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Health & Parenting

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Too Old to Be a Mom?

The issues.

Weighing the Options

What about the ethics of having children when you know you may not live to see the child's 30th birthday? Philosophy professor Lawrence Hinman, PhD, of the University of San Diego, who has written thoughtfully on the subject, points out that there's no reliable way to predict how long any parent -- whether 20 at the time of birth, or 40 -- will live. To balance the odds, though, some older parents say they make a conscious effort to surround their children with as much extended family as possible, including lots of younger people.

Stamina? Staying power? "People age at different rates," says Richard Paulsen, MD, of the University of Southern California fertility center. And Hinman, an older parent himself, points out that a bookish 30-year-old parent may be less likely to get out on the soccer field with the kids than would a fit 60-year-old. Furthermore, the 60-year-old is likely to have more time to spend with a child, as well as more patience.

Although the decision to have a child late in life may seem a difficult one to the outsider, the older parents themselves seem consistently optimistic, whatever the challenges. "Older parents are a self-selected group," says Hinman. "You've got to be a little nuts to want it in the first place, but if you do, it works out."

All in Good Time

Indeed, some doctors say they are reassured by the stability of older parents. "They've made a conscious decision to have a baby," says William Gilbert, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. "That's very reassuring to me, as opposed to younger parents who haven't grown up themselves."

"Older parents are also better established financially," he says. "Biologically, we should have babies in our early 20s, but emotionally and financially, we should be older."

Older moms, to no surprise, tend to agree. "You don't know if you'll live to see your grandchildren, and that's kind of sad, but that's where we are," says mother and physician Nancy Pelzig, MD, of Nyack, N.Y., who had her first baby at 42 and a second at 46. "Overall, it's just such a blessing, you think, 'Why didn't I do this sooner?' "

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