“Old” is a relative term, constantly changing depending on the company you keep and the times you live. When I had my first child, I followed my inherently nosey nature and read the doctor’s chart that was left in the room while I waited. There for all the world to see at the top of my chart were the words “Elderly Gravida”. Elderly??? Moi??? Me of perfect cholesterol, low heart rate, and kick-butt quads??? Who did they think they were kidding? I told anyone who asked, and a few who didn’t, to get with the program: thirty was the new twenty.
My words came back to me the other day when I was stuck in another waiting room. I couldn’t find my favorite waiting room time killer—People Magazine, so was forced to read the standard women’s magazines. Maybe it was a fluke, but in two different magazines I saw my words: “_____ is the new _____”, only this time the word pairings were “forty-thirty”, “fifty-forty”. If I had continued to read, I’m sure I would have seen “sixty-fifty” and “seventy-sixty”. This morning I read that the 66, almost 67, year old UK woman that is expecting a baby via egg donor and IVF said that “physical age doesn’t matter; it’s how I feel inside.”
Of course, I want to believe that’s true. What self respecting middle aged woman (boy, I hate that term middle aged) wouldn’t want to cut ten years off her age? I want to believe that age is just a number? I routinely consult with singles and couples in their 40s and even 50s about the best way to start a family, and they want to believe the same. Most of them begin with the fact that they are in great health, they don’t look their age, they don’t feel their age, etc. But most of those past the age of 45 also wonder how old is too old to become a parent?
Many of my close high school friends had children in their early to mid-twenties. I started at 29 and continued throughout my thirties. To them, I was an old mom. They expressed concern about my lagging energy, being out of step with my children’s generation, and having little in common with the parents of my children’s friends. Among my law school and law firm friends, I was one of the first to have children. They thought I was pushing things a bit. From them I heard concerns about sabotaging my career and missed opportunities.
“Old” is definitely a malleable word, and assisted reproductive technology is seeing how far it can stretch. Just this morning the news was of a 66 year old British woman who will soon give birth. She’ll join a couple of other over 65 year olds that have given birth, and heaven help us, a 70 year old Indian woman gave birth to the male heir she (and her family) coveted in 2008. (The American and British women have to go abroad because most US and UK clinics have age restrictions. To find out more about the safety, affordability, and legal considerations of fertility tourism tune into this Wednesday’s, May 20, Creating a Family show.) But just because we can become a mother in our fifties, sixties and seventies, should we?
I heard an interview recently with a woman who had twins five years ago when she was 57. She kept saying how the children kept her young. It’s a cliché that kids keep you young, but like most clichés, it’s also true, or at least partly true. My children keep me connected to popular culture, music, games, and TV. Thanks to my children, Modest Mouse, Ben Folks, Panic at the Disco, and Jimmy Eat World play through my iPod while I run. Thanks to me, Bob Seger, Creedence Clearwater, and Jimmy Buffet occasionally play through theirs. My husband plays basketball daily with our kids, and we all play Four Square when the car isn’t parked over the court. Thanks to our family Wii tournaments, I can play a mean game of Wii tennis. (I must admit that despite my children’s best efforts I’ve never been able to learn the finer points of those stupid Mario Brothers, but I refuse to admit that age has anything to do with it.) Because of my kids and their friends, I don’t worry much about this next generation.
Older parents can bring a certain calm and wisdom to the parenting table. The more you’ve seen of life, the easier it is to keep things in perspective. Older parents often don’t have the same career pressures as younger parents, and they often have more money. Money isn’t the end all, be all of parenting, but it can make life easier and can free you up to spend time with your children.
But as much as I want to believe otherwise, feeling young is not the same as being young. Age is more than just a number. Our bodies have a finite time on this earth regardless how we look, feel or act. If you start in your 40s or 50s, your child will not have you around for as long as if you started in your 20s or 30s. You may not be here to guide your children through their 20s and 30s. You take a greater risk of not being there for them in their teens. You may not see the full spectrum of your children’s lives—college graduation, marriage, and children.
You will be dealing with your declining hormones at the same time you’re dealing with your child’s rising hormones. You increase the likelihood of having young children at home when the time demands of your aging parents hit. You may have the energy in your late 40s to handle a toddler, but will you have the energy in your late 50s to guide a teenager? And yes, when you start a family in your 40s or 50s, you will sometimes feel like the odd woman out. You won’t necessarily fit in with the other parents in your child’s circle, but you may also be out of step with your existing friends who have much older children.
Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to starting a family later in life. Check out the April 8 Creating a Family show “How Old is Too Old to Become a Parent.”
Also look at the great books I review for older parents on the Adoption and Infertility Suggested Books page. Most older parents are able to acknowledge the negatives while still celebrating the positives.
