Monday, May 17, 2010

That's Not My Grandchild: "Pregnant at 70"

"Is that your grandchild? How cute!" asks a woman to another at the playground as they watch the toddlers running around. "No, that's my child," answers the 63 year old woman. Yes! You read it correctly. I am talking about women becoming mothers at an age when most women become grandparents.

"Pregnant at 70" aired on TLC last night and I've been racking my brain trying to answer two basic questions: 1) What is the lasting impression I got from the show? and 2) How am I going to write about it? And frankly, I don't think I have a good answer to either... Sure, I am writing about it, but this entry is going to be a free-flowing one, so bare with me.

Before watching the show, I had a pretty good idea about what I might want to say, but now, I'm really torn. Before I go on any further I should probably give you a synopsis of the show (unfortunately I am not able to find a link to the show, but it will air again tonight at midnight, so set your DVRs!): We follow 4 women, who through IVF and egg donation, became mothers at a very late age. Lauren has a 30 year-old daughter and 3 young children. Her 5-year-old was born when Lauren was 58. Two years later, she delivered her twins. Sue, an English woman, gave birth to her daughter at 57 and now at almost 60 is considering having a second one. Rajo, from a remote village in India, is the oldest woman to ever give birth to her first child at the age of 70. Janise from California was pregnant at 59 and again at 62, and already had 10 kids from two previous marriages. Is your head spinning yet?

The love that all four women have for their children is undeniable. These women, like most women who conceive with the help of ART, were unwavering in their desire to become mothers. They struggled with disappointments and loss, but persevered. They are all devoted mothers and all determined to remain (relatively) healthy in order to be truly present for their children. My broad stroke observation ends here; that was the easy part. Now the questions bubble up and I can't even keep them straight.

How old is too old be become a mother? In the US, where ART treatments are not regulated by a governmental body, there is no age limit to treating a patient. In England, where certain laws are in place, 50 is the cut-off. What would happen if in America we decided to begin legislating and regulating ART treatments? How will we decide when you're just too old to be a mother? Already, most clinics are likely to turn away patients over 42 -- after all, older women are more challenging cases and that's not good for the clinic's success rates and bottom line. But who and how will they pick that finally number? Sure, logic might dictate that if you're post-menopausal, you probably should no longer have a baby. But wait a minute, what about all the younger women who have premature ovarian failure? I guess technically speaking, they aren't really producing any or very few eggs, so should they be lumped in there with the older women? Of course not, because after all one has to assess your ability to carry the baby to term without jeopardizing your and your baby's life. But wait a minute, then what about younger mothers who have diabetes or other health problem? Their risks of complications are higher and children born to mothers with diabetes are twice as likely to be born with a birth defect. Hmmm... so back to the drawing board.

My instinct when I first heard of the show was to categorize these women as selfish. To quote Janise, the mother of 12 children: "When Adam is 8, I'll be 70. When I'm 80 he'll be 18 ... and when I'm 100, I probably won't know how old he is!" For the sake of their children, I do wish all of these older moms a long, healthy life. But realistically, most of them won't probably see their children graduate college or get married. As much as they seem quite determined to stick around for a while ( Lauren takes upwards of 35 vitamins daily!), they are all suffering from the natural ailments that come with old age. Lauren has arthritis and has her 41-year-old husband diapering and bathing the kids. Sue suffers from multiple health problems that have had her in and out the hospital. Sure, those of us who conceived or are trying conceive before our boobs hit our knees don't have a guarantee that we won't get hit by a bus tomorrow or get terminal cancer, but to knowingly bring a life into this world when you have already lived over 3/4 of your life, I'm not sure what that says about the kind of future you are setting up for your children. Will your 10-year-old come home to a frail mother and be forced to take care of you as you physically and mentally deteriorate before her/his eyes? Will he/she feel abandoned because you passed away before he/she got her learner's permit?

The Indian doctor, who treated 70-year-old Rajo, made a thought provoking comment, "older parents make better parents." The Indian doctor's argument is that older parents have the time and desire to dedicate every moment to their children. To a certain extent, that's probably true, although being absent because you're trying to make ends meet shouldn't disqualify you from being recognized as a good parent. I wonder if these older mothers' devotion to their children is more a result of their life long desire to have children rather than their age. In other words, are all women who suffered through infertility or loss are destined to be more devoted mothers?

