Sunday, February 04, 2007

Freak Show or Miracle?

Today, I read an opinion piece over at Pajamas Media by Cathy Seipp, who argued against older mothers having children. Seipp points to the 67 year old mother who recently had twins and asks how anyone reading about this birth could not relexively think: Freak show? Well, not me.

When I read about the birth, I thought, "What a miracle, to push the bounds of human achievement, kind of like climbing Mount Everest, (without walking past your dying fellow climbers, of course) walking on the moon, or breaking the sound barrier." Are these activities dangerous--kind of like having a kid at 67? You bet, but there are people who are willing to push the limits, despite these dangers and it seems that Carmela Bousada was one of those people. Are there some legitimate concerns in having kids at such an advanced age? Yes, Seipp points out that not being around is one of them:

Leaving aside all the increased health risks to these older mothers and their babies, the cold, hard reason your life and health insurance premiums rise each year is that the longer you live, the more likely it is that the passage of time means you will, in the near future, sicken and die.

Sure, older men can still marry younger women and father children. We all know about Tony Randall et al. But why spend tens of thousands of dollars to raise the odds that a child will grow up motherless?

But if you want to look at the odds, Ms. Bousada is already playing them and perhaps will win--the older a person is, the more likely they will make it to the next age. For a 65 year old woman, there is a good chance she will make it to 85 or beyond. And her mother lived to be 101 -- at that rate, her twins would be 34, an age where many people have already lost their parents. And younger parents die frequently or get sick, when I had a heart attack at 37, my daughter was just three and a half. I wondered at the time whether I would live to see another day with her, but I never wondered if I should have had her in the first place because she might be motherless. One of my colleagues died last year at 36 after having a stroke following childbirth. Should she never have tried to have children at all? The point is, life is uncertain, when we love is uncertain, and all that we can do is the best that we can with what we have at the moment--even if that moment comes to us later than we hoped.

Recently, I saw a website chat board discussing how old Bousada was and how the twins shouldn't have to look at her wrinkled breasts when they nurse. Others on the board castigated her, talking about her selfishness in having the twins because their classmates would be laughing at them for having an old mom. "What kind of life would that be" lamented one cheerful commenter. Well, my question is, what kind of life will these twins have if people continue to make hostile comments about their mother vs. what kind of life will these twins have if people accept their situation as a miracle, instead of a freak show?


Blogger Cham said...

I think I would rather have a mother who is older, financially and emotionally secure than be born to a drug-addicted teenage crack ho with mental problems. Unfortunately, society would like to limit the ability for secure older women to bear children yet at the same time seems to give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to every unwed teen parent.

8:32 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I hope those aren't the only two extremes to choose from! But I get your point. I do agree with Cathy Seipp in the article that women should be told that they do only have so long to bear children--because it does become a long shot as women get older--that is just biology. But I say, if you can have children when you are older and want them, go for it. Do you really think that society is trying to limit secure older women from having children? I mean "older" as late 30's and forties etc.

9:02 PM, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theres a reason why men are attracted to what they're attracted to. Having a child at that age will (in a statisical probabilistic sense) have a substantial negative effect on health, intelligence, and appearance of the child regardless of how long the mother lives.

9:05 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Anonymous 9:05:

Not sure what you mean--do older moms have ugly dumb kids? I think that older mothers are found to have higher IQ children.

9:10 PM, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theres the binary yes/no of whether the mother will be able to conceieve the child and bring it to term. This ability diminishes considerably with age. Then there are the qualities that exist on continuums, such as the health, intelligence, and appearance of the child. They also diminish considerably with age. Its about trends and probabilities. Obviously an older woman can have a child with a high iq, as can someone who smokes or drinks during pregnancy.

9:13 PM, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the rush to condemn men for their tastes in women, we often forget that they serve an evolutionary purpose. Men like young women and avoid older women for a reason.

