Here's the deal: I was born to my parents late in their lives. They had crossed the finish line twice--my siblings were 21 and 18 when I was born; my parents--gasp!--were in their 40s. I was what is commonly referred to as a mistake.
Having a baby at 45 is considered young today. A decade upwards from that? Let's just say it's not considered that "old." I've written about being the child of older parents in the Los Angeles Times, and this piece has appeared elsewhere.
Now, I'm most definitely not saying don't have a baby when you are older. I am suggesting this: consider the big picture. I'm going to start by taking my own advice.
I wanted to really explore the older parent's point of view--the older parent who wants to parent. I'm going to do that here. I found the perfect guide: Donna Daly, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs in the College of Health and Human Services.
Through email, Donna responded to my questions candidly about deciding to adopt her son at a later age. She was kind enough to share her thoughts on older momhood and adoptive momhood. Donna Daly and her husband, Mario Proo, live in San Diego with their son, Nicholas ("Nico").
A little history.
Donna went through fertility testing in her late 30s and early 40s but was unable to conceive or carry a baby to term. The couple's first adoption attempt, when she was in her mid 40s, was thwarted midway through when, at the time, Ukraine denied US adoptions. They had completed a home study and paid about one-third of the fees. They considered adoption through San Diego County children's services, completed foster parent training, licensing and home study. But when it became clear the agency would be referring a toddler or preschool children--Donna and Mario really wanted a baby--they sought out another agency in hopes of finding an infant who needed a home.
The San Diego couple adopted Nico from Guatemala in 2007. Donna was 51 and Mario was 40; Nico was 6 months old-they met him at 3 months. Guatemala was open to older parents adopting babies. Though the process was costly, says Donna, it was expedient. Their son was home in 11 months.
In one of her earlier emails Donna wrote: "I adhere to the philosophy that "age is not a time a life, it's a state of being," so I feel comfortable when someone stops me on the street to admire Nico and asks, "are you his grandmother?" I know, deep inside, that adopting a baby was the right decision for me. Also, my husband is 10 years younger than I am and that's a big plus - he's very helpful and was very committed to adopting a baby."
Meredith: We know there are wonderful things about being an older parent. I like to view things as a whole, so, in parenting, what is at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to older parenting? Not "bad" but realistic. Can you share?
DONNA: One of the major challenges is strength. As we age and enter our 50's, we lose endurance and some stamina. It's critical to stay in good shape. I started lifting weights to deal with a shoulder issue and it turned out to be a great gift -- toting a 30 pound toddler is much easier when you improve upper-body strength. Your own aging parents with critical needs can be another challenge. As an older parent of a toddler, you are sandwiched between the needs of your child and other family members. My parents are deceased, but we are beginning to work with my husband's parents on to prepare for their future care.
Meredith: You say that seeing the world through the eyes of a baby has made you a better person. I ask this as someone who has not raised a baby...what do you mean "through the eyes of a baby?" Are you talking about vulnerabilities? Basic needs? Non-judgment of self? Fear? Love? Openness? Something else?
DONNA: Essentially I speak of the innocence and simplicity that babies and toddlers add to life. Vulnerability and openness to adventure are parts of this. A sense of unconditional love is another part. Babies are a reminder of all that is good and right in the world before "ego" truly evolves. Babies remind us to be mindful of the present.
Meredith: You mention that your husband is younger than you yet also say, 'I adhere to the philosophy that "age is not a time a life, it's a state of being." So, can you reconcile these two?
DONNA: Yes, I mention my husband's age for a couple of reasons. First, it was major factor in being able to adopt a baby. Most countries require one parent to be younger than 50 years old at the time of an infant adoption. Second, my husband has greater stamina and has been extremely helpful in assisting me with the care of our son. The philosophical part of my answer is something I have always endorsed -- we are as young as we feel and are not tied to a specific chronological age. I try to embrace and nurture my childlike qualities.
Meredith: When we adopted our older girls people told us: "An older child is going to be so much harder/different than a baby." I think it's so funny how you were told the same thing--only opposite. Can you comment?
DONNA: Interestingly, most of the "nay-sayers" that I encountered were friends and acquaintances with either one child or no children. If they had children, they had them at a young age. I think we tend to "project" our thoughts and feelings onto others. Raising a baby as an older parent is a very individual decision and only the parent can adequately assess their readiness.