Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Gwen Stefani have more in common than pop music superstardom. All three women have given birth after the age of 40, but a recent study by New York University’s School of Medicine found the way the media covers Hollywood pregnancies may be misleading people about how easy it is to get pregnant after 40. Just like when it comes to their musical talents, Janet, Mariah and Gwen are the exception, not the rule, when we’re talking about pregnancy.
The study’s authors reviewed more than 400 issues of Cosmopolitan, People Magazine and US Weekly published between 2010 to 2014, and found the coverage of celeb moms of “advanced maternal age” (anyone older than 35) contributes to public misconceptions about fertility that can cause a lot of heartbreak for people who can’t get pregnant as easily as celebrities seem to.
Of the 240 celebrity moms covered by the magazine's, half were over 35 and seven were over the age of 44, but reporting on the baby bumps of those seven women did not mention any assisted reproductive technologies.
In all, only two stories about moms over 40 mentioned things like IVF. The experts worry the coverage gives people an incorrect idea of how flexible fertility really is. “Celebrities’ and media’s reluctance to show the challenges that often go along with trying to conceive and have children at older ages is a form of misinformation that can affect the beliefs and decisions of their audience for the worse,” says Richard J. Paulson, the president of The American Society For Reproductive Medicine.
This study follows another out of Yale that saw more than 4,700 American women surveyed about fertility and family planning, and found a critical disconnect between how easy we think getting pregnant past the age of 30 is, and what it’s actually like. The media’s portrayal of celebrity pregnancies could have something to do with that.
The New York University researchers found that even when magazines were reporting on stories that weren’t about typical pregnancies, trouble conceiving wasn’t mentioned.
In the 10 stories about adoption, and the five stories about celebrities using gestational surrogates, there was no reporting on infertility struggles the celebs may have faced before expanding their families. “We need greater transparency and an end to the stigma of infertility,” says Paulson.
The magazines examined were published in 2014 and earlier, but in recent months we’ve seen several celebrities opening the curtain for some frank talk about fertility. Actress Gabrielle Union has publicly discussed and written about her miscarriages and multiple, gruelling IVF cycles at age 45, and Melissa Rauch of The Big Bang Theory, 37, has been very candid about her experience with pregnancy loss.
Hollywood is known for giving us those happily ever after stories, but when it comes to something as impactful as facts about fertility, experts say the media should follow the example set by stars like Union and be honest about how older celebrities are getting pregnant, and how hard it is.
There is hope, but those struggling should know that they’re not alone, and that making a family isn’t as easy as magazines make it out to be.