In 1993, a 59 year-old woman gave birth to twins. It wasn’t a miracle of nature or Act of God. She found another woman willing to donate her eggs, a doctor willing to experiment with in vitro fertilization, and her partner kicked in some sperm.
Another Grandma made the news in late May. Frieda Birnbaum, a 60 year-old New Jersey psychologist, and her husband Ken Birnbaum, a lawyer, are the proud, happy parents of twin boys, born by C-Section, each weighing 4lbs, 11 ounces.
Apparently, Mrs. Birnbaum is the oldest woman in the U.S. to give birth to planned twins, Josh and Jaret. She couldn’t get in-vitro in the US, so she travelled to Cape Town, South Africa last year to have the procedure. She has three older children already, two sons, aged 33 and age 6, and a daughter who is 29. The six year old, Ari, was also conceived via in-vitro fertilization.
Birnbaum couldn’t conceive naturally. Of course not! The health risks are too great for 60-year old bodies to be nurturing a new life, both to the mother, and to the babies who have significant risk of being born premature or with birth defects. Also, as males get older, their sperm mutates, which also carries heavy risks of birth defects. The natural order of things makes the odds of a woman over about the age of 45 getting pregnant nearly non-existent.
Regardless, the Birnbaums spent a few years going through two IVF cycles, in which eggs are fertilized with sperm in a petri dish and implanted in the womb, at a U.S. clinic. The new mom isn’t saying whether she used her own eggs, which had been frozen years before, or eggs from a donor. Either way, neither of the procedures worked. American clinics weren’t interested in helping a woman in her Grandma-years get pregnant.
So she went somewhere where ethics were less of an issue. Namely, South Africa.
Birnbaum told Fox News she wanted her younger son, who is almost seven,
to have siblings closer to his age and wanted to remove some of the stigma attached to older women giving birth. She said it would make her happy. “When you make yourself happy, you can teach your children to be happy.”
But others are less sanguine. At least some doctors she saw were concerned about a woman her age having a baby. Clearly, women on the cusp of senior citizenship aren’t meant to be giving birth. Their reproductive years have come to an end, they’ve entered menopause, and if they have a lick of sense their focus has moved to retiring, grandchildren, and rest after years of hard work and child-raising. The golf course beckons . . . as do holidays in Jamaica, cruises to Alaska, and the extra health concerns that come with aging.
Sixty is far too old to be carrying a baby around in your tummy for 40 weeks, or to be chasing around a toddler who is into everything. Nature never intended for a post-menopausal woman having hot flashes to cope with being up four and five times a night with a new baby, in order to give that infant the best possible start in life by breastfeeding, every two hours around the clock for at least six months. Nor to bring junior into the world via some traumatic surgical intervention, because the traditional way is no longer an option.
And what about the future? The odds of a 60 year-old living long enough in good health to see her children get married, or have their own children, is miniscule. A woman on the cusp of senior citizenship needs to be focused on keeping herself out of diapers, not worrying about changing a newborn’s.
The siblings of the new twins are understandably concerned. Birnbaum’s oldest son reportedly said he was very worried his Mom wouldn’t have time for her new babies, and her daughter said Mom should be thinking about retirement in Florida.
Alana Birnbaum, 29, told the New York Daily News that she was appalled by her parents’ decision to have another child so late in life.
“She’s youthful for her age but I don’t think it’s good,” Alana Birnbaum told the tabloid. “She should be going to the gym and taking time for herself . . . not taking on more stresses and responsibilities . . . Am I happy at all about this? No. I’m not.
“My mother is too old, for health reasons and for lifestyle. I don’t think she’s thinking about the future . . . being 80 or 90 and having a kid.” She said her brother is worried they will end up taking care of the babies. “He’s against it even more than I am.”
But the elder Birnbaum says motherhood won’t be too much of an inconvenience for her. Apparently she’s already thought about those sleepless nights: Her new babies will each have their very own nanny, and they’ll be formula fed. And she’s rearranged her life to stay home with her tiny babies for a whole month before going back to work. A month! How lucky for these preemie twins, conceived after so much effort and time, and against even the stellar in-vitro odds, that their mother can spare a whole 30 days to care for them.
What’s the point of having children at any age if you don’t have the time to slow down and enjoy them? Oh right, it’s not about the twins anyway. It’s about a grown woman who wants what she wants and wants it now. It’s about selfishness. Birnbaum wants the babies, but she also wants life to continue on as usual. She’ll be back to work at her busy psychology practice, while the nannies cope with night-time feedings, rocking a colicky set of babies back to sleep, and explaining for the umpteenth time that no, this is not my son, his mom is that grey-haired lady sitting over on the park bench knitting — I’m just the hired help.
Birnbaum may want to be a role model, but she’d stand a much better chance of that if she recognized that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. There are weighty consequences for tinkering with the natural order of biology and procreation.
As a society, we are headed down a slippery slope when we allow doctors to play God with the creation and manipulation of new life. Regardless of the ethics involved with creating test tube babies, even a moderate position acknowledges there is a huge difference between giving Mother Nature a helpful bit of assistance and completely thwarting and overruling Her.
This society needs role models who can live their days with grace and dignity . . . people who are at peace with the process and realities of aging, and death.