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But what about the grandmas who are in it for the long run?
Sylvia Butler—a Special Education teacher from Greene County, Tennessee, who spent most of her childhood in children’s homes—had always dreamed of adopting her own children one day.
Little did she imagine that, at the tender age of 45, she’d be adopting her own grandchild.
In fact, upon reaching midlife, Butler would be starting a new family all over again.
Until then, however, life had taken her on a distinctly different journey.
By the time she’d reached her 30’s, Butler had 3 biological children—2 grown up and the youngest almost a tween.
“In my late 30’s,” says Butler, “I began a period of reflection that lead me to college for a BA and Masters, and my career as a Special Ed. Teacher.”
She says her youngest son, Jeffrey, “loved having a mom who was a college student and a teacher.”
Then, at the age of 42, Sylvia Butler received a phone call that would change her life.
“It was my middle son’s girlfriend, asking me if I would take their youngest child who was less than a year old,” she explains.
“Although I wanted desperately to adopt, this was not the way I wanted it to happen, nor was it the right time.”
“Jeffrey had just turned 13 and I was about to enter the final semester of my Masters degree.”
Despite this, Butler says she went to pick up her “sweet little granddaughter, Sommer” and formally adopted her when she turned 3.
But the family party wasn’t over yet.
A few years after taking charge of her grandchild, Butler met Michael—a male nurse who cared for patients with disabilities—and the couple married when she was 46.
“We knew right away we wanted a large family,” says Butler.
The couple began looking into IVF, but were quickly discouraged. Butler had agreed to a tubal ligation after Jeffrey’s twin brother had died shortly after a high risk pregnancy.
When they looked into adopting, they became more deeply disappointed.
“We have been turned away by numerous agencies because of our age,” she states.
But a chance meeting with a social worker from a foster-adopt agency in Tennessee gave them hope. She assured them the rules had changed and the Butlers would make wonderful adoptive parents.
“At 46, I was blessed with two siblings—an 11-year-old girl and her 7-year-old brother.”
The Butler’s finalized their adoption of the two siblings last month—in February 2011—when Sylvia turned 51.
The reactions of onlookers, however, have often been less jubilant.
“We’ve had many family, friends and neighbors tell us we are crazy and ask ‘don’t you want to retire?’” says Sylvia.
“Or they say that kids from foster care are bad and we shouldn’t adopt them.”
Yet, Sylvia Butler is sanguine about new motherhood in her 50’s.
“The symptoms of peri-menopause are causing a lack of sleep at night which can be challenging at times.”
“If I race my kids, I’m sure they’ll win—but so what? I’m healthy and I take care of myself.”
And when it comes to public perception of her age, there are times when life borders on the surreal.
“Sommer is my adopted grandchild, but I still hate being referred to as her grandmother publicly,” she admits.
“We’ll be out shopping somewhere and a stranger will say ‘What a lovely grandchild you have!’”
“The funny thing was Sommer would correct them and say ‘This is my mommy!”
Butler equates the emotional impact with being asked by a waitress if she wants her senior citizen discount.
These days, Sylvia Butler has taken early retirement to homeschool her new family and to launch a website offering support to parents, teachers and caregivers involved with special needs kids. www.thespecialedmom.com (http://www NULL.thespecialedmom NULL.com/).
Of her young children, she says: “They have not once said they wish their mom was younger.”
“They are just so happy to have a mom and I am so blessed to have them.”
Notes for this blog: Angel La Liberte is the founder of the website Flower Power Mom—The Truth About Motherhood After 40 (www.flowerpowermom.com), a regular blog featuring news, commentary, real mom stories and expert advice about motherhood after 40.
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