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How Old is Too Old to Have a Child?

By Robin Aronson |

How old is mama?

When Wendy Wasserstein died of lymphona at age 55, a friend of mine said, “And she had her daughter when she was 48 and now she’s dead. She shouldn’t have had that baby, you have to make choices in life.”  Taken aback, I said, “You know, I don’t think she knew she was going to get cancer when she had her baby.”

Truth be told, I haven’t spoken to that friend for a long time now, but I can’t imagine what she’d say if I told her there’s a 72-year-old Romanian woman out there with a 5-year-old daughter who’s considering a second child.  But it’s true. Intrigued by fertility treatments involving a 70-year-old in England, the Adriana Iliescu says she’s contemplating a second, but is in “no rush.” Well, obviously.According to a story in the Telegraph, in 2005, when she was 66, Ms. Iliescu was the oldest woman to give birth yet.  In 2008, a 70-year-old woman gave birth in India; she is reportedly now dying of complications from her pregnancy.  And what of her child?

In a story about “Start Over Dads” by Thomas Vinciguerra that was published in the New York Times, the widows of both George Plimpton, who died at 76 with 9-year-old twin girls, and Tony Randall, who died at 84 when his kids were 7 and 6, both expressed mixed feelings about having young children with significantly older partners.  Vinciguerra wrote, “In some sense, to be a start-over dad is to live in semi-denial, acknowledging the inevitable while not being incapacitated by it.”

I still disagree with my friend about Wendy Wasserstein’s decision to have a child when she did. She was one of many older moms I know.  But how old is too old?  Families can be formed throughout life and in a variety of ways.  But it seems to me that some kind of age limits on fertility treatments are not only not unreasonable or unfair but reasonable and necessary.

To have a second child, to get pregnant and give birth to a second child at 72?  It’s unfair to her living child for Ms. Ilescu to pursue the physical dangers of pregnancy, not to mention the very real possibilities that her living and possibly future child may be orphaned as relatively young children.

Before I got pregnant, my husband and I explored international adoption. There were several countries we couldn’t consider because countries set age limits for parents and my husband, who was 45 at the time, was deemed too old.  It’s well known that when you try to adopt, you go through a gauntlet of test to determine your fitness as a parent. When you pursue infertility treatments, you only have to pay.

Treatments for infertility have come a long way, but it’s not just for future octo-moms that it needs more regulation.  As Deborah Spar wrote in The Daily Beast when Robert Evans won the Nobel Prize for in vitro fertilization, “we need to continue to ask the critical ethical questions that surround assisted reproduction; questions that prod us to ensure that advances in assisted reproduction continue to do more good than harm.”

Do you think 72 is too old to have a child? Do you think women over a certain age shouldn’t be allowed to pursue infertility treatments?

photo credit:Azoreg

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About Robin Aronson

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Robin Aronson

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6 thoughts on “How Old is Too Old to Have a Child?

  1. Diera says:

    It’s a really knotty question. My gut reaction was, anything over 50 is too old… but then I tried to define it rationally, as opposed to 45 or 55, and I really can’t. My personal cutoff was 40 (at least partly because my husband is nine years older than I am) but I have multiple friends who had babies after that age and it doesn’t seem weird. Younger parents can and do die, after all, and there are many grandparents out there raising grandchildren who are doing fine. However, I would say if your expected lifespan even in the best-case scenario doesn’t include 18 years from the date you expect your child to be born (i.e. you’re in your seventies) you are definitely and without a doubt too old.

  2. goddess says:

    Yeah, my own cutoff was 40- had our last at 38. It was/is my personally held belief that it’s not fair to have children when you will be elderly before they reach their majority. They may end up feeling they need to provide for you when they should be building a career (or even attending college), starting a family and focusing on them. There are no guarantees, but there are probabilities and statistics.

  3. Robin says:

    At first thought I think as with anything else this should be based on an individual case basis. If there is a healthy woman (no matter what age) with no known medical issues why doesn’t she have the right to pursue having children? Like you mentioned it’s like she knows she’s going to get sick or die if she’s an overall healthy human being and has been her whole life. With that said, I think there is something to be said about a “mother” or woman who wants to be a mother thinking about her future child in addition to herself. As a woman you may want a child but if you are approaching an age that according to science/life statistics your health is going to begin failing soon why would you choose to bring a child into this world that will not have a parent for the majority of their life? These choices like many are not to be made lightly and I doubt they are in most cases. Ultimately this is a free country and we have the choices. I only hope that people would make well informed and researched choices verses choices based on wants and desires.

  4. Triplemom says:

    I´m with Diera, life expectancy minus 18 should give you a cutoff age.

  5. Taryn's Mom says:

    So, if life expectancy minus 18 is my age then I could literally have babies until I’m 60+. That is considering the women’s longevity in my family. OMG!

  6. liz says:

    Isn’t this why we have menopause???

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