With assisted reproductive technology, donor eggs, and fertility tourism, the door is wide open. Whether you should step through is another matter. The issues are clearer with the extreme cases such as the 66 year old that’s in this week’s news. She may be fulfilling her lifelong dream, but parenting is all about putting the needs of our children first. Is it fair to the child she conceived to have a mother in her 70s when the child is a toddler, and a mother in her 80s when the child is a teen. Is it fair to run the very real risk of orphaning her child? There is a lot more gray when the parents are in the late 40s or early 50s. I’ve certainly seen many devoted and good parents who started in their 40s. It’s also possible to adopt an older child to eliminate some of the disadvantages of older parenthood. Whatever you decide, make sure the decision is fair not only for you, but also for your future child.
P. S. Join me at the Creating a Family Facebook group.
Image credit: McBeth
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Interesting post. I don’t feel too old (at 42), except for those occasional times when I’m reminded that some of my old school friends are grandparents already. :/
Ouch, this is a very sensitive topic for me. I am 31 right now…and I have met on the blogosphere women ranging from 21 to 46, all trying to achieve the miracle…so, I am not that old in biological terms…but when I see that most of my friends are preparing for their second, or have already completed families and are now just hopping from milestone to milestone, I feel left behind!
Very interesting post. I have never really thought about how old is too old but it seems to me having children in your sixties is too old. If I had to give a number I would say 50.
This was a amazing piece of writing. Hats off to a great blog.
I always wanted to be a mom, but never wanted to bring a child into the world unless I could give him or her everything. That meant I wanted to be married if possible. I FINALLY found the right guy when I was 41. We’ve been married 2 years and have been trying to conceive for 2 1/2 years. It hasn’t happened yet, but we will keep trying-next time with donor egg. (I found this site through the radio shows on egg donation, but have now devoured all the shows, especially the ones on how to emotionally cope with infertility.) I am 43 and my DH is 45. I don’t think we are too old YET, but I do think there is an upper limit. I really didn’t want to read this blog but I’m glad I did now. I think we all need to realize that there is a time to say, I’m just too old to have this dream.
Good information…keep it flowing.
A minor point not yet mentioned is that there are many grandparents in their 40s -70s parenting their grandchildren for a number of reasons. Either their own kids were too immature to be parents or their children could not afford daycare or their children have passed away (and not just Michael Jackson’s mom, isn’t she in her 70s? somehow money not age matters here) or they are part of cultures in the world where extended family takes a greater role in raising children. No one is saying these grandparents are “too old” to be parenting their grandchildren at this age… and having parented for many years before, they certainly must be “more tired” than those in their 40s and 50s who have not yet had children. And at a recent info session on foster care I attended, most were in their late 30s to 60s, had grown children, and were willing and wanting to bring more kids into their homes.
A more serious point, as a woman about to turn 50 and still wanting and waiting to be a parent, it is hurtful to hear that 50 is a questionable or THE cut-off age to parent under my circumstances. For myself and many others in my situation (single women in their 40s-50s) most of us did not just wake up and this age and decide we really wanted kids. My maternal instinct began in my teens and has continued until now. But in my 20s I wanted to complete my college education and establish my career. I don’t regret this for a second. I believe that women should be educated, involved in and make significant contributions to the world outside the home, and rely on marriage for love and companionship, but never for an income.
In my 30s, I believed (and would many dare say this is a “naive” belief?) that I truly wanted to be married and in a solid committed relationship before I started my family.
When this did not occur because the person I had a strong relationship w/ took his time (and mine) to decide he could not commit to marriage and children, I unsuccessfully tried insemination in my early 40s. When that didn’t work, I spent some time wondering if I could just give up on kids and focus on finding that “solid committed relationship” alone. Still I began to simultaneously think of adoption when I learned that most people adopt in their 40s, and I felt less age-pressured than in my decision on insemination.
When I realized I wanted both a child and a relationship, I decided to focus on adoption first, as I believed it was more urgent “age and time-wise” in my mid-40s.
For those of you who have chosen adoption, many will understand that this is not an instant decision with overnight results… mourning for the never-to-be biological child (not an issue for me by then), agonizing what it would mean for a child not to have a father (I was stuck here for a while), deciding which type would best suit me (a somewhat longer decision), researching a country then an agency.
And then there’s always a wait. When I picked my country (Vietnam) and my agency (which I researched thoroughly and was picked by many as well as myself for its excellent and ethical reputation), the lines and the waiting times got longer than the estimated 12-18 months. By the time I was at the top of the list, Vietnam closed just after my 49th birthday. By then, my home equity having dropped by $200,000, my only option is to stick it out (we are hearing 2011), give up or adopt from the foster care system. I did attend an orientation on this, but my initial impression was that it was not optimal for me… though I will take the classes to find out more.
To those of you in your 30s or 40s already feeling you maybe too old, though this is a personal decision, I would say you’re not old at all. I would have loved to have a child in those years (technically, I have 2 more days to go.) Many people, and most educated professional people I have met, now don’t begin their families until this time. And though there are no guarantees as to lifespan, they try to stay healthy and do their best for their kids, and the grandparents in their 70s and 80s still are very robust and active. (Compare this group of “older parents” sadly to poor young soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in their 20s w/children they may returned damaged to or never at all.)
