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How Old Is Too Old to Have a Baby?

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by Rachel Gurevich, June 29, 2010

You may have read or heard the news about a 66 year old woman who gave birth to triplets in India. The new mother has never had a child before, and was eager to become a mother.

Meanwhile, Rajo Devi Lohan, the oldest woman to ever give birth, is dying at age 70, just 18 months after having her daughter. The news story said she is dying of complications from her IVF pregnancy, which she has been unable to overcome.

These stories together have my heart and mind churning over when is it too old to have a baby.

And I don’t mean when is it too old for IVF to be successful, or how old can you get pregnant without fertility treatments. I mean simply when -- ethically and morally -- should pregnancy be considered no longer an option.

I’ll be honest with you and say I’m not sure what I believe on this issue. In fact, I’m confused. I argue with myself.

On the one hand, I want to say that if medical science allows us to have children at a ripe old age, then why shouldn’t we?

Can you imagine how silly it would be to turn down, for example, medical treatment after age 60 because at one time, 60 years old was considered to be old age? “Nope, sorry, don’t treat any of my illnesses anymore. I’m old, and statistically, it’s time for me to die.”

That would be crazy!

On the other hand, I want to say that it’s unfair to have a child when you won’t be around to raise him or her. Why should the child become an orphan at 18 months old, or 5 years old, or even 10 years old, just because you wanted to become a mother or father?

My not-yet-firm opinion is that 55 should be the upper limit. My argument is that with today’s life expectancies, the child has a good chance of being mothered or fathered until they are 20 years old.

I spoke about this with my husband, and he totally disagrees with me. “Why 55? How do you know that a 60 year old mother might not live until 90? A 50 year old father might live only until age 60? You never know.”

“Yes, but that’d be unusual. You can look at unusual circumstances like that.”

“Then let me ask you this,” he said, with that look he gets when he knows he’s about to argue me into a corner. “Let’s say the parents in question live in a third-world country where the life expectancy is only 40 years old. If a mother there gets pregnant at age 35, is she wrong? Should she not have children just because she will likely die in five years and leave orphans?”

What could I say to that?

Of course I believe that the 35-year old mother should be allowed to have a child, if she wants, regardless of whether or not the life expectancy of her country is just 40 years old.

So you see? I’m not sure what I think.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

[Read "When Is a Woman Too Old to Have a Baby?" Watch "Ask the Expert: How Does Age Impact Fertility?"]

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