A 74 year old Andhra woman, Mangayamma Yaramati reportedly resorted to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment to give birth to twin girls, recently. The father, Sitarama Rajarao is 82. Having spent over 9 months in the hospital, being constantly monitored by a panel of experts, the babies were delivered after a Caesarean section was performed. Needless to say, geriatric pregnancies of this nature being extremely rare, there has been considerable press coverage and the couple pronounced themselves delighted, insisting this is the happiest time of their lives.
The reaction to this has of course been mixed, given that she is the oldest new mother in the world today. Many feel that congratulations are in order, but in this situation, it is also evident that the couple have been under tremendous pressure to become parents. Mangayamma clearly feels vindicated on having ‘succeeded’ after over 5 decades of trying and failing to conceive. She said that her determination to be a mother stemmed from the fact that she had been criticized and stigmatized. People in her village would make her feel guilty and look at her as if she had ‘committed a sin’.
This accusatory mentality is typical in India where too many men and women are subjected to unrelenting pressure to become parents. Those who cannot or have chosen not to become parents are made to feel like failures or accused of being selfish and self – indulgent in the latter scenario, never mind that it is nobody else’s business. Not that such considerations stops relatives and random strangers from hounding the couple especially the mother and peppering them with unwanted suggestions, tips, and assorted voodoo on getting pregnant. These include but are not limited to bizarre sexual positions, dietary remedies like seared animal genitalia, umpteen temple visits, expensive pujas, amulets and foul smelling herbal concoctions sold by charlatans, gaumutra, painful fertility treatments, and what not. It would be funny if it didn’t amount to harassment and mental torture, which sees couples go through hell merely to prove that they are ‘virile’ or ‘potent’ even though they certainly don’t have to. It boggles the mind, that in a heavily populated country like India, we are still turning on the screws to force our citizens to have more children, when less or none is clearly the need of the hour.
Interestingly, Mangayamma was inspired to do what she did after another 50 plus neighbour successfully opted for IVF. Three years ago, Daljeet Kaur, another geriatric Indian woman, had a successful birth. It is believed that she too was in her early 70s though her exact age is not verifiable. Medical practitioners and ethicists have questioned both the doctors involved and the parents for the dubious choices involved. Extreme geriatric pregnancies like these involve much higher risks for the mother and child. There is also the question of providing a viable support system for the children down the line, given the life expectancy of their parents. As for the doctors involved, surely the ethics involved in making the decision to encourage people to opt for such treatments given their advanced years and far from optimal physical condition is debatable at the very least?
Advances in science and technology has made so much possible. But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.
This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express.