MIDWAY: Late motherhood

Older women having fertility treatment find parenting no more stressful or physically demanding than women in 30s and 40s. Older women may make less suitable mothers and follow recommendations that women in their 50s and 60s should not be barred from having IVF on account of their age. Poor success rates and legislation that requires doctors to take into account the welfare of children born to IVF, lead to clinics rejecting older wo-men even if they plan to use eggs from younger women. Above 45, women have twice the risk of stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy.

In July, Patricia Rashbrook, a child psychiatrist, became the oldest woman in Britain to have a baby. She had the child, a 3kg boy, by caesarean section, aged 62 after receiving fertility treatment in eastern Europe. She was criticised by pressure groups which pointed out she would be in her 70s when the child reached his teens. Surveys have been carried out measuring parental stress and the mental and physical health of women who conceived over the age of 50 after treatment with donor eggs, and compared these women with others in their 30s and 40s who had conceived through IVF at the same time. To assess the mental and physical demands of parenting, the women were asked whether they often felt isolated and friendless, and how far they could walk without discomfort.

The surveys were completed by 64 women and showed those in their 50s were no different in mental or physical health compared with those in their 30s and 40s. Parental stress was found to be lowest among women in their 30s and highest among those in their 40s, with those in their 50s ranking in between. The conclusion is that if we look from the perspective of stress and physical and mental functioning, it doesn’t seem we can restrict parenting based on these reasons. Experts feel that many of the older women were married to significantly younger men, a factor that might have helped reduce the stress of motherhood, and they were financially comfortable. Their children were also no older than 12. The view that men may father a child into their late 80s, but it’s wrong for women to want to extend their fertility after 45 is ageist and sexist.