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.