Sisterhood of the Shriveling Ovaries

One of the great things about being a parent in New York is that no matter who you are or what your choices, you fit in somewhere. You want to breastfeed until the kid’s fourteen and-a-half? Eschew electricity and push the stroller up eight flights of stairs every day? Swaddle the bambino in a bunting that costs more than some people spend on rent? New York welcomes you. Let me buy you an egg cream.

And that goes double for you, so-called “alternative” families.

It’s true. We like to think we’re soooo open-minded here what with all the diversity. Not only do we have friends who are adoptive parents, gay parents, mixed race parents, unwed parents, or single parents by choice, but we have great fun parading them in front of the out-of-state in-laws at our kids’ parties. Look how progressive I am! Look at all my cool, different friends!

But sometimes there are incidences that force us to confront the actual narrowness of our open-mindedness.

This week in my OB’s office, while I was skimming a pregnancy magazine from 2002 or so, a patient reemerged from the examining room with her partner and approached the desk. While from the back she was heftier than the average patient there–are toned triceps a requirement for Upper East Side OBs? I clearly did not receive that memo–she was otherwise not worth a second look. And then she turned around to face me.

Easily, this woman was 50. (That’s generous.)

And she was pregnant.

I stared. I couldn’t help myself. My mind raced to try and fill in the blanks. Accident or intentional? Was this her first? Did she know what she was getting into? And how OLD was she anyway, for God’s sake?

I looked around to see if anyone else around me was reacting. I nudged Nate. I stared some more.

And then I felt like a complete jerk.

I am about to have my second child at 38. In most parts of the country, I am ancient myself. Nate, eight years my junior, likes to remind me that while I was getting freaky with my college band boyfriends, he was attending his first Weird Al concert with his mother. He pats my pelvis, and says, “aw, poor old ovaries” and calls me granny when he catches a glimpse of my pathetic iTunes playlist. This passes for sport.

But on the streets of New York with my fellow natives, I dissolve into the sidewalk stroller brigades like anyone else. As I wait for non-stress tests or sonograms at the hospital, the women who surround me are just like me – same crows’ feet creeping outward from the eyes, same glitter-free pedicures, same age appropriate maternity clothes that don’t sport slogans like MILF in training. Thirty-something is the new twenty-something in urban childbearing, that much is apparent. If anything, it’s the fresh-faced recent college grads pushing strollers who find themselves on the receiving end of raised eyebrows from strangers.

But all things being equal, we’re probably more comfortable with the notion of 16 year-olds breeding than 50 year-olds breeding. That became abundantly clear when someone born during the Truman administration waddled into an obstetrical waiting room.

Oddly enough, I didn’t think at all about her husband/partner who seemed to share her birth decade, not until I started writing this. Why does the sperm always get a free pass? Especially since we now know that older fathers actually up the rate of genetic disorders in their children. Sure, you’ll still hear a hackneyed Tony Randall joke still make its way onto the lips of the less discriminating late-night TV hosts. But for the most part, it just doesn’t invoke the same visceral reaction.

I hate to say it but: Super-advanced paternal age = quirky. Super-advanced maternal age = creepy.

Of course we can argue that we are aghast with good reason. There are the health risks to both her and her fetus, for starters. If things turns out fine, why, it’s unfair that she can’t chase her toddler around with the energy of a woman half her age. She’ll be 70 when he graduates high school. She may never get to meet her own grandchildren, the poor dears. And so on.

But the truth is, there are no guarantees for any parent, no assurances that even the most youthful and active and dedicated fish oil supplement-poppers among us won’t get hit by the M35 tomorrow. There are no promises that we will all live to 147 with the help of positive thinking and live culture yogurt. The most we can hope for is to be the most loving, dedicated, committed parents we can in the time we’re lucky enough to have together.

And so I wish that woman luck, whatever her situation might be, because she will need it. Not just because of her limitations but because of judgmental people like me.

