(Picture of one month old baby boy by Nils Fretwurst)
Woman in India ‘has twins at 70’
A woman said to be 70 years of age has given birth to twins in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state after taking IVF treatment.
Omkari maintains she was nine years old when the British left India in 1947, which would make her 70. Omkari Panwar has no birth certificate but if her age is proven it would make her the world’s oldest mother.
The twins, a boy and girl both weighing 2lbs, were delivered one month early by Caesarian section. Doctors said the twins were doing fine.
“We already have two girls but we wanted a boy so that he could have taken care of our property. This boy and girl are God’s greatest gift to us,” Omkari said.
Father of the twins, Charam Singh, a farmer in his mid-70s, told ABC News he was very happy.
“The desire for a male child has always been there, but God did not bless us with a male child. Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers,” he said.
I saw this headline and my immediate reaction was along the lines of ‘perhaps letting people in their 70’s have babies is a case of technology going to far?’ but upon reading the story I realised that in this case it was not about the desire to have a baby, per se, for after all the couple in this story already have two daughters and five grandchildren. What did this couple want so badly that they not only spent their entire life savings but also took out a bank loan? They wanted a son, a male heir to take care of their property -or what is left of it, seeings that they have got into debt and spent their savings in order to pay for the IVF. Logic is obviously not clouding their judgment in their deep desire to have a male heir, a desire I imagine that they have probably been nursing for over 40 years as they raised their girls. And apparently age is no limitation in this technological dystopia of ours. I say ‘dystopia’ because many women are discovering that technology does not allow everyone who wishes it to have children, fertility treatment is still a very hit-and-miss affair, and stories such as these about obviously post-menopausal women having babies, trivialises the experiences of those who cannot conceive and perpetuates the myth that science is the panacea that will solve our problems and deliver our wishes.
I imagine, as I really know next to nothing about this couple, that as they have gotten older and felt their approaching mortality, their wish for a male heir grew into desperation. Because having a baby, or indeed two, when you are in your 70’s would be no picnic, especially for the mother. Endless rounds of hormone injections and the exhaustion of carrying twins close to term, would not be an easy task, let alone taking care of the babies themselves once they are born. For this couple, the pressure desire to have a male heir must have been immense, if what they were willing to do to achieve this is any reflection. I envision that this desire to have a son was the result of socio-cultural and/or religious beliefs that almost necessitate having a male heir to carry on one’s family line. And this is far from being something unique to India.
The preference for sons over daughters is almost universal across cultures and is currently being acted upon in ways that are producing demographic distortions. (For details, here is the link to the comprehensive ‘Because I am a Girl’ report). The general birthrate is usually 95 girls per 100 boys (as infants, boys have a slightly higher mortality rate, so generally the differences in birthrate disappear by childhood), but in some areas (for example, South Korea, India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan) the birth rate reflects this desire for a male child and as result there are 80 girls for every 100 boys. This is a reflection of several practices, prenatal testing to detect female foetuses – which are then aborted, female infanticide, and a neglect of girls – withholding food and/or medical attention.
In order to explain what I mean by demographic distortions let me share with you the number of women and girls missing, that is the additional females we would expect to be living in a given population if there was no discrimination. (Bear in mind that the population of Australia is roughly 21 million, just to put these numbers into to perspective) India is missing 23 million females, China – 30 million, Pakistan – 3.1 million, Bangladesh – 1.6 million, Egypt – 600 000, Turkey – 600 000, Nepal 200 000, and from the rest of the world we are missing some 40 million women. The shortage of women in areas such as China is leading to problems such as the kidnapping and trafficking of women. (See The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, by Joni Seager, 2003).
Undergoing IVF treatment to ensure that one has a son is, unfortunately, just the most modern permutation of a very old practice. Since the beginning of (written) history MANkind has engaged in practices that reflect the preference for a son. I will leave you with this snippet of a letter written by a husband to his pregnant wife living in ancient Roman controlled Egypt, which reflects the practices of the time.
I beg and beseech you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If -good luck to you!- you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it.” (from ‘Marriage, a history’, by Stephanie Coontz, 2005).