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Real Talk: When Are You Too Old to Have a Child?

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When is a couple too old to have a baby?

That question crossed my mind over the weekend as I was reading that Robert De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, announced that they had a new daughter via surrogate. De Niro, 68, and the singer/actress, 56, have been married since 1997 and have a son, Eliot, 13.

Let me first say congratulations to the couple, as a healthy baby is always an occasion to be celebrated. Now that that’s out of the way…

Is it just me or do they seem… well, a little, uh, mature to be raising a newborn, a child that could very properly be the age of their grandchild?

This question has been raised multiple times before. Earlier this year, New York Magazine tackled the subject in “Parents of a Certain Age: Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant?” by Lisa Miller. The magazine cover featured a pregnant and nude fifty-something showing off her pregnant belly, mocking the infamous Annie Lebowitz photo of a preggers Demi Moore. 
 
Miller found there’s been a rise in women over 45 having children. In 2008, the most recent year for which detailed data is available, about 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older, more than double the number in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Five-hundred-forty-one of these were born to women age 50 or older -- a 375 percent increase.
 
The baby-having drive in this set is so strong it’s recession proof, Miller reports. Since 2008, birthrates among women overall have declined four percent, as families put childbearing on hold while they ride out hard times. But among women over 40, birthrates have increased. Among women ages 45 to 49, they’ve risen 17 percent.

Miller suggested the some couples opt for having children much later in life due to vanity. “Just as important as medical advances is a baby-crazed, youth-crazed culture that encourages 50-year-olds to envision themselves changing diapers, when a decade ago they might have been content to calculate the future returns on their 401k(s). Nothing -- not a sports car, not a genius dye job -- says 'I’m young' like a baby on your hip."

Julianne Zweifel, a psychologist who treats fertility patients in Wisconsin, doesn’t think “mature” parents having children is wise. “Children are entitled to at least one healthy, vibrant parent,” says Zweifel. “Just because you’re alive doesn’t mean you’re healthy and vibrant.”

Though Miller interviewed plenty of people, including experts, who didn’t agree, she also found several who saw nothing wrong with older couples expanding their families and found multiple benefits to children being born to couples who were financially stable and more settled in their lives.  

“Broad-minded people see these critiques for what they are: bias and personal distaste hiding behind an idea of natural law,” wrote Miller, who gave birth to her only child at 40. “And yet some of these same broad-minded people still feel comfortable using chronological age to sort the suitable potential parents from the unsuitable. That’s because those judgments, and the backlash they’re fueling, are a product of ageism, the last form of prejudice acceptable in the liberal sphere.“

Do you think there should be a cut-off age for when couples should have children?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk
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