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Too Old to Be a Mom?

The issues.

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 without her?"

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 people.

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."

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