Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Forty Factor

Women who are over forty having their first child represent a growing demographic of women bearing children.  Fewer women are having babies in their twenties and thirties these days, and more women are having babies in their forties.   Despite the fact that we women over forty having first children represent the highest risk category (in fact, the American Medical Association puts any women thirty-five or older into that group), we are braving the odds and utilizing the advances in modern medicine to pursue the dream of raising families late in life.

I guess you could say that I am a righteous older mom.  I get a little proud and indignant whenever anyone suggests that I am in any way disadvantaged due to my age.   Yet at the same time I often question whether my maladies suggest that I am vulnerable to the age factor.  But it’s sort of like, I’m allowed to say something about it, but nobody else is, unless you too happen to be of my forty-something subset.  Sometimes I entertain such discussions on Facebook, and am usually enormously gratified when younger moms write posts to let me know that they too have had issues with their hips, or with fatigue, thus putting the age myth fully to rest.

Then usually some older mom decides to chime in and kill my younger-feeling mom buzz.   She says being an over-forty mom of toddlers is exhausting and that she has only had two nights of sleep in three and a half years.  Now, since she did just turn forty, she’s entitled to her point of view, and I can’t take that away from her.  I’ll just sort of sit back in the sidelines and wait for some young mom to blow that notion out of the water with a story of more extreme fatigue in her twenties or thirties.  (One thing I am learning is that no mom likes to be outdone in her level of exhaustion!)  I can reign victorious again in my need to believe that I am perfectly well equipped for this job.  Despite a missing molar, despite hyperparathyroidism, despite sun-spotted skin, and hair that goes gray if I don’t color it, despite laugh lines and frown furrows, I can still keep up with my one year old on the “shtair” and the “shlide”, wiggle through the tunnel, and nurse throughout the night.  If I was on an episode of Mom Survivor, I wouldn’t be likely to get voted off.  I’m that good.

Nearing forty-five now, I can still put a hundred percent into motherhood.  I can’t do it, however, if I don’t also take care of myself.  A younger mother might be able to subsist on a diet of candy bars and diet cokes.  I, however, require foods that are rich in calcium and iron.  I require a daily Rainbow Light prenatal vitamin, calcium, and Omega 3’s.  I require a vigorous walk with my son in his stroller at least three or four days a week, when weather’s permitting.  While one disadvantage for older mothers is the necessity to work harder at self-care, the fact that older mothers tend to be better at taking care of themselves works in their favor.      

But I’m not going to lie.  I worry about my mortality.  When I see younger mothers I see just that—younger and more beautiful and yes, sometimes more energetic mothers.    I am continually becoming aware of my age.  Other mothers think about having a second and even a third or more children without blinking an eye.  I have to wonder whether I would be so lucky the second time around, in terms of having a healthy child.  I remind myself that I got pregnant easily, and handled the pregnancy well, without complications or need of bed rest.  I have been successful at breastfeeding and have fully enjoyed raising my little boy into a toddler…But I’m conditioned to think of myself as old.  I imagine that in the minds of other people my having a second child would be—well, pushing it.    

And yet, when I look at how well my first child is turning out, how healthy and happy and engaged with the world he is, I wonder why I don’t feel more confidence in my ability to have a second child.  In part it might be due to K and the fact that he insists another child wouldn’t be economically feasible.  And there’s truth in that.  But as we know, economics don’t deter most people, or most people in the world would not have children.  So it has to be something else… a nagging deep down fear of failure, a fear that we wouldn’t be able to take care of ourselves and our children.  That this baby soft-faced child of ours who adores us so will one day realize that we're growing old.

*   *   *   *

Being an older mom means having to scrub hair dye off the bath turtles.  It means being mistaken for grandma by inner city TSA workers in airport security lines.  It means viewing portraits of creamy skinned younger moms and their babies with a wistful sense of envy.  It means running out of time to have a second one.  It means watching my son’s first white teeth come in while I work to keep from losing mine.  It means being susceptible to older person’s illnesses like hyperparathyroidism and diverticulitis.  The older you get, the more syllables are in the names of your illnesses.  It’s an unfortunate phenomenon. 

