I had my first child at 45. Here is what I learned.

The first time a stranger mistook me for the grandmother of my own child, I was at an airport, transporting my 2 year old to a connectin...

The first time a stranger mistook me for the grandmother of my own child, I was at an airport, transporting my 2 year old to a connecting flight. I bought a bottle of water; the baby was having a temper tantrum. I put her on the floor to let her scream and calmly made my purchase. The clerk gave me a sororical smile and said, “The grandchildren are a handful, that’s for sure. I have four of my own!

I smiled and said, “Yes, a real handful! Then I picked up my daughter, who arched back and shouted, ‘No! Over and over as we walked out. I’m pretty sure the Clerk’s misunderstanding about my relationship with my child will repeat itself for the rest of my life. This is one of the consequences of having my first child at 45, and my second at 49.

You can be a grandmother at 30, but saying I have young children makes me look younger in the eyes of people. Because I have never been a younger mother, I cannot say what is different from being an older mother. I can to say that I did not seriously consider having children until my early thirties. I had the privilege of having easy access to birth control and abortion, if I needed it. This childless period allowed me to focus on the things I wanted to do at the time: a doctorate, traveling, living together and touring as a musician.

My initial plans for children with my then girlfriend were disrupted by breast cancer at age 35. Having a form of cancer that doesn’t hurt except when it’s excised has a different impact than other more sudden and exhilarating brushes with death. It exacerbated what seemed impossible – that I would live long enough to successfully raise children in a romantic partnership.

Dependent on my partner’s health insurance for treatment at the time, my approach to mortality was fraught with tradeoffs; I could stay with her, be confident, ignore her associates with others, get drunk to sleep and pretend I had a good night’s sleep. Instead of being forced to live every moment with a lucid zest for life, I was a dull cancer fighter.

My alcohol addiction increased as my friends and family tried to get me out of a deep depression. My intoxication was an inarticulate request: Acknowledge my suffering! Look at me! But no one could see my cancer, and my physical debilitation and alcoholism was seen as a moral failure. I had radiation therapy on a cancerous breast and five years of anti-estrogen medication to reduce the risk of recurrence. Finally, at 40, I was in remission and quit drinking.

My children are the result of a partnership that I never thought I would be so lucky to have, with a man whose commitment to family matched mine. On our third date, when I was 41, we decided we would have kids. The reality is that even between the ages of 41 and 42, a woman’s reproductive chances drop sharply, and her egg production is likely low.

We optimistically started our fertility project with intrauterine insemination, which saves the sperm portion of the journey to the fallopian tubes. After this failure, we quickly moved on to in vitro fertilization, hoping that I would be the miracle person whose eggs just needed a little push. I learned that I am not a miraculous person: after two rounds of IVF, we decided to pay a young person for her eggs, a process softly referred to as “donation”.


As a 54-year-old mother of two young children, I am more patient and tolerant of my own weaknesses and the shortcomings of others than when I was young – a useful trait both as a parent and as a person. . I care a lot less now about what other people think of me, but I care very deeply about the needs and opinions of my family. I am more concerned with regular practices related to health and well-being; I have very little time for myself, but this time is being used exceedingly well.

How other people rate my suitability for parenting is really their concern, based on their own biases. If they choose to view my choice to become an older mother as unfair to my children, who will eventually (like all of us) become parentless, they need only consider the experiences of people whose parents are already out. of view because of fundamental disagreements, addictions or tragic circumstances. The way we lose and win family is never ordinary.

Motherhood for me has ushered in an unexpected bond with young women with children. As a middle school teacher who also works in public high schools, I am in regular contact with younger mothers. I try to use my role as a teacher to help them value the work they do as mothers, and to let them know that I see this work, and I see them too. Maybe this identification is something like what the sales clerk felt when she treated me kindly at the airport.

Sometimes when I tell this story, friends notice that I should have gotten mad at the clerk’s guess. “So vulgar!” they say. Other times my friends will reassure me that I don’t look like a grandmother at all. But what does a grandmother really look like after all?

I have come to understand the airport incident as a consequence of my unique journey: I will be misread and my experiences will be assumed, invisible, unknown. This path is an opportunity to experience deep empathy and connection. For her part, the salesperson’s comments suggested to other people in the store (who were probably uncomfortable or irritated by my daughter’s explosion) that it is difficult to care for a child who screaming, and that a screaming child is not out of the ordinary. She reported that she knew it was a tough situation for anyone and that she saw my work. Grandmother or not, I’ve been seen.

This essay was adapted from “Old Mom”, published in the May / June 2019 issue of “Women’s Review of Books”. A version of it will appear in “Tick Tock: Essays on Becoming a Parent After 40”, published September 21 by Dottir Press.

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I had my first child at 45. Here is what I learned.
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