Fifty-plus and Must Make a Child?

It seems that the biological clock might soon be a thing of the past. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011 the birth rate for women ages 40-44 was 10.3 per 1,000 – a 1 percent rise since 2010. This constituted the highest rate for women in this age group since 1967. The 2011 birth rate for women ages 45-49 (which should more properly have been labeled “women above age 45,” because it includes women age 50 and older as well ) was 0.7 births per 1,000. But a paradigm shift is most likely in the making.

“Women who are over 50 should have the right to fertility treatment,” says Dr. Ian Craft, the controversial director of the London Fertility Centre. He firmly believes that those opposed to older women becoming mothers are guilty of a “police state mentality.” Craft’s clinic has helped a 56-year-old woman become pregnant. There is much debate about whether it is a good thing for older women to give birth at all, especially at the late age of fifty, or more. 

According to AARP’s “Inside E Street,” while birthrates are generally down across the board, birth rates for women above 50 increased by 5 percent in 2009, largely due to reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). During the IVF process, a woman receives fertility drugs to increase the release of eggs, which are then removed from her body through minor surgery. Sperm (either from her partner or from a sperm bank) are placed together with the highest-quality eggs in an environmentally regulated chamber. In the best circumstances, the fertilized eggs divide and develop into embryos. The physician then plants the embryo into the woman’s womb. If more than one embryo is implanted, multiple births may occur.

In a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, “Fooling Nature, and the Fertility Doctor,” Dr. Vicken Sahakian did not celebrate the birth of twin boys by one of the world’s oldest new mothers. He heads Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles, and was vehement that sixty-seven-year-old Carmela Bousada lied to him about her age. “She falsified records,” Dr. Sahakian said, “knowing my cutoff for single women is fifty-five . . . . I don’t think the last chapter has been closed, either. She could die ten years from now. What will happen to the children?”

Bousada had cared for her aging mother, who died at age 101. She believed that because her mother lived so long, she would too. And she was desperate to become a mom. So desperate that she lied to the fertility clinic. She was wrong about her own age prognosis. Carmela died a little more than two years later at 69, leaving her twin boys without a parent.

Carmela Bousada and the twins

Dr. Richard J. Paulson, director of the University of California Fertility Clinic, will help women over fifty conceive, even though a pregnancy in this category leads to greater risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. He believes fertility clinics would do well to cut off services to a woman who is 55 or older, but he stops short of governments setting a legal age limit.

No way, says bioethicist Arthur Caplan, author of Smart Mice, Not So Smart People. He believes that fertility technology has already outrun society’s ability to deal with the ramifications. Therefore legislators should take responsibility and regulate its use. According to Caplan, parental age is not really the issue. “Someone has to look out for the best interests of children.”

The 50-something (and rare 60-something) women and men who selfishly must have a child, are doing so despite the likelihood of parental illness or death as the child matures.

On the other hand, many generous older folks are actually helping non-related children thrive. People in their fifties, sixties and seventies are adopting older children, many from the foster care system. One couple was in their fifties when they adopted two 12- and 13-year-old brothers. They were challenged by the boys’ lack of table manners, as well as their limited vocabulary and social skills. Today one boy is on a full scholarship and attends New Mexico Tech and the other is captain of the high school golf team. Both are “learning to see a future for themselves.”

Seventy-six-year-old Jeanne Arden and her husband, who is 68, recently adopted a 10-year-old girl after first fostering her. They are so fulfilled by their experience that they plan to adopt a second child.

“To know that you had the opportunity to provide a home to someone who would be just another number in the system is an amazing feeling,” adoptive parent Curtis Blount said. He and his partner adopted two 15-year-old boys, who have grown as close to each other as they might if they were biological brothers.

We can thank generous older parents such as these for thinking twice about the future of needy children. They are able to expand their families through generosity instead of reproducing late in life while chanting, “Age be damned; I must make a child!”


  1. Childfree Woman says:

    Glad you are covering this topic! I think it is wrong to have children at any age when you don’t have appropriate backup — i.e., husband and fabulous people you can trust your children to in case of sad accidents.

    That woman didn’t have brains enough to be a mother in the first place if she didn’t know the roll of the dice in terms of gene pool is impossible to say. Bunches of my relatives went as centenarians too, but bunches went from 48-55. Which genes did I get and how did my behavior interact with them? Ah, that will be the surprise as that selfish woman found out. I do have a whit of sympathy for the inclination but following through was ridiculous. I’d like two more cats too and wanted to rescue a couple last weekend, had to recognize what was undoable for now.

  2. Being the only child of older parents (38 and 43 when I was born), the hardest role to handle is that of the child of parents that are older. Just as you are getting out on your own, they are retiring and need assistance with daily living. Selfish behavoir, by my definition. There is no ‘normal’ grow up, be independent, have your own family, get your kids out of nest, then take care of parents. It all seems like a vicious cycle to me. And as we see with this optimistic 67-year old woman, fate never lets things work out like you think. It makes me sad to think what a hard life those twins will have.

  3. I am over 50 and, yes, I sometimes think that I missed my chance to have a child. But I have a step-daughter who just gave birth to a beautiful boy, and I am enjoying the role of grandfather.
    I can share some of the burden of taking care of him while not being overwhelmed, and take some of the pressure off my step-daughter and her husband. It’s a win-win deal as we all care for one baby. Child free people can always find kids to care for without needing to make of their own.


  4. It would be lovely if it could be against the LAW to medically assist OLDER(44+)women who are otherwise incapable of BREEDING, but it’s not. Also, I’m very GRATEFUL to not be so afflicted with the ‘DESPERATION’ to have a BABY rabies!!

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