Pregnant at 66 and putting choice in context

In the news today is Elizabeth Adeney, a 66-year-old woman who is pregnant. Let the shame-fest begin!

Professor Severino Antinori, who treated Rashbrook and has pioneered the IVF techniques involved in impregnating older women, said Munro, who will be 67 in July, was too old.
“I am shocked by the idea of a 66-year-old woman giving birth,” he said. “I respect the choice medically but I think anything over 63 is risky because you cannot guarantee the child will have a loving mother or family.
“It is possible to give a child to the mother up to the age of 83 but it is medically criminal to do this because the likelihood is that after a year or two the child will lose his mum and suffer from psychological problems.”

Quoth Becky Sharper:

O RLY? Because children born to young mothers are thus guaranteed “a loving mother or family”? And their mother’s gestational age ensures that those kids never lose their moms and never suffer from psychological problems? Who are you fucking kidding, buddy? A 2-minute conversation with your local social worker or family court judge will blow away that excuse. I also love how he “respects the choice medically” but then rushes to personal judgement as fast as he possibly can.

I’d add that when a man who is eligible for Social Security benefits fathers a child, we rarely see quotes about how his choice was “medically criminal.” I smell a double standard.
Each individual woman has the right to decide what’s best for her when it comes to reproduction. Women have the right to choose abortion, the right to give up a child for adoption, the right to have children without getting married first, the right to sterilization, the right to NOT be sterilized, the right to IVF treatments (regardless of their partner’s gender), and the list goes on. Debating a woman’s fitness to be a mother or what course of action is “natural” for her is essentially buying in to an anti-choice worldview in which we can define who is and who isn’t a fit mother.
Usually when the media and lawmakers weigh in on a woman’s personal reproductive choices, they target low-income women, young women, women with disabilities. Adeney’s situation is different because she is a woman in a position of relative privilege who has gotten pregnant via very expensive IVF treatments, but judgments about her decision are rooted in the same brand of sexism.
On a related note, check out the great work by National Advocates for Pregnant Women. And pick up Jeanne Flavin’s Our Bodies, Our Crimes. (All proceeds benefit NAPW!)

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82 Comments

  1. FLT
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Trouble, I agree completely, a child with Down is not a tragedy.
    I was only trying to answer the most commonly used tool to hurt “older” mothers: You’ll have a Downs child! Ninety percent of the time, they won’t.
    Sorry that my remark came off as insensitive.

  2. vegkitty
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how I feel about this, to be honest. On the one hand, I agree that it’s her body and that she has a right to do whatever she wants with it. But then, I think of the so-called “Octo-mom” (who, I’ll admit is an outlier) and the effect that her choice to have 14 children will have on her, her children, and the California economy (since she’s on welfare… correct me if I’m wrong).
    So, I guess, I feel like there has to be a line somewhere when it comes to IVF, but I don’t know where.

  3. Zailyn
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Physical conditions, possibly. As soon as there’s a cognitive disability, it’s a different story. Oh, and for it to be heroism the girl has to be white, too! And so on and so forth.
    Just saying – there are other groups of women who get shamed for wanting to have kids.

  4. englishteacher
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    So when my mom became pregnant at 40, it would have been in the best interest to abort the fetus rather than let it develop into my little sister, who is growing up to be an amazing young feminist, by the way.
    If we as feminists can say that women are intelligent beings who understand the risks and consequences (good and bad) of continuing a pregnancy or aborting it, shouldn’t we also be able to trust that older women can understand and handle the risks they take in becoming pregnant?

  5. Logrus
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    No birth defects are awesome, best thing ever. That’s why they’re called “birth defects” to trick suckers in to not trying to make sure they have them; sort of like the “Greenland/Iceland” naming fable.
    I’m spearheading an effort to re-allow the use of thalidomide and also opening an exclusive cat-feces handling clinic for expectant mothers who know better than to think there is anything wrong with birth defects.

  6. Logrus
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Meh. It’s her right to make unusual choices (just like it’s your/my right to be weirded out by those choices).
    The kid is probably going to be a little more weird and fucked up in some ways; just like every person is weird and fucked up in some unique way because of some peculiarity in who raised them or the circumstances of their upbringing.
    How about Tony Randall, wasn’t he like 74 when he fathered his last kid? At least this woman has a good chance of seeing her kid become an adult.

  7. Logrus
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    That’s a generalization based on your own anecdotal experience.
    I’m sure if someone were to ask if you agree that when it comes to sex or offspring that you could think of many people who do not behave in a rational manner.
    I, for example, drive really well when I’m stoned (in my opinion). I’ve never had an accident or gotten a ticket. So I guess using my experience as a guideline nobody should ever be questioned on their good sense for getting high and driving.

