Thursday, May 04, 2006

Over the hill with a bun in the oven?

All over the news today is the story of Dr Patricia Rashbrook. The 63 year old who is seven months pregnant following IVF treatment has sparked the increasingly familiar controversy over how old is too old to conceive by IVF.

I have found myself in a quandary and not really sure what to think about it all. The arguments for an upper age limit to fertility treatment are obvious and often repeated. They include concerns for the health of mother and baby, issues surrounding the capacity of older parents to successfully bring up a child, and the effect the reduced life expectancy of the parents may have on the child. I don’t feel I can comment on the health related aspects of this debate – it makes sense that there are more health problems in older mothers and their children. However the other arguments strike me as somewhat judgemental. There really is no such thing as the nuclear family in today’s society, grandparents regularly take on a parental role within families and this is not criticised. As a child my grandparents looked after my sister and I in the school holidays and coped just fine. If the individual concerned thinks that they can handle it, then who are we to say that they can’t? Equally illness and death is unfortunately a part of life. Perhaps it may be statistically more likely to happen the older you get, but dealing with this is not necessarily going to harm the child. And who is to say that the experience that comes with age won’t dramatically benefit the child?

The arguments against older parents are trotted out regularly but, perhaps excluding the health issues, they are all so subjective. This is the key point surrounding any discussion of reproductive freedom. It is personal and it is individual. The medical option to control fertility is now available to all women, and it should be left to the individual to decide what is best for them. The media attention that surrounds these pregnancies ignores this. It views any woman choosing to get pregnant outside of the socially acceptable boundaries as fair game, whether they are younger or older than the ‘correct’ age. This was demonstrated in the uproar a while ago about the fact that increasing numbers of women are ‘choosing’ to delay having children in order to establish themselves in a career, and then (how selfish) having IVF in order to begin a family. Women are controlling their reproductive choices and this is threatening. To make a moot point if it were a 63 year old man having a child no questions would be asked. Ultimately reproductive choice is now just that, a choice, and a personal choice. Dr Rashbrook did not choose for it to become a headline but the media insist on retaining control over female fertility.


At 10:18 am, Anonymous Laurelin said...

To make a moot point if it were a 63 year old man having a child no questions would be asked.

Great point, Somnambule. The way this woman's decision has been discussed has been irritating me alot, as it's all so judgemental. A woman can be 'too old' to be a mother, but no-one suggests that a man can be too old for that role. While I know there is a difference in terms of biological risks, I still think there are real double standards here.

At 11:48 am, Blogger Fox VS Hedgehog said...

Don't know whether you saw this article in G2 on Wednesday. It's about how men are leaving it too late to have healthy children, but how older fathers are respected and seen as virile and somehow more manly. Anyway it's interesting, let me know what you think.,,1766137,00.html

At 7:18 pm, Blogger la somnambule said...

Laurelin...when I sat down and really thought about my reaction to the news coverage it was definitely the invasive and controlling tone of it all which disturbed me the most. A man becoming a father in his sixties would never merit this much or indeed any attention. And the article foxvshedgehog points too suggests there may not be such a difference in bioligical risks as we have been led to believe (which in itself is sinister).

Foxvshedgehog...thanks for the link, the article is really interesting as it highlights the double standards laurelin mentions. The research in itself says something that hasn't really been discussed in the media, but I found the article frustrating. In particular it follows a theme common to discussions of parenthood whereby the men interviewed lament the terrible plight of fatherhood...

"But O'Sullivan and Hill, who are from the more enlightened end of the fathers' rights spectrum, agree with Benn that a more realistic and less gender-obsessed attitude to fertility would be welcome. O'Sullivan points out that all the emphasis on the female biological clock has acted to exclude men as well as restrict women: "Historically men have become fathers when women wanted to become mothers. In Britain now, about 20% of men become expectant fathers at a time they wouldn't have chosen. The smaller that figure is, the better it is for children."

This is so frustrating although the author's final line redeems it somewhat...

"Then again, the articles about bachelors selfishly trying to have it all would make interesting reading."

It's true! Female fertility has become the property of the media in a damaging and detrimental way.


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