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Should there be a cut-off age for childbirth?

As a 72-year-old British woman desperately tries to conceive her first baby, is it a case of better late than never or better never than late?

Published on July 14th 2009.


Should there be a cut-off age for childbirth?
Yes: - 58%
No: - 42%

We live in an extremely accessible society. We can have whatever we want and the things we can't have? Well, we're working on those. From picking the sex of your child and even more bizarrely, creating artificial sperm, the sky's the limit when it comes to science.

So it's no surprise that as our life expectancy extends, so does the age bracket for having children – through IVF.

Today a 72-year-old British woman has spoken of her tireless efforts to conceive and her determination to carry on. Jenny Brown has travelled to the United States and Italy, spending £30,000 on IVF treatment. Most IVF clinics in the UK will not treat older women on the grounds that it would not be in the interests of the child.

In an interview with Closer magazine, she said: “People ask me how a child would feel having a mum of my age. I hope they'll find it special. I'll tell them I tried for a long time, and how wonderful it was to have them. I know it'll be hard work. It'll change my life completely and I'm prepared for that.

“Any mother can die at any age. Look at Jade Goody. I hope to live to 100, but I'll ask one of my younger friends to be a guardian in case.”

Whilst it's easy to be instantly disgusted by the idea of a mum old enough to be a great grandmother, taking her age out of the equation, Ms Brown's desire to be a good parent to her own child is the type of attitude the world could do with more of. You only have to look at the number of orphans and ill-treated or unwanted kids to know that. It's just that like many modern, career driven women, Ms Brown has left it too late. The catch is that with medical advancements, there is no such thing as 'too late' any more.

Let's also not forget elderly fathers. TV personality Des O'Connor became a father again at the age of 72 a few years ago. We may have winced at the idea initially, but overall it appears that we're more likely to condemn an older mother than an older father. Many believe that it's just plain selfish to give birth at this age because of the health risks – to the mother and the child.

Health is the main factor that differentiates an old dad from an old mum. A man's job is done once the seed has been sown, so to speak, but with would-be mothers such as Ms Brown adamant that they want to carry their own spawn, the health implications are a mile long.

A Wikipedia article on pregnancy beyond 50 highlights that: 'Risks include an increased incidence of gestational diabetes, hypertension, delivery by caesarean section, miscarriage, preeclampsia, and placenta previa. In comparison to mothers between 20 and 29 years of age, mothers over 50 are at almost three times the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and extremely premature birth. Their risk of extremely low birth weight, small size for gestational age, and foetal mortality was almost double.'

Ms Brown is now appealing for women aged between 20 and 35 to come forward as possible egg donors, but not a surrogate. She told Closer: “It's important that I carry the baby myself because I believe that even if I get pregnant with a donated egg I will pass genetic material on to the baby while I carry it in the womb.”

Mother Nature never intended for women to have children beyond menopause, but technology says otherwise. If Ms Brown has a baby, she will be the UK's oldest mum. But should she be allowed? Vote on the Manchester Confidential homepage.

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62 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

east lancsJuly 14th 2009.

What chance would her kids have of a "normal" upbringing? They'c be celebrating their 18th when mummy was 90. No, just no.

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

I believe that it is the right of any mother in a fit enough state to give her child the love schooling and education all children deserve.Whether or not at 73 she is able to share the benefits children share with their mothers today and feel a normal part of society is an entirely different question. I would suggest that the possible birth of any child to this woman sets the child up for a very very difficult start socially.

east lancsJuly 14th 2009.

Scoteee, I don't even believe that people have a "right" to have kids. But that's anotehr matter!

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

east lancs. Regardless of political views and perceptions none of us are in an informed enough position to be able to suggest otherwise.i'd like you to enlighten me as to why you think a mother should have her rights to have a baby removed. Careful now, it's gonna be fun this rant :@P

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

east lancs,we all pre-judge and the majority of others perceptions may well lie with you .But it's not written in stone that she wont realise that there may be a better option for her as she grows up. This still doesnt mean her parents views and behaviours should stop them from having a child?

