never married, over forty, a little bitter

paradigm shifts

I have a friend who, after several miscarriages, had a healthy baby at 40 and is now pregnant with a second at 42. Another friend had a healthy baby at 43 and just had her second at 44. So I don’t know; I’m sure some of the upward creep in birth defects can be attributed to better diagnosis as well as environmental conditions. But this is food for thought:

Especially passages such as this one:

This paradigm shift may do more than just tip the balance of concern away from older mothers toward older fathers; it may also transform our definition of mental illness itself. “It’s been my hypothesis, though it is only a hypothesis at this point, that most of the disorders that afflict neuropsychiatric patients—depression, schizophrenia, and autism, at least the more extreme cases—have their basis in the early processes of brain maturation,” Dr. Jay Gingrich, a professor of psychobiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a former colleague of Malaspina’s, told me. Recent mouse studies have uncovered actual architectural differences between the brains of offspring of older fathers and those of younger fathers. Gingrich and his team looked at the epigenetic markings on the genes in those older-fathered and younger-fathered brains and found disparities between them, too. “So then we said: ‘Wow, that’s amazing. Let’s double down and see whether we can see differences in the sperm DNA of the older and younger fathers,’” Gingrich said. And they didn’t just see it, he continued; they saw it “in spades—with an order of magnitude more prominent in sperm than in the brain.” While more research needs to be done on how older sperm may translate into mental illness, Gingrich is confident that the link exists. “It’s a fascinating smoking gun,” he says.


Epigenetics is also forcing medical researchers to reopen questions about fertility treatments that had been written off as answered and done with. Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in liquids (“culture media,” they’re called) teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development—no one knows for sure. There just isn’t a lot of data to work with: The fertility industry, which is notoriously under-regulated, does not give the government reports on what happens to the children it produces. As Wendy Chavkin, a professor of obstetrics and population studies at Columbia University’s school of public health, says, “We keep pulling off these technological marvels without the sober tracking of data you’d want to see before these things become widespread all over the world.”

Clomid, or clomiphene citrate, which has become almost as common as aspirin in women undergoing fertility treatments, came out particularly badly in the recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART and birth defects. “I think it’s an absolute time bomb,” Michael Davies, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Adelaide in Australia, told me. “We estimate that there may be in excess of 500 preventable major birth defects occurring annually across Australia as a direct result of this drug,” he wrote in a fact sheet he sent me. Dr. Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, worries that Clomid might build up in women’s bodies when they take it repeatedly, rather than washing out of the body as it is supposed to. If so, the hormonal changes induced by the drug may misdirect early fetal development.


There are lots of things about Judd Apatow’s new comedy “This Is 40” that don’t add up. Some are annoying but negligible, like the movie’s asking us to believe that December in Los Angeles is a season for shorts and backyard pool parties. Others are annoying but par for the Hollywood course, like its asking us to believe that a couple with creative, unstable careers (like owning an indie record label and a clothing boutique) and no outside financial support can nonetheless drive a Lexus and a BMW, afford personal trainers, eastern healers, and therapists, and live in the kind of house (easily three million dollars, even in a down market) in which every room is a tasteful mélange of statement-piece furniture, imported rugs, fresh cut flowers, original art, and colorful, handcrafted children’s toys.

Some implausibilities, however, deserve some dissection. Let’s take those children. They are eight and thirteen. Their parents, Pete and Debbie, are turning forty. That means they had their first child at twenty-seven. You don’t see that very often in people with three million dollar houses, unconventional careers and no trust funds.


Apatow’s films are famous for their scatology (amply represented in “This Is 40”) and they can also be reliable vehicles for Hollywood fantasies about beauty, love, and the refusal to grow up. But in “This is 40,” Apatow seems to be really trying to say something profound about marriage and the difficulties of getting older. The problem is it’s almost as if he’s a fourteen-year-old imagining what it’s like to be forty (“that’s like, really old—but at least you can have nice cars!”) and the result is that the movie is a stunning misrepresentation of life at any stage. This is not the way we live now. These people are outliers.

Which actually makes perfect sense. Peter and Debbie are not characters, really, but versions of the real-life Mr. and Mrs. Apatow (Debbie is played by Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife, and Sadie and Charlotte are played by their real daughters.) Mann and Apatow are now forty and forty-five, respectively. They had their first daughter, Maude, when they were twenty-five and thirty. Since Apatow was by then a successful writer and producer in Hollywood, there’s no reason to believe they weren’t already living in a three thousand square-foot post-and-beam and well into their second kitchen remodel. And though no one’s suggesting the movie should have been called “These are the Apatows at 40” (though that does have a promising, Pixar-like ring to it, as though it were a movie about squirrels suddenly faced with high cholesterol) the collectivist overtones of a title like “This Is 40” are singularly disingenuous. Because this isn’t forty. It’s more like fifty—for the one per cent.

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