Menu JTA Search

The joys of older motherhood

ENCINO, Calif., May 5 (JTA) – “You’re the oldest of all my friends’ moms,” my son Danny, age 11, tells me. Like I don’t know this. Or have a card for senior discounts or billions of cells that have lost their elasticity to prove it. A year and a half ago, I was a trendsetter. The Wall Street Journal reported that many women — women who already had children or even adolescents — were short-circuiting a potential midlife crisis by giving birth to another child. “Nationwide,” the paper stated, “the number of women between the ages of 40 and 44 giving birth again is up 23 percent since 1995.” But now, according to Time Magazine, I’m an aberration. The article states that the ticking of the biological clock, like the ticking of the crocodile in “Peter Pan,” portends trouble, as fertility begins to decline at age 27 (along with brain cells, which expire at the rate of 50,000 per day). The magazine reports, with statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, that by age 42, 90 percent of a woman’s eggs are chromosomally abnormal. As a result, one in five women age 40 to 44 is currently childless, and only a small percentage by design. Some of us older moms had no choice. I, for instance, didn’t meet my husband until I was 34. And though we moved quickly and dutifully in fulfilling the biblical injunction (Genesis 1:28) to “be fruitful and multiply,” I was pushing 43 when my fourth son was born. In retrospect, those early years were the easy ones. For here I am at age 54, where biologically and psychologically I should be at that peaceful stage of life with near-grown children. You know, those few years between children and grandchildren when you can safely put knickknacks on the coffee table. Instead, I am working “24-7-365,” as my son Jeremy says, as drill sergeant, chauffeur, caretaker, social secretary and nonstop negotiator for boys now 11, 13, 15 and 18. And knowing that, when my youngest graduates college, I’ll be eligible for social security and a room at the Jewish Home for the Aging. “You’re a lot younger than Sarah,” my husband, Larry, says, referring to the first Jewish mother and matriarch. “She had Isaac at age 90.” “Yes, and what was her reaction?” I answer. “She laughed — because she knew, even 3,716 years ago, that giving birth as an older woman is antithetical to nature, gravity and sanity.” “How about Geena Davis, who had her first child at 46?” he adds. But just because science (or divine intervention or luck) can stretch the limits of a woman’s childbearing years — a California woman wins the oldest new mom award, giving birth in 1996 at age 63 — that doesn’t mean it’s right or desirable. “Would you rather be young and stupid or old and exhausted?” a friend of mine asks. “That’s like asking if I’d rather have 12 weeks of round-the-clock morning sickness or 24 hours of excruciating back labor,” I respond. And like the subjective and morally ambivalent values clarification answers, there’s no right response to this childbirth conundrum. Yes, the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 11:6, exhorts us to “Sow your seed in the morning and don’t hold back your hand in the evening.” Talmudic rabbis have interpreted this to mean that we should bear children when we’re young and produce more when we’re older. Yes, easy for him, the undoubtedly male author of Ecclesiastes, to say. A man who, I’m sure, never had to drive a carpool or repeatedly tell his children not to slurp their sodas, pummel their brothers, throw balls in the house or pierce their ears. But life is full of conflicts and compromises, risks and restrictions. And not all women have control over when — and if — they can give birth. As the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want.” Though that doesn’t stop our children from trying. “Mom, can you drive me to Century City on Sunday?” my son Gabe, 15, asks, referring to a mall in Los Angeles. “Gabe, my life is devoted to your well-being,” I answer. “As it should be,” he says, only half-facetiously. But, in truth, whether a trendsetter or an aberration, as an old and exhausted mom, I take pride in knowing that I can still muster up the enthusiasm to drive to Century City and back, to help build a medieval castle out of Styrofoam, to spend the day on the soccer field and to plan a third Bar Mitzvah. I take pride in knowing that I, along with my husband, have raised four solid citizens and four committed Jews. And I take pride in being the oldest mom in Danny’s fifth-grade class. Because, as the Rolling Stones continue, “If you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” □ Jane Ulman lives in Encino, Calif., with her husband and four sons.