Susie and Tony Troxler were trying to have their first baby, and once they realized they needed fertility help, they began the process of in vitro fertilization.
“I thought, ‘OK, I’ve turned 50. It’s time to try again,’ ” said Susie Troxler, who is a psychologist and lives in High Point, near Greensboro, N.C.
The average age in the United States for a woman’s first birth is 27, up from 22 in 1994. Millennials are delaying having children, but Susie Troxler, who is in Generation X, is part of a different trend by giving birth for the first time at 50. Her daughter, Lily Antonia, was born via Caesarean section on Sept. 29.
“We’re planning to enjoy each and every day [because] having her in our lives is really quite the miracle,” she said.
The Troxlers’ journey to parenthood is like a “Sarah and Abraham story,” joked Susie Troxler, referring to the biblical account of Sarah giving birth to her first child at age 90.
In the United States, there were 1,073 births to women 50 and over in 2019, up from 144 in 1997. Earlier this year, a 57-year-old woman who survived a brain tumor gave birth.
The Troxlers began their pregnancy journey when she was 47, using an egg from an anonymous donor. Their first embryo transfer failed in 2019, and when the pandemic arrived, “we had to hit pause mode,” Susie Troxler said. They had one viable frozen embryo left in late January and decided to go for it, as she had just turned 50.
A few days after that Feb. 1 second attempt, the couple learned that her pregnancy test was positive.
“We were excited, but cautiously optimistic,” said Tony Troxler, 61. “We thought, ‘Is this really happening? Is this official?’ After waiting for so long, it was a humbling experience.”
The Troxlers said they’re surprised at the attention their story has received since it was first shared last month by the health-care company where Tony Troxler works as head of security.
“We thought it was just one of those amazing little stories that would be passed down over the years in our family,” said Susie Troxler. “My grandmother’s aunt had a baby when she was 54. So I guess I wasn’t feeling like it was all that unusual.”
The Troxlers had always hoped to become parents after they were married in 2008, when she was 36 and he was 48, she said.
“It was a ‘late in life’ marriage for both of us, but we weren’t really watching the biological clock,” she said. “We were busy with our careers and enjoying our time together as a couple. We both figured that [a pregnancy] would happen naturally at some point.”
But after five years went by, and then another five, Susie Troxler said she decided to bring up the issue when she went to her annual gynecologist appointment in 2019.
“I told her we’d been married 11 years, and there hadn’t been a whisper of anything,” said Susie Troxler. “Her response surprised me. She said, ‘We can take care of that.’ I’d never thought of seeking help before.”
Her doctor, Carolyn Harraway-Smith, also explained the challenges of such a pregnancy.
“It’s very unusual for somebody in their 50s to have a baby and it’s certainly not for everyone,” Harraway-Smith said in an interview with The Washington Post, noting that the viability of a woman’s eggs decreases dramatically with advancing age, along with the quantity and quality. Men in their 40s and 50s can also have issues with fertility, she said.
“When I started my training, it was unusual for a woman in her 40s to conceive,” Harraway-Smith said. “Today, it’s not as unusual, but it is still a high-risk pregnancy.”
The Troxlers were realistic about what they were getting into, she noted.
“Susie had taken good care of herself over the years, and both she and Tony had a positive attitude,” she said. “My conversations with them were very directed – they knew that having a baby at age 50 wouldn’t be a walk in the park.”
Once the Troxlers decided they wanted to proceed with in vitro fertilization, Tamer Yalcinkaya, a reproductive specialist at Carolinas Fertility Institute, evaluated whether Susie would be a good candidate.
“Most clinics have an age cutoff between 40 and 50 because of the risks associated with an advanced-age pregnancy,” said Yalcinkaya, noting that preterm delivery, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are among the potential complications.
Yalcinkaya said he generally doesn’t treat women over age 48.
“Susie was healthy, though, and she’d started her journey at age 47,” he said. “I didn’t have the heart to say, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’ “
The Troxlers said they didn’t lose hope after the first embryo transfer didn’t work.
When Susie Troxler learned in February that her second pregnancy test was positive, the first person she told was her 83-year-old mother, she said.
“I was so grateful to have shared that moment with her because she passed away two months later,” she said. “She was thrilled to know that I was having a girl.”
Throughout her pregnancy, she was monitored closely for complications, but none developed, she said. And when Lily was born after 37 weeks at 5 pounds, 12 ounces, Susie and Tony said they were so overjoyed they were speechless.
“A healthy baby girl! She had a little learning curve with the breastfeeding, but then she started gaining weight like nobody’s business,” said Susie Troxler, who took Lily home on Oct. 3.
“Unless you count the dog, I have no experience at being a mom, but I’m learning,” she said. “It’s more beautiful than anything I could ever have imagined.”
Her husband is equally enamored. And when anybody brings up his age – when Lily graduates from high school, they’ll be 68 and 79 – Tony said he’s ready with an answer:
“I’ve been telling people, ‘You don’t raise a child to be dependent on you – you raise a child to be independent,’ ” he said. “We’re going to raise Lily to be an independent person of love, kindness and wisdom.”
“After what it took to get her here, I’ll be staring at her for the rest of my life,” he added. “She’s perfect.”