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

If you haven't already,read Angela's Ashes by Frank Mcourt. A great book and puts my point in to perspective.

east lancsJuly 14th 2009.

Scoteee, I think we're going a bit off topic mate!

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

not really,the right for the mother to have a child at her age lies in her childs upbringing and the mother's ability to act as mother and to produce a well balanced daughter in normal society.She has every right,no more from me...:@)

sylvieJuly 14th 2009.

no one has the right to remove the right to be a mother from anyone what next remove the wombs from drugtakers social security claimants etc..msybe we should just remove the testicles from all undesirable males...maybe that would open up a can of 'worms'

i'd do herJuly 14th 2009.

...for a fee

east lancsJuly 14th 2009.

Y'all be letting emotion get in the way of common sense. It's dangerous to the mother, and it would just be "weird" for the kid. As an aside, I don't think it's possible for "genetic information" to be passed "via the womb" to a donated, fertilised egg. Perchance a medicalist can correct me.

RedJuly 14th 2009.

Why doesn't she adopt instead? There are plenty of children out there that could do with the love and care she obviously wants to give to a child, rather than putting herself and a newborn at major risk.

HGJuly 14th 2009.

Surely this woman would have been better putting her energies into loving an adopted child/children? Then she wouldn't have missed out on motherhood and also helped out some of those poor kids out there.I've never understood this whole "it must come from my body to love it" thing - if your body can't produce a baby, accept it and move on.

HGJuly 14th 2009.

Also, I've got an excellent relationship with my mother who is 48, and I'm looking forward to still having it in 40 years time. Yes, we don't know what health issues lie in wait for us all in the future and as the article says "a mother can die at any age". Well, the chances of my mother being around for the next 40 years to love and support me are considerably greater than any poor child of this woman!!!!!

BenJuly 14th 2009.

At least she'd have more life experience and knowledge than say a thirteen year old knocked up on a bottle of white lighting....just saying

Campaign for Benefits Claimants to be SterilisedJuly 14th 2009.

**Campaign for Benefits Claimants to be Sterilised**

SKJuly 14th 2009.

Mother nature has already decided that she will be unable to have a child, why do you think women have a menopause, usually because they are past the age of being able to reproduce. Science should not interfere in this instance!!

BlokeJuly 14th 2009.

I wish science would interfere, i'm well pi$$ed off with having to duck in the kitchen every month!

BenJuly 14th 2009.

Thats all well and good, but I don't think theres anyone alive who wouldn't take advantage of manipulating science to get what they want. Mother nature decides that people born with fatal birth defects shouldn't in fact live a long life - however we use science to cure this.

small childJuly 14th 2009.

mothernature also states that females can bear from an earlier age than 16...I read one case of a nine year old!

Bring out the catholics +++July 14th 2009.

Agreed Ben, agreed.

DidsburyGirlJuly 14th 2009.

What kind of life is this mother going to give her child? One where she suffers the grief of losing her mother at a young age, most probably whilst still unable to care for herself, and being passed on to a friend of the mother, who although im sure will care for the child, will not be their mother. This woman is in effect, planning on orphaning her child. And I believe the argument regarding older fathers is completely void - there is another parent after them to continue to care for the child after their father passes away. This baby will have no-one. In my view, this is a very selfish woman who just doesn't want to be alone in her old age. She doesn't care about the childs own life.

CasJuly 14th 2009.

There will always be shocking cases like this! However I think having a legal age limit is a dangerous move. 20 years ago, 40 was seen as too old and now it's pretty normal. And then there's the lifestyle issue on age, a sixty year old who is healthy is a much better bet than a 40 year old druggie obviously. Do we also then say it is unfair of those who are long term ill to have children as there is a good chance they will die? How about disabled people with worsening conditions? It's a horrid little can of worms.

