On becoming a mother in your late fifties
The joys and challenges of late-life motherhood.
My mother had her last child, my sister, when she was 32. That was considered "old" in her day. When I had a child at 36, the hospital called the pregnancy "geriatric." But lots of women conceive naturally into their early forties, and others conceive with assistance a few years beyond that. With the help of donor eggs and a surrogate, a woman can become a mother at pretty much any age.
Recently I spoke to a woman who became a mother in her late fifties.
What's that like? Is it harder than expected? Easier? What were the biggest surprises?
Here's her take on the joys and challenges of late motherhood.
What's your advice to people thinking about starting a family late in life?
I wouldn't advise anyone to do this unless they were a very healthy and active person. Because you do have reduced energy at this age. Being a mother is a very energy-consuming undertaking.
Also, if you're going to do it late, I hope you had some fun beforehand. If I hadn't done a lot of things earlier, I might be thinking, 'Gee, I'll never do them now.' And I won't.
But I had a wonderfully exciting life prior to this. And not just with my work, but my husband and I travelled a lot too. I was living it up all those years.
I started working part-time. My husband's work responsibilities decreased. We had time to have a look at each other and say, 'Did we give it all the tries that we could?'
We had tried earlier through IVF, which hadn't been successful. That was in the late nineties. Then we were both consumed with our careers and ailing parents. So we really didn't have a chance to raise our heads. We'd thought we'd given it the good old go.
You were 57 years old when you started trying again for a child, and you succeeded shortly after. The sperm was your husband's, the egg came from an egg donor, and you had the help of a surrogate?
That's right. Our clinic told us to get two egg donors because the chance of success was so low. My reproductive endocrinologist synced the egg donors' cycles. We had two donors but still ended up with only one birth.
But that's what you wanted, right?
Actually, we wanted more. We had five embryos. We tried again, but unfortunately, our surrogate had trouble. She lost the baby at around nine weeks. Then I found another surrogate, and went through the whole thing with her with the last embryo, but we had no success.
Is there an upside to being an older parent?
I have the privilege, at this age, of working part-time and being much more connected to my child than I could have been otherwise. How do parents working full-time connect to their children? How do they do it? That connection requires so much time and love and energy that I can't imagine how you can do it working full-time.
Quite honestly, I don't think I would have been ready before this age to do it as well as I'm doing it. I think I'm doing it well.
There are many insights you get as you grow older. Career starts to fade in importance. You begin to realize how important family and connection and relationships are — and how temporary the importance of career is.
Your child doesn't get to enjoy your wisdom and your presence for as many years. That's the tradeoff. My child won't get all of those important parental moments in her life later, unless I can live to 100. I am always worried that we won’t be there for her when she needs emotional support.
This is a big concern. It motivates me to try to bring her up to be confident and resilient, and to give her as many tools as she can get in a short period of time.
There's a constant pressure for me to parent really well. I hadn't anticipated that pressure. It's the realization that I might not be here for a long time. I might not have a chance to tell her these things later in life.
Do you worry about your health?
I've had some health issues that I would never have dreamt I would have.
But whether you're in your sixties or in your thirties, there can be unexpected health concerns. Many of them are inconvenient. Some of them are life-changing. And some of them can spell the end of your life. There are no guarantees.
I think that my daughter's aware of my age, and it's a concern to her. So that's a concern for me. But I think every kid her age is concerned about the mortality of their parent.
Have there been surprises?
You have no idea what it takes until you have a child. The constancy of the requirements surprise every parent, I think, and it was a surprise to me too.
I think the joys of parenthood were a surprise. There's no joy like being a parent. There's no joy, and there's no sacrifice. There's no legacy like being a parent.
The other thing that I wouldn't have anticipated is the isolation of parenting at this age. There's no cohort of people my age parenting.
There are a lot of parents who aren't really interested in connecting with a parent who's 25 years older than they are. Because that's really the gap. So it was a bit of a surprise how isolated I would be.
People my age are doing other things — they're travelling, they're enjoying their early retirement. The other parents are struggling with working and not having much time. So I would say that would be the one thing that has really surprised me — how difficult it is to have community at this age.
So who do you spend your time with?
I have a sister who lives out of town and she comes in and brings her grandson, so that's what I'm usually doing. My best friend has a granddaughter who's actually a little older than my daughter, and so we spend time together that way.
But there's just absolutely nobody else that I know who has a child at this age. That's the biggest challenge — the social isolation.
And my child has no grandparents obviously, because we're old enough that all of the grandparents are gone.
Despite all the challenges I have faced, I have absolutely no regrets.
I think if you're well enough and you have some supports in your life — you probably should have more than I have — it's possible to do. I guess I would say if you have a burning desire to be a parent and you are healthy and well and brave and energetic, then I don't think that your age should stop you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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