I hope that if I run into her again that I can transform my bewilderment into compassion and muster a genuine smile–that same one we pregnant women always reserve for one another. You know it well. It’s that one that says You and me? Kindred spirits in pregnancy hell. Hang in there mama, good luck with the breastfeeding, and don’t let the weird pizza guy touch your belly.


Every Monday, find Mom101: The Column (sounds fancy!) at Time Out NY Kids along with fantastic parenting tips and and listings of tons of stuff to do around town with the kids when you finally manage to tear yourself away from the computer.

PS Huge congrats to Tammie, my fellow baby showeree who gave birth to a Myles Jeffrey Saturday night after something like 16 years of labor. Go Tammie!


39 thoughts on “Sisterhood of the Shriveling Ovaries”

  1. Funny — I was in the city this weekend and walked by someone who in my worldview could not possibly be pregnant. But she looked pregnant. And looked maybe sixty, maybe fifty-five if I were feeling generous.I put it down to something awful, like stomach cancer.Which also says something about how we view pregnant older women, I think.

  2. I’m 37 with three kids under 8, and somedays <>I<> feel too old for this gig. I think they were onto something in the old days when you had your kids before you were 25. More energy to keep up with them and less inclination to obsess over them.

  3. Although I’d probably have done a double-take like you did, I’m saddened more about a 14 year old being pregnant than a 50 year old. At least the 50 year old most likely really, really wanted the baby and may have the means to support it. I just hope her uterus knows what it is up for.

  4. …. maybe she is carrying the baby for her daughter and SIL who can’t have a child of their own????

  5. Heh, a teen pregnancy seems to be regarded as a sad (sometimes stupid) accident. An early-20’s married couple having a baby seems to be regarded as even more irresponsible. Huh…?Don’t be fooled, some of us decide it’s better to grow the heck up after all and NOT stay in perpetual adolescence until our 30’s. So why not a family?Enough about me, heh… Hey, maybe that older couple spent a lot of time doing other things in life. Not everyone does the “High School-College-Career-Marriage-Family-Hold out to Retirement” shtick. Sometimes it gets out of order. 🙂

  6. I was talking to a friend of mine this weekend who is pregnant with number two and 36 years old. She said at her most recent OB visit, the doctor came in and said everything looked good and the only thing they needed to discuss was the “Advanced Age.”It took her a minute of bewilderment to realize he was talking about her!I chuckled, but only because I never even considered that she was of “Advanced Maternal Age.”

  7. When I was taking my birthing classes before Einey was born, there was a single woman who was over 50 there. And I thought the same things! I have a hard enought time keeping up with the kids at my young age, I can’t imagine being older and having to do it!

  8. “There are no promises that we will all live to 147 with the help of positive thinking and live culture yogurt.”That’s the best line I’ve read in a long time. Lovely.

  9. I remember going to my birthing classes when I was 20 and being surrounded by a bunch of mid thirties moms-to-be.I received a whole lot of ‘boy, aren’t you a dumbass” looks. I survived and now I’m probably guilty of giving a few of those looks myself.However, if I saw a 50 year old who was preggers, I think I’d be too mystified, with my mouth hanging agape to say anything.Bad of me, for sure, but honest.Good luck to her (and mostly her child) in her maternal state…

  10. 1. I agree that thirty-plus-something is the new 20s wrt childbearing.I’m sure my maternal age for kids would have brought some interesting looks in the 70s (when I was growing up and all parents—wow, who seemed SO OLD, were just in their 20s, sheesh I remember helping to plan my mothers 30th birthday wow).2. I’d have felt similarly to you, for many similarly complex reasons. Mainly because somedays I feel too old to parent mine and she’s got a decade on me (allegedly). But I’d also hope to have kindness and compassion too, as you said, you know next time. Man that’s going to be rough…all the grandma comments. People and comments. Sigh.3. Speaking of, do you ever kick Nate’s ass for the granny comments?