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

You have to wonder at her level of education... Is it really wise to allow a woman who doesn't understand the basic principles of boy sperm + girl egg = baby (with no womb related genetic material thrown in) to have a baby? Someone needs to sit her down, explain the facts of life and the risks both she & her intended offsrping face!

Didsbury girls speaks rubbishJuly 14th 2009.

There are more presumptions and pre-judgements in that statement than I can shake a stick at. Therefore in a true, pre-judging,opinionated narrow minded manner i shall do the same."You numbnut"!

DidsburyGirlJuly 14th 2009.

Thats my opinion. Im sorry to have offended you so much that you have to resort to name calling. How very mature of you.

DidsburyGirlJuly 14th 2009.

And I am speaking about this example in particular, not all older parents. I may view it differently were there a father involved rather than a test tube and a turkey baster.

BenJuly 14th 2009.

Agreed - how can anyone assume what kind of life the child would have?!

BenJuly 14th 2009.

(i was agreeing with "speaks rubbish" fyi)

Didsbury girls speaks rubbish saysJuly 14th 2009.

not sure how my "opinion" is immature to be honest?

SiJuly 14th 2009.

Food for thought in today's Grauniad;www.guardian.co.uk/…/bousada-oldest-new-mother-dies…

DidsburyGirlJuly 14th 2009.

The last time I heard the term "Numbnut" was at High School. That is what I was referring to. Not your opinion, which im sure could have been written in a more eloquent manner. And I wasn't assuming that is what will happen, it is merely what MAY happen. Although I think the chance of that happening are higher than the mother being there to see her child going to High School by giving birth at such a late age. That being said I don't think there should be a limit put on it. I just think the childs life should be considered rather than having a baby for their own selfish purposes, whatever they may be.

Time managementJuly 14th 2009.

haha! i like the contradictions of this articles message.... her attitude as a prospective mother is one "the world could do with more of" stating the reason why the world could use such an attitude is to conteract the attitudes of parents who treat children badly or have unwanted kids. if her attitude is that refreshing and is being suggested as positive in this world full of orphans (as portrayed by the writer), then why is she adding to the numbers of orphaned children instead of undertaking the responsibility of being a foster guardian, or using her life experience as a mentor?? My opinion simply is that you cannot have your cake and eat it. if you want to be career driven, fine, if you want to have a family, fine, but priorities have to be chosen for a reason. One item must take centre stage at any given point of your live and it is up to use to invest that time in all of our goals managing our time in respect of this. Until someone invents a magical harry-potter-esque device which allows us to live two lives at once we cannot expect to devote 50+ years to a career and have time to be a parent. How did she have such a great career with such poor time management?

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

I wonder how many prospective Foster parents get to foster orphaned children at 72 years of age?

EddieJuly 14th 2009.

Who said we have a right to have children anyway? Some people have children, some don't, if a person truly wants a child to love, they will love any child. It's the care that counts- not biology! By the way, that means I think she is wrong. Selfish and misguided.

Angry friendJuly 14th 2009.

If only adoption was the easy answer! My lovely friend got married at 30 and started trying for kids. Nothing doing. Three rounds of IVF then it turns out her fella is infertile. Another round with donor sperm. Still nothing doing. Then fella has a breakdown and decides to 'set her free' and divorce her. She's 40, single again and childless. After two years she decides to adopt as a single parent. She passes all the tests with flying coilours. They find a match. She's nearly a mummy at last. Two weeks ago she had her 'final' adoption panel after which she could start to meet her child. But a social worker forgot a piece of paperwork so panel was postponed! Reschedueld for today. Have been awaiting her happy call all day. But guess what? The child in question needs a medical test in September so the medical officer on the panel has decided he cannot approve the adoption until the tests are done to 'protect' my friend. She is distraught. She had her adoption leave booked. Her replacement cover has been advertised. All plans in place. She was told today was just a formality. Social workers apparently said sorry, we've let you down. We should have noticed this test was scheduled before today. They can't even tell her what it's for because she's not been granted formal adoption rights yet. My poor pal now wonders if the Gods are really, truly against her and is convinced that no matter what she tries she'll never get to be a mummy. It's tragic and heartbreaking. There's a little girl out there waiting for a mummy and she won't find a better or more loving one that my friend - but she must continue to languish in care because the authorities can't get their acts together. Lives are being destroyed.

