When I gave birth to my son Simon at age 43, everything seemed rosy. I had defied several odds by having a healthy 7-pound, 14-ounce boy in my 40s. I hadn’t married until age 42, and my Ob-Gyn said if my husband Pavlik and I wanted a baby, I should start fertility drugs.
I became pregnant on an off cycle. Doctors said I probably would have to have a C-section. I delivered Simon after roughly 20 hours of labor.
I saw myself in supermodel Naomi Campbell’s sheer joy Tuesday. At age 50, she announced her new baby girl in an Instagram post with a photo showing her infant’s tiny feet cradled in her mom’s hand. She wrote in part: “A beautiful little blessing has chosen me to be her mother.”
Campbell received countless well wishes from people all around the world, but also faced skepticism and derision. Based on Tuesday’s news reports, no one knows whether she gave birth to her baby, adopted her, or whether she used a surrogate. On social media, people debated how Campbell had managed to have a baby when most women are in menopause. Others were just dumbstruck.
“Whewww 50 and a newborn?? I don’t understand how she has the energy but I guess money helps! I could never,” tweeted one woman.
I’m now a little more than 13 years into older parenthood. It takes energy and okay, money helps. But parents of any age need energy and money for child-rearing. Being an older parent presents challenges and benefits, especially the benefit of wisdom.
Like Campbell, by the time I had my son Simon, I had a well-established career. I had worked full-time as a journalist at several major newspapers for more than 20 years. Circumstances put off parenthood for me. I wanted to be married first. I did not find the right person till I was 40. When I became a mother, I was confident of who I was. That was a plus.
But nothing prepared me for the identity baggage that accompanies being an older mother. I had no role models. I was the youngest of three, and my mother had us at ages 23, 26 and 29 respectively. It was as if my mom and me had flip-flopped lives. She began working full-time when I was 12 and got her master’s degree at 50 after I graduated from college.
After I had Simon, I took a year’s maternity leave from my reporting job at The Boston Globe. I went back part-time for about five months, then took a buyout in favor of more flexibility as a freelance writer and author. When Simon was three years old and sitting in my lap at a Starbucks while I read him a story, a stranger told me my grandson was just adorable. Throughout his early childhood, I felt more comfortable chatting with nannies and grandparents than I did with most of the younger mothers.
Through most of his earlier childhood, though, Simon did not know how old I was. He hugged me because I was his mom. It is hard, but older parents should try to ignore the peanut gallery. Our children know who we are.
They will become intensely aware of how old we are as they grow older, and older parents should expect some teasing. Simon compared his face to mine in the mirror the other day. “You have wrinkles,” he said, and added with a laugh, “I don’t.” He says he does worry a little bit that we will be in our 60s when he is in his 20s. To him, that is really old. And Campbell, of course, will be in her 70s when her daughter hits the all-important 21.
On a daily basis, though, he does not think my advanced age is such a detriment.
“What do you think of me being an older parent?” I asked him as I drove him to ice-skating practice Tuesday.
“You’re smarter about life because you have been living it longer,” he said.
So maybe, just maybe, as older parents, we are giving our children what they gave us on the day they were born – a precious gift.
Linda K. Wertheimer, a Boston-area freelance journalist, is the author of ‘Faith Ed, Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance’. Find her on Twitter @lindakwert