When Janet Jackson canceled her world tour because she was pregnant at age 50 and delivered her first child at age 51, many celebrated with her but also ask, How? Many women asked themselves 'If she can do it at that age, why not me?' Janet Jackson has a right to her own privacy, but the speculations lead to uncertainty and her silence can be a missed opportunity to educate women on the limitations of fertility treatment.
Today women have more options than ever to start a family. As a fertility specialist, every day I meet with women who are eager to learn about them. Unfortunately, 50 may be the new 40 for fitness and life goals, but our fertility does not often match what we look like on the outside and even feel like on the inside.
Nobody wants to be in a chair sitting in my office talking about their struggles to become pregnant. That is a given. But once a patient gets in the door, they soon realize that because of recent advances in science there is good reason to believe that they will be able to have their family. Being a career woman, not finding Mr. or Ms. Right according to plan, or just not being ready to settle into the demands of parenting at a particular age is no longer a sentence of a childless life. Nor is being a world-touring Grammy Award winning singer pushing the half-century mark for that matter.
As it should be, women have options and they are pursuing them when they want to and without explanation. That is good news. But unfortunately, the lack of explanation in the press misleads the public and inadvertently perpetuates myths about pregnancy and what makes a family. When a 45 year old woman who wants to have a baby reads 'People Magazine', and sees that Janet Jackson is pregnant and expecting to deliver her baby at age 50, she is going to pay attention. She dissects the article to find an answer to the question on everyone's mind: How?
And if there isn't a reasonable explanation, which there never is for any celebrity over 40 years old, that same woman is going have the erroneous thought --- What is wrong with me? And that is a shame. Celebrities deserve their privacy but women need the truth.
A few blog posts have suggested that Janet Jackson's success may be from previously freezing her eggs, however, this is unlikely given the fact that egg freezing is relatively new technology. Before 2012, egg freezing was considered experimental by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), few laboratories were freezing and thawing eggs successfully, and having cancer treatments was considered the only reason to pursue egg freezing. Suggesting that Janet froze her eggs (which is possible) in order to conceive now may make other women of a similar age feel regret or guilty if they have not frozen their eggs yet (or unable to do so do to cost). Women in their 40s now did not miss a window of egg freezing opportunities – it just hasn't been available (or successful) for that long.
Thankfully, we don't require that patients have a "good reason" any longer to freeze their eggs. Today freezing eggs for a delayed pregnancy is more commonplace and an option that empowers women. Women can elect to freeze their eggs for future family building for any reason. It is the ultimate in reproductive choice and should be celebrated by a society that values family. It is, however, still a relatively new technology and we are watching and learning about success rates and long term implications.
The press also reported that Janet Jackson and her husband were considering adoption. It's an option that seemingly wouldn't come up in the world of infertility medicine. But it does. Adoption is an option that every women should be presented. It is a path many infertility patients pursue and we celebrate with them as if we had had a hand in the growth of their family.
Utilizing donor eggs in fertility treatment is another option for women who have struggles becoming pregnant. In years past, this option was one of last resort and kept secret from family and friends. Certainly in Hollywood, many famous women became pregnant after 40, and the possibility of donor eggs is not mentioned in the general press. Reading magazines at the grocery store makes it seem like as long as you are famous enough and rich enough – you can have a baby whenever you want. Stars often admit to doing IVF but a big omission is whether the IVF was with donor egg or not. Egg donation and family building using these donor eggs is more commonplace than the public may realize. In some circles, new parents are being more open about sharing how they had a family later in life and proud to share with their family and friends. There is no shame or secrecy expected, nor required. Our society has evolved and now celebrates family in a way that doesn't emphasize genetics like in years past.
When a global celebrity like Janet Jackson cancels her world tour and announces she is pregnant at almost 50 it begs these questions: Are they her eggs? Does it matter? Have we evolved so much in the past few years that it isn't something we wonder about? Or is it possible things haven't changed much at all? Is there no mention of donor eggs, or frozen eggs, or attempted adoptions because of secrecy and shame? We probably will not ever know the answers to these questions.
It is too bad as I can imagine the educational opportunity that a megastar like Janet Jackson could provide, and the heartache in so many women her transparency could curtail. I do not want another woman to feel shame about waiting to start their family, regretting not freezing eggs, or finding alternative ways to family building like donor egg. To that end, my hope is that the next time a woman reads about a celebrity getting pregnant at 50 years old that they will realize that the star most likely had some kind of help to realize her dream of having a baby --- and that is okay.