised pregnancies ending in miscarriage is around:

  • Nine percent for women aged 20 to 24
  • Twenty percent for women aged 35 to 39
  • Greater than 50 percent by age 42.

This is mainly due to the increased incidence of chromosomal abnormalities that occur with age.

If IVF is attempted, it is also less successful in women over 35 and if successful, more likely to end in miscarriage.

Celebrities choose to have caesareans so why shouldn't I?
When Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice), singer and soccer wife extraordinaire, chose to have her three children by elective caesarean section, the term "too posh to push" was coined.

Sadly, the media tends to focus more on the stars who choose caesarean than those who have a vaginal birth. The reality is, however, that Elle Macpherson had a water birth for her second baby and supermodel Cindy Crawford, actress Pamela Anderson and British singer Charlotte Church all had home births.

The US talk show host Ricky Lake has recently been rocking and shocking the world with her explosive new documentary film The Business of Being Born , which depicts amongst other things her own home birth.

Celebrities aside, without a good medical reason caesarean is more harmful to the health of both mother and baby, according to the scientific evidence. In the past two years we have had a virtual tsunami of research reported in the media telling us of the serious dangers of having a caesarean section without good reason.

Women are more likely after caesarean section to experience:

  • Pain in the abdomen (tummy)
  • Bladder injury and injury to the tube that connects the kidney and bladder (ureter)
  • Needing further surgery
  • Hysterectomy (removal of the womb)
  • Admission to intensive care unit
  • Development of a blood clot
  • Longer hospital stay
  • Return to hospital afterwards
  • Death of the mother
  • Having no more children
  • In a future pregnancy, the placenta covers the entrance to the womb (placenta praevia)
  • Tearing of the womb in a future pregnancy
  • In a future pregnancy, death of the baby before labour starts.

Women are less likely after caesarean section to experience:

  • Pain in the area between the vagina and anus (the perineum)
  • Bladder incontinence three months after the birth but no difference by one year
  • Sagging of the womb (prolapse) through the vaginal wall, needing repair

(From the NICE Caesarean Section Guidelines)

It is not just the mother who is affected by caesarean section. Professor Sally Tracy found in a recent study of babies admitted to intensive care units in Australia from 1999 to 2002 that low risk women at term having elective caesareans were more than twice as likely to have their babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit than those having a vaginal birth.

She said, "Once babies are born, many simply cannot breathe because they have missed out on the labour process which squeezes their lungs and triggers all sorts of biological mechanisms that enable the baby to survive breathing in air."


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