When is it too late to procreate?
Ninety-four year old actress Zsa Zsa Gabor’s ninth husband, Prince Frederik von Anhalt, reportedly wants her to have a baby using his sperm, a donor egg and a surrogate mother. Yes, he does. He visited a Beverley Hills fertility clinic for sperm analysis and blood work.
There have been no reports of him also having his head read; however, Gabor’s daughter, 64-year-old Francesca Hilton (a product of Gabor’s second marriage to hotel magnate, Conrad Hilton) has denounced the story as the latest in a string of wild publicity stunts by her seventh step-father.
And while the Gabor-Anhalts gallivant around celebrity baby clinics (if gallivanting is possible when you are just shy of a century, with a partially-amputated leg), my friend – a single mum of two young children – has announced that she has successfully battled cancer at the age of 38. Facing her own mortality, she had to put in place a plan for the care of her children, which involved her parents and her sisters.
Another school acquaintance was not so fortunate. She left behind two young daughters late last year when she lost her battle with the illness at 39.
When I was in Year 12, one of my best friends lost her father to cancer. He was in his 50s. Another lost her dad in a light plane crash.
Jane McGrath, mum of two and former wife of cricketer Glenn McGrath, died of cancer at 42. Princess Diana, mum of two, died in a car accident at 36.
Fifty-year-old Sydney woman, Meagan Callaghan, recently turned to the media in her urgent attempt to find a donor for IVF treatment. She was labelled ‘selfish’ for wanting to bring a child into the world, who she might not see grow into adulthood.
Don’t all parents take that risk?
Monash IVF Professor Gab Kovacs, when interviewed about the Callaghan case by the Herald Sun, questioned the mid-life pregnancy on ethical and moral grounds, rather than medical ones:
“The problem is ... looking after the child - when the mother is 70, will she feel like driving around picking them up from their high school formal?” he said.
I don’t know. Can we make a call about another person’s enthusiasm for raising children?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that there are 14,000 grandparent families caring full-time for children in this country. I met one in a ‘sleep clinic’ for babies. Her daughter was a drug addict. The baby had health problems associated with her mother’s drug use. The grandparents had full-time custody of both kids, as well as full-time jobs.
Another woman and her husband work and care for their two grandchildren - one of whom has special needs - after the death of their daughter in a car accident. I see grandparents taking care of children at the school gates, at ballet, on the sidelines of netball and virtually anywhere where children congregate.
What happens when we stretch the generation gap? I’m 25 years older than my 12-year-old and might as well be twice my age in her eyes. I’ve narrowed the gap slightly with a wild promise to escort her to Bieber’s concert (argh!) but ‘anyone over thirty is ancient’.
Yes, some people ‘forget’ to have children. Others long for a baby, every day, as one infertile year ticks over into another. Some are able to line up the ducks and adopt. Some foster. Some throw their maternal or paternal drive into their nieces and nephews.
A few have eleventh-hour natural pregnancies, the way people used to a few generations ago, before we started controlling childbirth with the contraceptive pill. Others turn to IVF, including the use of donors, which is often required for older mothers.
The average age for menopause is fifty-one, and many Australian clinics won’t treat women older than that (some have age-limits in the lower 40s). Should IVF (with its Medicare rebate) be used if you can’t have the baby ‘naturally’ at that age? It’s used if you can’t have a baby naturally at twenty-eight. It’s used if you haven’t got a partner. It’s used if you’re a same-sex couple.
Zsa Zsa aside, how old is too old for a baby? Forty-five? Fifty?
When I was in my early 30s, I used to go running at lunch times with a 55-year-old. I’d stagger. She ran. She did triathlons. She went in the City to Surf. I was passably fit. She was an amateur athlete.
Some parents in their 20s and 30s make lifestyle choices leading to a ‘body age’ far in excess of their actual years. Becoming a parent slows some people down in this regard and not others. Some parents takes risks. Some have risky jobs.
How important is it that parents can chase their kids around the backyard? I shared a cable car in New Zealand recently with a family of four, plus the mother’s guide dog. The woman was adept at negotiating her family life in the darkness and so were her two young daughters, who had a strong example set for them in how to conquer adversity.
Parenting is about mental fitness just as much as our physical state - and both factors vary widely at any age. It’s about our capacity to communicate, educate and protect. It’s about building confidence and resilience and teaching kids how to interact with other people. It’s about the ‘village’ around a child.
There are energetic parents and lazy parents, patient parents, angry parents, loving parents and abusive parents. There are involved parents and disengaged parents. There are parents who die young and parents who don’t.
You could do worse than have an older parent pick you up from the high-school formal. I know this, because an older parent picked me up from mine.
(Please forgive any grammatical errors – my nearly 80-year-old father usually proof-reads my articles, but he’s currently traipsing around Gallipoli with Mum.)
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