How Old is Too Old?

Do your ever think about Mother Nature? I do. I see her as a wise and benevolent soul watching over us.

She knows that parenting is the most important job we will ever do. It is a rewarding and exciting role. It also requires energy, flexibility and adaptability.
It requires the health and ability of young women. So in her wisdom, she created a system in which women cannot bear children once they are into their forties. There is a reason for this.

The reason is what I call the Prime Directive of parenting. My definition of the Prime Directive is that all young have a right to expect that those who bore them will raise them to maturity. In the animal kingdom there are species in which the fertilization of the egg is the end of any needed care and parenting. But we humans are much more complex. We need active parenting for about eighteen years and support and guidance for the next decade. Raising human children is not for the aged.

Let’s say that Maria and Joseph are a typical couple living on the North Shore. Maria is forty-five and her husband forty-eight. They have two children, Sam who’s 13 years old and Angela 11. Maria’s mother is 70 years old and starting to need some support so Maria needs to take her shopping weekly and arrange for a cleaning lady. Her Dad is having some health problems so she takes him to the doctor on a regular basis. Joseph’s father is not longer living but his Mom is and she phones daily with requests for help and support of one sort or another. Maria and Joseph are the epitome of what we now call the sandwich generation. Because the average age for childbirth is rising, the inevitability of caring for children and seniors simultaneously is becoming more common. It’s difficult, but somehow fair. At their age, looking after their parents is a reasonable expectation.

But now, from time to time I pick up my newspaper and read about a post-menopausal woman having a child. And it gives me pause, and causes me to think about the Prime Directive and the sandwich generation.

What if Maria had been sixty-one when Sam was born? She would be 74 years old when Sam reaches his teens. It is likely that he will have no grandparents and that during these important adolescent years he and his sister, Angela will be busy with senior care. They will be needed to care for their now-aged parents.

Is this fair? Is it ethical?

I don’t think so. Women have fought long and hard for reproductive rights. The right to birth control, the right to say no and the right to assisted reproduction when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating. There are many ways that science can assist parents to have a baby; artificial insemination, harvested eggs, frozen sperm and surrogate mothers to name the most popular. And for woman of childbearing years I say hallelujah. Let’s let science help. Parents who truly want children and will go to these lengths to become parents are going to do a fabulous job raising the next generation. Reproductive rights are a good thing.

But, what about the child’s rights?

The Prime Directive says that a newborn should have a reasonable expectation of being cared for to maturity. A 60 year old mother of a newborn makes the very unlikely. The child can reasonably expect to be caring for his mother and probably his father instead of attending the Junior Prom. When he gets his driver’s license it will be handy for taking his parents to their medical appointments. Before he finishes high school he may be researching assisted living facilities for seniors. Is this fair? Is this reasonable? Of course not. It is certainly true that not all parents live to see their children reach adulthood, but if they are of childbearing age when the child is born it is a reasonable expectation.

Next time you read a story in the paper about a 60 something woman who just wanted to have a baby and felt she had the right to this experience, think of the child. Think of the child not just as a cute and wanted newborn. Think of all his needs over the next 18 years while his parents enter their 70s and 80s.

Just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we should use it.

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