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A dear friend of mine finally got pregnant a few years back.
Given my girlfriend was in her early 40s and she’d been trying her entire 30s to get pregnant and it didn’t happen, going the IVF way became her final and only option left.
Doing in vitro meant going through a long and painful process of ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, sperm collection/retrieval, fertilization, and embryo development and transfer. It was a heartbreaking process, and she did it three times before she got lucky; three years back, she gave birth to twins. A little boy and a girl. The absolute loveliest babies ever.
My friend is physically fit. Look, she cannot do a 100 push-ups or pull-ups or whatever every day. Nor can she bench press any respectable number (whatever that number maybe). But, overall, she has no ostensible weight issues, has no blood pressure issues (high or low), and her sugar levels are steady. She’s in good shape but is by no means a killing physical machine. Her husband, who is now in his late 40s, is the same. They are fit-ish.
My friend also loves to dress up. And given the pandemic and being stuck at home for two years, she now dresses up even when she goes grocery shopping, or when she drops her kids off at their play school and when she takes them to the park. And by “dress up,” she goes all out. She wears makeup and puts on her chunky jewelry—so lots of bracelets, chunky necklaces, and big earrings, even though both of her kids try to pull on them. She had to go to the local clinic once because one of the twins had pulled her earring so hard her ear lobe started to bleed. But she marches on regardless and follows the above routine even with a mask and eyeglasses on.
So, last week, she took the twins to a local park where her three-year-olds were running around and having a great time. At said park, my friend in her mid-40s was the oldest mother of the youngest kids there. She was there with full makeup, chunky jewelry, a mask on her face, sweating profusely because of the humidity that sultry afternoon, and her eyeglasses got foggy. Combine all this with all the running around she did in the park with her children—something had to give. Eventually, my friend got a bit winded and took some deep breaths and sat down after a while.
When she saw younger mothers running around with their kids, my friend felt a lot of guilt—and shame. “I just couldn’t run around after a while, Roop,” she said honestly. She also felt awful because she overheard some of the women talking about her. They tried to keep it down, but she could still hear them. Some of what she heard included things like, “That’s why you should get married young! And having such young kids when she is so old is not doing them any favors! And kids needs parents who can keep up.”
My friend made it clear to me that none of them said anything that was vicious or mean. The women were genuinely 100 percent worried about older women with young kids.
While my friend was too comfortably okay with how the women at the park treated her, I was livid on her behalf. I cussed every bad word from here to Sunday and prayed for hail and ice and sleet to befall these cruel women who passed judgment on my friend.
Because I remember the long nights. I remember how much she yearned to be a mother. I remember how she and her husband tried adoption, and it was devastating when it fell apart at the last moment when the birth mother decided to keep her baby. My friend could never bring herself to try the adoption route again.
“It was just too hard, Roopa,” she said.
As I said goodbye to my friend and got off Zoom, my immediate knee-jerk angry reaction to my dearest friend’s predicament waned and I started to mull over this issue.
This issue of shaming older moms.
And it wasn’t even the first time I’d heard older mothers shamed for wanting and daring to give birth at a later stage in their lives. Even hospitals and the medical community call women who give birth after the age of 35+ as being geriatric pregnancies. Can you even imagine? Being called geriatric (a term otherwise reserved for people in their 70s and 80s!) when you’re merely in your mid-30s? But, yes. There are so many questions that are asked of older mothers:
Why do women put themselves through so much physical agony? Why can’t they just adopt? Why is their life without children not enough for them? Why do they want to bankrupt themselves with in vitro? What quality of life will these children have when their parents are in their 50s and 60s when they’re in their teenage years?
I’ve heard them all. And I’ve heard them now for a long time.
Almost a decade back in London, a bunch of women were returning home from work like myself and talking about an older mother of their acquaintance. And they said similar things. Some of their pearls of wisdom included:
One should get married at the “right age.”
You should become a parent at the “right age.”
Older parents with young kids “look weird and odd.”
How does it help when a kid’s mother is referred to as a grandmother?
And so much more.
I almost butted into their conversation and wanted to ask them who decides what the “right age” is.
In my apartment complex where I now live, there’s a couple who made a conscious choice to have kids only in their 40s. This couple (husband worked in the Merchant Navy, wife in corporate finance) worked their asses off in their 20s and 30s. They made a truck load of money by the time they turned 40, owned three homes outright, have money in the bank and in stocks, have set up college funds for their future kids—all the way to getting a postdoc from an Ivy League college, have zero debt, and they both retired when they turned 40. Then they decided to have kids. Some eight years later, both husband and wife are home every single day for their kids (twins again). And they’re happy as f*ck.
When I decided to write this story, I asked them about their decision. They said, “We were able to do it because we wanted to work like maniacs, travel and see the world when young, save up, and be home when the kids came.” That made sense to me. There is no rush or a sense of restlessness in them. There is no angst in them. No “what is my life about” or “I have wasted the best years of my life” in them. They chose to be older parents because it was right for them.
Apart from feeling guilt induced by society, I see the same sense of completeness and peace on my friend’s face as well.
It’s almost the end of 2021. Our world has been ravaged by COVID-19 and we’ve all given almost two years of our lives to this pandemic. It’s time to get past our judgment of what is right or wrong for others. It’s time we stopped judging people for their choices. Some people just go with the flow; others plan. It’s time to stop judging people for decisions that they’d had no hand in or chose willingly—because it was their path and they own it. What works for some doesn’t for others. Who are we to question someone else’s plan for their lives?
I asked both these women to go on the record. I asked them to pose for pictures that I could post with this story. They flatly refused. Both of them said that the trolls will come out in full force and attack them and neither one has the emotional, mental, or physical bandwidth to deal with them. I assured them that readers of Elephant Journal are not like that. They just rolled their eyes as if to say, “Roopa…you’re so naïve!”
It hurt my heart when I realized just how much society has beat them down for their choices.
Now, more than ever, let’s stop questioning. Let’s stop judging. Let’s show up and be there when our friends and family need us. Let’s keep the moral policing where it belongs—somewhere on Mars where none of us can get to anytime soon.
Because, end of the day, we are all doing the best we can, based on what we have, and what we can afford, and how much we can handle.
Isn’t that enough? Let it be enough.