Parenthood at 40-Plus

by: Katy Abel
Is it ever too late to change diapers? Read what these parents think about parenting over 40.
Table of contents

Parenthood at 40-Plus

Full-Time Mom at 50

"Nobody showed up!"

That's how Karen L. of Silicon Valley now laughingly recalls her attempts to get pregnant. She married in her late 30s; husband Bill was a few years younger. After years of trying, there was no baby in sight.

"When I was 44, we decided to pursue adoption," she says. Three years later the couple was "chosen" in an open adoption process to become the parents of Jamie, now 3.

"God put my daughter in somebody else's womb," Karen says proudly. "We look alike; people will often walk by us and say, 'She's the spitting image of Mommy!"

Now a full-time mother at age 50, Karen happily caters to the whims and desires of an exuberant 3-year-old, fixing yogurt and pouring juice while she answers a reporter's questions about being an "older mom."

"Part of it has to do with how you see yourself," she muses. "I don't think of myself as 50. I see myself as 36. I can't crawl on my knees with her as much, but I have a good chiropractor!"

"Why should age be a factor?" Karen asks. "Stamina is a question of age, but raising a child is more based on love, nurturing, and discipline."

On Paternity Leave at 43

"It's great. He's changing every day."

After devoting years to a management career in manufacturing, Steve has now turned his full attention to his five month-old son. He's in the second month of a three-month paternity leave, and savoring every precious moment of time with his baby. Though his daily routine has changed dramatically -- from meeting the needs of a company to meeting the needs of an infant -- he's perfectly content with the cycle of bottles, naps, and child's play.

"I appreciate things a lot more now," he says, reflecting on whether he's a better father at 43 than he would have been at 28. "I have a better sense of perspective."

In their late 20s, Steve and his wife made a conscious decision not to have a child, but by the couple's mid-30s, he says, "it was not a choice."

A series of miscarriages forced them to delay parenthood. That struggle, Steve believes, makes them less likely to take family life for granted. Though some suggest older moms and dads will be reluctant to give up their ingrained routines -- time spent reading the Sunday paper, or spontaneous dinners out with friends -- Steve has found just the opposite to be true.

"Because of the issues that we faced along the way, if he cries I'm more willing to put down the paper than I otherwise might have been."

Older Parents in Bigger Numbers

Best-selling author Gail Sheehy once observed that baby boomers have taken "longer to grow up and longer to grow old" than any other generation in history. When it comes to parenting, that statement particularly holds true: Folks in their 40's and 50's are demonstrating in growing numbers that it's never too late to change diapers. A look at the numbers:

  • Between 1976 and 1996, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the number of pregnancies for women over 40 increased by 241 percent (while the overall pregnancy and birth rates for women declined.)

  • From 1980 to 1997, the twin birth rate for mothers between the ages of 40 and 44 rose 63 percent, and nearly 1000 percent for women 45 to 49. The rate for triplets rose nearly 400 percent for women in their thirties and 1000 percent for women in their forties. These numbers from the NCHS reflect, among other things, the growing numbers of women receiving fertility treatments.

  • Although women at or over 40 are at greater risk of complications during pregnancy, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' report says that with the current interest in health and fitness, "many women may find themselves in better shape than they were at a younger age." Similarly, there is no precise age that is considered "an unsafe turning point" for women wanting to be pregnant.