How Old Is Too Old for Motherhood?

70-year-old Romanian woman pushes the envelope for elderly motherhood.

ByESSAY by DRAGANA JOVANOVIC

June 4, 2008— -- So, how do you feel when you see this picture of the "world's oldest mom," 70-year-old Adriana Iliescu?

Do you get all warm inside, or are you appalled? And do you believe it is medical progress to allow women to give birth long after they've become pensioners?

Wrinkly Iliescu became the world's oldest mother when she gave birth to baby Eliza Maria Bogdana three years ago, following a pregnancy aided by in-vitro fertilization. Iliescu was 66 years and 230 days old when Eliza was born. Hers is just one the latest headlines in a contemporary trend toward late motherhood.

Romanian media have called the birth a "medical breakthrough." But the reality of the baby's life takes place in a tiny gloomy Bucharest apartment, which looks like it got its last coat of paint before Nicolae Ceausescu fell in 1990.

Iliescu was in the Guinness Book of Records for being the oldest woman to give birth until Spanish record-breaking Carmela Bousada delivered twins in December 2006, at the age of 66 years and 358 days.

Seeing the young face of toddler Eliza mirrored in her mother's aged visage is unsettling. Last-gasp motherhood may be good for now, for Iliescu, but what about the longer-term interests of the child? Who will take care of her later on, and what will be the psychological burdens to come?

Iliescu, who lectures on Romanian literature at Hyperion, a private university in Bucharest, says in a telephone interview that she believes she has now fulfilled her mission in life, and that no sacrifice was too great for such a goal. Her late baby comes after two abortion-ended pregnancies when she was both younger and married. She takes pride in saying her daughter has inherited her sense of spirituality and love for literature and art.

"Eliza loves books, refuses to go to sleep without me reading a bedtime story to her," she says. "Because she is so full of energy and is running all the time around the house I cool her down by giving her water colors to paint. She loves it."

When I was born in Belgrade in the 60s, my mother was in her mid-40s and stood out as being older than the average mother. She looked younger than her age, but to me, her age was a problem. I found it disturbing to be the child of older parents, whose age inhibited them in playing active games with me, and, worse, as we all grew older, I developed more and more anxiety over my parents' impending deaths.

But such thoughts seem far from Iliescu's mind. She is focused on little Eliza's future, even if that's going to be dominated by various realities: When Eliza is 20, Iliescu will be 87, if she's still alive.

Put another way, when Eliza is approaching puberty, her mother will be approaching her ninth decade.

For now, though, Iliescu insists, "I am in good health, and I have good genetics, my father Aurelian was 87 when he died, my mother Maria died 12 days later from sadness, age 86. You can say I work out every day with all the running after Eliza. If I live as long as my parents, Eliza will be 20 by the time I die.

"If the child is going to be well looked after and have all her needs met, then it doesn't matter what age the mother is. "

Although a pensioner, Iliescu believes it is important that she work, as well. "I want Eliza to know her mother has a good job, not only a pension," she says. "I also get a child fee from the local council."

But, the abnormality of being a working mom on a pension could prove more threatening if her retirement benefit and government child support become Adriana's sole sources of income.

What might happen if and when Eliza's mother starts to lose her physical and financial resources?

Warren Beatty, the Hollywood movie star who, with his actress wife Annette Bening, has produced a late brood, and faces no such financial constraints, has confessed in a TV interview, "We're producing our own grandchildren now."

Even he mixes pride with more than a little wistful worry.

Dragana Jovanovic is an ABC News reporter living in Belgrade. She covered the breakup of the former Yugoslavia for ABC News and has been ABC's presence in Serbia since then. She last met Adriana Iliescu in 2006 while on assignment for ABC News, covering Eliza's first birthday.

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