From my experiences, I half-hearted joke that I want to advise single women:
–frantically seek a husband in your 20s: if you need to divorce, that’s okay, but make sure you’ve gotten pregnant at least once (alternately,
save all the money you can while in college and in your 20s, coz you may need it in your 30s and 40s, see below)
–if you’re not married by the time your 30, decide to become a single mother and start insemination right away (or refuse to use birth control no matter where you are in a relationship)
–if you’re not pregnant by the time you’re 35, quickly decide on adoption
and be grateful if you make it to parenthood by age 40
Being a parent in my early 50s is not my 1st choice, but now it is my only choice. I do hope to become a parent somehow in the next few years. It may be to an older child that I thought from Vietnam. I hope the many people who have over the years said what a great mom I will be continue their support (though I have had hints that they too think 50 is the cutoff point). But that’s okay. I know better. My dad became a father for the 1st time at age 58. Though I lost him early when I was 38 and he was 97, I have never regretted his age, having always felt his unconditional love.
Hope, the strategy you outlined is immoral and wrong on so many levels. I’m sad for you for not having children, but the methods you advise oh my word!
I disagree. People are SUPPOSED to have children. It seems these days you can either have children 1) accidently or 2) under perfect socially acceptable circumstances. This is crap. You can decide to have children under imperfect circumstances and still be a perfect parent! My husband left me when my kids were 2. It is exactly the same result as being a single mom and it is actually a hell of a lot better without him around. There is NOTHING wrong with having a child simply because you want to have a child!!!! Quite the opposite!
I love posts that make me think. If my body would work for me, I would have another one, even though I’m 33. I don’t feel old and am probably not looked at as old, but I can see how being “older” would make parenting difficult. I’m not sure where I stand on this subject. I’ll have to do a lot more thinking. Thank you for the food for thought!
Thanks for the great food for thought!
I agree with Suzanne’s comment…to me, “too old,” is the time frame when the body is unable to reproduce any longer.
Having said that, I am a 34 year old experiencing secondary infertility. I have not reached menopause, but do not think I am “too old” for another child even though at this time my body is not reproducing any longer. So maybe I should recant my statement…
…see what I mean? Great food for thought! 🙂
What a great, even handed look at this touchy topic. I am almost 40 and hope to have one more baby. Given the fact that my husband is 10 years older than me, it will have to be soon.
A death of a parent can happen at any age. I can think of four parents I have known with young children (ages 2- @10)who died suddenly. It is absoloutely terrible for the children but it happens all the time.
We need to remember that women have been having babies well into their 40s all along. If you look at birth rates from previous centuries (before reliable birth control methods), many women were still giving birth in their mid-40s. I am 47 and my youngest is 4. My grandmother was 40 when she had my mother. I know someone who had her first and only child at 47 with NO reproductive assistance – it just happened. “Change of life babies” they used to be called.
When is it too late to stop reproducing? Probably when your body shuts down reproduction on its own. This is usually by your mid-40s for most women it seems, certainly by age 50.
A 67-year-old mother of a newborn? …A five-year-old with a 72-year-old mother? That seems extreme, even to me.
“Whatever you decide, make sure the decision is fair not only for you, but also for your future child.”
Absolutely. Adoption does not cure infertility, but it can build a family.
As a woman who is in her early 40’s, I’m prepared to become a fertility tourist if necessary. The most distressing part of the ABC News video posted on yahoo.com is Diane Sawyer saying that some USA clinics won’t help women in their 40s to conceive. My grandmothers are 91 and 85 so I have no qualms about becoming a first time mom now. However, I couldn’t say the same thing if I was 50 or older.
I have been debating this topic with myself for a while now. As I approach 41 in a few weeks, I am often wondering how old is “too old” in my own heart and mind. In the here and now I don’t feel at all “too old” to bring another baby to our family. But I think ahead and wonder what it will be like for our future wee ones 20, 30 or even 40 years from now. I feel sadness when I consider that they may loose their parents at a fairly young age and when I consider that their children may not have active and robust Grandparents.
This especially causes me concern when I consider our 16 year old son. He lost his mother at a young age…not due to her being elderly, but due to complications of a genetic disease called Freidrich’s Ataxia. Even though she knew she would not live to see him become an adult…or even close, she demanded that she had every right to bare a child just like an able-bodied woman did.
I have to say, having parented our son for the past 7 years, that I don’t feel like she did have that right. She left him without a mother…scared and confused. She did not say good-bye to him either which added to the grief and to the subsequent issues he developed. Being on this side of the “loosing a parent too young” coin, I can stick my neck out there and say that I really do have a problem with women of very advanced age bringing children into the world that they may well not be able to raise to adulthood. It is very sad to watch a child struggle with that.