9:15 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

Helen, you asked me whether society was trying to limit secure older women from having children. I was going to answer your question but I see that the bulk of the succeeding posters are going to do a fine job of proving my point.

9:23 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I thought most women could go to a sperm bank or IVF center? Society doesn't limit them from that--except for age of over 50-55, I thought.

9:30 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

I am talking about the 67 year old lady who had this child. In order to get the IVF services she had to lie about her age. Considering she was successful with the procedure I wonder whether the medical community is making a social judgement rather than a medical judgement in limiting IVF services to those under 50-55 years of age.

Looking at the few comments already posted you notice one poster is making assumptions about the IQ and appearance of children born to older mothers and another says that older women are avoided by men because they can't [shouldn't] bear children. Can't wait to read the future comments from the others! This is going to be very informative.

9:39 PM, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the woman from Barcelona gave birth to UNDERWEIGHT PREMATURE BABIES.

9:43 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger ElvenPhoenix said...

Sorry, Anonymous 9:43 - twins and other multiples are FREQUENTLY both premature and underweight, so that complaint won't fly. Being a younger mother doesn't ensure a full-term pregnancy with a normal weight infant.

10:28 PM, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frequently? How about usually! My wife carried our triplets for 30 weeks. They were born at right around 3 lbs. She was 42. They all had fine apgars and nobody has any health or IQ problems.



10:50 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

i have to disagree with the "miracle" assessment. Sure, it may be a medical "miracle" but it may not be such a good one. All four of my children's grandparents made it to 80. None have made it to 85 so far. Only one is left, we bury the third to die, age 83, tomorrow.

How great is the chance of making it to 80 from 67? 51%? I couldn't find the figures. It certainly doesn't seem fair to the children to have parents that have a much less than average chance than most parents of living until the children reach adulthood. Plus, how healthy would such old parents be? How much will they be able to actively participate with the kids?

I can only guess at the motives for having children at such an age but selfishness certainly comes to mind. And, as has been pointed out, this is certainly not an unplanned pregnancy. Medical science verges on running wild. There are some places we shouldn't tread. This may well be one.

11:13 PM, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in my early 40's, Bf is in his late 20's. He still wants me, and wants to adopt with me. He is an exception about men who want younger women.

just adding my 2 cents.


loving each other "as is"

2:48 AM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the name of honest criticism, good post.

See what you can do when you don't come in with that pro-man attitude that all women are to blame?

I think this is the first topic where you're written maturely (not looking to get a rise out of someone, like I suspect most of the snark-filled ones are) and intelligently on a topic without playing up the anti-woman angle. Good job!

8:25 AM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SO, Helen writes maturely when she agrees with you, and immaturely when she disagrees.

Where have I heard this sort of thing before????


9:45 AM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Anonymous 8:25:

I no more care that you find my posts "mature" when you perceive them to be "pro-woman" than I do when you find them "immature" when you think they are "pro-man." I write about what interests me and what I think is fair and jut in the world. Unlike you, my agenda is not to advance one sex at the expense of the other.

10:19 AM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The wrinkled old breasts come after they're weaned.

11:58 AM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that I'm not with you on this one Helen. The woman will be 88 - 89 when her child graduates from college, if she's alive, she'll be barely functional. It's just not right.

1:08 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her longevity isn't actually the primary concern IMO, it's her likely mental condition.

For every spry, quick witted geriatric there are likely 9 more in various diminished states approaching dementia. She may live to be 150, but these kids are going to have an 80 year old mother when they're 12-13. In my experience, people's mental state and general outlook can change quickly and dramatically approaching that age.

These kids are going to spend their teens caring for an old woman, but they'll have neither experience nor financial resources to do so. This is a terrific burden to place on someone that young.

1:10 PM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

Raising a child is a very physically and mentally challenging job. I had a friend in High School whos parents had him late in life; his next older brother was 45 YO when he was 15. His dad was already dead. His mom was grandmother age and died when he was 16.