  11. speaking of folks who’ve been pregnant for, like, 16 years… shouldn’t you be popping out that kid soon? or is it just me? (i know i haven’t been here in a while — so maybe i’ve just lost count!)as for that 50-something with a babe in her old-but-apparently-still-decent-working-order uterus? oy. seriously, oy-fucking-OY! it’s hard enough on you youngsters (and i hate to break it to you, my dear friend, but 38 makes you a definite YOUNGSTER in my book!) i cannot imagine what it would be like to carry around that much extra baggage at my age. not that i couldn’t do it, for i could. or i guess i could. or i guess i could if i was in some kind of delusional “oooh let me relive my youth” mode, that involved drugs, and uh… copious amounts of alcohol. sorry. i like to think of myself as extremely liberal, but i’m kind of grossed out by seriously-aging folks making babies — and i mean ALL those folks, with or <>without<> a penises. period.all this to say… i miss you. i hope you’re doing well. and, uh… sorry i haven’t been by more often. oh yeah — and i’m <>not<> pregnant. xox

  12. Wow, great post. It got me thinking on so many levels. First of all, if her pregnancy was on accident, doesn’t it make you worry about that stage of life when you feel it is safe to have sex without ANY protection (since you think you’ve gone through the change). Then, BAM! You’re pregnant! I think I’m going to be on birth control until I’m 70!!!Also, it is quite annoying that older fathers are never looked at in a judgemental way. It’s only the mothers. We get blamed for everything 🙂< HREF="" REL="nofollow"><>

  13. You know, YOU’RE RIGHT. I never even stopped to think about it. But I’m all Judgy McJudgerson about that too. And guess what? Karma will probably make me her bitch for that and I’ll be that lady someday. Gah.Oh and thanks for that link on dads and genetic stuff. VERY interesting. Had no idea.

  14. Here’s the thing. I’m all for being 50 and preggo if that’s where you are in your life and it was the right timing for you.I think it just depends on what kind of 50 you are. And really, if you’re 50 and deciding to have kids then you are the right kind of 50. And you don’t look (or speak — hehe) a day over 16, so I say the more the merrier. Nate is a mormon, right?Off to eat my LIVE Soy Yogurt. I think cuz it’s soy I get at least an extra 3 years.

  15. The health risks – to the mother and the baby – are my greatest concern. No, it’s not fair that our eggs go sour, and yes, medicine can help mitigate many of the risks, but I still worry.

  16. I keep visualizing that damn episode of SATC when Mitzi von whatever gets pregnant and Charlotte thinks she’s pushing 60.I don’t see to many women over 50 having kids. I’d probably have reacted the same way.Although my mom was 40 when she had my youngest brother. I gave myself a cut-off. No more kids after 39. I think by then I’ll have that parenting thing mastered to perfection.

  17. Where I grew up, women have their babies early in life. Really early. As an example, my grandmother was blessed (her words, not mine) with her first grandchild when she was 37. Eek. Most of my very large family is screwed up and beyond help. Who is to say that having your first kid much later in life is not the way to go? Not me.

  18. I sometimes think that the hardest part of parenting is trying not to judge other people for the different parenting choices/practices that they have made.

  19. That woman really would have turned heads here in Ohio. A mom in her teens and early 20’s is common, and it’s common for late 20’s and 30’s here, too, especially for the “educated” set. But 50? That would be rare.I think people worry more about older mothers than fathers because of the stereotype that mothers are the ones caring for the children. As long as the kid has a mom, everything is OK, but if the kid’s mom is old, then everyone worries about who will care for the kid if she dies (cause clearly dad can’t handle it by himself). It seems few consider older dads to be anything more than playmates to the kid to begin with.

