When you think of mothering, you might think of loving, picturesque scenes of mother and child(ren). You might imagine all-things good, safe and nurturing. Add graying hair, eyeglasses, drying skin and a host of maladies including hot flashes, insomnia, reduced height size and memory capacity, slowing biorhythms and you now have (new) midlife mothering.
As the creator and writer of a number of midlife mother entities, including the first art gallery show dedicated to women choosing motherhood over 40, I've worked fervently to engage the public in discussions about this increasingly popular trend, and help support women in their quest to achieve motherhood at whatever age feels right for them. My work has included interviewing dozens of midlife mothers ranging from age 40 to 65. With all of this under my belt, I thought I was well-prepared for whatever might lie ahead in my own midlife mother-journey. I guess not.
So, listen up -- I have a dirty little secret: I'm not certain that midlife mothering is all it's cracked up to be.
To be clear, I'm resoundingly happy about my life choices: at age 55, I now have 8- and 10-year old children and 28- and 30-year-old stepchildren. You do the math. I'm happy to be a role model; happy to be surrounded by kids and happy to know that I will leave a legacy. Heck, I'm just happy to be a mother.
However, there's an ugly underpinning to it all. Having gone through menopause, I cope every day with unanticipated body changes and the most sobering recognition that I'm on the other side of the goal post. And, I still have young children to deal with and everything else that comes with raising a family. (Imagine rocking your baby to sleep while you are having hot flashes. I want to be alive for their graduations, weddings and the birth of their children. Will I?)
I am a member of the "Sandwich Generation" and have absent and aging parents (a sadness since grandparents were the staple during our childhoods.) I am also at an age when illnesses are striking my contemporaries in large numbers. My husband and I are not planning for retirement anytime soon. In fact, we expect to continue working for 10 to 15 more years, since we'll have children going to college well into our "golden years."
Although many new books have been written about reinventing ourselves and taking "me" time, we do not have the luxury to think about this. As mothers over 40, 50 and 60, I think we darn near "reinvented" ourselves when we had, adopted, obtained or fostered our children!
I remember the first interview I conducted with a well-known entertainer-turned-mother in her 40s. She was a pioneer of sorts who had long braved her new older motherhood journey isolated and alone with her iconoclastic life choices. Now, at 62, she was bitter -- her marriage was failing apart; her children were struggling and she was fed up with it all. "Pheromones," she kept repeating, "It was the pheromones," as if attributing her demise to the sheer act of procreating for the sake of children. I remembered leaving the interview thinking, "What have I done (with my own life)?" But the strength of the warm fall air and blue sky that day washed it all away. Until now.
I was never jealous of "soccer moms" believing we all make life choices. However, there is strength in numbers; in making life choices commensurate with a clear-cut biological reality that allows women "down time" as their children are leaving the nest. There is an internal rhythmical reason that women choose motherhood at a younger age. For most of them, they do not feel nor stand alone in their choices.
Choosing motherhood over 40, we have braved innumerable obstacles and made many sacrifices just to get here. Unlike our younger counterparts, older motherhood did not "just happen." For us, it was a conscious and very determined path that we've chosen and fought for following in the footsteps of women like Frieda Birnbaum, 65, who had twins at age 60, and Fay Johnson, 66, whose unsuccessful attempts at IVF led her to embrace surrogacy using her husband's sperm. Her youngest is now 18. Fay marvels at how only by living in today's world was she able to employ medical technologies capable of giving her her life's only dream: children and motherhood.
Please know that I'm not seeking pity -- just some compassion and understanding. I, too, did not foresee these obstacles when aspiring to be a (midlife) mother.
So, the next time you see one of us and ask "is she the Grandma or the Mother?" the reality is that we may be both. And, we are also living a new world order.
Follow Cyma Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MidlifeMothers