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Babies at 50? Well, it’s not for me, but …

Submitted by on Friday, 17 July 2009 13 Comments

I read about the Spanish woman who gave birth to twins three years ago at age 66, and I cringed.

I cringed again this week when I read that she’d died, leaving behind two toddler boys.

Yet, I never cringed when I read that Tony Randall became a father at age 77. And again at 78. I might have said “eww, gross,” but I didn’t cringe. It didn’t occur to me to ask whether laws should be passed to prevent men older than 70 from becoming fathers.

And that bugs me.

Particularly since I cringed again today when a headline on CNN asked “Should you get pregnant if you’re 50 or older.”

Hell no, was my immediate reaction, but that was largely me projecting my current chaotic situation onto the rest of the female population.

A recent three-day hospital stay led to the stunning realization that I’m not immortal. Stress from the uncertainty surrounding our coming move has made me crankier than normal. Oh, and then there was the kid who always yelled, “Your grandmother’s here” as I picked Big Guy up at kindergarten.

I am too damn old for this, I thought. There is no way any woman any older could handle it.

Which is ludicrous. There are plenty of 50- and 60-year-olds who are healthier than I am, and I’m sure they’re at least 90 percent less cranky, too.

I cringe, not out of sexism, but because they’re having children via in vitro fertilization at an age that would not be possible by natural means. That there’s something so weird about having babies at an age when most people are thinking about drawing Social Security that it shouldn’t even be an option.

Which also is ludicrous. God never created open heart surgery or chemotherapy or any of numerous other medical marvels that extend people’s lives and preserve their health on a daily basis. But he did create human beings with the talents to come up with those techniques.

When I realized that, I quit cringing.

No, pregnancy at 50 is definitely not for me. Some days, I doubt my sanity for trying it at 41. Some days, younger women, too, doubt their sanity for trying it at 31. That’s the way parenting is.

But who am I to make that decision for other women? These are no Nadya Sulemans, popping out 14 kids with no obvious way to support them. These are women who simply waitedlonger than normal or who had trouble conceiving or who realized later in life that they wanted children.

Who am I to deny them the joy I’ve experienced every day since the guys entered this world?

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • LEB said:

    It aggravates me that people can tell a woman she’s “too old” to have a child. I think that culturally, there’s a certain sick enjoyment in informing women that we’re not useful… ie, we’re not needed to run government, or companies. “Leave it to the grown-ups, honey, you just sit there and look pretty.” Yet when a woman is “too old” to have a child, they’re happy to take away even that.

    The article is absolutely correct in that society’s views of aging need to change. Worries about a child being left without parents are absurd, because a young parent can die just as easily as an older one. If we develop technology that allows women to hold onto their fertility as long as men, how is this a bad thing? Maybe the real fear is that it takes us one step closer to TRUE equality.

  • lori d said:

    Every situation is different i know. but seriously. let this woman’s story be a wake up call for all of us that want it all. sometimes there’s a price to pay for putting off a family to have your career or whatever first. should our kids have to pay soooo dearly to satisfy our own selfish agendas. some don’t have this attitude or think they have this attitude, but check yourself before diving in. just saying…

  • David said:

    LEB’s statement is ridiculous. “Worries about a child being left without parents are absured, because a young parent can die just as easily as an older one”. WRONG!!

    It comes down to simple math, if 30 year olds died JUST AS EASILY as 70 year olds, then the average human life span would be 50 or so. Yes, young parents die all the time, but when an older person has a child they are a LOT more likely to die. Putting a specific age on something can be dangerous because a 35 year old fat, diabetic out of shape person is probably more likely to die young then a 50 year old in shape, never needed to go near a hospital kind of person, but there could be certain health guidelines beyond a certain age.

    Don’t forget health complications for the mother can affect the child before they are even born and that isn’t fair to them.

    Also, it isn’t just death we need be concnerned about. What about a 55 year old who has a child then breaks her hip, or alzhiemers or many of the other health complications that are FAR more likely in older people.

    Equality doesn’t mean EXACTLY the same.

  • DJA said:

    It’s good to see somebody addressing the age- and gender-related – but nosy and inappropriate – judgments people often make. I was fairly annoyed at the CNN headline when I first spotted it. If women “shouldn’t” have children past a certain age (and outside parties really shouldn’t be pontificating about it), then guess what? Health issues regarding strain on the body aside, the same applies to men who decide to become fathers at an advanced age. Actually, I’m fairly sure the average male life expectancy is slightly shorter than that for women, so one would think the issue would be especially pertinent. And yet hardly anyone comments on it. Really says something about current social attitudes.

    As you suggest, there are far more inappropriate candidates for potential parents than those who, after a bit more life experience than average, make a thought-out and concerted effort to have and raise a child.

