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Older Moms: Issues Beyond Pregnancy

Today's technology enables women in their 40s and 50s to get pregnant and give birth.

But after that, things can get harder, so the cons as well as the pros of giving birth later in life must be considered when deciding whether to even try, reports The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith in the first of a three-part series, "Not Your Mother's Mother."

Women today have a lot more options and questions than their mothers did about when and how to have a baby, Smith says.

"Not Your Mother's Mother" looks at questions faced by modern moms.

First: How old is too old to attempt to get pregnant?

A recent study of women 50- to 63-years-old, a small group of women who used assisted reproduction, found age is no longer a barrier to getting pregnant, Smith says. Still, older women are at increased risk for diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy.

And, as moms of any age will tell you, getting pregnant may be the easy part.

Marilyn McReavy always wanted to have children, Smith says. There were just a few things she wanted to do first. At 23, when many of her peers were starting families, McReavy won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics as a member of the United States women's volleyball team. In the years that followed, McReavy went on to become one of the winningest college volleyball coaches in history.

But marriage, and motherhood, eluded her — until she met the love of her life.

Randy Nolen was a Navy chaplain and is six years younger. When they got married in 1988, McReavy was already in her 40s, but they still wanted to have kids.

For the next 10 years, they tried everything to get pregnant, with no luck.

Marilyn Nolen had run out of options, Smith says. She couldn't conceive naturally. Every treatment she had tried, had failed. When she asked if she could adopt, she was told she was too old.

If Marilyn wanted a family of her own, she needed a medical miracle — and she found one in Santa Monica, Calif.

At the University of Southern California, Dr. Richard Paulson runs a program that makes motherhood possible for women over 40 — even 50 and older.

You can get pregnant at such ages, Dr. Paulson says, but it's "not going to be your egg. But you can be pregnant and have a completely normal pregnancy, normal delivery and, in fact, even breast feed."

Marilyn was 55 when she underwent Dr. Paulson's procedure, and got pregnant on the first try.

On Oct. 22, 2000, twin boys Travis and Ryan were born, a minute apart.

Even at 55, Marilyn was in good enough shape to handle the two tiny bundles of joy.

But now, Marilyn is 61. The boys are 6.

Things have changed.

Marilyn has learned that, while getting pregnant at 55 is a marvel, finding the patience to raise to boys is a marathon.

Not every older woman is strong enough to be a new mom, Dr. Paulson points out

"I've made the analogy," he says, "that you would not wanna get out of bed and be a couch potato one day and start running a marathon the next day. And analogously, you wouldn't wanna be a couch potato and try to carry a pregnancy to term at the age of 50, or 55, for that matter, the next day."

Even at 61, Smith says, Marilyn's keeping up. But she still has "those days."

"(Raising kids) keeps you very, very busy," Marilyn tells Smith. " … Sometimes, I find myself just screaming like a crazy person, because they really can try your patience. They just can drive you crazy sometimes."

Marilyn and Randy have the daily routine under control in their Killeen, Texas, home, most of the time.

What concerns them, Randy says, is the future: "You don't have as much energy as the younger parents. And the other thing is, I don't think younger parents think that much about whether they're gonna live long enough to see their kids graduate from college, get married, and everything else. But when you get older …"

"Marilyn," says Dr. Paulson, "really is the poster child for women of advanced reproductive age. And I certainly hope that women who are in their early 40s who are feeling like they might be older mothers are now saying, 'Gosh, if it works for her at 55, I'm really a youngster at 42.' And it's true."

And to Marilyn, Smith says, the boys are worth all the work, especially when they say that magic word she waited more than half a century to hear: "Mom."

Marilyn is still very much the exception, Smith adds.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't even track birth rates in women over 55.

Overall, Smith says, while it's possible to become pregnant later in life, experts caution that, risk-wise, younger is still better than older, your own eggs are still better than another women's eggs, and it's still too early to really know how kids of much older moms will fare down the line.

Tomorrow in "Not Your Mother's Mother": Advances in prenatal testing enable women to get an early window on the health of their baby, but what happens when the results aren't what they want to hear? What would you do? Smith will have the story of one woman's answer to a question most of our mothers never had to face.