Older Moms, Healthy Families

Monday, at the age of 67, a Spanish woman became the oldest new mother in the world.

Carmela Bousada was so desperate to have children of her own, she lied to doctors at a Los Angeles fertility clinic. Shaving more than 10 years off her age, she claimed she was 55 years old.

Now Bousada is a single mother of healthy twins -- who will graduate from high school when she turns 85.

While there is no limit to fertility treatments in women of any age, many question how having a significantly older parent as the primary caregiver affects the family.

The Parent Challenge

Having the right energy level, financial security and an understanding of the generation gap are all challenges this mother might face, says Judith Myers-Walls, an associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University.

"The fact that she's single and as old as she is makes it very unlikely she'll get support from her parents, or have friends with children the same age."

Not only is this important for providing some respite from the strain of raising two children, it can also become a social problem too, as "the gap is over a couple of generations here," Myers-Walls says.

"This poses a challenge in her understanding changes in childrearing and identifying with other mothers -- she could have a difficult time fitting in."

Without others to lean on, Bousada will have to tackle late nights and the challenge of getting two children to eat and sleep on schedule by herself.

"There's also the potential she is reaching retirement," says Myers-Walls -- an added pressure that could result in her being "less likely to report the joys of parenting."

With regard to the children, they will have to bear the burden of the future.

"As these children get older they will have to think about caring for their mom" and take on responsibilities that kids their age don't usually worry about, says Myers-Walls.

Is Age Just a Number?

Many critics question the ethics behind fertility treatments for older women.

Currently, there are no restrictions on a woman's age when she's considered for the therapy.

And as doctors are finding out, some women are willing to bend the truth when having a baby is on the line.

"It is interesting that she lied about her age. We got duped the same way 10 years ago," says Dr. Richard Paulson, director of USC Fertility in Los Angeles. "Our patient said she was 53. She was actually 63, but the baby was delivered healthy.

"It just goes to show it's very difficult to control something as deeply and personally felt as reproduction," says Paulson.

"Age isn't the most important factor," says Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the division of development and behavioral pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"If the person is mature, capable, and has the capacity to tend to the needs of a child, that's what's most important."

However, to question age in parenting opens the door to a number of other, equally tough debates.

"Should people in the armed forces have a child then go into Iraq?" Schonfeld asks.

Older Caregivers -- Old News

"There are plenty of precedents where parents who are older are raising young infants," says Dr. John Constantino, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine.

"In 30 percent of the population, grandparents play an extremely competent role in caregiving -- age is a nonissue."

For reasons ranging from the death or disability of a parent to drug and alcohol addiction, a grandparent can be left as the sole caregiver of a child.

"This is not the only 67-year-old taking care of an infant," Constantino says.

And Schonfeld says the key to good parenting is not youth; rather, it is the ability to provide a safe, loving and consistent environment.

"The question," he says, "is whether you are able to provide that -- especially over time."