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How Old is Too Old to Have a Child?

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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