PARENTING AT AN OLDER AGE
MOST OF US BABY BOOMERS GREW UP THINKING that if we worked hard enough and did the right things, we could have it all: a great career, a beautiful home and—eventually—children running around the back yard, while we sipped wine on the sun-splashed deck. We thought our child- bearing years would last forever. Weren’t we taught to use birth control so we wouldn’t have an unwanted child? And that all we had to do was stop using it and—bam!—a baby would come into our lives.
What we forgot is that we’re still human and that our biological clocks are set to optimally have children within a certain time frame. Once we pass beyond that period, our fertility wanes and what we thought would be simple….well, it isn’t.
The stark reality of not being able to naturally have a child usually hits us like a ton of bricks. We rush to our doctors, asking them what’s wrong, and when they tell us we have age related fertility problems, we don’t want to hear it. We look young, we act young. Why can’t our bodies follow suit?
Luckily, there are options that allow us to realize our dreams. We can use fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF), donor eggs and/or donor sperm or decide on adoption. But should we?
The experience of wanting to become a parent at a later age is sometimes different for men and women. As one of my 50-year-old male clients once told me, “I always wanted to become a dad but I hadn’t met the right woman yet, so I gave up the dream. It was hard, but I accepted it.” On the other hand, his new 43-year-old wife said, “ I could never let go of the dream of parenting; every day I thought about it. Even though I became the CEO of my company, I always felt like something was lacking in my life.” These are typical reactions I hear from the hundreds of couples I’ve seen who want a child after their biological alarm has gone off. Still, when they realize that becoming a parent remains a real possibility, they somehow end up on the same page.
Some of my colleagues, when questioned about becoming a parent during middle or late mid- life, tell me there is a “yuck factor.” How can people think that they will have the energy to get up in the middle of the night to change diapers or squat down to play the 100th game of Candyland? And then there are the teenage years. Does any 65-year-old dad want to be going to teacher conferences to discuss his son’s poor grades or make sure that his daughter isn’t using illicit drugs and having sex without protection? I agree. There are dramatic life changes that accompany parenting at an older age. Yet I’ve also learned from my clinical experiences there is another other side in which there are many positives.
According to one blogger (who sounds like many of my clients): “The fact is, there may be lively parents in their 70s and 80s just like mine, and women who die in their 30s and 40s, like my sister who left behind 2 babies when she died of breast cancer. We don’t know what the future holds. Many older moms can be more responsible and caring than younger ones. It’s all about love.” And, I would add, energy, commitment and desire.
If you’re interested in becoming a parent via assisted reproductive technology or adoption, talk to your gynecologist for a referral to a licensed reproductive endocrinologist in your area. Also, check www.ASRM.org (the American Society of Reproductive Medicine), which is the “parent” site for all of us who specialize in working with couples exploring fertility options. Its members include MDs, nurses, embryologists, and mental health professionals, and the site offers consumers expert information as well as a list of providers.
The best news is we do have options. Last week, I saw a 47-year-old woman who wants to use donor eggs with her husband to have a child. “We are profoundly blessed,” she told me, “that we live in an age of medical technology that is giving us the chance to become the parents that we have always dreamed of being.” That’s the point. Having options to do what we feel is right for ourselves and for our future children is, in itself, a blessed event.
Harriette Rovner Ferguson, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who specializes in working with individuals and couples in Smithtown, NY. She is the co-author of Experiencing Infertility (W.W. Norton, 2000), which was recently translated into Spanish. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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