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Health & Parenting

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Too Old to Be a Mom?

The issues.

The Emotional Terrain of the Older Mother continued...

Washington State therapist Marlene Koltin, who also leads support groups, says, "Older moms have issues all their own and long for a sense of community. They may not feel quite in sync with other moms." Older mothers may be going through menopause while taking care of an infant. They don't bounce back from sleep deprivation or stress like they did in their 20s. It's a little harder to get up off the floor after playing with a baby. Many older mothers are also caring for aging parents at the same time they are raising young children -- a balancing act that can be more than challenging.

Although women in previous generations had a significant number of babies when they were past 40, says David Bruce Sable, MD, a fertility specialist with pioneering St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., those children tended to be the last in a string, rather than the first and only child, as is often the case today. So, the topic of raising children without siblings also comes up. And, says Duxbury, most older parents admit to an occasional sense of not quite fitting in. For her, it was the moment that someone assumed she was her daughter's grandmother. "Yipes," she recalls thinking, "If I look like her grandmother now, what will my daughter think when she is 16?"

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?"

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