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Since when do any of us view a baby as an accessory? Reading the first half of this piece, I began to fear the worst.
Judging by today’s cover, New York Magazine followed the usual stereotypical protocols for a first impression—step into the street, grab the first grey-haired granny you find, and juxtapose her octogenarian face with a fat, pregnant belly.
How old is this woman anyway? Does anyone at 50 look like this anymore? I sure don’t.
It harks back to a blog I wrote last year called Elephant Mom, which unearths some of the media’s unhealthy fascination with age and maternity together as comprising an aberration of nature—like the bearded lady at the carnival freak show.
They salt the wound of a deep taboo our culture appears to have about a woman’s age and giving birth—getting older is a harbinger of death, not life. And any woman who has the audacity to do this will most assuredly NOT win—but be stoned at the public pillory in the comments section of the host publication.
And, it brought me back to the usual caveat emptor: agreeing to an interview with a journalist on later life motherhood is too often like giving a dark stranger, who just rode into town, a loaded gun and a free pass to Oktoberfest at the local saloon.
It either ends with in vino veritas and the best of a budding, back-slapping truce, or you on the floor, dead as a doornail.
Having said this, Miller’s article—Parents of a Certain Age: Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant? (http://nymag NULL.com/news/features/mothers-over-50-2011-10/)—is one story you MUST read to the bitter end, because there’s a Quentin Tarantino twist to the tale.
The editorial freak show jollies don’t end with the “50-year old” they kidnapped from the local rest home on the cover.
Isn’t the message obvious? Hasn’t the stage been set for an ageist stoning?
And Miller doesn’t disappoint the ravening crowd.
She characterizes a man’s suggestion of having a baby to a 47-year-old woman as likely to be “creepy to deeply middle aged other women.”
Miller also liberally uses terms like “freakish” and “bizarre” in reference to older mothers and refers to their offspring as “misbegotten children.” She alludes to obstetricians who “have to deal with the fallout of these procreative impulses” as being “harsh” about their patients in private.
Women seeking to be parents at 50+ are “in denial about their decrepitude” and face an implicit judgment: “They have no idea what they are in for. More than that: This is just not right.”
“Choosing to have children at 50 disrupts life’s natural trajectory, causing needless suffering and disharmony for both parent and child.”
Then, Miller—like Benito Mussolini in WWII (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini)—suddenly changes sides in the midst of battle. She’s won her crowd, why change now?
It puts me in mind of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Friends,_Romans,_countrymen,_lend_me_your_ears), where Mark Antony feigns ignorance, and uses irony to turn the argument upside down, repeating that “Brutus is an honorable man.”
Miller understands the essence of how to turn the tables.
She suggests that the same people who liberally approve of same-sex marriages are the “same broad-minded people still feel comfortable using chronological age to sort the suitable potential parents from the unsuitable.”
She points out that the judgments are “the product of ageism” which is “the last form of prejudice acceptable in the liberal sphere.”
“Sitting so ostentatiously on the boundary between ‘youth’ and ‘age,’“writes Miller, “50-year-olds threaten an image we hold of good parents (i.e., the handsome, glossy-haired ones depicted in the house-paint ads).”
“What’s more, the available science says that for all the disdain directed at older mothers and fathers, their kids are likely to fare just fine… But being an old parent, in and of itself, does no harm.”
She goes on to cite research in which “They found that the IVF kids scored better overall and in every category of test—reading, math, and language skills. And they found that the older the mother, the better the kid performed.”
“Children of older mothers outperform their peers because the mothers, who’ve waited so long to have them, are more engaged. It’s a recipe for success.”
Another selling point is that older parents are likely to be more financially secure, giving their kids a better shot at life.
However, the opposing sticking point for many, I believe, will be whether or not menopause can be culturally defined as an “evolutionary relic”. If it is, that changes the whole ball game.
But I think Miller knows that.
Notes for this blog:
Angel La Liberte is the founder of the website Flower Power Mom.com—The Truth About Motherhood After 40 (www.flowerpowermom.com), a regular blog featuring commentary, real mom stories and expert advice about motherhood after 40. She regularly campaigns for more supportive attitudes towards women having children in midlife and more awareness on the realities (social and physical) of being a later life mother.
Angel also hosts “A Child After 40”, an online community to empower all women on the journey of motherhood after 40. She gave birth to her children at 41 and 44 after conceiving naturally.
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