California grandmother, 53, pregnant with twins

October 06, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Mary Shearing, a 53-year-old grandmother and one of the oldest women to become pregnant with the help of medical technology, said yesterday that nothing she does surprises her family and friends anymore.

Seven years ago, the athletic woman, who is an avid skier and former amateur body builder, married a man 21 years younger. And yesterday she stood before reporters and television cameras to tell the world that in December she expects to give birth to twins.

Officials at Martin Luther Hospital here think that Ms. Shearing, who already has three grown children and two grandchildren by a previous marriage, is the oldest woman so far to achieve a double pregnancy via a technique that has been pioneered over the past five years to help older women conceive even after menopause.

By this technique, eggs donated by a younger woman are fertilized with the sperm of the patient's mate, then implanted in her uterus. An older woman's primary obstacle to getting pregnant, doctors say, is not the aging of her uterus but the aging of her eggs or the shutdown of the ovaries.

The first woman over 50 believed to have given birth in the United States with the help of egg donations was Jonie Mosby Mitchell, a grandmother from Ventura, Calif., who had a boy March 31 at the age of 52 after participating in a fertility program sponsored by the University of Southern California, doctors say. The oldest woman so far to give birth in that program was 55.

Dr. David G. Diaz, director of Martin Luther's reproductive medicine program, said four fertilized eggs were implanted in Ms. Shearing's uterus on May 15 and two have survived.

Ms. Shearing said she wanted other middle-aged women who have struggled in vain to become pregnant to know they have an option.

She said that since she and her husband, Don Shearing, were married, it has been their "dream" to have children. Standing beside his wife, Mr. Shearing said he has no children and was looking forward to fatherhood.

And Ms. Shearing said, "I don't feel 53 by any stretch of the imagination."

Dr. Diaz said the grandmother had to pass physicals before she was allowed in the program. So far, he said, her pregnancy has been without any complications.

The Shearings said they tried to conceive naturally, but Mary Shearing miscarried only a few weeks into a pregnancy. They said they also looked into the possibility of adoption but discovered that Ms. Shearing was too old to meet the criteria of public adoption agencies.

About that time, she said, they heard of the program at Martin Luther.

Ms. Shearing, who is from nearby Orange, Calif., said she is undaunted by the prospect of raising a second family or having twins.

Friends and family members, including Ms. Shearing's parents, in their 80s, have responded to the pregnancy with enthusiasm.

"I think it is wonderful," said Ms. Shearing's youngest child, Elissa Johnson, 29.

Ms. Shearing said her eldest daughter, 32 and the mother of a 6-year-old and a 1-month-old child, recently handed down some of her maternity clothes.

The Shearings acknowledged that raising twins would be a financial strain, since both of them are currently unemployed.

An electrical engineer, Don Shearing lost his job in the construction industry a year ago. Ms. Shearing said the firm where she worked as a secretary-property manager went out of business in April.

The couple said they paid the $10,000 for the fertilization procedure from their savings.

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