I am an older mother. Not an old mother, but I did get started later than most. My first was born when I was 37, and Grady at 38. There are certainly women older — and in some cases much older — having babies. Still, there are consequences for starting a family later in life. On the good side, my husband and I are more financially secure than if we had started in our twenties. We both have our feet solidly on a career path. As a woman, I have spent enough time in the workforce that having kids now won’t derail me (men don’t seem to experience this issue). A key ingredient in the recipe for procreation is emotional readiness. We have that, too. We’re ready for the responsibilities and exhaustion that parenthood brings, and enough life experience to be competent guides for the boys as they navigate the booby traps of life. All good stuff.
It seems almost silly to contemplate the disadvantages, because I feel so lucky to have even had the boys. I do know, however, that there are some. If they wait to have their own children until they’re 37, I will be 74 before I have my first grandchild. My own parents will be in their mid to late nineties before they meet their first great-grandchild. Selfishly, I hope they get started sooner. I want to enjoy my grandbabies while I’m still able to bounce them on my knee. Even if it’s an artificial knee.
Last week I read an article that takes a solid look at women who embark on the baby quest at age 50 and beyond. Extreme Womb Makeover, if you will. Not only do these women go through the hormonal hurricane of fertility treatments, in many cases they need to be chemically brought out of menopause before they even start the fertility merry-go-round. Having only taken a short spin on it myself, I can’t begin to imagine that kind of vertigo.
My experience was mild in comparison. As part of fertility treatments, a patient needs to show up every morning for a week to get blood drawn. The blood is checked for hormone levels each day to find the lone “magic day” each month for treatment — artificial insemination, IVF, whatever. I would be at the clinic by 6:00 or 6:30 every morning and sit in a row of blood draw chairs with the other anxious women. Anxious to get blood drawn, anxious about getting hormone results, anxious about the rapidly dwindling bank accounts or number of attempts that insurance would cover. The air in the lab room was thick with it — worry, desperation, fraying hope. They took my blood, I straightened out my work clothes, and drove 90 minutes to the office to start my normal day. At night I’d give myself hormone injections in the belly, and repeat the process the next day. I was lucky — it only took three tries before I got the fantastic news that Cade was on the way. I hope I never need to give myself or anyone else subcutaneous injections again. Sincerely.
The article talks a lot about what the women go through to get pregnant, and the prejudices they face at trying to subvert the laws of nature. How children fare with having such older parents. What it will be like to face certain orphanhood in your twenties. There’s a feeling of disdain out there that older women got hung up on the career track and somehow “forgot” to have a baby. Regardless of whether you agree with the decision for a woman to become an older mother, this categorization is insulting. I’m sure there are women out there who put off motherhood with the expectation that they can do it later. But life isn’t usually that tidy. A woman can not meet her partner until 35 or 40. Or meet him earlier, but have years of fertility problems. Or not be financially stable enough to have a baby in her twenties. If you have lived life at all, you know that it’s messy and unpredictable. Those unpredictabilities very often shove babymaking down the line. It doesn’t matter how well a woman has planned her life.
The article doesn’t touch much upon the drive these women have for babies well past nature’s deadline. Even though I’m still in my thirties, I get it. One morning I sat next to a woman at the clinic who was at least 10 years older than I was. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have noticed her. I was exhausted, hopped up on hormones, and dreading my drive through the nation’s worst rush hour to spend the day at a job I hated. But her shoulders were shaking, and it wasn’t long before she was sobbing in the chair as the nurse drew her blood. I knew exactly why she was crying. If my time was running out, hers was probably already gone. The drive for motherhood is monumental. With medical help, it’s powerful enough to thwart even Mother Nature. It’s not for me to say if we should thwart Mother Nature, but I totally understand why a woman would want to.