Family

As An Older Mom, This Question Haunts Me

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
My son Ken in 2019

I’m sitting outside a cafe with my 3-year-old son. It’s a hot, shiny day and we managed to find a shade underneath a big oak tree.

My son’s mouth is smeared brown from devouring a chocolate muffin. I search my bag for wet wipes and rub his mouth as he cringes his nose in protest, “Mamaaaaa!”

A young woman sitting at the next table looks up. She grins and asks how old my son is. I say three. She says her son will be three next month and caresses his curly, brown hair.

The boy huddles close to his mom. “I’ll go get some food, okay?” she says, kissing his forehead and turning to an older woman sitting beside her, “Mom, I’ll be back soon.”

The grandma lifts her grandson and places him on her lap. She gives him a peck on his cheek, tickles his armpit, and he giggles. I’m mesmerized by this beautiful picture.

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It’s a fantasy I envisioned for myself many times: Ken, his partner, his child, my husband, and me at an outing. But then everyone remains and I fade from the image as quickly as I popped in.

I’ll be 75 when my son is 30.

Will I be alive at that time?

Middle-aged

Middle age has engulfed me like a tsunami. I have the stamina of a turtle. On most days, my legs feel like an anchor stuck beneath the ocean bed as it’s dragged by the ship.

At 49, I am afflicted with ailments. After the birth of my son three years ago, I developed fibromyalgia, a debilitating muscle condition with no known cause or targeted medication.

I also have hip pain from an accident 15 years ago. And I was recently diagnosed with gall stones that leave me nauseated with sharp stomach pain.

What young moms take for granted, like walking with their child, is a measured task rife with balancing my desire to bond with my son and the level of pain I can tolerate.

On days when I miscalculate, I suffer the aftermath. Some days, I want to curl up in bed all day, but instead, I force a smile and swallow my aches to provide a sense of normalcy for my son.

I feel bad for my husband too. His friends and family frequently fly to countries all over the world. We haven’t been on vacation in years. I know it’s not my fault, but I ponder about how vastly limited their lives are because of me.

We could be in Rome savoring Risotto Alla Milanese while overlooking an old bricked house by the canals or on Brac Island in Croatia for postcard-perfect pictures of sandy beaches and emerald blue seas.

I can’t shake the guilt of bringing a bright soul into this world who deserves so much more — if not a young mother, at least a healthy one.

Desire

In my 20s, I was a sturdy horse. I jogged, swam, hiked, and walked long distances with my dog. My biggest worry was making enough money in my entry-level journalism career to pay the soaring rent in San Francisco. Looking back, what a damn good life.

At 24, I married and could have been a mom. I just didn’t want to. As the age of 30 hovered, our friends settled down in suburban houses with their SUVs, golden retrievers, and 1.5 children.

I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. My life felt complete. I worked hard, traveled, feasted, and slept to my heart’s content.

Why would I want to spoil that with a lifelong responsibility that demanded constant attention?

Then, seven years ago, at 42, I met a younger man — 17 years younger, in fact — who became my current husband. And it happened — the itch women talk about.

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It started as a casual drive to see my husband’s newborn nephew. He was placed in my arms — soft, fragile, and completely dependent on me to ensure his safety.

I felt a warm tingling in my heart which surged to my whole body and shot to my head where a switch clicked. I want a baby.

Grateful

We tried adoption. They told us I was too old. We consulted a fertility doctor. She said it wasn’t worth trying and recommended using an egg donor.

We were about to fly to Russia for a young egg. In the meantime, we tried conceiving naturally. Lo and behold, I got pregnant on the first try.

My son is a miracle, not only figuratively, but literally. The chance of conceiving after 44 is no more than 3 or 4 percent. Fifty-five percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage and the older the egg, the higher the likelihood of a birth defect.

I know I should be grateful and I am. Yet the desire to see him become the man he can be is immense. I want to toast to his first job, spoil his children, and celebrate Xmas year after year. I want to bear witness for as long as I can to the wonder that is my son.

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Still, in my mind’s eye, my future self is in a wheelchair looking gaunt and haggard. Will I have the energy and health to be an active grandma? Will I be a burden? Will I be of sound mind?

Illusion

Three years ago, with my head held high, I touted the benefits of having children at an older age to my younger girlfriends. I boasted the pros —patience, experience, and financial security. I forgot the crucial part — health.

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Nature doesn’t give a crap about mothers once they do nature’s bidding and produce offspring. It gifts us swollen hands, mangled nipples, and sagging skin—a glorious gracias for breeding the marvel we call humans.

It especially likes to rub it in the face of older moms with a big sign that says: Childbirth ain’t meant for premenopausal women, biatch! Older moms are also susceptible to all kinds of maladies from infection to sepsis. Of course, no one tells you.

Social media plays a big part in these decadent times of extravagance and entitlement. We hear about 50-year-old celebrities having babies perpetuating the idea we can outdo the natural order of life.

After all, we’ve reversed aging to an extent with plastic surgery and realized sex change. Geriatric moms? — no problem!

What’s not a fallacy is that it really does take a village to raise a kid. If you don’t have that village like many of us, it takes a young mother to raise a kid. Society tells us otherwise.

Well, we’ve all been fooled.

Maybe

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. Ken’s face is flushed and puffy. He’s chuckling as my husband dangles him from his feet. My husband lays him softly on the carpet and tickles his tummy.

Ken bellows out in laughter and struggles to get out of papa’s grip. When he finally manages to escape, he dashes right into my arms, “Mamaaaaaa, help!”

I hug him tight. “I love you, sweetheart.”

“I love you too,” Ken says as he wiggles his way out.

It’s days like these that make it all worthwhile. My true self — the person not gripping in pain — emerges from my prisoned body. The black fog dissipates and the weary soul transforms into a girl dancing in the breezy wind.

I close my eyes to capture this moment. I breathe in and out…in and out…in and out. When I open my eyes, that moment perishes, like white sand trickling down my fingers.

What remains is memories, isn’t it? It’s what sustains us in times of sorrow. It’s what Ken will hold on to when I’m long gone. But, who’s to say my son will outlive me?

Children die before their parents all the time. You can live your life helping others but be plagued with cancer. You can be an asshole, never have health issues, and die peacefully in your sleep.

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My mom died when I was 37. Her dad died when she was six. Tomorrow is uncertain regardless of whether you’re a young or an old mom.

Life is messy, unpredictable, and unjust. What are we to do?

I don’t have the answer. But, unquestionably, my fondest childhood memories are times spent wrapped in a blanket snuggling with my mom watching TV as the blizzard howled outside.

The way my dad’s eyes lit up at the sight of me was like a beam of sunlight warming my heart. When he came home from work, my tiny legs sprinted towards him and the room spun as he twirled me around.

Maybe what my son will remember is how I sing tenderly as his eyes grow heavy and he drifts off to sleep. How I rocked him as he wailed in a deafening high-pitch when the door slammed into his fingers. How every day I kiss his chubby cheeks and whisper into his ears how mama will always be there for him.

Maybe life is a series of fleeting moments made memorable by how unremarkable it is. Maybe it’s enough that we show up for our loved ones. Maybe uncertainty propels us to cherish the little moments.

Maybe we never die as long as we’re remembered. Maybe suffering forces us to prioritize. Maybe there is no perfect parent.

When death comes knocking, can I look back and say I did my best to ensure he grows into the man I know he can be?

Yes — that’s a definitive, yes.

June Kirri is a writer on culture, parenting, and mental health. Follow her on Twitter.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.