In a fascinating article that recently appeared in New York Magazine, writer Lisa Miller outlines and ultimately defends the current boom of men and women becoming parents at age 50 and beyond.
The article begins with an anecdote - a couple meet and fall in love when she's 47 and he's 54. Through a donor egg and her husband's sperm, the woman gives birth to her first daughter at age 50. Two years later, she attempts to get pregnant again. This time, she has to be brought out of menopause with hormones before she is able to become pregnant. Shortly thereafter, she gives birth to her second daughter.
This anecdote is only one of many, and they're on the rise. Birth rates among women ages 45 to 49 have risen 17% in just the past three years alone. Reproductive technology, of course, accounts for this sharp increase.
But technology is really only the means to an end. What spurs many nearly menopausal women to pregnancy is a combination of life's normal obstacles: getting in the right place career-wise, financial stability, meeting the right person, etc.
And those won't be their only obstacles. This demographic of old(er) parents are victims, according to the article, of ageist prejudices. Other people disdainfully question their ability to keep up with their energetic children, wonder how their mental and physical faculties will hold up as the children age, and worry about the welfare of the children.
And I'm here to say: Damn right!
The author's main point is this: Those judges of elderly parents are resting on outdated notions that older people shouldn't have children because it isn't natural. She argues that once, interracial relationships were considered unnatural. And some people still argue that homosexuality is unnatural. So, clearly, having children at an older age is only unnatural because we, as a society, can't accept it.
Bull! There is a fatal flaw in this warped argument. An interracial couple doesn't have to use technology or man-made procedures to be together. Neither do homosexuals. There are no obstacles of nature preventing their being together (physically, emotionally, and otherwise) successfully. But, whether you agree with 50+ couples becoming parents, it is unnatural. You do have natural obstacles to thwart. A 50-year-old woman cannot give birth to her own biological child without man-made help. Heck, she can't even give birth to another woman's biological child without man-made help.
The author accuses those people who hesitate to support older people having children of being small-minded and biased. She claims that at 50 people are still overwhelmingly capable physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, etc., of having a child.
There's no doubt, of course, that many 50-year-olds are the picture of health, and that they can keep up with any 30-year-old parent. But what about when they hit 60 or 65? Or 70?
What happens when you have arthritis (like one of the mothers featured in the article) and can't use your hands extensively to help your children? What happens when, at 65, you show the first signs of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and your child is barely 15? And what happens when your 23-year-old child, graduated from college and concentrating on law school, has to begin caring full-time for her 73-year-old parents?
What about college? If you plan to send your child, or children, to college AND have enough for a comfortable retirement, you should probably plan to still be working full-time at age 75. But at that age, will you still be healthy enough to work full-time? Will you have the stamina? Will you be burnt out?
The problem isn't necessarily becoming a parent at age 50 (never mind the vast medical problems and complications possible for both mother and baby at that age). The real problem is aging. You can be perfectly fit and healthy at 50, but your health is far from guaranteed over the next 10 to 20 years - decades in which your children will only be pre-teens and teenagers and barely into college.
What's unfair is strapping children with far too much responsibility at too young an age. What's unfair is having children now, because you feel young enough and healthy enough to do it, and selfishly neglecting to consider what might happen to them as you become truly elderly.
Nancy London, author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, was interviewed for the article because of her take, back in the '70s, that a woman's biology was not her destiny. But even for her, 50 is too far: "The human body has an organic deadline - menopause, which occurs around age 50 - after which baby-making is no longer possible. Why not respect it? Choosing to have children at 50 disrupts life's natural trajectory, causing needless suffering and disharmony for both parent and child. It's irresponsible."
And as for the women who delay childbearing for decades because they have other priorities? London claims that they aren't living in reality.
I would tend to agree. Life can't, and really shouldn't, follow a neat little plan. Trying to line up everything just right is admirable, but it goes too far when you delay something you truly want - having children - until you're on the brink of menopause.
Accept the chaos of life! People juggle careers and children every day. Some women are fantastic single mothers dedicated to their career and their children, and good parents find a way, not matter what, to parent their children despite what's going on in their own lives.
To wait until the "chaos" of your 20s and 30s and early 40s is over to have children only creates the potential for a new kind of chaos.
Psychologist Julianne Zweifel, another person interviewed in the article, says that every child is "entitled to at least one healthy, vibrant parent." So, for those 50 and older without one younger, capable partner? Nancy London has an idea: "Maybe what you do together is grieve for your loss and find another way to serve the planet."
What do you think, TMR readers? Am I biased and judgmental, or are those who disagree with 50+ couples raising babies simply operating with common sense and concern for the children?