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WATCH: Is 50 the new 40 for motherhood?

Kelly Wallace | 4/7/2016, 9 a.m.
Janet Jackson might soon become the new symbol of the rise of the 50-year-old mom.
Janet Jackson was honored with Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual Award by BET. (Courtesy Photo/BET)

'Sometimes they think I'm the grandma'

Deborah, now the mom of two girls 9 and 13, says she's never felt judged or even singled out for her unconventional path. Part of the reason for that, she suggests, is that she's raising her children in the New York area, where midlife mothering is fairly common.

"I think when my kids were little, like when I was in the nursery school crowd, I don't even think I was the oldest parent," she said. "I mean, if you go to other parts of the country, sometimes they think I'm the grandma."

Cyma Shapiro, who adopted a child from Russia at 46 and another at 48 and has stepchildren who are 29 and 31, hasn't gotten the "Are you the grandmother?" reaction. But she knows plenty of women, many of whom write for her blog MotheringintheMiddle.com, who have heard that and then some about their decision to enter motherhood in their late 40s, 50s and even 60s.

"They get ... 'Could you really have had this kid?' and 'Why did you adopt at such an old age?' and 'If you had him yourself, how did you get there?' "

After DeAnna Scott, who had twins through surrogacy at 46, was featured in a newspaper article a few years ago, most of the comments were not exactly supportive, she said.

"A lot of feedback to that article was ... 'You people are selfish' and 'How could you do this?' and I didn't read the rest," said Scott, a contract manager and photographer who lives in Ventura, California.

"Personally, I don't think anyone around me would really have the guts to say that to me."

Frieda Birnbaum of Saddle River, New Jersey, definitely heard it all after her decision to have twins at age 60 became front page news around the world. (She had a child at 53 and has two grown children, all with the same husband.)

"I wanted to have twins, they (said), to look younger, to make a movie or to write a book," said Birnbaum, a research psychologist who appears regularly on nationally syndicated radio programs.

"I don't think so. Taking progesterone shots is not really something that I would risk my life for a book for. ... I did it because my husband wanted to try."

No one ever questioned her husband about the decision; it's part of the double standard that midlife mothers face, said Birnbaum.

"I was on a (radio) show with Rod Stewart, who just had a child ... they didn't speak about him having a child. It wasn't a matter of discussion at all." (Stewart's seventh child was born when he was 60 and his eighth at 66.)

When 40-plus moms were front page news

Dr. Mark Sauer, vice chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, is one of the early pioneers of using in vitro fertilization with older women. When he published a study in 1990 in the New England Journal of Medicine about his work impregnating 40-year-old women, it became an international event, he says.