By Sola Ogundipe
SEVEN years ago, Rajo Devi Lohan made headlines around the world by becoming the world’s oldest first-time mother, when she gave birth to a baby girl at the age of 69. She went through IVF treatment, had a difficult pregnancy and delivery, but had a successful birth and healthy baby that she describes as a gift from God.
Omkari Panwar, in 2008 of India became the oldest mother in the world when she had twins at the very ripe old age of 70. Pamwar and her husband already had two adult daughters who had children of their own, but the couple were desperate to have a son.
While Rajo was the first the first aged woman to be a first time mother, Belinda Slaughter of Orlando, Florida, has been reported to be the oldest mother to give birth through IVF using her own fresh eggs. She gave birth to her first child, despite doctors giving her only a one per cent chance of conceiving.
Elizabeth Buttle made headlines when she was 60 years old and gave birth to her son, in Wales in 1997. She was one of the first older mothers to give birth, also through IVF. Patricia Rashbrook is one of Britain’s oldest mothers to give birth. She received IVF treatment in Russia, and in 2006, gave birth to her son.
In 1994 at 63, Rosanna Della Corte had another son through IVF out of grief after her 17-year old son died in a motorcycle accident. Papathiammal Subramaniam gave birth to her baby in 2004 at the age of 64, and was one of the oldest first-time mothers in India. Adriana Iliescu became a mother in 2005 at the age of 66, while Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara who was 130 days older than Iliescu gave birth to twins.
There are hundreds of thousands of other untold stories of older mothers becoming new mothers. All these incidents point to one thing, that the average age of women giving birth is on the rise. From Asia through Africa to the Americas and Europe , the story is the same. With increasing age, the likelihood of a woman becoming a mother remains comparatively as high as for women several years younger. To be exact, older women are becoming mothers with more regularity and certainty. Why is this so?
Stories of women over 60 giving birth following IVF pregnancies have generated debate in recent years around the world. Just how old is too old to become a parent? One thing that is certain is that the possibility of bearing children later in life is making women to realise that they have choices, even as this same possibility of conceiving so late in life, via IVF, raises ethical questions about how much choice women should have over when they have children.
There are risks associated with pregnancy known to increase with age and the number of viable foetuses per pregnancy. Concerns have also been raised about the impact of having older parents on the welfare of the child. But one unmistakable fact is that people are living longer and healthier lives and to prevent access to assisted reproduction on the basis of age alone is no longer acceptable.
It is generally accepted in medical circles that with careful preconception and pregnancy planning, monitoring most of the identified problems can be managed, and to some extent, reduced.
In medical circles it is broadly acknowledged that the ability of a woman to conceive decreases with age. The argument is usually that delaying pregnancy and parenthood raises the likelihood of complications such as difficulty conceiving, chromosomal anomalies, aging eggs, pregnancy complications and foetal deformities amongst others.
In Nigeria for instance, fertility treatment is gaining acceptance more than ever. Elderly Prima Gravidas (women over 30 or 35) giving birth for the first time is getting more popular. In the last quarter of a century, the average age of first time mothers has increased by an average of 5 to 8 years.
Figures by the UK fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), show a 10-fold plus increase in women over 40 seeking fertility treatment using their own eggs. Even the number of women over 40 seeking fertility treatment using donated eggs is on the increase.
For instance, globally, between 1992 and2003, fewer IVF treatment cycles were performed on women aged 40-45 compared to 2004 -2014. Latest figures show a marked increase in the number of children born following IVF generally and number of births following fertility treatment in women aged between 45 and 49. Both the number of births and the number of IVF attempts in women over 50 have increased astronomically in the same 10-year period.
This data seems to reflect the general trend of couples waiting until they are older to have their families. However, the idea is not to present the notion that because IVF is now so widely available, couples can delay their attempts to start a family.
Women may be choosing to spend more time developing relationships before settling down with a partner in their mid 30s or choosing to achieve financial independence and security before having their first child. It could also be that enjoying the freedom that a family life may potentially compromise the choice of a successful career. But then, it’s a universal fact that for mothers in their 20s, the best years for having children from a medical perspective coincides with the best years for establishing a career.
Many fertility centres do not readily give treatment to women over a certain age, citing concerns of the woman’s health and fairness to the child, but how old is too old? What price a baby at any age? Having a child later in life will always stir the emotional balance for a couple. When two people have spent a long time establishing themselves as individuals and as a couple living a full life, it can be an unexpectedly difficult transition to life as a family.
The sudden responsibility of being parents will always influence a relationship and in most cases, positively. One can always argue that a baby will alter any relationship, whatever ages the couples are and however long they have been together.