Vanessa de Largie | SBS | September 21, 2016
I’m sick of people using the term ‘selfish’ for parents who choose to have a child late in life.
I am the child of older parents. My father was 70 at my eighteenth birthday party and my mother was 61.
Was it unusual for my mother to be pregnant at 43 in the late seventies, 20 years after her first-born son? Absolutely! My parents were warned of possible complications but mum always wanted a little girl and felt that having a baby in her forties was her last chance.
But my parents certainly weren’t selfish and neither are other parents who make this controversial choice.
Recently, a 63-year-old Tasmanian woman gave birth to her first child through IVF. This should have been a moment of awe and celebration but instead the first-time mother had to endure aggression and criticism from health professionals and the general public, alike.
Monash University Professor Gab Kovacs labeled the mother’s birth as irresponsible. “I think getting people of that age pregnant is irresponsible,” he told the Herald Sun earlier this year. “That child will need looking after for 20 years, and there’s a possibility she won’t be able to do that.”
My parents died when I was only in my twenties. But after wrestling with their mortality, I came to the realisation that our parents can die at any age.
No parent can guarantee they’ll be able to look after their child for 20 years. The length of your parenting term is a gamble – much like the birth of your child itself. Life is full of mishaps, tragedies, illnesses and addictions that can affect anyone’s ability to properly care for a child.
What do these assumptions say about our worldview of an ageing population?
What do these assumptions say about prejudices against the elderly and their abilities?
Ageism devalues any human being over 40. It slaps on stereotypical labels such as ‘slow’ ‘conservative’ and ‘non-sexual’. Negative societal perceptions of the elderly enforces a loss of economic productivity and now it seems we would like to force a loss of reproductivity as well.
First-time parents over 40 offer wisdom and patience. Often they have lived full lives and are more ready to settle down and spend time raising a child. I believe this can give a child the feeling of stability and safeness. I certainly enjoyed the benefits of two retired parents.
I admit that, when I was a kid, other kids assumed that my parents were my grandparents. “Is that your nanna,” friends would ask when mum came to pick me up from primary school.
Seeing your father in a nursing home when you’re only 22 is also pretty confronting.
But my parent’s age never hindered their ability to look after me. The fact is, I was raised with a lot of love and given the best opportunities in life. Having older parents gave me the knowledge of prior generations.
Mum and dad taught me about music, film and literature from the 1940’s era – priceless knowledge that continues to assist me today in my career as an actress and writer.
My older parents have shaped the woman I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing.