World's Oldest Mom Says She Is 'Seriously Ill'

Spanish woman's illness reignites debate over postmenopausal births.

Dec. 13, 2007 — -- Marian del Carmen Bousada de Lara became the world's oldest mother when she gave birth in Spain to twins, just before her 67th birthday last year.

Now, the woman who sparked a worldwide debate on the medical and moral issues brought on by postmenopausal births has told a Spanish TV station she has come down with "a serious illness."

Bousada de Lara did not elaborate on the exact nature of her illness, but Spanish and British media have previously reported on rumors she has cancer.

"I am having treatment and that … but I'm well. The little ones are beautiful, very chubby, very big, " she told the TV show.

Asked about criticism that she was too old is to have children, she said, "I have a girl who helps me look after the children. I am always there for them. I always have help."

Bousada de Lara said if she dies, her nephew or the children's godfather would take care of the children. "They are not going to be alone. But come on, I'm not thinking at the moment that I'm going to [die]."

Bousada de Lara, who is single, has admitted she lied about her age, saying she was 55, and paid $60,000 to receive fertility treatment at a private clinic in the United States. Her twin sons will be 1 Dec. 29.

When asked whether she regretted her decision to have babies so late in life, the retired shop worker told the TV show, "No, not all. Not at all. No."

At the time of the birth, many were horrified by the case, wondering whether an old-age pensioner was physically capable of raising two children.

The woman's brother Manuel, 74, told the media, "My mother would roll in her grave if she knew."

Health Risks

Doctors and psychologists say there can be health risks associated with having a baby when a woman is older than 50, not to mention the emotional impact on the child if a parent dies.

But some experts say that pregnancy in women of advanced maternal age brings far more positive benefits than negative ones to both mother and child.

And now — with egg donation and in vitro fertilization — older women can enjoy motherhood past menopause.

"When women conceive over 50, it's more complicated for the children," said Pamela Madsen, executive director and founder of the American Fertility Association.

"With egg donation, the issues are more emotional," she said. "It's not mommy's egg, and maybe not even mommy's womb. Mommy is often confused with grandma, and that's embarrassing for kids."

Still, she says, many younger mothers have no energy, and many disabled parents raise children successfully. And women of all ages get sick.

"Life is unpredictable at best," Madsen said.

The childbearing age of American women has been on the upswing since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The biggest increase has occurred in women between 35 and 44, but rising rates are also seen in the 45-49 age group at .06 births per 1,000.

Richard Paulson, chief of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Southern California, says in vitro fertilization of postmenopausal women is still not common — only about 10 a year in his practice, and only a few hundred a year, worldwide.

"It's a safe procedure if a woman doesn't have any underlying disease," Paulson said.

A woman's eggs decline in quality as they age. In studies during the 1980s, doctors observed that women after 45 rarely got pregnant with their own eggs, and after 55, they almost never conceived.

But later studies of women who received egg donations from a sister, after experiencing early menopause, suggested the uterus does not age, said Paulson.

"In the 1990s, a light bulb went on," he said. "Egg donation is not influenced by the age of the mom. It doesn't matter how old the uterus is. The new limit on motherhood is the energy level and willingness to have a child."

Most doctors draw the line for egg donation at age 55, when the rate of obstetrical complications begins to rise, according to Paulson. At 55, pregnant women experience high blood pressure 25 percent of the time; after that, the rate goes up to 60 percent.

To be eligible, women are carefully screened for potential health problems — especially, cardiovascular disease.

Fertility Drugs Don't Cause Cancer

Paulson debunked the theory that Bousada de Lara's illness may have been caused by fertility drugs, which are administered to both the egg donor and the recipient.

"There are a lot of predictors of longevity, and we don't exclude people on the basis of age," he said. Older woman have "special" reasons for wanting a child, he said.

Many are first-time mothers who have found love later in life; others have married younger men who have not yet had children; still others are couples whose older child has died.

Bousada de Lara was quoted, saying, "I have wanted to be a mother all my life, but I never had the opportunity, or met the right man."

Doctors have found no difference in stress levels among younger and older mothers. A healthy woman at age 50 has 35 more years of life expectancy, according to Paulson.

"Typically, they are in very good shape and young, compared to the rest of the population," he said. "A woman at 66, who lies about her age, is usually in good enough shape to convince someone she is 10 years younger."

"We've seen so many compelling stories about how wonderful motherhood is over 50," said Paulson. "It challenges the sexism of our society. It's totally OK to be a first-time dad after 50, but not a mom. A mother has to be young and pretty, but she can't be old."

But from a child's perspective, egg donation can bring its own set of problems, according to David Klimek, an Ann Arbor, Mich., psychologist, who specializes in human development.

"'This is not my biological mother,' a child will think," said Klimek. "'Who was that person, and why is she giving away her eggs, anyway?' It raises a lot of questions."

"During adolescence, even adopted kids go through all kinds of havoc, fighting for their own identity," Klimek said. "They need to know who their parents are. There is a hunger."

Children can also worry if an older parent is sick, fearing that they will die. "Sickness forces a person to become self-absorbed, and they will pull away from the child," Klimek said.

But the choice, he added, should be left up to the individual, and attitudes toward older people have changed.

55 Is The New 45

"We cannot assume anymore that a 55- or 60-year-old is decrepit and dysfunctional with dementia," Klimek said.

Psychologists have compiled data that shows older parents are more compassionate and better able to read the needs of a child, Klimek said. "If you are 30, and frantic, and trying to make a living, the child can be ignored."

Experts often associate neglect with mental disorders in children, so the quality of parenting before the age of 10 is more important than life span, according to Klimek.

"Even if the parent croaks, these children are more resilient," he said. "The question is, 'Does Mom really respond to me when I am needy, and if she does, I must be lovable, worthwhile and worth loving, with a good sense of self.'"

Meanwhile, Bousada de Lara's illness "can happen at any age," said Klimek.

The 67-year-old mother said she has good genes, and she cared for her own mother, who died at the age of 101.

"At the moment, I am still here," she said. "I'm not thinking about fear at the moment, but, of course, you never know. The love that these children receive, very few children get that amount of love. That's the truth."