Last month, as I turned 41, my daughter turned two. When our daughter first came into our lives, a lady in the neighbourhood remarked to me and my husband, “So late, sooo late…why so late?” Another bluntly asked, “What were you doing for so long?”
Our response? Smile benignly and try not to take offence.
One mom recently asked me how old I was, did a quick mental calculation and said, “Wow, you’ll be 60 when she turns 21”. “That sounds about right,” I said, doing my own math. “Her grandmother should be 60 when she turns 21, not her mother,” said math wiz. I counted to 10 and tried hard not to be nasty. Later, I wondered what exactly were these people thinking. That at our age we do not have the right to, or are unfit for, parenthood? That our child will be embarrassed by us? That we’ve broken society’s unspoken age rules? Or that we’ll be dead long before our daughter leaves the nest?
Prime example: Priya Dutt had her first child at 39.
Post-feminist critics blame the slew of Hollywood actors from Emma Thompson to Nicole Kidman for the trend of late motherhood. Hollywood celebrities such as Madonna often get a bad rap for advocating late parenthood. They do women a disservice, the critics say, by making the average woman think she can halt the biological clock and have babies well past 40. Closer home, the era of late motherhood is very much here: Priya Dutt fought an election and had her first baby at 39, Rhea Pillai’s first child was born at 40 and, at 43, Farah Khan, who made 2007’s Bollywood hit Om Shanti Om, has delivered triplets last month, her first children.
Biology still dictates that women are best suited to bear children in their early 20s, but modern life and culture make this less and less practicable. Though fertility treatments have advanced to a point where many women can bear children through IVF etc., they remain super expensive and limited. While I’m personally not a fan of IVF, I don’t see why women can’t choose to embrace late motherhood. While Hollywood stars such as Geena Davis, Holly Hunter and Jane Seymour all gave birth to twins, post age 45, whoever said motherhood necessitates getting pregnant and bearing a child? You can also come to the wonders of motherhood or fatherhood through adoption, as 45-year-old singer Sheryl Crowe recently did.
I believe these celebs have done the average woman a service, making late parenthood less of an anomaly. And let’s face it, most people kind of know that stars such as Jennifer Lopez, who recently delivered twins at 38, have used fertility treatments. It’s one thing for critics to make women aware of the reality of their biological clock, or the limitations and invasiveness of fertility treatments, quite another to say they ought not to be mothers at 40.
We are also told to have kids in our early 20s because later, we won’t have the energy to do it. Energy and stamina are such an individual and relative thing. My husband, for instance, is fitter than most men and women half his age. I’ve yet to see any 20-something father take his daughter on hikes, or horse rides on hands and knees for as long as he can. Admittedly, I don’t have the energy levels or lower back strength I had in my 20s, and I know I could handle sleep deprivation better 15 years ago, but I also know that I have a much better sense of perspective on life now. I’m not struggling with getting an academic degree or building a career, and have no regrets about quitting my job and being a full-time mom for a few years. I don’t take family life for granted, and I cherish each stage of my daughter’s growing up in a way I know I never would have at 25.
People come to parenthood through a variety of circumstances, for many different reasons, and at many different ages. I know more than one grandmother who, at 60-plus, has single-handedly brought up her grandchild because the child’s young parents couldn’t or wouldn’t.
In 1935, my father, aged one, was given to his maternal grandparents to be raised when his mother died and his father wanted to remarry. A couple I know, who did not want kids, at 50 found themselves with the responsibility of raising the wife’s brother’s child when he died suddenly. And then there are millions of children whose working parents depend on grandma and grandpa as primary caregivers for most of their waking hours. Most of them are doing a pretty good job of it. Why, then, the aghast looks and whispered disapprovals for those of us who choose late parenthood?
When 40-something moms say any of these things, they’re seen as being defensive about their age. Perhaps we are. Frankly, I’m amazed at how, since becoming a mom, I’ve had to even think these things. Surely being a parent is principally about loving, nurturing and caring for a child. All of which I have vast reserves of energy for, and am very capable of doing rather well.
Oh, and I have a confession. I’m guilty of harbouring the reverse bias. Once upon a time, I would roll my eyes at those who did the opposite; at women who had babies at 21, straight out of college, abandoning dreams of work and career. Now, I feel differently. I recognize that some feel ready to start their families in their 20s, others in their 30s, still others in their 40s. Readiness is a state of mind and life. As long as it involves choices and not imposed demands and expectations from others, any adult age is right for parenthood, provided you’re prepared for the physical and mental sweat alongside the joys.
Each of us is different, and differently ready. My baby came into my life when I was 39, and I don’t regret it. If I had done it earlier, I wouldn’t have the kind of joy I have now. She would be a different kid; I would be a different mom. For me, the right time is now. And I’m loving it.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org