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.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!”