As you can see, unlike my usual entries, I don't have any answers, advice or even a clear opinion for that matter. Just questions leading to more questions. I'm just as perplexed by it all as you probably are right now. I'd love to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

Hi, here from Virtual Lushary.

Oh man, oh man, oh man... This is such a meaty subject. While I am very pro-motherhood and my heart aches for every woman who has to resort to ART to get her dream of having a baby, I cannot say that I totally agree with these women. I understand their desires, but I think they are a bit too selfish in pursuing them.
As you say, they are dealing with late life ailments, and to subject their (small) children with the sight of their physical and/or mental deterioration is, well... selfish. I don't even know what is worse, to have older children to take care of your young ones at the same time they take care of their own kids (God, the embarrassment and teasing from the others...), or to have none and leave the poor small kids alone! I read about the British woman in the papers, she went abroad, somewhere in Eastern Europe, to have the IVF. She is a very brave to face all the rest of the world, but I still think she is selfish in being all alone and having a newborn at 58.
I may display the typical 'youth's disdain' (at my 34 I might label it this way), but I consider this unnatural. To be a mum at 58, 60, 70! I think it such a cruel joke for the young women with POF, who may end up with no child.
I think I blame the doctors more than these women. I am torn as far as the age limit is concerned, but I think 70 is too late.
I sound such a prude! And a judgemental fool. But, after the first recoil at the term, I think I stand by my judgemental first stance. Hmm...

the2weekwait said...

Yeah... I don't know about this one. Anything over 55 years old is kinda pushing it in my opinion. I guess on the positive, it should at least give me hope though. Still, I don't think I can wait till I'm 70 to have a kid. Oy.

Anonymous said...

For me it's pretty cut and dry. 61 has to be the limit based on the current average female life expectancy of 79. Reason being that in order to be a "good mother" I think you should, at the every least, expect to be alive until your child reaches legal adulthood (18). Now, of course there can always be accidents, but that's not my point- those are unforeseeable, unlike life expectancy. So, to me, 70 is just out and out pure selfishness. You are knowingly playing against the odds and risking, that in all likelihood, you'll be leaving behind a 9 year old orphan. I'm sorry, but even as liberal minded as I am, I simply don't think there is any justification for that.

Shirley said...

although I do feel for the 70 yo firt time mom, in that she's never got to do or be what shes' always wanted to do...but she must admit to some sense of irrationality in bearing a child at such an advanced age. but maybe that was her goal. to bear a child (not so much to raise a child).

Circus Princess said...

Very thought provoking.
I think, and talk, about this a lot lately since my husband just turned 50. Do the same rules apply for men? Do we think it's outrageous when Letterman or Travolta have kids in their mid-50ies, McCartney and Eastwood in their mid-60ies. Should there be a limit for men even if biologically there isn't?

Also I wanted to thank you for your sweet comment on my post "I hope you dance".

Love from me

Another Dreamer said...

Very thought provoking, and I totally get what you're saying. It really does raise more questions and they all seem to be in the gray matter.

DaisyGal said...

wow, I don't know. I have to say that I think any time after 45 for women is asking a lot. I worry so much that I was 37 when my children were born, and how old we'll be when they are "this age" and "this age" etc.
I lost a parent,(and I know rationally that I could die tomorrow and leave my children now...) but it hurt, evena t 26...John lost his dad when he was 36...his dad was hurt..a lot..and that is what I think about.
Not whether or not that woman has the ability and the choice to have a child at that age (I guess I have to be honest and admit, that whatever age she is , she should have the choice to do what she needs/wants to with her body) but rather, that her children get as much time with her as they can, that they should.

it's pure selfishness in the opposite of what you think at first. I want to be here for them and not leave them, not have them hurt because I'm gone.

(love your blog!!!! here from the roundup...)

AmyC623 said...

I think we are going down a slippery slope when "we" all get together and decide what is right for another woman's reproductive plans.

Anonymous said...

First of all, great post. I think I am in a different place on this than some of the other commenters, though.

I have a hard time characterizing anyone as selfish for wanting to be a parent. As you say, there are so many reasons to exclude people from parenting, some of which are still socially acceptable and some of which are not. Single parenthood used to be stigmatized; parenting by people with various disabilities is still stigmatized; there are those who say people of particular socioeconomic status are "irresponsible" for becoming parents.

These older women are becoming mothers in the best, and only, way they can. Just like the rest of us. And regarding the age thing--lots and lots of kids are raised by grandparents for various reasons. Also, there is a gendered aspect to this--much older men have become fathers for years and years with no sensationalist reality TV shows in sight. Granted, they generally do so with much younger women, but as you say in your blog post one of the older mothers has a 41-year-old husband. So what's the difference?

