Too Old to Be a Mom?
Breaking the Age Barrier
"What is immediately apparent," says Duxbury, "is that most of
us didn't choose to be older parents. We didn't sit down at 20 and say, 'Oh, I
guess I'll have a baby when I am 40.' Life led us down that road." Many
older parents come to parenthood with a legacy of loss; they've had
miscarriages and stillbirths and other disappointments, she says. They may not
have found love until late in life. "As older moms, we never take parenting
for granted," says Duxbury. "We look at our children as blessings that
arrived after long and often arduous journeys."
Nancy Hemenway, who had her daughter Zoe when she was 45, is a case in
point. "My husband and I didn't find each other until I was 38 and he was
37," says Hemenway, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, and is the
executive director of INCIID (pronounced "inside'') the InterNational
Council on Infertility Information Dissemination. It took years of trying to
conceive, several miscarriages, and finally treatment by a reproductive
endocrinologist, before Hemenway gave birth. Now, at the age of 50, she is
about to adopt a second child.
"There are times that I get tired, but I think having Zoe has energized
me," says Hemenway. "In fact, I can't imagine not doing this. My
husband and I look at our daughter in awe, wondering, what would we have done
Weighing the Options
What about the ethics of having children when you know you may not live to
see the child's 30th birthday? Philosophy professor Lawrence Hinman, PhD, of
the University of San Diego, who has written thoughtfully on the subject,
points out that there's no reliable way to predict how long any parent --
whether 20 at the time of birth, or 40 -- will live. To balance the odds,
though, some older parents say they make a conscious effort to surround their
children with as much extended family as possible, including lots of younger
Stamina? Staying power? "People age at different rates," says
Richard Paulsen, MD, of the University of Southern California fertility center.
And Hinman, an older parent himself, points out that a bookish 30-year-old
parent may be less likely to get out on the soccer field with the kids than
would a fit 60-year-old. Furthermore, the 60-year-old is likely to have more
time to spend with a child, as well as more patience.
Although the decision to have a child late in life may seem a difficult one
to the outsider, the older parents themselves seem consistently optimistic,
whatever the challenges. "Older parents are a self-selected group,"
says Hinman. "You've got to be a little nuts to want it in the first place,
but if you do, it works out."