I don't begrudge the persons life whos born, but I think people, male or female, who have children at such a late age on purpose are selfish and shortsighted.

1:17 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh sweet dear Helen,
No need to respond.
I quite frankly don't care what you think of my opinion.

This reader was merely observing, in an open comments blog, that your work here is more mature than usual, more enjoyable to this reader who appreciates the non-snark posts that usually tend to be anti women (ie/breastfeeding) when they poke into other's business.

If you don't like open comments, my dear, don't open a blog that solicits them. It's seems quite simple to me; I suspect your line of work stunts your thinking skills. (and yes, that's an opinion too. We all have 'em. No need to respond snarkily :)

*tossing in a dime for the next InstaFamily vacation. Poor things though, I fear you'll have to travel commercial class again as your tubby hubby has staked himself out an anti-jet position not realizing how many business types rely on this method also.*

1:46 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Trey" with the triplets...
you certainly do quite a bit of commenting. Good thing the ladies have you around to watch their backs, eh "Greg" ? Heh

1:47 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I no more care that you find my posts "mature" when you perceive them to be "pro-woman" than I do when you find them "immature" when you think they are "pro-man." I write about what interests me and what I think is fair and jut in the world. Unlike you, my agenda is not to advance one sex at the expense of the other.

And by the way, hon,
you're not really pro-man.

You're pro victimization of man, and most real men correctly reject this way of thinking. Outside the academic palaces where your husband and his ilk have their artificial reign, men are not losing in this country. You're continual attempts to spin every issue as anti-woman advances your own personal agenda -- it's the only way for women like you to distinguish yourselves. You can't compete in an open field, against non-victimized men or otherwise.

I am not pro-woman, but I laugh at this blog's lame efforts to convince the average American male that he is being "picked on" by society at large. I very strongly suspect that how you view men is influenced by your Jewishness -- that culture permeates your work, plus the fact that you have no sons of your own on which to test your "theories".

Trust me: if you don't want to raise victims, you teach them discipline and work with them to find proper situations where they won't be coddled or told they are "victimized". Again, the "doctors" of this world will never see some of our country's sons and daughters, because they are being raised right. You don't make excuses, you make men. For those who would follow you and your theories, they will have angry extensions not men in their families. Split families, often because you deny the natural roles in creating these gender "victims".

Look at your husband's "work". Non-accountable men wreak non-accountable havoc. Wait and see, sweet, how well what you preach turns out rock solid relationships in such a victim class.

1:57 PM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

As a 45 year old father of four, all I can say is that anyone over 40 who has children is out of their freaking mind.

2:02 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey anon, far be it for me to take up for helen. (She'd recognize my IP address, you know, except I'm at a different site now. At any rate, she knows how I feel about her work.)

But you only make us (her opposition) look bad with some of your comments. Her Jewishness? Please. And I've heard this remark before about her not having any sons. Come on, that is so irrelevant and silly.

And finally, her husband ain't tubby. Glenn is in quite good shape actually.

There are plenty of legitimate bases for criticism here. Let's stick to those.

2:07 PM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger NerdMom said...

Before I comment I must 'fess up. I am 31, pregnant with my 4th child in 6 years and exhausted;). I wrote a post called A Reason for Menopause back when I heard about the 63 year old mom in England. It isn't that I think someone of this age is not capable of being a good parent, I just don't know if it is a good plan to aim for.

2:25 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some anon wrote: ""Trey" with the triplets...
you certainly do quite a bit of commenting. Good thing the ladies have you around to watch their backs, eh "Greg" ? Heh"

Thanks for noticing, I am indeed a frequent poster here. It is a hobby! My blogs are photo only, and I enjoy getting in the political and social commentary and discussion.

Watch their backs? I am not sure what you are insinuating here. Are you saying a Ph.D. and a J.D. (Helen and Althouse) need me to stick up for them? I think better of them than that! Women are completely capable of defending themselves in my opinion. Why do you think they need a man to keep them safe?