Anonymous said...

Science can help you achieve a pregnancy, but right now, your life span will still be an issue, as will your energy level at 80 or 90, with a young child. Just because you can, does it mean you should?

Anonymous said...

I am one of the few people, I'm sure, who feel that medicine should not cause a pregnancy. For any reason. Old, young, healthy, sick, whatever. If your body is not naturally producing a child, then deal with it! Life isn't fair, we shouldn't always get what we want. There are now massive issues about how many children one donor has had via IVF, the fact that test tube babies can be separated for the wanted sex and many other things we should not be in charge of. The things we do are going to cause a problem. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We live in a selfish world. And yes, wanting to be a parent so much that you have to do something medically is selfish. Just because you WANT it, doesn't mean you should HAVE it. Build character and enjoy the blessings you ARE naturally given.

The Infertility Doula said...

Anonymous, I respect your opinion but ask you this: what if your body could "naturally produce a child" but your struggling with male factor infertility -- should you just resign yourself to a childless life?

Obviously I completely disagree with you that we are selfish to want children of our own. Sure there will always be those who take it to an extreme but that shouldn't prevent the rest of us from having kids via IVF.

I hope you never experience a severe illness that would lead you to rely on medicine to fix for you, b/c I guess that would be going against nature, right?

Anonymous said...

I am 52, had IVF at the age of 37 and was fortunate to give birth to my twins at the age of 38 (first time a winner!). I was desperate to conceive and give birth after having many miscarriages. When I was 8 months pregnant, my husband was given 6 months to live. Leaving me a single parent. When I watched this program, I thought of how tenuous life is for these elderly parents and how leaving these children parentless (as they will most definitely eventually be) is emotionally devastating for these children. Think about the case of the woman (a few years back) who lied about her age to the infertility clinic who impregnated her at the age of 60 (something) and she died 3 years later leaving her twins orphans (no husband - in the picture).

While my children do not have a father, they do have a full time, healthy mother (relatively - at my age now), but these children born to these elderly people will not have a parent eventually and their care will fall to family or "village" to raise, which is a financial and emotional burden that may not be acceptable to others. This will only be harmful to the child(ren). While I can totally attest and identify to the extreme desire to become a mother, had it not worked out, I would have adopted (as I am adopted) and given a needy child a home. Please tell me that 70+ year old woman in India (who had to sell her buffalo for IVF, after her husband additionally married her SISTER to try to get HER pregnant as well!), couldn't have taken in a needy older child and fulfilled her need to be a mother. India is home to some of the highest number of orphaned children in the world. Yup - I think she and her husband rank up there as extraordinarily selfish. As it is, they used a donor egg just to conceive.

So, my whole point is, THINK ABOUT THE CHILD! What is most important for that child - not just to be loved, but to have all emotional and physical needs met. 70 and 80 year olds cannot meet those needs. At 52, with twin 14 year olds, I sometimes feel challenged, as a single parent - I can't imagine doing everything required for a baby at the age of 60!

And, one more comment after reading others here - as an adopted child, my parents couldn't have been happier (their words)nor could I. They love me as their own because I AM their own. (One could refer to Sandra Bullock as one example for how loved an adopted child is to a childless parent).

JUST IMHO, but thanks for letting me voice it.

Melissa said...

Yet another area where men get a complete and total pass for being parents well into their 70's, in fact they are slapped on the back for their obvious virility. And yet women are reproached for wanting children past their 40's. If it's medically possible, why the outrage?

Sailing with bare feet said...

I'm watching 70 and pregnant.
My husband and I just found out a couple of weeks ago we are parents !! So excited !! I'm 9 weeks pregnant now! So the baby is the size of a grape !! Super excited to find out the sex of our little grape :)
Come visit me !

Anonymous said...

I so appreciate your thoughts and comments. I am considering IVF, could anyone tell me the name of the San Francisco doctor they mentioned in the first 1/2 hour of the show. He specializes in treating older women. I live very close to San Fran.

Thank you,

Chelsea Leis said...

You really got to admire these women who still want to be mothers (or mothers again) despite their old age. I just do hope they have good and competent doctors guiding them through their pregnancy, as their old age can make them more vulnerable to acquiring illnesses. Such a professional can not only ensure they’re in good health, but their baby as well.

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