Is it wrong to want to become a mother after 50? - Hindustan Times
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Is it wrong to want to become a mother after 50?

ByNandita Patel
Apr 09, 2024 03:13 PM IST

This article is authored by Nandita Patel, writer, Mumbai.

Photographs of singer Sidhu Moosewala’s bereaved parents cradling their newborn have raised questions about the legality and morality of a 58-year-old woman bearing a child. The age limit on fertility treatment for women is set at 50 in India—the approximate age of menopause.

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Pregnancy(Freepik)

But why must there be any age limit on women wanting to bear children--through assisted reproductive techniques, or otherwise? Why must older women not be allowed to bear children especially when the technology exists to do that which nature hitherto couldn’t/wouldn’t? Wanting to bear a child is a fundamental human urge, and the right to reproduce is an unalienable human right. Besides, men can--and do--have babies even in the 70s and 80s. So why mustn’t women--if they want to?

In theory, not letting older women bear children is intended to protect the best interest of the unborn child. Aged, unhealthy eggs from older mothers not only put the foetus’s life at risk but also make babies with physical deformities and/or mental disorders. In countries where governments pay for this type of health care, this is not only an ethical issue but also a financial concern.

Putting an age limit on women, however, creates a black market for fertility treatment—limiting access to good quality health care, and putting both the child and mother at greater risk. At any rate, in these times of advanced technology, fertility treatments often use donor eggs from younger women. Data show that this reduces not only the threats and birth defects associated with the eggs of older women but also the health risks to the older mother per se.

Still, some say, even if a woman can give birth safely in her 50s, isn’t it selfish and irresponsible to do so? After all, how long does she have to live? Who will take care of her child as she ages, or when she dies?

Lived experience shows there’s no guarantee on lifespan—young or old, anyone can die anytime. If a younger mother dies leaving behind little children, it’s the larger community that steps up to look after them. Why deny this privilege to older mothers? Perhaps morality lies not in shaming older women for wanting to become mothers but in offering them greater community support, understanding and affection. After all, it’s some adverse circumstance that makes her want to bear a child in her 50’s. To deny this woman the right to have a baby simply because she’s older is not only to deny her agency over her life’s choices but also to doubly victimise her.

Yet this isn’t about pitting younger mothers against older ones. It’s about an older mother versus her own younger self. This is a mother who has perhaps delayed child-bearing because she didn’t want to bring a baby into the world unless she could offer him/her the best. She’s a mother who, by not bearing a child, put the interest of the unborn child before her own. But she has worked hard for years to build financial security for the children she someday dreams of having. She has inherited wealth and property that she too will pass down. In short, she has done much to offer a better future to her children than her own younger self ever could.

It’s ironic, then, that in not allowing older women to give birth, the real injustice will be done to the unborn children—those whose rights the law seeks to protect. To deny children the love of an older mother is to deprive them of a more selfless and perhaps more responsible mother. For she’s a mother with greater life experience, if not a better education. She has lived, loved, sacrificed, and suffered. She has looked after her aging, dying parents and parents-in-law. She has put her own life and career on hold for the sake of others. And she has come out of it stronger, wiser and more compassionate.

Perhaps favouring younger mothers is what some men want--even as they couch this in faux moral and legal terms. So that they can reject an older woman without compunction by saying she’s fit to be a “companion” but not a wife or mother. So that they can treat all women primarily as vehicles for child-bearing: “Barefoot and pregnant.” Older women can/must pair up with younger men to have babies and even out this gender imbalance.

It’s admirable that Moosewala’s father has had a baby with Sidhu’s 58-year-old mother, opting (presumably) for a donor egg from a younger woman, and not a younger woman per se. Who amongst us doesn’t sympathise with parents who’ve lost their only child and want to have another? The law ought not to punish any such parents especially when, unlike other countries, India doesn’t offer financial support for fertility treatment, or child-rearing.

This article is authored by Nandita Patel, writer, Mumbai.

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