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Do we need to be perfect parents?

3 February 2003
By Juliet Tizzard
Director, Progress Educational Trust
Appeared in BioNews 193
Sandra Lennon has a new baby. There's nothing so unusual about that, you might say. But Mrs Lennon is no ordinary mother: she is 57 years old and besides being a mother, she is a grandmother too.

Talking to the weekend newspapers, various members of Mrs Lennon's family expressed concern about her actions. Her grown-up son, Glen, said 'I'm concerned about her becoming a mother. I must admit that she's is a very healthy woman and a very get-up-and-go person, but I cannot help being concerned.' He's probably right to be worried. Women in their fifties who decide to have a baby face higher risks to themselves and their babies than do women in their twenties or thirties. Not only is miscarriage or fetal abnormality more likely, but the pregnancy and the delivery pose greater risks to the mother.

Sandra Lennon may have put her health at risk, but has she acted immorally? Commentators are often quick to denounce women who choose to have a baby in their fifties, doubting their stamina and worrying that they may not still be alive to see their child into adulthood. These may be legitimate concerns for friends and family to voice, but are they serious enough to warrant a ban on pregnancy in the over fifties?

As the average age of first time motherhood creeps into the thirties, we should perhaps start to get used to older mothers. It's unlikely that giving birth at the age of 55 will ever be attractive to more than just a handful of women, but forty-something mothers at least are bound to increase in number. You don't have to be an older mother, however, to be a less than perfect parent. It isn't rare for people to have children in circumstances which aren't ideal, but that doesn't mean that they should be prevented from becoming parents. As it happens, there's no indication that Sandra Lennon is going to make a less than perfect mother. She has a loving husband, she's fit and healthy and she has no apparent financial worries. Many of us would not envy her position, taking on a newborn at her age, but why can't we wish her well, just the same?

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