Modern Family: Motherhood Is A Gray Area
I thought my mum was something she wasn’t really – a much older mother than most. That was half a century back. Having children at 32 and 36 was, then, ‘late’ motherhood.
As I sit writing this on a sun-kissed stretch of beach, I watch families frolic around me. Mothers of every vintage are swimming with their kids, building sand castles or just chilling with iced Cokes. The era of IVF pregnancies, womb surrogacy, and frozen eggs ensures that delayed motherhood is a reality, customized birthing the new norm. Older first-time mothers are now generally defined as women who give birth or adopt children for the first time at 35 years and later. They’re not uncommon – but they’re not totally accepted by the world yet.
My mother had compelling reasons to marry at 31 – late, by the standards of her day — but that didn’t stop the younger me from feeling embarrassed by the wide age gap between us. Other friends walked beside relatively younger couples on Open Day at school, when I’d sheepishly compare and contrast my family and theirs. Still, Mum wore her status like a badge of honour. “I am the older mother of young children,” her manner suggested, as she exuded a quiet, almost regal dignity. She didn’t need those consoling remarks like, “My kids will keep me young.”
Children are hardly some fountain of youth to draw energizing gulps from. In fact, they exhaust us every which way at any age. No doubt, they tire an older mother faster; stamina declines with passing summers, and even when you’re past dealing with a screaming infant at night, your kids will find ways to exhaust you.
But “gray mothers” bring different reserves of strength. Myself an average-aged mum, I’ve seen enough harassed, under-30 first-timers marvelling at their seniors, who blithely tackle the same kind of taxing day with ease, to know that maturity has advantages. Older women seem more settled in themselves, readier for the big and small sacrifices parents must make. They have watched longer and closer to learn from the mistakes of parent friends. A former barrister, until she became the UK’s oldest, single, first-time mother at 58, Carole Hobson travelled to India to get fertilized donor eggs transferred to her womb. Rather than feel overwhelmed at raising her twins late in life, she told the Daily Mail, “I’m coping with motherhood better because I’m more motivated than when I was younger.”
It isn’t entirely about mundanities, though. Late motherhood can be emotionally satisfying in a broader way. One older first-time mum I know likened the sudden joy of a child to a padlocked door thrown open and streaming light ahead. And I recall overhearing my mum tell a cousin how a late pregnancy, whether planned or surprise, can be much more treasured, as it comes at a time of heightened awareness of years slipping away.
In a recent essay on parenting , author Denise Schipani puts it in a nutshell: “The arguments on all sides are mostly noise to me. I had two babies in my mid-to-late thirties, not as a considered choice but because, well, that’s the way it happened. I may have wanted, vaguely, to have a baby at 30, but when you don’t meet the father until you’re pushing 33…. It’s math. You get what you get and ditch the regrets. You make plans and nurture dreams and then work with what happens.”
This will probably remain an eternally debated issue: Do people exaggerate the challenges of late motherhood, or is it really isolating, irresponsible, inadvisable? For me, the answer is clear, even without my mother’s stellar example. “Being an older mom with young kids has pros and cons – but the right time to become a mother is when it happens to you,” reassures KJ Dell’ Antonia, lead blogger for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, in a conversation about the parents we are and the parents we want to be.
Having children earlier or later is neither good nor bad – it’s an independent, individual, inspired decision. At whatever age we embrace motherhood, the years ahead bring a bigger bouquet of coping skills, courage and creativity, which form the vital core of parenting. The sand in the hourglass doesn’t have to drain the same old way.