A Tasmanian woman has given birth to her first child at the age of 63, and everyone has been Very Concerned.

“Having a baby over 60 risky, doctors warn,” read one headline.

“IVF specialists hit out over 63-year-old mum,” read another.

“Fertility experts call older mum ‘irresponsible’,” blared another.

Just a few weeks ago Mick Jagger announced he was going to be a father for the eighth time at the age of 72, and everyone winked and nudged and gave him a virtual high five. What a difference a gender makes.

“Mick Jagger’s having a baby again, because he’s Mick Jagger,” one article read.

“Baby number eight is child’s play for Mick Jagger,” screamed one website, while another published a story headed “29 things older than Mick Jagger’s 29-year-old baby mamma” – as if it was her age that was the unusual part.

Then there were the listicles of “other famous older dads” for us all to marvel at the reproductive capabilities of George Lucas (69 when he had his first child), Clint Eastwood (66 when he had his seventh child), and Steve Martin (who became a father for the first time at 68).

For the record, I do think it’s wrong for a child to have to celebrate their mum’s 80th birthday when they’re not even old enough to raise a glass of champagne. But this column isn’t about me arguing whether it’s right or wrong to have a baby when you qualify for the pension.

Instead, I want to know why old fathers aren’t subjected to the same condemnation levelled at older mothers.

In the most recent case from Tasmania, the father is 78. Seventy-eight! By the time his child starts to walk, he might have trouble walking himself.

Before the Tassie two took the title, Australia’s oldest first-time parents were a Gold Coast woman aged 50 and her husband, 54, who had a baby back in 2011.

Again, the controversy then was almost exclusively around the woman’s age and associated health risks, nothing to do with her even older husband.

There seems to be this idea that while women get shrivelled, dried up and dangerously barren as they age, men just go on and on being rampant fertility gods with the ability to impregnate anything that moves, even when they’re just a shuffle away from a walking frame and discount bus pass. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Professor Robert Norman from Adelaide University’s Robinson Institute for reproductive research explained on ABC radio, sperm quality declines rapidly over the age of 40, with older fathers much more likely to produce abnormalities in children including autism, schizophrenia and achondroplasia — a type of dwarfism.

“It seems as if the DNA in the sperm changes quite dramatically once you get over 40, 45 and yet we don’t have these debates about older fathers,” he said.

Prof Norman, who is also the Medical Director of Fertility SA, agrees that when it comes to the parental age debate, the criticism of older mothers is rooted in sexism.

“I quite frequently get 70-year-old men coming to see me with 30-year-old women and by and large we don’t ask any questions, so there is a degree of sex discrimination against women on their age and we should probably be much tougher on men,” he said.

Being tougher on men? Subjecting fathers to the same scrutiny that mothers endure? What a novel idea! It’ll never catch on.


First published in The Advertiser on August 9, 2016. CLICK HERE to read the original article.