18 May 2009

Moral panic Monday: Britain's 'oldest mum' at 66

In case you missed it, everyone in the world seems to have their knickers in a knot over the pregnancy of Elizabeth Adeney, 66, now claiming the dubious honour of Britain's 'oldest mum'. Following on from many years of failed IVF attempts, Adeney fell pregnant after treatment at a Ukrainian fertility clinic. Most UK doctors refuse treatment to women of her age and also it is much cheaper to go elsewhere for IVF. Nevertheless, whether you agree with her decision or not, it is hard to deny that this poor woman is being unfairly castigated for choosing to become a mother at what is considered to be a socially inappropriate age. While on some level, I tend to agree that being nearly 67 when you have a newborn is morally ambiguous when you think about whether you will be around long enough to see the child into their teen years, at the same time I am appalled by the personal attacks on this woman's character, her ability to raise a healthy child and her position as a 'divorcee' in recent days. Has anyone forgotten about all of the famous men in their late 60s who have fathered children, receiving only pats on the back and knowing winks by other men for partnering with a woman nearly half their age?

Case in point: talk show host, Larry King. King, who became a father for the fifth time at the age of 65 in 1999 received only praise for having a 39year old (7th) wife and a baby on the way. Last year at the age of 73, he was praised for being a 'better father' to his two young sons, aged 7 and 8 in Ok!:

"Larry King enjoys being a dad at the ripe old age of 73. He loves to take his young sons, Chance, 8, and Cannon, 7, to Dodger games, which is something his older sons, aged 47 and 40, didn’t enjoy enough. “I’m a better father this time,” he tells intern Brandi Tape at The Quaker Smart Heart CafĂ© breakfast. “I have more time to spend with them, and I guess I care more.”

Argh. This makes me so angry. With regard to Adeney, who is expected to give birth by caesarean next week, one fertility doctor has said:

"I do not treat women older than 63,' he said. 'I don't want the child to be left without a mother before they reach 20."

If any of you saw Today this morning in Australia, Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt (whom I hate, by the way) had the nerve to say that Adeney was an unfit mother because she was divorced and because she was not providing the child with a father figure. This woman is the manager of a factory and earns a decent living.

I think the issues are being confused. Whether Elizabeth Adeney can be a 'good' mother is completely separate to whether it is appropriate for women over 65 to be able to access IVF. Older men seem to be able to get away with fatherhood late in life with no concern over the very real prospect that some of these men will not be alive to see their children finish high school. Women, on the other hand, are seen as 'past their use by date' once they reach a certain age and I think the threat of an 'older', 'single' and clearly financially secure woman choosing to have a child is what is really at the core of this moral panic about IVF.

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