CasJuly 14th 2009.

Your poor friend. I really hope she's able to stay calm and all is well in September, it will surely be worth the wait. I'm sure she'll be a wonderful mummy, and her upset now just proves that even more. Good luck.

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

surely when we talk about the 'right' to be a motherit is really about nature... ie nature decides when /if/for how long a woman is potential able to have a childso in cases where where a person is unable to concieve or is infertile ( while it may be upsetting) nature has done that (in most cases) and it wasn't a given 'right'

leighJuly 14th 2009.

I totally agrere with anon. But the question is 'Should there be a cut-off age for childbirth'? If there was, man would be interfering with nature and therefore the prospective mother's natural right will have been removed.

CasJuly 14th 2009.

I totally disagree with anon. Luckily we had our first child with no problems and should we want to conceive again we hope that is again the case. A lot of fertility problems are eeasily overcome and medical science enables this. Going from your viewpoint we shouldn't treat cancer (while it may be upsetting) as nature (in most cases) has bestowed that upon the person. Nature deals a lot of people tough blows, illness, disability, infertility etc If we didn't intervene and left everything to nature, would everyone you know and love still be here?

leighJuly 14th 2009.

Cas, nature does deal tough blows but are we not talking about a seemingly healthy person having her natural right taken away by way of vote?

CasJuly 14th 2009.

I was responding to anons comment of 'nature decides when /if/for how long a woman is potential able to have a child so in cases where where a person is unable to concieve or is infertile nature has done that' There are always going to be extremes that seem shocking, however anons comments clearly spread to all infertile men and women.

leighJuly 14th 2009.

Ha -Ha, anons comments clearly spread to all infertile men and women?I am a father of two boys and I swear on my sons eyes that I only had to chuck my gruds on the bed of the honey moon night and my first was born 9 months later...bloody cheek!

CasJuly 14th 2009.

Leigh, read it again you bloody over sensitive idiot. When I said anons comments clearly spread to all infertile men and women, thats what I meant - ANON IS TALKING ABOUT ALL INFERTILITY NOT JUST THIS OLD LADY! Some Honeymoon night.

leighJuly 14th 2009.

Aww thanks Cas. Eats, shoots and leaves? or eats shoots and leaves.I must only take an over sensitive idiot to have misconstrued your comments.

AnnonJuly 14th 2009.

Yes there should be a cut off and whilst we're at it let's ban children under 19 from having children. Oh to be a communist.

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

yes the question is should there be a cut off.... and what I was trying to say was that nature has a cut off ( in britain the average age for menopause is 51) so if we were to use that as a guideline any treatment wouldn't be given to women over that age ... and yes before someone says I know that with some women it is earlier & some later ..hence the average term

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

I think it is irresponsible. The reality is that these parents are not going to be around long enough to give their children the support they deserve - and what of their children - unable to experience the love and fun of a grand-parent. I am 30 yrs old and still rely on my parents for help and advice especially with my 2 yr old daughter - who loves them to pieces.

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

Grandparents of 60+ are not prevented from becoming carers for family children so less agism please. Whether women or men decide to have children at any age is up to them and since men can and do I there can be no objection to women doing the same

It Could be worseJuly 14th 2009.

They could have Cas as a mother, but then luckily she only has one kid and who'd poke her twice?

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

No-one has a God given right to have kids. The problem in our society is that everyone thinks they have a right to have everything they want when they want it, when in fact they don't. This foolish woman is, as Eddie says, selfish and misguided. She made her choice when she put her career first and the fact that she now regrets it is just tough. We all have to live with our decisions. I am not saying that no-one should have fertility treatment but I do think that the cut off point needs to be formalised and average menopause age seems as good a point as any at which to draw the line.

