What I’ve Lost and What I’ve Gained As a ‘Geriatric’ Parent
By Katharine Hagerman
PHOTO © zelmabrezinska/Twenty20
Apr 27, 2022
The medical term for a pregnancy in a person over the age of 35 is a “geriatric” pregnancy.
The term may not be widely used outside of the doctor’s office for obviously loaded social reasons, but it is the technical term you will spot at the top of your medical form if you look closely enough.
I was 34 through most of my first pregnancy, with my eldest son born just a couple of weeks after I hit the "geriatric" mark. My youngest son was born just before I turned 39.
When I was in my mid-20s and daydreaming about becoming a mom someday, I never dreamt I’d be breastfeeding and waking through the night as I hit 40.
I thankfully have energy, courtesy of my brain tricking me into thinking I'm in my early 30s. It gives me a boost and optimism for a life outside the house in a few years, once the boys are sleeping better. Until it hits me that by then I'll be in my mid-40s.
Let me be clear, I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve lived before kids or the family I have now for the world.
But I do have to chuckle a little at the meandering way life led me here. If I apply the "geriatric" label to my parenting years, it’s an interesting and helpful way to understand my experience and abilities as a parent. While I truly believe age is just a number in many aspects of our lives, there are a few ways that my body and my perspectives have shifted since 35.
Being The Later-Stage Parent In My Friend Group
Becoming a parent in your late 30s/early 40s is more common these days than in my parent’s generation, but based on a purely anecdotal survey of my own social networks, it still doesn't seem like the norm. I have a few close friends with kids the same age, but most started this journey 10 years ahead of me.
"I have a few close friends with kids the same age, but most started this journey 10 years ahead of me."
On the plus side, it means I have a lot of great parenting wisdom to draw on from my social circles, and hopefully a crew of babysitters in the next few years. But on the challenging side, it feels isolating in ways I’m sure they felt when I was the one who was more mobile.
Many of my friends have entered the parenting stage where they can take more time for themselves again, away from their kids for short periods — whereas I am in the thick of it.
While my girlfriends planned a kid-free 40th birthday weekend, which I realistically could not attend, the first time I spent more than three hours away from my then infant son was to get a mammogram.
I had to pump to empty my breasts in the parking lot before going into a clinic mostly populated by women in their 60s and above. I get early screening for breast cancer based on family medical history, and suddenly found myself straddling two very different breast life phases.
Accepting My Body's Limitations
And let’s get this out of the way: yes, I am tired.
All sleep-deprived, calm-deprived parents of young children are tired — but when I see younger moms skillfully wrangle their toddlers, I sometimes wonder if it's thanks to that 20s/early-30s spring in their step.
At this point in my life, my brain simply will not function unless I go to sleep at 8 p.m. (and anyone with young kids knows this is the first moment in the day when you actually have a moment to yourself, so that’s not going to happen), or nap with my baby. At nine months into my youngest son’s life, I feel proud and excited on the days when I don’t need a nap.
I also wonder if there is an age factor when it comes to recovery after birth. I know they say it can be more difficult with each child, but after my second was born, I acquired a winning dinner-party story with my attempts to defy the reality of my body’s abilities.
"At nine months into my youngest son’s life, I feel proud and excited on the days when I don’t need a nap."
I decided, when my baby was six months old, that it was high time to take up parent and tot ski lessons with my four-year-old. I was beyond excited to share my love of downhill adventures with my son, and to have some much missed one-on-one time with him. It was a push to get us two out the door at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, while my husband managed with the baby — but it felt good for us, in my mind anyway. Life caught up with me for a good ol' reality check though.
Just after our second session, at the top of the beginner’s hill, my son’s skis got stuck between mine as he fell into the splits and my knees bent the way they're not supposed to bend (directly outwards). I was carried off the bunny hill in the ski patrol toboggan to spend the rest of the winter hobbling around the house, learning the hard way that I had to slow down my pace a little.
Katharine Hagerman calls her youngest son her second when she talks to people, but he's her third — her second died at 19 weeks and two days gestation. The experience led her to refer to her third pregnancy as her "Schrödinger pregnancy."
The Benefits of My Time Pre-Kids
However, becoming a parent at a later stage in my life has meant I'm able to bring some tricks to the table.
Although I have had a somewhat haphazard career trajectory and am not the example of the older parent who has more financial stability and resources per se, I have had a wealth of interesting and formative career experiences that I know will help me support my family. More importantly, the life experiences of my adult years before kids have given me strength and wisdom to draw on when I’ve needed it most.
"I’m grateful for the adventures I had before kids, for the ones we are having now and the ones yet to come."
I knew how to breathe deeply and centre myself in the midst of trying times. In fact, on the most difficult days this winter, sometimes I would close my eyes visualize a calm reservoir I had built up in the days I had time and energy to meditate. I know one day I will come back to those daily practices, but for now when I’m in the thick of it, I quite like to take deep breaths from this place. When we lost our second baby, I already knew how to grieve because I have grieved deeply in my life.
When I became a parent, I already knew who I was; in myself and in the world. Having kids didn’t change that for me in the ways the books romanticize it. Rather, it expanded who I am and what my world looks like. I am the same person, only more. With a little less disposable time on my hands and many more grey hairs, but otherwise the same.
What I am and always will be is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a parent, at any point in my life. I’m grateful for the adventures I had before kids, and for the ones we are having now and the ones yet to come.
My biggest goal now is to keep taking those deep breaths and embody the love and joy I feel when I look at the glorious little people who call me Mom. And I don’t think there is an age limit for that.
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