Midlife Motherhood: One Pathway to a New 21st Century Family Model
Nov 03, 2014 05:44PM
By Cyma Shapiro
Midlife. Motherhood. Until recently, the two words were never conjoined. Midlife was the anticipated time to send your children off to college, change careers or pursue retirement because motherhood was for the young. Today that trend is changing due to breakthroughs in medical technologies, breakdown of the traditional family unit and new socioeconomic freedoms for women. The very definition of what constitutes a “family” has been shattered. We’re in the midst of experiencing a redefinition of the family model for the 21st century.
According to the most recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics, more than one million women over 40 have now become mothers through natural childbirth in the U.S. alone. There are no comprehensive statistics, central databases or clearinghouses for alternative options for pursuing parenthood, including surrogacy, adoption, fostering/guardianship and blending stepfamilies. If included, the numbers could be expected to be exponentially higher. With the gestational life of a women most often ending around age 40-44, it is indeed these very alternatives which are providing appealing options to older women—and now men —who might not have previously been able to achieve their dream of having a family and parenthood.
One in 7 children are now born to women age 35 and older. The rate increases have been sharpest for women in the oldest age groups: 47 percent for women ages 35-59 and 80 percent for women ages 40-44. The delay in the age of motherhood has been shown to be directly correlated to the growing educational attainment this group has secured. Statistics have shown that the more education a woman has, the later she tends to marry and have children
Here are profiles of five midlife mothers whose paths to midlife motherhood are as diverse as they are pioneering.
Joely Johnson was 39 when she married and 42 when she had her first child; her husband was 36 and 39, respectively. “I am not sure any kind of nuclear family is a good fit for people today regardless of modern variations,” said Johnson. “It’s hard for children when both parents work, it’s also hard on any parent who opts to be the stay-at-home caregiver.” She adds, “It’s doubly or triply hard on everyone if you don’t have a fairly large community of other parents or blood relatives nearby.”
To Hanni Beyer Lee, the traditional model never felt like it applied to her, although she tried marriage to a man, and adopted three children. “I was 23 when I had my son, Casey,” said Beyer Lee, “and raised him completely as a single parent. I adopted my first daughter when I was 42, my second when I was 43, and my third when I was 47. I was raised by a very progressive, educated and hard-working woman during the 1960s and 70s. Although I went through periods of wanting to fit in as a child and wishing I had a dad like most others – my father died when I was 3 years old – I think I deeply internalized what family life was like through my mother.”
After 16 years of marriage, DeAnna Scott was 46 when her surrogate gave birth to her twins. “We chose a surrogate to fulfill our dreams of becoming parents,” she said. “It was not the path we envisioned we would take, but the one that we could have only taken as older parents.” She explained her life choices with reflection. “In my younger years, I was focused on building my career. My husband and I didn’t put much thought into having children except to say, ‘if it happens, it happens.’ However, we never expected to wait 15 more years to bring our babies home. When we were ready to have kids, we found we had unexplained infertility and couldn’t conceive on our own. Even if we had wanted to follow true to the traditional family model, we couldn’t.”
Regarding new older parenting, Scott thinks the trend towards creating families in midlife is both wonderful and refreshing. “I suspect there will be a generation of children born to parents who had accomplished their goals and ‘lived life’ prior to having children, and with a more rounded perspective,” she said. “I feel that children can benefit significantly from this.”
The later-parenthood-path need not be seen as late. “I got married at 39, and my husband was 44,” said Randi Hoffman. “A year later, it seemed like this marriage would probably last. I got pregnant at 40, and gave birth to my daughter at 41. She is now almost 14.”
To Hoffman and her friends, this later path to motherhood is not at all unusual. “We weren’t ready to settle down in our twenties - we were too busy travelling the world, getting graduate degrees or having other adventures,” she said. “Speaking for myself, I think we are more emotionally and financially secure now than we were in our twenties.”
“I still think the traditional family model works for many people,” said 49-year-old Melanie Elliott. “But in our case, assisted reproductive technology didn’t work for us. We still wanted to be parents, so we chose adoption; I became a mom at 45.” She adds, “I love that families can be formed a myriad of ways - through surrogacy, ART and adoption. Often older parents need these paths to parenthood. We may have more cricks and aches, but there’s an added maturity of life experiences and intention that older parents can bring to parenting.”
Five women. Five diverse paths to midlife motherhood. All of them marching to their own beat and achieving their intended goal of motherhood and having a family.
Although much discussion has transpired regarding this burgeoning phenomenon and related topics such as same-sex parenting, the trend is not likely to reverse itself in the near future. Many times, women and men will stop at nothing to become mothers and fathers, when the(ir) time is right.
Cyma Shapiro is the writer and the creator of NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers, the first art gallery show dedicated to women choosing motherhood over 40, and the MotheringintheMiddle.com blogsite. She recently published The Zen of Midlife Mothering, an anthology by and for midlife mothers and fathers. Connect with her at [email protected].