Halle Berry, Tamron Hall, Gabrielle Union and Brigitte Nielsen have more in common than their talent, big bucks and movie star good looks. They’re all women who have had children at an advanced age.
Halle had her first child at 41, Tamron at 48, Gabrielle at 46 and Brigitte had her fifth child at 54 when she was down to her last embryos.
Some of these women, and many others, have been candid about their issues with infertility and the fact that they had a lot of help courtesy of medical intervention.
Former Today host, Tamron, recently admitted that she tried in vitro fertilization (IVF) unsuccessfully in her 30s. The host, who recently gave birth to a baby boy, initially decided to keep her pregnancy quiet, terrified that she might lose him.
No One Is Immune
In her memoir, Becoming, former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama revealed that she, too, had suffered from infertility in her mid-30s. She later went on to conceive both of her daughters via IVF.
While the procedure is widely discussed these days, very few people have a thorough understanding of the toll it takes, not only on the woman’s body, but mentally, especially if it fails. In fact, many women live in constant fear that they will lose the baby.
But, for older women determined to leave a piece of themselves here on earth, they can face more than the challenge of conceiving. They have to deal with the stigma of being an older mum once they do get pregnant. It’s harsh, hurtful and emotionally crushing.
The world, particularly social media, has no reservations weighing in on a woman’s womb and what they have to say is not particularly kind.
The Conversation That Sparked It All
I recently got into an interesting debate with a colleague of mine about women of a certain age having children. My friend, who is in her mid-30s, has made no secret of her desire to have children. She’s always wanted to be a mother.
But, recently she said that if she didn’t have children by a certain age, she would forego motherhood as she did not want to be “an old grandmother raising children.” She said she preferred to follow in her parents’ footsteps and have children early.
Her sentiments aren’t unusual. The word “grandmother” is often thrown around to describe any woman beyond her early 30s who decides to have children.
What’s more, she said the older mother would probably not live to see her children become adults.
Well, there’s an old saying that “the tree to bend isn’t always the first to break.” So, for those who say an older parent won’t be around to care for their child, they are sadly mistaken. There are many older parents who are still healthy, alive and caring for their children. There are also many young parents who have passed away only to have their children cared for by older relatives. You just never know.
Battling Societal Stigmas
The stigma can be very harsh for anyone – male or female – who is older but wants his or her own child. With so many women opening up about their struggles to conceive, one would think that society would be a little more understanding about their desire to be parents.
Women suffer through a lot of judgment. When they are a certain age and don’t have children, people automatically assume it’s because they are either selfish and don’t want children, can’t find a man or are, as many Bahamians still foolishly call it, “barren.”
No woman knows if she is able to conceive until she does. Even if she is young and healthy, she may experience difficulties. It’s very easy to say what we would and wouldn’t do. But, until we are in that position, we just don’t know how we would respond or what lengths we would go to, to have what we want.
I hasten to add that not every woman who waits to become a mother is battling infertility.
There are women who delayed starting a family because they wanted to focus on their careers. Others have shied away from parenthood because they are waiting for the right partner to come along, or they want to be in a better financial position. Some feel age makes them wiser and more patient. It only makes sense that people would at least attempt to ensure that the child they bring into this world is placed in a good position.
A Big Decision At A High Cost
For those older women who are challenged to conceive and seek IVF, they incur high costs and risks. IVF isn’t cheap – it can cost $20,000 per cycle and it’s an incredibly rough process physically, emotionally and financially. So, if a woman subjects her body, emotions and wallet through the process, she must have a reason for it.
Many of our grandmothers were having children late in life. There didn’t seem to be any judgment there. If it was, we certainly didn’t hear about it. But, suddenly, it’s an issue.
Women nor men should be shamed for having children at an older age. Imagine how it must feel for a woman who genuinely wants to have kids go through life watching her family and friends conceive and experience the joy of motherhood. Why should she be denied that, just because she is over 40.
Yes, doctors say there are risks and women should do whatever they can to mitigate it. But, society needs to mature.
Change is afoot. Social media and science will have to get on board.