But being an older mom also means being a mom with wisdom.  It means being a mom who came very close to not getting the chance to become a mother at all.  It means being a mom with a deep sense of gratitude.  It means being a mom with perspective, who isn't upset by spilled milk.  It means being a mom not easily embarrassed and perfectly willing to act goofy for the sake of entertaining my little one.  It means being a mom who’s willing to keep on nursing him.  It means being a mom who sang to my son from the moment we first came home, between our first bonding moments nursing on the sofa, and then as we strolled up and down the bike paths, and whose son now at the age of one sings “LA! LA! LA!” at the top of his lungs.   It means not really giving a crap how I look or weather I’ve lost all my pregnancy fat or even whether I’ll ever get to go out ever again in my life.  It means being willing to give up everything for my child, and yet feel as if I’m receiving the greatest and richest gift under the sun.   Being an older mom is not for everyone.  But despite the fact that I’m growing older, I am feeling younger all the time.  And even though I’m an older mom, my little son wouldn’t want any other one.   


Anonymous said...

I love your blog Rachel...very nice !!


Anonymous said...

Well said! You just put to paper (or blog) my very existence! Rock on!!
Your Friend and Fellow Mom o'er Forty,

Stacy M.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully Written ,Tugs At The Heart

Sybille said...

Love everything that you said - and you are awesome! You are only as young as you feel so please don't let what our culture considers normal to sway you from your path! Remember, in the past, women had babies until menopause, and no one ever questioned it!
So you are not an oddity in the scheme of humanity!
Love, Sybille

Rachel Dowling said...

Thank you all for your supportive comments. It means so much to know that others can relate to my experience. Stacy M. you know I love you. Sybille YOU are awesome!Yes, my great-grandma was one of those women...she had 16 of them. I could be content with one, but it would also be nice for my child to have a sibling...

dowlingcolette said...

Gotta tell you, when I was pregnant with my first, at the age of 24, I was stunned and even mortified by how old I felt with my varicose veins and extra 40 pounds as I trudged up and down the stairs in the NYC subways--wearing my brown, yes brown, maternity dress so thoughtfully made for me by my mom (probably, in her practical, midwestern soul, she was thinking of the amount of dirt there is in the city.)Then there were the thick, uglyh support hose I needed to wear because of those varicose veins. Really, I can't tell you how suddenly ancient I felt. I think becoming a mom always alters feelings about our age. We no longer have the same freedoms to do as we please. We are tethered, in a way that their fathers never are, to the needs of our little ones. I predict you'll start to feel younger again when your child starts spending time in school, leaving you with actual time for yourself and your own dreams. It's part of the flow of life I've noticed. Older, younger, older, younger.

Rachel Dowling said...

Interesting thoughts, Mom. It's nice to think that there's a younger-feeling phase of the cycle yet in store for me!

Au Coeur said...

This is a great post, Rachel! If you want to have another kid, I think you should go for it. There are plenty of ways to make it work financially -- the hardest part is saving for college, but as far as babies go, you probably have just about everything covered already, right?

I think there are pluses and minuses to being older or younger. It may make it more likely, but being young doesn't guarantee a healthy pregnancy or even a comfortable one. Just watch 16 and Pregnant - you'll see plenty of discomfort and c-sections. I'm not sure how the energy level compares; you seem to be full of energy every time I see you. :)

I think the biggest downside is potentially lost time with grandchildren. Chris' dad was older when he had him (late 40's)and just now has his first grandchild. If we had waited 10 more years to start, who knows what that would mean for him. Chris also has no grandparents left, whereas I have 6.

Rachel Dowling said...

Thanks for the positive feedback, Amber. As far as my appearance of energy, perhaps I'm just good at faking it. I certainly don't manage to stay up late writing the way you do.

There's truth in your observation about the grandparent factor. Cayce only has one grandparent- my mother.