Doctors explain how a 57-year-old woman had a successful pregnancy and birth

Barbara Higgins did a CrossFit workout the day she was told she needed to be forced into labor and gave birth to her son Jack in about three hours.
And Higgins, of Concord, New Hampshire, did it all at the age of 57 and likely broke a state record for being the oldest woman to be naturally born, according to the Concord Monitor, which first covered her story.
"I'm proud of my body for the most part," Higgins told Good Morning America. "If I wasn't healthy enough and my body wasn't youthful enough to have a child, Jack wouldn't be here now."
Higgins, a physical education teacher and former competitive runner, went on a long and emotional journey to give birth to her third child.
She and her husband Kenny Banzhoff (65) lost their youngest daughter Molly to an undiagnosed brain tumor at the age of 13 in 2016.
Shortly after Molly's death, Higgins - whose older daughter Gracie is now 20 years old - said she had dreams of having a third child.
"The link between Molly's death and Jack's arrival is definitely there, but it was never that obvious, well, Molly died so I need a baby," Higgins said. "It was just this dream that I had."
PHOTO: Molly, the late daughter of Barbara Higgins and Kenny Banzhoff, poses on her 13th birthday. (Barbara Higgins)
Higgins was 53 years old at the time of Molly's death, what is usually considered to be a woman's best childbearing years.
She continued to dream of a third child, but did not implement it until a few years later, in 2018.
"I was like, 'Well, I'll do what it tells me,'" said Higgins. "I'll go to the doctor and do blood tests and see where this will take me or not."
Higgins, who said her husband was wholeheartedly supportive of finding another child, began a series of tests - both mental and physical - to see if she could maintain a pregnancy and give birth in her fifties.
"It wasn't a quick process and that reassured us," she said. "Everything that went well got us thinking, okay, this is a decision that might work."
Higgins, a former Boston University track star and current CrossFit athlete, saw her years of living paying off during the testing process.
"She's functional like someone in their thirties in my opinion," said her gynecologist, Dr. Ashish Chaudhari from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Concord. "It's a testament to how healthy she was, keeping her body in tip-top shape."
PHOTO: Barbara Higgins, 57, did CrossFit and other workouts while pregnant. (Barbara Higgins)
Through the rigorous testing required by her doctors, Higgins encountered an obstacle that ultimately saved her life. An MRI led doctors to discover that Higgins had three brain tumors that she successfully removed.
"I would never have found these tumors if I hadn't tried to have a child, so I sometimes see Jack as my little lifesaver," she said.
How Higgins maintained a pregnancy and a successful birth at 57
When Higgins became pregnant with Jack last year at the age of 56, she was more than two decades older than 35, and medical professionals consider women to be "advanced maternal age."
She found help on her journey from Dr. Vito Cardone, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist in Stoneham, Massachusetts.
"Unfortunately, many centers have age limits on who they are helping for fertility," Cardone said. "In my opinion, you have to look at every single person as an individual."
"You can see that she is the kind of woman who trains and is in great shape, way better than a lot of the people I work with who are 25 or 30 years old," Cardone said of Higgins. "And she knows what she is getting into and [knows] that she really wants a child."
But Cardone also recognized the uniqueness of Higgins' situation, adding, "It's not everyone who is 57 years old that I will take on for treatment."
MORE: The ABCs of Infertility: How People Get Pregnant
Higgins became pregnant with Jack through in vitro fertilization (IVF) but declined to provide further details.
"It's a delicate piece," said Higgins. "We explored the different paths and chose the path that works best for us. That will stay between Kenny and me."
"At my age, I find that the more I share, the more people criticize and I don't want my experience to deter someone else from taking steps to have a baby in their fifties," she added.
Being born later in life is a growing reality in the United States. Since 2007, the birth rate among women in their early 40s has increased by 19%, among women in their late 30s by 11% and among women in their early 30s by only 2%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth rates of women aged 20 years and older decreased from 2015 to 2016.
"We need to change our minds about what age is okay to get pregnant. That's how I see it," Cardone said. "When I started 40 years ago, I didn't help a lot of women over the age of 45, and over time we have advanced to an older age with improvements."
Cardone said he looks at not only a woman's physical and mental health, but also the current life expectancy of women in the United States.
"I want the child to be at least 20 or 30 years old," he said. "The life expectancy tables now say 80 or 85 is the age of a woman's life expectancy."
Higgins said while women lived in her family well into the 90s, she focused on another factor when deciding whether to have a child in her fifties.
"I was like, 'Nobody really knows what's going to happen to you,'" she said. "I lost a child. I didn't wake up on May 1, 2016 thinking Molly was going to die and she did."
Higgins said she also pondered how much more wisdom and free time she and her retired husband have now than if they raised their daughters in their late 30s and 40s.
PHOTO: Kenny Banzhoff holds his newborn son Jack. (Barbara Higgins)
"In a typical life, you get married, buy a house, start a job, and have a child in five years," said Higgins. "Now, at our age, we've done all of these things."
"We decided it should be in your 20s, get married in your 30s, have a career in your 40s, and then retire and have babies in your 50s," she said.
The same mentality helped Higgins during her pregnancy, in which she said she cherished every moment.
"When you're in your 30s everything is a disorder," said Higgins. "This time it was unforgettable as opposed to being uncomfortable or painful. I never paid attention to the changes in my body."
MORE: The 51-year-old woman gives birth to her granddaughter
According to Cardone, Higgins' body was conditioned well enough to endure the stresses of pregnancy because of her healthy diet and exercise.
"Pregnancy is a burden on the body and it's not just the uterus and the placenta and the baby," he said. "The heart, the kidney, the lungs, all of these have to work harder to keep the pregnancy going, growing, and giving birth."
According to her gynecologist Dr. Chaudhari had more than usual ultrasound scans and tests for Higgins during her pregnancy.
"She came twice a week to have the baby heart rate checked," he said. "She passed all of these tests wonderfully."
Higgins gave birth to Jack on March 20, 36 weeks and five days after she was pregnant. Jack was born fast and a healthy 5 pounds, 13 ounces, according to Higgins.
"I had a cup of coffee, had a baby, and was having lunch," she said. "It was my fastest job ever."
PHOTO: Barbara Higgins holds her newborn son Jack after giving birth at the age of 57. (Barbara Higgins)
Jack and Higgins are both home now, and Higgins said she and Banzhoff adapt well to being new parents in their fifties and sixties, respectively.
"There's a reason he's here," she said of Jack. "Maybe he'll be the best coach in a little league, or maybe he'll be a supervisor in a school looking for kids who are being bullied, or he'll be a rocket scientist and come up with something amazing that will save the planet." ""
"His life will take him there. I'll be there to see it for as long as possible," said Higgins.
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