The world's newest oldest mom: 70 years old.

Science, technology, and life.
Dec. 9 2008 8:37 AM

Motherhood at 70

Meet the world's newest oldest mom.

It looks like we have a new record-holder in the ongoing "world's oldest mom" contest.

Patti Farrant, mother at 62—move over.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Adriana Iliescu, mother at 66—move over.

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Carmela Bousada, mother at 67—move over.

Your new frontrunner is Rajo Devi of Alewa, India. She just gave birth at 70. Her husband is 72.

Rajo Devi. Click image to expand.
Rajo Devi and husband Bala Ram with their baby

It's a heart-warming story of man—or, in this case, woman—overcoming nature's cruelty. Devi and her husband tried for years to have kids. Eventually, menopause claimed her. That was 20 years ago.

Then technology arrived to save the day. No eggs? No problem. We can get you donor eggs. Bad sperm? No problem. We'll fix that, too. "We used the usual intra cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) technique," the couple's fertility doctor, Dr. Anurag Bishnoi, told the Times of India. "The ICSI method enables even poor quality sperms being used creating embryos." In Devi's case, the paper adds, the doctors used "blastocyst culture," transferring the egg after five days in vitro instead of the usual two or three.

The tinkering worked. "Childless for 50 yrs, mother at 70," says the headline in the Hindustan Times. Devi exults: "We longed for a child all these years and now we are very happy to have one."

To Bishnoi, it's a triumph over ignorant fatalism and prejudice. "The couple said they were facing social stigma for being childless for the last 55 years," the Times of India reports. Those bad old days of blaming women for infertility may soon come to an end. Bishnoi concludes: "IVF has revolutionized the way we looked at infertility. Infertility is no longer a social taboo or a divine curse. It can be treated scientifically."

Well, good riddance to infertility at 30. But Bishnoi hasn't broken Devi's curse at 30 or even 40. He has broken it at 70. "Rajo Devi has become the oldest woman to have given birth and the first woman in her seventies to do so," he proudly declares. As though the magnitude of her age makes the feat that much greater.

If you think Devi's record will stand, I'll take that bet. There will be mothers at 71 and 72. It will be done because it can be done, and because doctors such as Bishnoi see themselves as liberators. They're not just defeating society's strictures. They're defeating nature's. What once seemed an unalterable curse can now be "treated scientifically."

But as the march of motherhood continues into life's eighth decade, it may begin to dawn on the liberators that natural and cultural constraints are two different things. The former are less arbitrary. Nature tends to shut down a woman's ability to bear offspring shortly before it starts shutting down her ability to raise them. Science can defy the first shutdown, but how long can it defy the second? If 70 isn't too old to become a mom or dad, what is?

Maybe, as we extend our reach in this area, we'll learn to control it. We'll stop seeing infertility as a binary struggle between cultural fatalism and scientific treatment. We'll see an ecology of procreation and parenting, with some boundaries worth respecting, even when we know how to defeat them.

(Now playing at the Human Nature blog: 1. Drones patrolling the Canadian border. 2. Tobacco without smoke. 3. The recession and boob jobs.)

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