Greg? No Gregs in my family. I thought Greg (of the sock puppets) was in opposition to Dr. Helen. But then I try to stay more or less on issue and the entire sock puppet story is a bit hazy to me. But check out my blogs! Those are my kids, my lovely wife, even a picture or two of me. I bet I do not look like the ubiquitous Greg.

AS far as the Heh goes, Glenn is one cool operator as far as I am concerned. He and Helen and Althouse and LaShawn Barber produce my favorite blogs. To be put in the same category as Glenn is quite unfair to him (my blog topped at 205 hits in one day and I was quite happy with that) but sweet as far as I am concerned.

So heh indeed! And thanks for the compliment!


2:45 PM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

Hey anon, I have been chuckling about your assertion that I am a sock puppet. It is amusing and compelling all at the same time.

A part of me wants to send you my license number or some photos or something to prove I am who I am. So in that way, your post was somewhat compelling! "No, really, I am me and these are my thoughts" is part of my experience.

The other part of me is bemused. "What is this person trying to accomplish? Is this some type of slander? Does this person really believe that I am not who I say I am? What if this anon is the sock puppet?" So, I will ask you. Do you really think I am a construct? If so, why? Or if you figure (correctly) that I am just some redneck with lots of kids and an internet connection, what is your agenda for the false insinuation? And how eactly does an Anon insinuate that someone who signs their name and posts their blog address is being deceitful or chicken?

Is it delusional, or clueless, or so diabolically clever that I am unable to comprehend your fiendish Jedi mind tricks?


3:20 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's a good idea for the 67-year-old lady to have kids. But if I were one of the kids I'd probably be happy to exist. Being beats nothingness, most of the time.

3:41 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Max here.

When my mother was 67 she was already developing dementia. Like 10% of persons over 65 do.

And even at 37 I thought I was too young to have to deal with this.

I shudder for those poor kids.


4:29 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking a stand on Fertility treatment and people with money. And Making it to 85, One chance in 6.

In 1926 a little girl was born to a ranching couple in Kansas. They were 45 when she was concieved and 46 when she was born. Did THEY need another child ? Hell no.

They already had 4 mostly grown children, the youngest of the 4 was in high school, and a thriving busy ranch, to run with contracts to fulfill, to the U.S. army for wheat and horses, & ranch hands to pay.

That little girl was the darling of her family but that western dream went away. Her father died when she was 7, after struggling for a number of years She and her widowed mother moved to Oklahoma City to live with the youngest daughter and her husband, a retired army officer and civil engineer. There she went to high school.

Her Uncle, the Civil Engineer, was called back into the Amy in WW II and killed in the Battle of the Bulge, freeing Europe from Nazi rule.

The family broke up again.

That little girl went on to get two masters degrees, from U of N.Mex in Santa Fe. One in art, one in English and got her first teaching job in my hometown. She married the Football Coach who was head of the Math Department.

My brother & Sisters & I are glad she lived. She was our Mother and Grandmother to all our 7 children.

Maybe her parents just lucked out at good egg bad egg roulette. Maybe it was something else. Love, and help from G_d which they depended on daily.


5:20 PM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recent studies seem to indicate a link between father's age and increased risk of autism/schizophrenia -- see here or here. These are pretty recent studies, and I think that this area warrants more investigation. Is there any correlation between mother's age and health risks? It'd be good to do some studies.

7:25 PM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger silvermine said...

OMG, I'm 30 and I have a baby (just one!) and a 3 year old and I'm exhausted. I can't imagine being 67.

On the other hand, think how much easier it would be to raise kids if you already are retired! :D All that free time...

Um, still, I tend to lean more towards "freak show". Not that there should be anything to stop her. But as a personal choice, I find it a bit crazy.

I think, for me, the idea of an 80 year old trying to handle teenagers just makes me wince.

3:11 AM, February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plenty of grandparents out there already, raising children. Granted, they didn't have the babies themselves--but my point is that there are many older people already doing what this woman will do. Plus, there is no guarantee that younger parents will be around to see their children grow up. There's always the possibility of illness or that dreaded bus to take us out.

9:30 AM, February 06, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Yes, I have certainly seen many grandparents in my practice who are raising children, often alone with no help from the adult child who may have drug or other problems. Many do get tired, but then, so do younger parents. I think extended family of all ages is good for children in that it allows for more people to be available to help kids and gives kids a sense that they can turn to other adults besides mom and dad.


And some kids can grow up in a family with five or ten siblings close in age and younger parents and feel just as isolated.

9:53 AM, February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't think of them as children, think of them as nursemaids who are related to her.

5:18 PM, February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dr. Helen!

I'm pregnant at 36 and people have been/ are judging me for my age. Thank you for your well reasoned and dare i say *feminist* point of view.

Women don't realized that when they judge other women's bodies (after the age of 29 this usually stems around if, how, when, where one is having a baby)they are just as bad (and I actually think worse) than men who objectify women's bodies.

When I was young I used to complain about men and their "nice ass!" comments. Compared to some women I know this sounds absolutely refreshing.


8:17 AM, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Hi Ali,

I don't think 36 is old to be pregnant, but then my cardiologist told me after I had my heart attack that it wouldn't matter as far as child-bearing since I was too old to have any more kids anyway--I was 37.

Just a note on the "feminist" angle. I am not opposed to feminism--that is, the true equality between men and women. I am opposed to the view that there should be special rights for women with none of the responsibility that goes with being an autonomous human being. You can't have your cake and eat it to. Women want equal rights--of course, but then there should not be a "special" set of laws/rules for women just because of their gender.

8:38 AM, February 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Careful there, helen. You almost sounded like a feminist. Might lose your audience if you slip again.

8:48 AM, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

anonymous 8:48:

I think you underestimate the views of many readers here. Many, like myself, see equality between the genders as a worthy goal. However, the hypocrisy of radical feminism that puts women's needs and legal rights above fairness and justice (unless, of course you are groped or possibly raped by Bill Clinton) is the problem. This hypocritical stance and blaming of all ills on the male population (white only, of course) is what needs to change, not the worthwile goal of women and men being equal under the eyes of the law.

And BTW, I do not write to "retain" an audience. People can either read this blog or not but I do not change my beliefs to suit others. That is your projection.

9:20 AM, February 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen, hypocrisy I can live with. What I object to is Carol Gilligan calling me a rapist because of my plumbing. That is hatred and bigotry. It is dangerous. That type of thing is what I find offensive.

True, it comes out of a double standard, and it cannot be consciously held without a good dose of hypocrisy, but it is the bigotry that I find offensive and dangerous.


2:59 PM, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Hi Trey,

Actually, I think it was Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin that called all men rapists. Carol Gilligan was the author of "In a Different Voice," a book that discusses the differences in men and women's moral development. I am not convinced of her work at all, but I think that McKinnon and Dworkin did the most damage to the legal system and male/female relations in this country. These two were some real fruit loops.

3:27 PM, February 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm one of the trolls who likes to poke fun at you and your image as the only babe out there who understands men. It's fun.

However. I am fully behind you in your opinion of McKinnon and Dworkin. I actually agree with you quite a bit, which probably surprises the men commenters who--as soon as someone posts anything critical of you--jump to your defense by screaming "Liberal! Feminazi!"

Takes all kinds, doesn't it?

6:15 PM, February 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Helen, DOH!

You are correct mam! Thanks for the correction.


6:49 PM, February 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if having a child at 67 is the best idea, especially when you consider the health risks to the mother and child and the chance of the child growing up without a mom. However, I don't think it is up to us to judge what someone else does. If she really wanted a child and her doctors were on board then so be it. I wonder what she thinks about all the attention she is getting?

Here via the Pregnancy Carnival

4:54 PM, February 16, 2007  
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