Have you ever wondered where the term “geriatric pregnancy” came from and who on earth thought it was a fair descriptor of women 35 and older who are pregnant? Well, we have as well, so we did some digging. Prior to “geriatric pregnancy,” the Council of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists used the term “elderly primigravida" to describe women over 35 starting their first pregnancy.1 Lets break this down, “elderly” is used to refer to the old or aging, while “primigravida” describes women who are pregnant for the first time. We certainly recognize that women who are 35 and older are not of the elderly population and can have already been pregnant, so how does this phrase describe women 35+ who are pregnant with baby number 2 or more? This phrase doesn’t make much sense these days, so we’re happy it’s a thing of the past.
Fast forward to the 1970s when the phrase “geriatric pregnancy” was coined.2 I had always heard of this term and didn’t think much of it until it applied to me. When I was told I would have a geriatric pregnancy, I was immediately frustrated and annoyed by the term; I had never thought of myself to be in the geriatric population, so why would I suddenly accept it as a word to describe my pregnancy? It made no sense to me, yet I oddly also welcomed it given my struggles with infertility. What a juxtaposition – to resent the way someone else describes your pregnancy, but to welcome it so long as it meant I would overcome my struggles with infertility.
I then heard rumblings of a new phrase. What luck, I thought! To live through the moment where “geriatric pregnancy” was retired in favor of a more age-appropriate term. To my disappointment, I learned that “advanced maternal age” was the new phrase that had been widely adopted by the medical community. How crap, I then thought! A missed opportunity to change the narrative and empower women. This phrase not only missed the mark, it seems to imply we have some form of advanced illness or disease…as if our telomeres have drastically shortened!
If not “advanced maternal age,” then what? What term would replace this phrase to describe me and all my friends having babies in our mid-30s? Since the word “advanced” carried considerably cutting weight, I did a quick search to find a few synonyms and antonyms. Synonyms for “advanced” are modern, progressive and forward, while antonyms are “primitive” and “backwards.” This begs the question – if we wouldn’t refer to pregnancies in women <35 years of age as “primitive” or “backwards,” why would we use its opposing meaning to describe women on the other side of 35?
Perhaps it’s time we challenge the use of “advanced” and quit looking for alternatives to describe each age group. Instead, let’s call it what it is – a pregnancy at whatever age you may be and begin to cultivate a community that supports and empowers women, men and all couples during their pregnancies and fertility journeys.
If you’re in favor of supporting couples throughout their journey, we’d love to hear from you! Give us a shout @theferilityplace and repost this story to help spread the word!