I saw a post yesterday on Facebook by somebody in one of the infertility groups where I am a member. She posted that she was moving forward with the donor egg process, and expressed concern that she was “just starting out” with building her family while others she knew had children who were graduating from high school.
This post affected me on many levels.
I am an “older parent” as well. I’ll admit that it freaked me out a bit to see, at my 20th high school reunion, that some of my high school friends had children in high school themselves; only married for two months, I was fresh off the heels of my (first and only) wedding. Having a child wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t start trying until I was over 40 and my son Charlie was born when I was 43. It is a little funny to think about my friends who have already raised their children and are empty-nesters, while I’m chasing around after a toddler. My husband pointed out that when Charlie graduates from high school, we will both be over 60.
But I’m not freaked out by it any longer. I embrace my status as an older mom.
There are lots of advantages to having kids when you are older.
- Usually you are more settled in your life. In my 20s and early 30s, I was still finding my way. It seemed like I was changing jobs and apartments every couple of years. My financial situation was tenuous at best, as I had very little savings and was still paying off student loans and other debts. I probably would have been able to financially support a child back then, but I would have felt a lot of stress about it. I probably wouldn’t have been able to give a child very much back then in terms of opportunities, and knowing myself, I would have likely felt guilty about that, as though I wasn’t doing right by him or her. Today, my husband and I have a nice home that we have lived in for several years, stable jobs, and a nest-egg. We might be adjusting to other aspects of parenting, but the logistical aspects of our lives are pretty much squared away.
- More life experience usually makes you more grounded in yourself. When I was younger, I was still learning about myself and the world. I learned about different ways of life through travelling all over Europe and Latin America, in addition to exploring the United States (I only have six states to visit to reach them all!). I did relief work after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and, on a 2009 mission trip to Brazil, helped rehabilitate a church space serving at-risk youth. In my early 30s I tested my physical limits by training for and running two marathons, and in my middle and late 30s I completed two half-marathons and a triathlon. I explored careers in government, museum work and television. These are more than accomplishments, they are steps on a journey of self-discovery. By no means have I achieved everything I hope to, but I do not feel regret that I’ve missed out on life, nor a longing to do more, now that my life is more about raising my son than about me. I feel a great stability within myself, because I have had the opportunity to excavate my deepest depths. I’m able to be a more present parent, and give more of myself to Charlie. It is possible to have this sense of stability and maturity when you are younger, but I for sure didn’t have it, and a lot of people don’t.
- Older parents have more time to study and prepare for the role. I started giving baby gifts to friends and family members in my mid-20s. For almost 20 years I watched others around me raise their children, and having the opportunity to learn from them has been wonderful. There are also tons of resources at my disposal that didn’t exist 20 years ago. We have a great network of people and things available to help us; our “village” to help us raise Charlie is extensive. As a first-time parent, I for sure feel like I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, and I expect this feeling to continue as Charlie grows through the various stages of his life, but it’s great having so many places to turn for advice.
- Older parents may feel more grateful for what they have. For a lot of older parents, the journey to parenthood is not easy. In trying to conceive, we may endure grueling fertility treatments, increased incidence of miscarriages, and higher-risk pregnancies, if we are able to get pregnant at all. It is a difficult, lonely path, strife with heartbreak. Before we conceived Charlie I had had two miscarriages and been diagnosed with Diminished Ovarian Reserve. During my journey there were definitely times when I wished I had tried to have a family when I was younger. After all, the world is always going to be here to explore, but women only get so many years they can successfully bear children. When we found out Charlie was coming and knew that he was going to be healthy, the joy and gratitude I felt was indescribable. I still feel it every day. I think all parents feel this way to some degree, and younger parents weather physical and emotional storms as well, but trying to conceive as an older parent is not for the faint of heart.
We are also fortunate to live in times where there are so many technological advances to help older parents. There’s an abundance of options in various forms of fertility treatment, adoption, and foster parenting. The path to parenthood is not as rigid as it was in the days of Ward and June Cleaver. In those days, if you were older, and/or single, and wanted to be a parent you were pretty much out of luck. Thankfully that is not the case anymore and people can experience the joy of parenting at any age.
There was a lot of positive response to the woman on the Facebook post, which made me happy. I hope that it allayed her concerns about having a baby when her friends’ kids were graduating from high school.
Having said all this, part of me does selfishly hope that Charlie gets married and has a family a little earlier in life than I did, assuming all other factors are equal and he finds Ms. Right. If he is 38 when he marries like I was, I would be 81 at his wedding. My own mother didn’t live to be 81. It’s hard to think that I might not live to see him get married or to meet my grandchildren, but this could be the case no matter how old I was when I became a mother.