CasJuly 14th 2009.

@ itcouldbeworse - how mature, not adult enough to actually debate with anyone then? Pathetic.

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

I believe that past a certain age each case should be needs assessed. The parent should accept that the chances of conceiving a child over the age of say 55 are far more remote and dangerous to the unborn child and the mother. A trained team of medical experts should be made available to assess both the mother's current situation against her possible living situation before the child legally becomes an adult. I find it irresponsible that a woman over this age can be offered fertility treatment. But should she conceive naturally, she must accept that her decision is possibly going to have a dramatic affect on her ability to raise a child well enough equipped to face modern day society. The problem for me is that it is people like this who deep down and for what I deem to be selfish reasons, might just be saying, ”ah well, I’ll wing it”.

emma graceJuly 14th 2009.

To me, it's not about this woman exercising her right to have a child at all. That kid isn't going to have a mum past the age of 10 or 15, and it's not fair.

scoteeeJuly 14th 2009.

Ms G, why dont you knit her one?

AgainstJuly 14th 2009.

If this was was to go ahead and have the baby and if she happend to die during childbirth, who would be to blame then for allowing this to happen in the first place?!?

AnonymousJuly 14th 2009.

The lady next-door-but-one to us had a child when she was 52 - unplanned but much loved - she died last year aged 89. Not all late births are a disaster, but it's better to be a natural conception than trying to cheat nature

KasJuly 15th 2009.

The Spanish mother who gave birth to twins when she was in her 60's had just died, she was single and now leaves to babies as orphans - what sort of life are they going to have now? Having children at that age is plain selfish.

AnonymousJuly 15th 2009.

I think this is typical of the selfish society in which we live at present in whch people expect to have whatever they want at whatever cost even to the detrimrnt of another Like many people I believe that ther is no such thing as a womans right to have a child but it is every chulds right to have a commited loving parent who at least has a chance of seeing them grown up and capable of living an independent life .yES WE ALL KNOW THAT ANYONE CAN DIE AT ANY TIME AND THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES-but why shorten the odds Socially More than likely this child will not see having a 73 year old mother z as special as its mother hopes but an embarrassment althought one could argue that there are plenty of embarrasing mums out there for other reasons Overall I think that nature knows best this is from someone who lost one new born child and had a miscarriage before finally having two wonderful sons. May I just also add that i do not think that fmen should become fathers ovetr the age of fifty either and Des O connor should be sterilised befor he produces mor e children who will perhaps never know their ather amother is not enough a childmdeserves to know both parents lets thinkof thne child for a change

JinkiesJuly 15th 2009.

It's all bollocks. Having children is NOT a right, it's just something couples/women can choose to do.I don't think age matters, I think who it is matters and their capability to bring up children. Everyone should need to apply for a license to have children, be means tested and checked, scally kids, teenagers and the elderly (which, at 72 - she is) might not make it through, but then they probably shouldn't anyway.

JinkiesJuly 15th 2009.

And by 'bring up' I mean support the child until they are 16 (barring any exceptional or unexpected circumstances/accidents).

AnonymousJuly 15th 2009.

a child needs its parent far longer than age 16 a parents responsibility to that child certainly does not stop on its 16th birthday maybe a lot of paents out there regardless of age would do well to remember that parenthood is a lifetime commitment from cradle to grave as the saying goes however long that may be although i accept that obviously children do become their own indepent people with their own lives parents should always be there for them . 72 is just too old to even contemplate bringing a new life into the world however young at heart one is and there are plenty of young 72 year old. the physical and emotional journey of parenthood is hard that is why mother nature intends for it to be done at a young age If you have missed your chance at parenthood that may be sad but this woman like others her age should accept that fact and count the blessings in her life we all have disappointments to deal with at 72 it is time to let this one go

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