Childbearing Choices, Part Two

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Yesterday I wrote about women who put having children first or at least on an equal basis with their careers (or plain old jobs). Today I want to write about women who put off having children until it’s almost too late (or definitely too late in some people’s opinions).  These are the women who are known as “elderly,” which medically means any women over 35. (What does that make women who are having children in their fifties and sixties? Senile?)

I’m all for a woman’s right to reproduce when and if she wants to. But I admit even I raised my eyebrows when I heard about the women who got pregnant (usually with their first and only child) and gave birth when they were in their late sixties. How is that even possible? Well, I found out that it’s possible with the addition of a younger woman’s egg to the brew, making the woman who gives birth totally unrelated to her child genetically. If that’s true, then why not just adopt?

Ironically, few adoption agencies would allow a woman in her late sixties to adopt a child (unless the child is also older, like 17) , but clinics (primarily in the Ukraine) will perform IVF (in vitro fertilization) for her. Some women lie about their ages, but many clinics require only willingness and good health for a woman to be considered for IVF (although most consider 50 to be a reasonable cut-off point.)

When I first heard about women in their fifties giving birth, I was amazed. When I married my husband at the age of 49, I still hadn’t gone through menopause but had had my tubes tied since I was 34.  Reversal alone made it cost-prohibitive for us. Although my husband has never had children, we decided that we would let things lie the way they were.

Now I’m 57 and the thought that I could have a new baby is horrifying. My other children are all grown (and between the ages of 29 and 35) and I even have a ten-year-old grandson; would I really want to have a child who is younger than my grandchild? But what if I’d never had children? Would I feel differently then? (I might feel differently but the cost would still make it a non-option. I would rather spend the money on an adoption–there are plenty of children in the world who need loving parents.)

And yet, if a woman wants to give birth at an advanced age, who am I to say that she can’t? The argument that she may not live that long after giving birth should be a non-issue  as long as we deem it okay for sixty-year-old (or older) men to father children. They are congratulated for proving that they’re still virile; women are castigated for being selfish. Again, as in so many things, the double standard.

At any rate, I have more things that I want to do with my life than spend my last years raising another child. Does that sound selfish? If it does, what does that say about what is expected of women? That they are meant to be perpetual baby-factories? That they are still supposed to be devoting themselves to their children even when those children have kids of their own? I feel that I’ve paid my motherhood dues. I will always have membership in that club, but I don’t have to be an active member anymore.

It’s my turn to grow up.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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