How Old is Too Old?

A recent article in New York Magazine titled, “Parents of a Certain Age” raises the question: how old is too old to get pregnant? Historically, once a woman reached the age of menopause, her chances of getting pregnant were over, and the issue of being too old to be a parent was non-existent. When In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) became a highly plausibly and effective way for women past their 40s to get pregnant, a new discussion arose contemplating How Old is Too Old to get pregnant? While defying the laws of nature, this article raises the numerous issues associated with the newest way to fight a woman’s biological clock; no facelift or hair dye will make a woman looks as young as “a baby on your hip” (46).

Debates surrounding the medical, psychological, and social reasons for or against a later in life pregnancy are everywhere. Is it better to get pregnant and start a family later on when a woman is more mentally and financially secure? Or is it harmful to the child’s well being to have grandparent-aged parents?

“In 2008, 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. 541 of these were born to women age 50 or older—a 375 percent increase.” (46). Is something wrong with child-rearing 50 year olds?

Bizarre, freakish, selfish, and irresponsible are typical reactions to the idea of women giving birth in their 50s. Many believe that “Choosing to have children at 50 disrupts life’s natural trajectory, causing needless suffering and disharmony for both parent and child.” (48). These critics fear that the agility and energy required in raising a child cannot be achieved by women over 50.

In response to this harsh position, studies have shown that being an older parent, in and of itself, actually does no harm to the child (102). This seems to make sense in the reality of it. Women trying to conceive in their 50s compared to their 20 or 30-something counterparts have access to greater financial resources and a better grasp on the realities of the world (102). Moreover, parents who actually continue to go through IVF to conceive at an older age are more engaged and checked into their motherhood. These mothers are actively choosing to become a parent, and are typically going through a tremendous amount of work to have this child, including but not limited to numerous medical procedures, paperwork, money, and stress in achieving pregnancy. These children become in fact the “most wanted of children” (103).

Sociologist John Mirowsky, of the University of Texas, has determined that the perfect age to have a baby is 30.5 (103). “By that point, [the woman] has finished her education and found an appropriate partner. She has the maturity to be a good parent, with enough years ahead of her to have more than one child without bumping up against the limits of her fertility.” (103). Although Mirowsky has decided on a “perfect age” to have a child, one may question, how realistic is this? What if a woman hasn’t found her perfect partner or landed her dream job yet, or finished her education? Is it better to wait until a woman is in a committed relationship maybe in her 40s to have a child? Or when a woman is at her “perfect age”, according to Mirowsky, should she have her child at 30 perhaps as a single parent? Although 30.5 may be the “perfect age” few women live in this perfect reality.

Although this article focuses mainly on women giving birth and parenting into their 50s and 60s, what about the men? It doesn’t seem as though the same bizarre and selfish stereotypes are placed upon men who become fathers in their 50s and 60s. Is this because in terms of biology, men can procreate well into their  60s without the help of reproductive technology while women typically need to go through numerous medical procedures in order to conceive? Or, is this another example of the usual double standard between men and women?

Perhaps the advancements in artificial reproductive technology are moving society towards an era in which we must begin to reshape our frame of thinking and begin rephrasing the questions. As our framework has begun to shift away from the 1950s nuclear family, conceivably our outlook on age and pregnancy will begin to shift as well. With men and women living much longer lives than previous generations, perhaps 50 is not too old to become a mother and raise a happy, healthy, and vibrant family.

It is clear why most states have stayed out of the arena of creating legislation and rules surrounding the field of artificial reproductive technologies, specifically IVF.  There are no clear-cut answers to how old is too old to become a parent. because every situation is different, carrying with it a new set of unique circumstances and facts. Would it be wise to implement legislation against post-menopausal woman going through IVF to conceive? If so, should similar laws be in effect for teenagers because they’re too young to be a parent?

Only time will tell how adjusted and successful children born to 50+ mothers will fare in the world. As IVF becomes more frequent in our society and disputes will arise over outcomes of IVF, the courts will most likely be forced to get involved in some aspect or another. But, for now, the debate rages on as unlimited questions surround pregnancy and age. Is society ready to be accepting of women in their 50s giving birth? Is it really so bad?