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How Old Is Too Old To Be Pregnant?

Is she too old for this?

A couple days ago I wrote a piece called 61 And Pregnant about the controversy surrounding a 61-year-old Brazilian woman’s decision to undergo artificial insemination to become a first-time mom.

Yesterday New York magazine published an article called Parents Of A Certain Age. Writer Lisa Miller interviews several parents in their fifties and sixties and explores why do older parents make so many people uneasy?

The first time Ann Maloney and John Ross had sex, he was 54 and she was 47. Maloney had no children at the time, and she wanted them badly. As Miller reports, Maloney put motherhood on hold for all the usual reasons – school, career, an unhappy first marriage… but when she met her future husband she was, finally, ready. At the age of 50.

Ross, also divorced, felt that he and his first wife hadn’t done a good job parenting their son, now 35. The couple, well aware of their ages and the odds of a natural pregnancy, decided to skip the years of “trying” and get right to getting their hands on a donor egg, which, as Miller reports, “result in live births about 60 percent of the time, no matter how old the mother-to-be is. But clinics set various age cutoffs.

48 at the time, Maloney tells Miller she never wondered if she was too old to have children. Eventually, Columbia University took the couple on and a donor egg was found. Some of the resulting embryos were transferred to Maloney, the rest sent to a freezer for “future use”.

From New York magazine:

Ann Maloney gave birth to Isabella in February 2001, a blissful event followed by severe postpartum depression followed by the hormonal rages that accompany the onset of menopause. A townhouse was purchased, two flourishing practices shuffled and reshuffled to accommodate newly complicated priorities. Lily was born when her mother was 52. This time, Maloney had to be brought out of menopause with hormones before she could get pregnant.

Today Lily and Isabella are 7 and 10. Their parents are 66 and 60 but despite their ages Ross and Maloney say their lives have all the hallmarks of parents much younger.

“You don’t know how high-energy, actually, both of us are,” Ross tells Lisa Miller. “I acted in 32 productions at Harvard, worked with Erik Erikson, graduated near the top of my class. We are both very intense, and also nurturers.”

The age of first-time moms is rising all over the world. Miller reports “In Italy, Germany, and Great Britain, it’s 30. In the U.S., it’s gone up to 25 from 21 since 1970, and in New York State, it’s even higher, at 27. But among the extremely middle-aged, births aren’t just inching up. They are booming. In 2008, the most recent year for which detailed data are available, about 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older, more than double the number in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Five hundred and forty-one of these were born to women age 50 or older—a 375 percent increase. In adoption, the story is the same. Nearly a quarter of adopted children in the U.S. have parents more than 45 years older than they are.”

Obviously reproductive technologies are behind the rise in numbers. Without science it would be impossible for many of those women to become pregnant. But, as one snarky message board commenter said “Just because you can…doesn’t mean you should.”

Is that so? In a culture obsessed with youth is it so very weird that the very people we encourage to act young want to have children? After all, as Miller says “nothing says ‘I’m young’ like wearing a baby on your hip”.

Concern for the offspring of older couples tops the list of reasons why people find procreation among the older set so offensive. Can they really play with their children? Do they have the energy? Are they just in denial? And what about the mental toughness to enforce curfew in the teen years? Aren’t children entitled to at least one healthy, vibrant parent?

According to the CDC the child of two 50-year-olds will lose dad when she’s 25 and mom when she’s 30. She’ll grow up knowing her parents are older than other parents and worry more about their ages and their mortality.

Is this fair to do to a child? Are couples like John Ross and Ann Maloney in denial about who they really are and their actual capabilities? These are all questions Miller asks in her excellent article.

My thoughts: respect the body. Respect organic deadlines. I realize that many people that try to have children and can’t often have to delay parenthood but for women who delay having children for careers or for other similar reasons… Well, that was your choice. To actually bring yourself out of menopause to become pregnant… I can’t say that I’m behind that. Choosing to give birth after 50 disrupts the natural flow of life. It just doesn’t seem right. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

What are your thoughts? How old is too old to have children and why do you feel the way you do?

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