Saturday 22 October 2016

If becoming a mother at the age of 65 is all wrong, then so is becoming a father

Published 14/04/2015 | 02:30

The then 55-year-old Annegret Raunigk posing with her daughter Leila in Belin in November 2005
The then 55-year-old Annegret Raunigk posing with her daughter Leila in Belin in November 2005

Frankenscience plumbed new depths at the weekend when it was revealed a 65-year-old German mother of 13 was pregnant with quadruplets.

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Annegret Raunigk, a schoolteacher from Berlin, decided to undergo IVF when her youngest daughter, who she had when she was a mere whippersnapper of 55, demanded a brother or sister. Instead of telling the little mite that she already has 12 older siblings, not to mention seven nieces and nephews, broody Ms Raunigk decided that because she was "still quite fit" she would undergo IVF.

Now, thanks to a donor egg and sperm and rogue IVF laws in Russia, when most pensioners are looking forward to retirement, she is 21-weeks' pregnant with quadruplets and the star of a documentary, which aired on German television last night.

Raising serious questions about the rigour of that nation's vetting of its teachers, Ms Raunigk said she has no concerns about having so many babies so late in life because she just assumes she will continue to "stay healthy", presumably for at least the next 18 years.

"I think one needs to decide for oneself and not listen too much to the opinions of others," she mused, defending her decision. Indeed, who needs to listen to pesky scientists - who tell us that complications for older mothers include a 300pc greater chance of gestational diabetes, higher rates of pre-term births and severe bleeding after birth - when one can instead do a Google search to find a doctor with no ethics and knock oneself up.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about the whole story is that Ms Raunigk looks, well, pretty normal - not immediately discernible as a swivel-eyed loon, although the image of the bespectacled pregnant pensioner cradling her swollen belly evoked, in me at least, a really visceral sense of revulsion.

Maybe it was the furrowed face, sagging jowls and wrinkled neck accompanied by the unmistakably distended stomach, but something about it made me shudder. And then I wondered why I found it so grotesque.

Clearly, this particular woman, given the combined 20 children and grandchildren she already has, would be better off spending her money on psychiatric treatment instead of fertility treatment, but why is the notion of old women having children so uncomfortable when old men are lauded for it all the time?

Elderly men usually accomplish this feat with a plentiful supply of Viagra and a partner young enough to be their daughter, while women need to go to considerably more effort, but the excuses trotted out are the same.

Ms Raunigk said she feels having children keeps her young and, despite her advanced age, sees no reason to stop procreating. This analysis was reiterated by 74-year-old Donald Trelford, writing in the 'Daily Mail' in 2011 about becoming a father again to a baby son thanks to IVF.

"I have certainly felt a new spring in my step since Ben came along … though it helps that older people need less sleep and usually get up once or twice in the night for a loo trip anyway," he said.

True, Mr Trelford only had three other children, as well as four grandchildren, when he became a father again, but the comments underneath the article were surprisingly positive. "Does it really matter what age someone is if they really want a child and love and support it," enthused one, while another said: "So? Live and let live. Good luck to them."

Meanwhile, all of the comments underneath the 'Daily Mail' piece about Ms Raunigk can best be exemplified with this pithy contribution: "Poor babies being born to a stupid selfish old woman who is thinking only of her own needs."

In short, elderly men having kids are doing so because they are invariably rich, libidinous and can spend so much quality time with their children during bathroom breaks at 2am, while older women who give birth are necessarily deranged, frothing-at-the-mouth monsters.

Nobody could defend the bizarre Ms Raunigk, but things become more complex when you consider someone like Susan Tollefsen who became pregnant for the first time at 57 when her partner Nick Mayer was 46. At the time, she noted that men who became fathers at her age got "a slap on the back" while she faced a barrage of criticism.

Now 61, separated and a single mother, she has admitted that, while she doesn't regret having her daughter, she was too old to have a child and the upper age limit for IVF should be 50, which it is in most EU countries. This point was perhaps best underscored with the recent death of a 66-year-old Spanish woman from cancer - two years after giving birth to IVF twins.

For the record, in Ireland, between 2000 and 2010, just 33 women aged 50 or older gave birth so it's not a trend that's likely to catch on, but maybe we should all agree that if we're going to lambast older mothers, older fathers should be subjected to the same derision.

Irish Independent

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