Barbara Higgins did a CrossFit workout on the day she was told she’d have to be induced into labour, and then gave birth to her son Jack in just over three hours.
According to the Concord Monitor, who first published her story, Higgins of Concord, New Hampshire, did it all at the age of 57, possibly breaking a state record as the oldest woman to give birth naturally.
Higgins told “Good Morning America” that he is “mostly proud of my body.” “Jack wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t safe enough and my body wasn’t young enough to develop a kid.”
Higgins, a former professional runner and physical education coach, underwent a long and emotional journey to give birth to her third child.
Molly, her youngest daughter, died in 2016 at the age of 13 from an undiagnosed brain tumor, according to her and her husband, Kenny Banzhoff, 65.
Higgins, whose older daughter, Gracie, is now 20, said she started dreaming of having a third child shortly after Molly’s death.
“The connection between Molly’s death and Jack’s arrival is undeniable,” Higgins said, “but it was never this clear, well, Molly died so I need to have a baby.” “It was just this strange dream I was having.”
At the time of Molly’s death, Higgins was 53 years old, well past what is considered a woman’s prime childbearing years.
She continued to fantasize about having a third child, but she didn’t go through with it until 2018, several years later.
“I figured, ‘Ok, I’ll just do as it says,'” Higgins said. “I’m going to the doctor and getting bloodwork done to see where this is going to lead me.”
Higgins, who said her husband was completely supportive of her trying for a second child, started a series of mental and physical tests to see whether she could manage a pregnancy and give birth in her 50s.
“It wasn’t an easy operation,” she said, “and that was also comforting to us.” “All that went well led us to believe that this is a viable option.”
Higgins, a former Boston University track star and current CrossFit competitor, saw her years of healthy living pay off during the testing process.
Dr. Ashish Chaudhari of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Concord, Higgins’ OBGYN, said, “She exercises like someone in her 30s, in my opinion.” “Patients who exercised prior to pregnancy will continue to do so safely during pregnancy, resulting in a healthier pregnancy with better results for both mother and infant.”
Higgins encountered one stumbling block during the extensive testing needed by her physicians, which eventually saved her life. Doctors discovered Higgins had three brain tumors after an MRI, which she was able to successfully remove.
“If I hadn’t been trying to have a kid, I would never have noticed those tumors, so I think of Jack as my little lifesaver,” she said.
How did Higgins manage to have a happy pregnancy and birth at the age of 57?
Higgins was 56 years old when she became pregnant with Jack last year, more than two decades past the age at which doctors consider women to be of “advanced maternal age,” which is 35.
Dr. Vito Cardone, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist in Stoneham, Massachusetts, aided her in her journey.
“Unfortunately, many fertility clinics have age restrictions on how they can assist,” Cardone said. “You need to look at each person as an individual, in my view.”
Cardone said of Higgins, “You can see that she is the kind of woman who trains and is in great shape, much better than many of the people I work with who are 25 or 30 years old.” “And she understands what she’s getting herself into and [understands] how badly she wants a boy.”
“It’s not everybody at age 57 that I would consider for therapy,” Cardone said, acknowledging the uniqueness of Higgins’ case.
Higgins said she got pregnant with Jack by in-vitro fertilization (IVF), but she wouldn’t say how.
“It’s a delicate item,” Higgins said. “We looked at all of the options and selected the one that worked best for us. That’s something Kenny and I will keep to ourselves.”
“At my age, the more I share, the more people judge, and I wouldn’t want my experience to discourage anyone else from having a baby in their 50s,” she added.
In the United States, giving birth later in life is becoming more common. Since 2007, the birth rate for women in their early 40s has increased by 19 percent, 11 percent for women in their late 30s, and just 2% for women in their early 30s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth rates for women in their 20s decreased from 2015 to 2016. (CDC).
“I think we need to change our minds on what age is okay to get pregnant,” Cardone said. “When I first started 40 years ago, I wasn’t helping many women over 45, but with time and improvements, we’ve progressed to a more advanced age.”
Cardone stated that he considers a woman’s physical and mental health, as well as her existing life expectancy in the United States.
“I want the child to spend at least 20 or 30 years with the parent,” he said. “According to the life expectancy graph, a woman’s life expectancy is now 80 or 85 years old.”
Although women in Higgins’ family have lived into their 90s, she said she concentrated on another aspect when deciding whether or not to have a child in her 50s.
“I told myself, ‘No one knows what’s going to happen to them,'” she said. “I had a child who died. On May 1, 2016, I did not wake up thinking Molly would die, and she did.”
Higgins have considered how much more wisdom and leisure time she and her retired husband had now compared to when they were raising their daughters in their late 30s and early 40s.
“When Molly died, Kenny couldn’t believe how many things he’d missed because they’d show up in memories or photos and he’d say, ‘Well, where was I?,’ and I’d say, ‘You were working,'” says the author. Higgins remembered something. “Because in a typical life, you get married, buy a home, start a career, and have a child all in the span of about five years.”
“All of those things are ridiculously overwhelming, and you have to compromise one to be successful at the other,” she said. “Now that we’re older, we’ve done it.”
Higgins benefited from the same mindset of appreciating every moment during her pregnancy.
“Everything is a disruption when you’re in your 30s,” Higgins said. “This time, instead of being awkward or unpleasant, it was unforgettable. I was never bothered by the changes in my body.”
MORE: 51-year-old woman gives birth to granddaughter Higgins’ body was conditioned well enough to withstand the stress of pregnancy, according to Cardone, thanks to her balanced diet and exercise.
“Pregnancy puts a lot of strain on the body, and it’s not just the uterus, placenta, and baby,” he said. “The heart, kidneys, and lungs all have to work harder in order for the pregnancy to be sustained, developed, and delivered.”
Higgins has had more ultrasounds and testing than normal during her pregnancy, according to her OBGYN, Dr. Chaudhari.
“She was coming in twice a week to get the baby’s heart rate checked,” he said. “She acquitted herself admirably on all of those examinations.”
On March 20, Higgins gave birth to Jack after 36 weeks and five days of pregnancy. According to Higgins, Jack was born rapidly and weighed a respectable 5 pounds, 13 ounces.
She explained, “I had a cup of coffee, a son, and lunch.” “It was the fastest labor I’d ever experienced.”
Both Jack and Higgins have returned home, and Higgins said she and Banzhoff are settling in as new parents in their 50s and 60s, respectively.
“We’ve agreed that you should party in your twenties, marry in your thirties, work in your forties, retire in your fifties, and have babies in your fifties,” Higgins said. “I’ll continue to live my life as completely as I have in the past, and now I have this little companion.”
Higgins, who will turn 58 in July and is still employed as a physical education coach, said she is looking forward to seeing what Jack accomplishes in his life.
“He’s here for a cause,” she said of her son. “Maybe he’ll be the greatest ever little league coach, or maybe he’ll be a school custodian who watches out for bullied kids, or maybe he’ll be a rocket scientist who invents some incredible thing that saves the world.”
“His journey would take him there. I’ll stay as long as I can to keep an eye on it “Higgins said.