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Columns

November 10, 2007

Cheering on older mothers

A 60-year-old single Japanese woman impregnated in the United States via in-vitro fertilization made headlines last month, rekindling a bioethics debate over how and when women should become mothers.

The issue was a hot topic in January 2005, when a 66-year-old Romanian woman became the oldest to give birth, after getting pregnant through donor eggs and in-vitro fertilization.

There's no question that women today are pushing their limits, biologically and otherwise, when it comes to motherhood. It's now not only medically possible, but culturally acceptable, to have it all _ career, kids, marriage _ and in any order we please.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, childbearing by unmarried women in the United States increased to record levels in 2005, and in 2003, the number of births to women older than 40 exceeded 100,000 for the first time.

These trends raise some difficult questions: How old is too old to become a mom? Should fertility clinics implement age limits for their patients? Is it fair to bring a child into the world when you're old, single or both? Who decides?

Around the world, there are all kinds of government rules and medical guidelines dictating when, how and how often women may give birth _ from China, where families are permitted only one child; to Brazil, where only close relatives are allowed to serve as surrogate mothers; to Japan, where medical association guidelines limit births from donated eggs to married couples.

So how old is too old to be a parent? There is no easy answer, because it's different for everyone. I can't imagine chasing a toddler at 50, or even 40, but that's just me. Every woman and every situation is different.

And what of the double standard? Nobody blinks an eye when 60- or even 70-year-old men with younger wives become parents, but when a woman in her late 40s or early 50s does it, she's accused of being selfish or irresponsible.

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