It is a health, scientific, and ethical question many people ask: how old it is too old to have a baby? In fact the issue of “late pregnancy” came to the fore of the public debate nearly seven years ago when a 66-year-old Indian woman, Butheri Devi, gave birth to triplets, and Rajo D. Lohan, another Indian woman, who became the world’s oldest known first-time mom in 2008 at age 70.
Relying on natural laws and social realities, some ethicists believe that it all depends on whether a woman’s biological, physiological, and financial means would make it easy for her to have a baby for whom she would be there when he or she (the child) needs her.
Sophie B. Hawkins, who already had a 6-year-old son, decided to have another baby at 51 using a sperm donor and was implanted with her own frozen embryo. She told People’s Magazine how tough the experience was and the struggle she had before doing it, but she also praised herself for the achievement.
Dr. Manuelo Alvarez, former Fox News managing editor for health news and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said that there is no simple answer to that question because “we honestly don’t have enough data at this point of time.” What we know, Dr. Alvarez said, is that physiologically speaking, a woman’s body goes through change as she ages. That, he said, makes it more difficult to conceive or carry a full-term pregnancy. He went on to say “unlike men whose bodies create sperm throughout their lives, women are born with all the eggs their bodies will make. So, by the time a woman is 35, there is a good chance that the quality of her eggs may not be as good as it was when she was 20.”
Data show that 15% of births in the United States are to women 35 and older. But Dr. Alvarez said that a 25% increase in spontaneous miscarriage has been noticed in women 35-39, and 51 percent in women aged 40-44.
“Once you get 35, not only a woman’s fertility drops, but now she could be facing a lot of obstetrical complications like pre-term labor, preeclampsia, chromosomal abnormalities, just to mention a few,” Dr. Alvarez said.
Referring to the two Indian women, Devi and Lohan, who had children respectively at the age of 66 and 70, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, a physician and former Chief Medical Editor for ABC News, said that post-menopausal births via insemination is common in India where women who cannot have children are stigmatized. Approached the issue from a health and ethical perspective, Dr. Nancy said that in 2010, Lohan then 72, revealed to the UK’s Daily News that she was dying following complications from her IVF pregnancy and that she was not informed of any potential health risk of such late pregnancy.
“Women should start asking serious questions before having a child at age 50. What do you think? Is this unethical and unsafe, or none of our business?” she asked.
According to People’s Magazine, in 2013, an average of 13 children were born every week to mothers 50 years and older. In 2012, women 50 and older has 600 babies, up from 144 births in 1997, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.