  8. ferocita72
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Exactly! It is one thing to have a discussion about restricting or legislating choice, which I think is wrong even if the choice seems reprehensible.
    It is another thing to acknowledge the ways in which a choice can and perhaps SHOULD be criticized without saying that it should be restricted.
    For me, this issue isn’t about whether mother’s love is the ultimate in parenting (it isn’t), bodily health during pregnancy/childhood (you never know, presumably she has been checked out) or even older moms v. older dads as parents (when you aren’t being sexist the risks are basically the same).
    This issue is about whether it is moral/ethical to have a child deal with losing a parent at a younger age due to your personal choice.

  9. lilacsigil
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Yes, white and not mentally disabled are right up there, too! Sorry, I didn’t mean to exclude other groups in giving examples.

  10. Trouble
    Posted May 19, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad you agree with me. It’s good to be supported by the feminist community when one is trying to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and “birth defects”, and their families. Knowing that you support my efforts makes up for the amount of abuse I receive whenever I do that.

  11. Picaflor
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Hm. I think my views on overpopulation and health win out over feminism this round.

  12. Posted May 20, 2009 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    Wow I can’t believe all the criticism this woman is getting. Check out my thoughts and what the real issue should be at http://pregnantat66whocares.blogspot.com/

  13. lauredhel
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Dear Feministing Commenters: I have both a disability and a young child. I’m also over the age of forty. I realise now that I’m doing it wrong. Do you suggest that I give him to family, or to strangers? Please answer as soon as possible; I’m eagerly awaiting your input into my reproductive choices, as obviously I am unable to run my own life. Kthxbai.

  14. lauredhel
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    No, age 35 is usually the age around about which women are offered amniocentesis, if that is their choice.

  15. Angus Johnston
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    The chance of having a child with Down Syndrome at 35 isn’t anywhere near 10% — it’s well under 1%.
    According to a study I just found online, it’s only 5% when you’re 45.

  16. Angus Johnston
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    My parents babysit regularly for my two children, including frequent overnight visits, and sometimes longer. My kids are 6 and 2, and my parents are 67 and 66.
    Being in your mid-sixties doesn’t mean you’re decrepit. There are a LOT of people that age raising children, and doing a great job of it.

  17. Angus Johnston
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    No, it’s a statement of principles, based on … principle.

  18. GrowingViolet
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    No, not in and of itself. But it isn’t always the mild disability it’s often portrayed as, either. Something like 40% of live-born Down’s children die before age 10, from high incidences of major cardiac complications and strong predisposition to a number of cancers. And most who survive to adulthood develop Alzheimers or other forms of senile dementia in their forties – see here. And parents watching their child get sick and die is a tragedy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favor of prescriptive abortion for trisomy 21 – I’m just not in favor of saying concerns about it are merely a reflection of ablism, either.

  19. GrowingViolet
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    A few things strike me. First, while men can father children all their lives (albeit with less likelihood as they age), the announcement of an elderly man impregnating a much younger woman is generally met with disapproval, not celebration, in my experience. “Evening the playing field” is not necessarily desirable.
    Second, it’s true that parents may sicken and die at any age, that tragedy leaves some children in their grandparents’ care, etc. What it comes down to is, I think, a matter of reasonable probability rather than just possibility. The odds that this mother won’t get a serious disease before her child turns eighteen are very small, and she has no partner or living parents to provide support if that’s the case. To put it in perspective, albeit using a crude analogy: Anyone who drives a car could get into a crash and die, it’s true. The risk doesn’t mean no one should drive. But that doesn’t mean we should allow Corvairs or Pintos on the market. Anything could happen to anyone at any time; individuals and societies, however, base most of their decisions on what is reasonably likely to happen in most cases.
    Third, practicing medicine is not like ordering off a restaurant menu. It speaks volumes that this woman went out of her country and found a clinic that does no health screenings or follow-up and is willing to impregnate even an 80-year-old woman. Just because technology makes it possible to do something doesn’t mean that it is safe, ethical, or desirable to allow it to happen.

  20. ruth
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I agree with you Growing Violet. And I think there is a massive difference between a woman in her 40′s having children and a woman in her 60′s. I never mentioned anything about Down’s Syndrome. However I worked with disabled children and adults for many many years. Mnay people with Down’s Syndrome live happy lives with very few problems. Although some have serious heart problems. Having a Down’s Syndrome child wouldn’t personally scare me.
    What would would worry me is having a child whose developmental age never progresses beyond a baby or a toddler. I have seen parents struggling to cope as their tall 20 year old son has a toddlers temper tantrum, or struggling to physically care for an adult who still needs the physical and emotional care given to a baby. The strain on the whole family of coping with adults with these types of disabilities is enormous.

