How old is too old when it comes to being a mother? Is 45 pushing it? How about 50? At what point is the capacity to nurture a child weakened or lessened by the fact of a woman’s age, if at all?
A recent interview with an older mother in Britain (via The Daily Telegraph) offers an interesting take on the debate about age and motherhood, in particular whether there should be an age limit when it comes to choosing the option of IVF.
The person who’s saying there should be a cap: 61-year-old Susan Tollefson, a.k.a. “Britain’s oldest mother.”
In 2008, Tollefson underwent IVF treatment at a Russian clinic. Using an egg from a donor and her partner’s sperm, she went on to become pregnant at the very ripe old age of 57 and gave birth to a healthy daughter, Freya.
At the time Tollefson defended her choice against critics who saw her as being selfish. Now 61 and separated from Freya’s father, Tollefson is singing a slightly more reflective tune. While she doesn’t regret her choice, she understands its implications more concretely now that she’s raising a three-year-old on a pension.
Tollefson told the Mail on Sunday that while choosing to have Freya was “without doubt the best thing I have ever done in my life,” her age is a significant concern.
Said Tollefson: “I get a great emotional feeling when I look at her and a sadness when I realise time’s running out. If I could change just one thing I would wish to be younger so I could enjoy watching Freya grow up, get married and have children of her own.”
Motherhood doesn’t confer immortality on any woman—mothers die at any age—but that fact doesn’t diminish Tollefson’s peculiar pain. She’s seeing the coming years as something akin to lengthy goodbye between her and her growing daughter and that’s because she’s middle aged—it’s not a view a woman in her 30s would possess.
After having Freya, Tollefson now believes that women over the age of 50 shouldn’t be eligible for IVF. It’s a view most clinics observe too. In Canada, which doesn’t publicly fund IVF treatment (only the lucky women of Quebec get that privilege, sadly) most private fertility clinics cut off IVF for women at age 49. (FYI: age 42 is the last point at which most will consider using a woman’s eggs. After that treatment would shift to an egg donor scenario.)
Motherhood has always been simple-complicated but now previously unimagined technological and cultural change has dramatically shifted the equation in favour of complexity. In Tollefson’s case, however, there is a silver lining conferred by her age—when Freya hits adolescence, she may actually be grateful for the release of impending death.
Do you think that women over age 50 shouldn’t be eligible for IVF? Please share your thoughts here.