Recently it hit the news that 65-year-old Annegret Raunigk, a mother of 13 children, is now pregnant with quadruplets. This summer, Raunigk could possibly be the oldest woman to give birth to quadruplets, a title that is quite close to the oldest woman to give birth, Rajo Devi, an Indian woman who gave birth at the age of 70. In comparison, the oldest man to father a child was 96-year-old Ramajit Raghav of India. Although it may seem like Raunigk’s and Devi’s pregnancies are uncommon, you might be surprised to discover that there is a rising trend of women over the age of 50 getting pregnant and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
In 2013, there were 677 births to women over the age of 50 in America—that’s 13 births a week. There were 600 births in 2012. This phenomena is not just occurring in the U.S. but in other countries like Great Britain where the birth rate for women 50 and over doubled from 2008 to 2012. For a better understanding of this trend, let’s break it down below.
Probably the first question that comes to mind when thinking about women over the age of 50 bearing children is how they get pregnant. It’s common knowledge that many women go through menopause during their 50’s, a process that hinders a woman’s ability to get pregnant. That’s where in vitro fertilization, or IVF, comes in. The first woman to give birth through in vitro fertilization was in 1978 in England and the process has only continued to improve.
In vitro fertilization does come with risks for women over 50 such as multiple pregnancies, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, premature birth, having a child with chromosome abnormalities, and miscarriages. A majority of women over 50 who use IVF are implanted with donor eggs which lowers the risk for side effects like chromosome abnormalities while others use eggs that they froze when they were younger. Many of these risks have caused fertility clinics to deny women over 50 from using their services although some studies have found that many women over the age of 50 have the same health risks as those that are younger and should be fine as long as they are properly cared for.
What kind of woman gets pregnant over the age of 50? First and foremost, they are all very healthy individuals. Some are first time mothers, same-sex couples, women who decided to focus on their careers, or women in second marriages. One thing is for certain, at least for women who use IVF, they are in financially sound places in their lives since a single IVF attempt with egg donation can cost anywhere between $25,000-$30,000 and most insurances do not cover this cost.
The trend of women deciding to get pregnant in their fifties or older has brought up many ethical and moral questions. Many of the following concerns arise when considering the topic of men and women over the age of 50 becoming parents:
- Will they be able to handle the stamina needed to raise a child?
- Will the child be embarrassed of or be able to relate to parents over the age of fifty?
- Do the parents run the risk of passing away early or burdening a young child with medical conditions associated with age?
- Why don’t these parents choose adoption?
Even though these questions arise, it hasn’t seemed to stop women who are fifty or close to fifty from getting pregnant. Take singer Sophie B. Hawkins, fifty years old and pregnant. Celebrities like Halle Berry, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Preston (John Travolta’s wife), and Susan Sarandon were pregnant in their mid-forties (ages 45-47) which isn’t too far off from 50.
Although many won’t agree based off moral or ethical concerns, the argument in favor of women giving birth over fifty is that, “People should be able to make their own decisions and deserve the right to have biological children and pursue their own happiness.” Others comment that more women and men over the age of fifty are raising their grandchildren and doing so successfully.
The role of women in society was once limited, first, as wives and child bearers. Within the last century, women were given the opportunity to pursue careers and decide if they wanted to become wives or bear children and if so, at later ages if they wished. It seems that the ability to get pregnant over the age of fifty is just another option for women, an option that gives women more control over their reproductive health and because of this trend families are growing more diverse. Modern families no longer look the way that they once did and there is something inherently beautiful in that fact.