  20. Well, at least she had a partner… I always feel like it is okay to have an older parent if they are both around for the kid — then at least there is a back-up. Like a spare tire. I have a father that would be WAY senior to all my friends’ fathers if he were around today, but he had the courtesy to marry a much younger woman — who will probably be around to irritate me for many, many years. Just kidding. No I’m not.Seriously, I loved having an older father. And it was really illness that intervened, not age. And as you say, you never know when that can happen, right?Gina

  21. First of all, 38 is not old, missy! I’m hoping that woman either: (a) had a really, really rough life and was actually only 40; or (b) had a tumor (although that seems unlikely considering where you saw her!).I try to be open minded too, but I have a hard time with people having babies in there 50’s. Male or female, there are the genetic risks to the baby, but there’s also a much higher likelihood that the child will lose a parent at an early age. The thing that haunts me most about possibly dying is the effect it will have on my kids. I can’t imagine increasing that risk by having a baby at 50. I guess I’m not as open minded as I thought either….

  22. I’m with Lawyer Mama – older dads annoy the crap out of me. I don’t find them quirky; I find them pathetic, especially since many older dads are with super young women. It squeegs me out. And I’m more down with a 50 year old mom than a 16 year old mom. Teen pregnancy tends to inspire horror in me. Not that some teen moms don’t rock the house, but it generally is just not going to go well.

  23. You lost me when you linked to your playlist. I can barely see the computer screen because I can’t stop wincing.

  24. Truman? TRUMAN? You mean Eisenhauer. We’re old, but geesh, we’re not yet geriatric! And I agree, old fathers are scary.

  25. I try my best not to judge. I was 18 when I had my first child (on purpose, in case you are wondering) and I’ve always looked younger than I am…so I know the looks. Boy, do I.

  26. I agree with the sentiment, but I am in denial. My wife and I, living in NYC at the time, had our first when she was 37, our third when she was 41. Perhaps I just don’t want to think that 50 is out of range for anything. I’ll probably wake up when we get the AARP membership notices in a few years.*******

  27. Bless her poor aching feet. Surely she was having this child for a family member and after the birth someone else will care for it so she can take a vacation.

  28. I was FORTY FREAKING TWO when I had my first baby just a few months ago. No IVF or “help”…just a damn miracle after four miscarriages.I personally can’t wait to be almost 70 when we argue about what she’ll do when she’s out of college.

  29. The older I get and the more kids I have, the less I look at ANYONE or draw conclusions because I guess I am just humbled by how freakin hard it is at any age, any time. I used to look at my friend’s homes with dishes and think “who is too busy to run a dishwasher?” and I used to judge the parenting of people with a bunch of kids (hello, change that diaper!!! Ever hear of a clean shirt?”) Now I know how easily we can let things go, including ourselves and our standards on just about everything. We have rough days, and life sure doesn;t work as planned much of the time. I begrudge others very little if I can help it now. Its not a bad thing to have a few cheerios in the car, is it? <>I guess what I figure is that I hope for a world where every child is a WANTED child and CARED for child, regardless of the mother’s circumstances…that it be about choice and not who should or shouldn’t or who is best.<>There are some lazy twenty year old parents, and whirlwind seniors. I hope women can be given credit to know what is best, even though its unknown. Sometimes we screw up- but the key is how we COPE with that.Maybe she is making the best of it. I did as a young mom, and still did the things like college and grad school, to set a good example.

  30. my ob told me recently “the uterus doesn’t age” that’s why older women can carry babies, but the eggs age, so the woman can carry someone else’s younger eggs or her own eggs harvested when she’s younger than 40 are best.

  31. very very true. i have the same knee-jerk, but when i question it i realize how much it’s based on dodgy logic. excellent essay, L.

  32. Thank you for posting this. Ageism just isn’t in the limelight the way other discriminations tend to be. We need to take note of our varied biases. I appreciate your candor about your experience & reflection upon it.

  33. True what you say about the quirky vs creepy…. And what about menopause? That makes me scratch my head… And it is true, none of us knows how long we have. A former co-worker just passed away at age 43 — brain tumor. His wife and 3 young children are left to go on without him.You just freaking never know…

  34. Staring doesn’t always mean judgmental, but of course it isn’t polite. That said, I would’ve been staring right along with you. Sometimes I’m just a little too Midwestern in my reactions to things. You’re right, though – there are no guarantees, and everyone deserves the right to try for parenthood. I do agree with that totally.

Comments are closed.