Older Moms: What Are Their Critics Really Afraid Of?

After the death of the "world's oldest mom," NPR's The Takeaway asks Times blogger Lisa Belkin and 56-year-old mom Karen Day "how old is too old" to have a child.

Belkin acknowledges that, while a mother can pass away at any time, women who give birth at older ages are "increasing the odds" that they won't see their kids grow up. She also says, however, that as technology makes it possible for women to give birth at older ages, "there's a feeling that [...] we need to control this." And that feeling, she believes, is misplaced. Karen Day, who gave birth via IVF at the age of 53, has a similar take. She asks why older moms are criticized so heavily, while "a 90-year-old man who just fathered his 21st child" gets less attention. Belkin points out that the 90-year-old man needs a younger woman to father his kid, and thus has a younger co-parent who will be around if he dies. But if the real issue is having someone to take care of the child, surely this could be resolved by encouraging older moms to involve younger people in their kids' lives — much as gay couples sometimes like to involve role models of the opposite gender.

Giving birth at 67, as the recently deceased Maria del Carmen Bousada did, has its problems, but the reason people are so up in arms may not have to do with an altruistic concern for the children. Belkin posted the NPR interview on her New York Times blog, and a commenter responded thus:

I think that if women gain the ability to bear children in their later years (thus truly retaining youth and vitality), society in general will find it much harder to brush older women off as irrelevant and unneeded. Older males will have fewer excuses for sniffing around skirts of women half their age, and will no longer be seen as logical opportunities, but rather selfish perverts. If women can still have babies in their 50s and 60s as men do, we'll have taken a giant step toward closing one of the most significant gender gaps that exists. True equality is the real fear.

In conversations about gender inequality, especially regarding relationships and age, people frequently throw up their hands and cite "biological realities." These realities are why women are supposed to consider their "market value" and settle down young, while men can do whatever they want. But if technology allows us to change biology, extending women's fertility, it will become less tenable to assert that a woman's "value" is tied up with her youth. The paradigm that women lose worth just as they become wiser, more experienced, and better able to speak up for themselves, may be subverted. And that, for many people, may be a scary thought.

When Is A Woman Too Old to Have Children? [The Takeaway]
Talking With A Mom Who Is "Too Old" [NYT]