Old Mom: Dies at 69, Leaves Orphan Twins

Health concerns, not age discrimination, restrict parent age in adoptions.

July 16, 2009— -- After a failed attempt at in vitro fertilization in 2000, Allison Parr-Plasha and her husband, Mike, decided on adoption, but their options were limited because of their ages.

Today, at 41 and 55 years old, respectively, they are considered by most adoption agencies to be too old to raise a newborn in the United States. Even abroad, certain countries place age limits on adoptive parents.

As "global citizens," the couple turned to international adoption, falling in love and adopting Saul Enrique, now 5, in Guatemala. Soon, they will adopt a sister for Saul in Ethiopia, where adoptive parents can be as old as 50.

"We are going for a child as young as possible," said Plasha, a life coach in Erie, N.Y.

"It's not an issue with my age," she told ABCNews.com. "A lot of women my age are still having kids. But it gets complicated with my husband's age and we were not even eligible in every single country."

In the world of adoption, parental age is one of several guidelines that puts the welfare of the child first. Though private adoption is less rigid, most agencies expect that adoptive parents will be younger than 45.

Ironically, new advances in the world of assisted reproduction, including egg donation, mean that women past menopause can actually give birth to children, even as older couples like Plasha and her husband cannot qualify for domestic adoption.

"It's the Wild West," said Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, about the lack of regulation in fertility technology.

'Oldest Mother' Dies at 69

This week, Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara, who lives in Spain and at age 66 gave birth using an implanted egg donation, died, leaving her young twins motherless. The woman, who was 69 when she died, paid $60,000 and lied about her age to a Los Angeles fertility clinic. She had been previously diagnosed with cancer.

"I have wanted to be a mother all my life, but I never had the opportunity, or met the right man," she told the press at the time. "My mother lived to 101 years old, and I have every reason to believe longevity runs in my family."

The 2006 birth sparked a worldwide debate about over having children so late in life. Her own family had called her "selfish and irresponsible."

The Donaldson Institute recently released a new report, "Old Lessons for a New World," which suggests that adoption-related research can be used to improve policies in assisted reproductive technologies such as sperm, egg and embryo donations.

ART World Could Learn From Adoption

"A lot of the lessons in adoption should be applied to assisted reproduction of all sorts," said Pertman. "We should be thinking of the ethical issues and not just do it because we medically know how."

One experience in the adoption world is that, depending on the type of adoption, "age can be a serious consideration," according to Pertman.

"The reason there are age limits is we want parents to be able to handle their kids and be around for them growing up, not just the day they adopt," he told ABCNews.com. "There are health reasons."

Adoption guidelines vary -- by country, state and agency -- but generally, older parents are encouraged to adopt older children. "A country that has age limits for infants, for example, might mind less if a 60-year-old adopts a 17-year-old," said Pertman.

But older parents like the Plashas, who have been married 13 years, said their age had been a "huge advantage," in raising their son. "We had eight or nine years under our belt and had worked though a lot of things."

A Better Parent at 55 Than 20

Mike Plasha, who had five children from a previous marriage before he was 30, said he is a better parent today at 55 than he was in his 20s.

"With Saul, I am more grounded, less uptight and am enjoying him tremendously," he said.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, births to older parents, in the 45 to 49 age group, are on the rise.

But even though more Americans are having children later, adoption agencies say concerns about the longevity and energy of the parents dictate their rules.

And, they say, it is difficult to convince birth mothers to agree to older adoptive parents.

Iris, who did not want to use her real name, lives in a dorm at the oldest and largest institution, the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas. She will give up her baby for adoption when she gives birth in September.

"I feel that a parent needs to devote at least 20 years of their life to a child," said the unmarried 19-year old. "I don't want to judge, but 60 is too old. By the time the child is my age, they would be 80."

"I think younger is better, but not too young," she told ABCNews.com. "The age range is when you are most able to give up yourself to your child."

Adoption Agency Has Cutoff at 45f

At Gladney, which handled 160 domestic and 300 international adoptions last year, the cutoff for parental age is 45 for the newborn program.

"Birth mothers are looking for a family that is young and will be able to provide a lifetime for their children," said Gladney spokeswoman Jennifer Lanter.

"The whole institution serves the best interest of the child, and obviously adoption agencies are geared toward securing a happy, comfortable, safe environment for the child. Older parents put that in more jeopardy."

But Dr. Richard Paulson, director of the fertility program at University of Southern California, said women as old as 50 -- and under some "extenuating circumstances," 54, should have the right to have children by any means if they are medically healthy.

"The thing we worry about most is whether the baby will make it to term safely," he told ABCNews.com. Mothers past the age of 55 are at greater risk of pregnancy complications that would cause a premature birth.

He requires his single patients to choose a co-parent before agreeing to assisted reproduction -- "a boyfriend, girlfriend or even a neighbor" who is willing to help raise a child in the event of the death of an older parent.

Safety of Baby Primary Concern

But beyond medical safety, Paulson sees no reason to regulate the age of a mother.

"Children are orphaned every day in this country, and even younger moms can be run over by a bus," he said. "They can get cancer or another disease."

"I think in this country, the respect for privacy and reproductive freedom is very high," said Paulson. "I am not saying it trumps the rights of the child, but most of think that a woman should be able to choose whether to carry a pregnancy or not," he said.

In 1997, one of his patients, Arceli Keh, lied about her age and gave birth to a baby at 63. The mother is still alive and her baby is now 12, according to Paulson.

Even in the adoption world, parents older than 50 find ways to circumvent agency standards to adopt infants, usually through private attorneys.

Nancy Perry Graham, now 53 and editor of AARP, the magazine, took that route with three children, including a daughter who is now 3.

"I would be the first to say that age is something to think about," she told ABCNews.com. "Nothing gives you a guarantee. I lost my dad when I was young, and I hope that my kids won't have to go through that. You never know."

But, Graham said she has a lot of energy and is in good shape physically, serving as a soccer mom and going on Girl Scout camping trips. "I feel like I have been more involved with lot of activities than even parents who are younger."

Older couples bring "stability" in their finances and careers to parenthood, said Graham, whose husband is 48.

"In an ideal world maybe I should have had the kids younger," she said. "But the advantage is I got to the point in my life where the kids truly come first. When I was younger, I didn't have the luxury."

She agreed that 66-year-old Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara probably "pushed the upper boundaries," but said parental age should be a personal choice.

"These days, 66 is still pretty young," said Graham. "Women are living until their 80s and 90s, and there are plenty of men out there having kids that age. The most important thing is having parents who love them. And having them at this age, you really want them."