  21. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Exactly.

  22. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the most insensitive comments I’ve ever seen here. Very disappointing.

  23. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    And “offered” here is code for “pressured and badgered and shamed for refusing it.”

  24. Rachel_in_WY
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Referring to Suleman as “the octomom” is othering and dehumanizing.

  25. LurkerJen
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    LOL. My mom had me at age 40, and my sister at age 43. She had genetic testing done during both pregnancies, and she’s a great mom. Oh, and my sister and I are perfectly healthy, so shut your trap please. Kthx.

  26. Lisa Harney
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    So what’s the point of reproductive justice when women are interrogated for their reproductive choices for disability, age, economic class, and so on? Why are there so many lines where it’s suddenly okay to float the notion that maybe some women don’t deserve the same reproductive justice that supposedly all women deserve?
    We don’t need to set limits.

  27. MimiX
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand when people think it IS ok to disapprove of something or make ethical judgments. Ever? I don’t think this woman should be punished or her child taken away (as some of the above posters are implying that others are suggesting). But I’m the mother of a toddler and my professional work is with older adults, and I think this is a terrible idea.
    The true problem I see is that society makes a smaller fuss (though I think there is still some fuss) when an older man becomes a parent. This is not fair.
    Though one difference people may be assuming is that when an old man impregnates a young woman, the child will have ONE young parent, at least. In the case of the 66-year-old mother, unless she is partnered with a much younger person, BOTH parents will be very old relative to the child. I’m sorry, but this matters. Older people contribute in a fabulous and unique way to my child’s life, but my child exhausts ME, at 30. My mother tells me she wishes she’d had her children earlier because being 55 with two young teenagers was incredibly hard. Assuming the mother in question lives to 80, she will be 80 when her child becomes a teenager. I will feel free to have an opinion on this: I think it’s a terrible idea.

  28. Athenia
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I agree. I think it’s unfair older men don’t get the same “shame fest.”
    I think it’s also problematic that while she could live until her 80s, she might need her hips replaced at 75 etc etc when her kid is….10.
    Let’s just hope this woman has lots of money and has good family support, she will probably need it more than your average younger woman.

  29. EGhead
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh my God I’m taking Jeanne Flavin’s class on gender and justice next semester. So psyched!

  30. EGhead
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Back on topic: Yes, having kids at 66 is generally a bad idea. I don’t think there’s much of an argument over that. But it’s NOT our place to stop this woman, or ‘Octomom,’ or anyone else from reproducing how she chooses. Reproductive freedom does not– and should not– only apply to abortion.

  31. Me
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    It’s not what I would do, but I haven’t been in this woman’s shoes. And I certainly don’t have her kind of money. My only question would be why she didn’t do this at least 10 or 15 years ago. If she’s badly wanted to be a mother for a long time, as I’ve read, how come she waited ’til she was in her 60s? Would she not have been permitted to adopt because of her age? If not, it seems like that might have been easier on her than what she’s gone through. It’s not as though this child is biologically related to her any more than an adopted child would be. Perhaps she wanted the experience of carrying a baby, who knows?
    And who’s to say she has no right? There was an old TV-movie from the ’80s where a woman became pregnant in her late 40s and most of her family wanted her to have an abortion. It actually carried a feminist message, in its own way. The line I remember quite clearly is when she tells her older daughter, “I have the right to abort this baby and I also have the right to keep it if I want to. That’s called having the right to your own body.” Even though this isn’t quite the same situation, I think it applies anyway.

  32. loveorperish
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Sure, you can have a healthy pregnancy at 40, that’s not unheard of…BUT 66 is 26 yrs older than 40.
    That’s 2 yrs shorter than my entire current lifespan. After 50, your health can change dramatically in a very short span of time, and I think Adeney is extremely irresponsible.
    My mother is 62 and in great health, but would I think it wise for her to have a baby knowing that when that kid is 10 she’ll be 72? Uh, no. One thing is to shame, another thing is to ignore common sense, and this just don’t make no damn sense.
    I think if this woman couldn’t get pregnant naturally at her age, she has no business having a baby because her time to have one has passed. Are her supporters arguing that elective boutique medical science knows better than nature???? It sounds to me like she got lonely and had some money to throw at it–for that, she should have adopted a dog.
    If she’s such a good candidate to be a mother, why didn’t she adopt a child and invest the money she spent on IVF into a care and college fund for a child instead? B/C MOST ADOPTION AGENCIES WOULD AGREE that the idea of having an infant in your mid 60s is madness, and she likely looked into adopting and was denied.
    I could, ostensibly, have elective medical procedures to make myself look like an elf, but just because I CAN, should I? Maybe, not so much.

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