Adopting a child in middle age left Cyma Shapiro feeling isolated and lonely. From her experiences, she created a multi-faceted presence on the Internet for older mothers to support each other. Her guest post speaks to so many women today who postpone becoming mothers until the path and time to parenthood is right for them.
Eight years ago, sitting in the Moscow Marriott at age 46 with my newly adopted one-year-old daughter, I realized that I was going to be oldwhen she graduated from college. The “old” was nearly my grandmother’s age. This was the very first time I had ever felt my mortality and had ever even stopped to consider my chronological age: I had long ignored the biological clock theory thinking that it was mere hyperbole.
Nonetheless, on that cold winter’s night nearly 9,000 miles from home, I finally felt my life begin. At that moment I was filled with pride, joy and the fullness of starting a new family. Little did I know that I had just joined a new club — moms over 40 — with no dues-paying members and no glue to bind them.
Arriving home, my husband and I expected everyone to share our joy. We were middle-aged, had launched his two children into adulthood and had time to devote to young children. Although our decision seemed perfectly logical to us, the reactions were puzzling. Friends and family asked, “Why would you do this?”
Seeking answers, support, and comfort for the loneliness and isolation I felt, I decided to find other new older mothers from across the country. I was inquisitive: Why did they do start or restart a family after age 40? How did they do this? How did they feel? How did their family and friends feel? Were they to live their lives over, would they do it again?
The women I found were unique. Their stories were fascinating and inspiring. Early contacts prompted me to seek out the oldest new mother, the most poignant, the most iconoclastic the most joyous, the most spiritual, the most life-altering ... I found:
- Shirley Pollock, a married mother of two adult children, who at the age of 55 saw a television documentary about the number of available children in Chinese orphanages and adopted three of them.
- Esther Torres was the only unmarried and childless woman in her large Latino family. At age 39, she accidentally became pregnant by a “friend with benefits.” She went on to form a friendship with the father and an inseparable bond with his family.
- Schoolteachers Ellen Schumey, 55, and Shea Novak, 52, had been in a 17-year relationship before determining that they, too, were missing out on having children. Now, despite all odds — physical and relational — they are married and the adoptive parents of two beautiful middle-school daughters.
- Vicki Smith, “GrammiMom,” took on this title, at age 48, to raise her grandchild after her daughter was murdered. With six other adult children, her grandbaby is now age 11.
- Fay Johnson, 66, and Frieda Birnbaum, 65, chose motherhood at just under age 50, and at 60, respectively, and are viewed as pioneers who paved the way for us all.
Choosing motherhood after age 40 is about love and life choices. It is about strength, guidance, conviction, perseverance, determination, willpower and a breaking down of social beliefs and obstacles. In different ways, these women have shown courage, fortitude and resilience. I believe they are creating an unchartered course many will follow.
A New Chapter for the Women’s Movement
To me, becoming a midlife mother is the newest chapter in the women’s movement — the emerging face of middle age and women. Three quarters of a million strong and quickly growing, with approximately 100,000 new births each year, over-40 women are pursuing their lives not collectively, like “soccer moms,” but singularly and without fanfare — the result of medical breakthroughs, greater socio-economic freedoms, and radical changes in the traditional family structure. These Center for Disease Control statistics only reflect the number of women choosing motherhood by childbirth (whether natural or through IVF). The total number of new older mothers also encompasses foster care, guardianship, surrogacy, adoption, and blended families.
My two journeys to Russia two years apart became a spiritual epiphany, which ended in two adoptions — the fullest embracing of my children who, I fervently believe, were meant to be mine. I cringe when people say that I “saved them.” The truth revealed: they saved me. I remained puzzled when I was told that I was “such a role model,” when all I wanted to do was live my next years as a mother.
Earlier, I failed to embrace my womanhood or my desire to be a mother — an unspoken truth for many women. I know I speak for others when I say that we will stop at absolutely nothing to become mothers, when our time is right.
I honor the courage of — and encourage — women over 40 (and those over 35 for whom the biological clock has ceased ticking), in pursuing a mothering path that is right for them if and when the time is right.
Cyma Shapiro, 54, is the mother of 7- and 9-year-old children and 27- and 29-year-old stepchildren. She is the writer and creator of NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers, the first art gallery show dedicated to women choosing motherhood over 40, and the blog www.MotheringintheMiddle.com for midlife mothers. She is passionate about supporting women who choose later motherhood and giving them a face, voice, and forum.