  • Debra said:

    Actually, David, there are health implications for the child in the father’s age as well. The most recent study I’m aware of – from March of this year – shows that children of older fathers don’t perform as well on IQ tests. There’s ample evidence that men have biological clocks, as well.

    Now, even at that, there’s no guarantee that advanced paternal age guarantees problems for a child anymore than advanced maternal age does. But let’s not pretend that the father’s age isn’t a factor.

    Like I said originally, not many people were calling Tony Randall irresponsible or selfish for having kids at the age he did.

  • Judy said:

    I have a huge problem with two related things: (1) is that it is considered perfectly natural and a life-given right for men to have erections well into their 80s with Viagra being covered by insurance companies, but not for women in their 20s, 30s, 40s or beyond to have a child even if needing IVF, which is almost never covered by insurance, along with birth control not always being covered should a woman wish to avoid conception.

    (2) I resent the implication that older women seeking fertility services are doing so because they “selfishly” decided to go to school, find the right mate and/or become financially secure to care for a child. (a) I hardly see how any of these actions constitute selfishness on the woman’s part, and (b) I’ll bet it is a stereotype, as I tried conceiving in my mid-20s and got pooh-poohed by my OB-GYN after spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars and many years on fertility prediction tests that showed zero ovulation was taking place. It took us ten years and our entire life savings to have our twins, and that certainly wasn’t because we decided to spend those ten years jet-setting around the globe putting drugs up our noses or riding the corporate ladder prior to deciding that a child would be our next status symbol.

    Finally, as horrific as the whole Octomom thing is, I, too, had 4 embryos emplanted. Because round 1 of IUI gave me no live embryos. So did rounds 2 & 3 using my own eggs. Round 1 of IVF using my own eggs gave me dead embryos within hours. Round 2, using an egg donor, again gave me iffy embryos that never implanted or lived in utero. Round 3, using another egg donor, costing $3,000 per months on pharmaceuticals alone, resulted in only 6 embryos, only 4 of which survived a necessary deep freeze. Of the 4, all 4 were implanted; one never took; one died 6 weeks into the pregnancy. 4 months later I was told not to expect one of the two remaining to make it but, finally, at the age of almost 38 I was delivered of twins. With more restrictions the types of which many call for, I would have ended up with zero children born of my body.

    Just because some nutcase who probably wouldn’t be allowed to adopt a child or 14 does so via fertility treatments should NOT mean that the rest of us reasonable folks should be denied the right to try to have children.

  • lluvia said:

    Men just like women go into menopause. Except in the man it is called something else, I forget what. I belief it starts with an L. Also men who father at a later age tend to have disabled children mainly alturistic children. If the woman is ready to deal with such a child go for it. Women who become mothers at 40 no longer have the energy or potential to even get on rides at Disney World with your children. So in essence you are being selfish. You won’t enjoy your children as much as if you were younger. Of course being doctors want to make big money, they’ll tell you yes go for it. Why is it they don’t inpregnate themselves or for that matter get plastic surgery themselves or botox injections. Look at all the doctors advertising such treatments look at how old and ugly they are. They need the plastic surgery or botox or IVF themselves. Also, if men want to raise children again in their midlife crisis with younger women well let them go through that again. That makes women the smarter spieces. Been there done that. There is more to living.

  • Debra said:

    Whoa there, luvia. You’ve made a few leaps in logic here, and unless you had a child at 40 or older, I’m questioning the basis for them.

    1. “Women who become mothers at 40 no longer have the energy or potential to even get on rides at Disney World with your children”: I have ample “potential” to get on rides at Disney World. I did so just a few weeks back at Six Flags. Was I on the super-charged roller coasters? Heck no. But that has nothing to do with my age. I didn’t do that at 25 either – they make me sick. I would also argue that there’s more to child-rearing than getting on rides at Disney. There are plenty parents who choose to never take their kids at all. I never went when I was a child, and my mother was a ripe old 24 when I was born. Does that make her selfish? No. It makes her not an amusement-park type of person.

    2. “You won’t enjoy your children as much as if you were younger.” Actually, I’ve found this to be just the opposite. I have far more patience now than when I was younger. I’m not sitting around regretting things I didn’t do in my 20s because I did them. I’m not wondering when I’ll be able to finish my education, because I finished it. Not that all younger mothers have those regrets, but I know plenty who do.

    Am I tired and grumpy of late? Yes, but it has little to do with my age. It’s more of a factor of stressful circumstances in my life at the moment – circumstances that would stress a 20-year-old mom as well. Perhaps moreso, because unlike her I have decades of experience at dealing with stressful circumstances and knowing that no matter how bad it seems at the time, things always work out in the end.

  • Fiddy said:

    Honestly, I am not sure that I like the idea that someone besides myself has any say in whether or not I choose motherhood. I am 32. I am already being twitted about getting knocked-up so that I don’t “miss the boat”, so to speak. If I choose to have a child, I will do so much closer to 40 as I believe that financial security should be reached before having a kiddie. Do I worry about not being able to concieve naturally? Yes. Does this make me want to jump on the Mommy-wagon without having the right finances to ensure my child’s future? No. I actually find the ninnies that have children willy-nilly with no thought of how they are going to provide for them to be the selfish ones.
    Perhaps I have a bias since my parents were a bit older than most of my friends, however, my parents also took care of themselves and are both very healthy and youthful 60 somethings. I don’t feel that we humans are aging the way that previous generations did. 40, 45, 50, 55 – these are not as “old” as they were 50 years ago. When I hear of someone dying in their late 60′s or early 70′s I cannot help thinking that they died young.
    Putting this selfish onus of women who choose to wait for motherhood is ridiculous. Men have done it throughout history with very little naysaying. It seems more a sign that their male mojo is still working – that they “still got it”. Women who become mothers in their late 40′s and up are viewed as what? Going against nature, selfish or irresponsible. While having children in the mid 60′s does seem out of the ordinary, who are we to judge? If the parent has taken precautions, it is their choice. As to the Nadya Sulemans of the world – she wouldn’t be the first women that chooses to be a mother over and over without financial support. She just did it is a rather spectacular way. It does not seem right, however, to condemn fertility treatments to over-zealous limitations because of one woman.

  • Debra said:

    What was funny in my case, Fiddy, was that many of the same people who were blasting me for not having children in my 30s were appalled when I had kids at 39 and 41. With the second pregnancy, one actually sputtered, “Do you mean to keep doing this?”

  • Sharon said:

    What a well-written blog. Thanks Debra! You’re exactly right when you say no one cringes when a man has children at such advanced ages, yet women are.

    I do want to say that people who are already on their computer should maybe Google what they’re talking about (Late Onset Hypogonadism (LOH) or andropause – in the case of “male menopause”) before rambling on about things they know nothing about (some doctors believe this to be a real syndrome, others do not). Also, I believe lluvia meant “autistic” not “altruistic”. Seriously!

    My husband and I actually had a discussion about your blog (I read it to him). He is 62 and I am 38. He thinks we should have a child (his children are my age), and one of the reasons is *I* haven’t had a child (he also would like to have one with me). I personally could live my life without having a child – that is my right / choice. Call it selfish… go ahead. I wanted them when I was younger, but around 31 woke up one day and just didn’t want them anymore. The *reason* I never had children before that? I never met the right person, and wasn’t about to have children with just anyone. I would consider that the mature and responsible thing to do… although I have actually been called ‘selfish’ AND ‘immature’ for leading the ‘single, care-free’ life (come on, I worked my butt off for everything I had, and did it all alone – yes, very immature and selfish).

    I guess the bottom line here for me is that women are judged, rather harshly – and especially by other women – no matter what they do. Children or no children, young mothers or older mothers, married or single, women judge and point fingers at other women no matter what the circumstances. I have done it myself (although admittedly, the only case that really had my back up was the Nadya Suleman case).

    Please consider this; I was judged by people for not being married into my late 30s. I was judged for marrying an older man (I must be after his money – or crazy…lol). I will be judged if I do have a child with him. I’m used to it. BUT, when people start making laws (potential) around ethical issues, I have a problem.

    You’re very correct with “God never created open heart surgery or chemotherapy or any of numerous other medical marvels that extend people’s lives and preserve their health on a daily basis. But he did create human beings with the talents to come up with those techniques.”

    Again, thanks for the great blog. Keep ‘em coming!

  • Debra said:

    EXACTLY, Sharon. Regardless of the decision, we are going to be judged. An ex-sister-in-law was criticized for not working outside the home when her kids were young, and I was criticized for continuing my career. You can’t win unless you stick your fingers in your ears, ignore it and go ahead and do what’s right for your life and those you share it with. At least, that’s my plan.

  • Lora said:

    Debra, I have to echo your response to lluvia (thanks so much for tweeting it). As someone who had their first and only child at the age of 38–he’s 4 1/2 now and I’m an apparently ripe old age at 43–I’m not only more patient, but I feel better equipped mentally and emotionally than I did at 20- or even a young 30-something.

    I enjoy my son. My 38-year-old husband enjoys our son. Every weekend it’s a road trip to toddler fun–parks, fun parks, museums, movie time, whatever. And it’s not just us. My 60-something parents are my daycare and they NEVER stop! I have a rough and tumble son, because my mom has done her fair share of chase and tackle at parks the past four years. If we take a road trip to the beach or Carowinds, they are right there with us so no one misses a moment of discovering life through a 4-year-old’s eyes.

    Frankly, I find we do more with our son than many younger friends who have kids. We work hard and we appreciate and cherish the fun family time we have. I’m just not sure I’d have the appreciation that I have now if I were 10 or 15 years younger (I’m only speaking for myself, here).