I think the better question is, Why is the “baby-having drive” of some people at midlife so strong? Part of the answer is related to a quote early in the article; 54 year old John says to 47 year old Ann: “You have the body of a young girl. You need a baby.” First, a few numbers…
According to Miller, the number of first time moms at midlife is not only rising but “booming.” In 2008 the number of first time mothers ages 45 and over was double what it was in 1997.
Women end up “circumstantially infertile” for any number of reasons, including not having found the right co-parent in their more fertile years, or they weren’t ready given their careers. So like Ann in the article, they reach midlife and finally they are ready. But now their body is not.
This does not mean, however, they can’t have the experience of parenthood. Many midlife couples adopt; according to Miller, nearly 25% of adopted children have adoptive parents 45 and older.
But many more at later ages, want to have their “own” child. They are intent on carrying a child, and will put their bodies through a lot to do it. IVF with donor eggs are virtually always how pregnancy is going to happen if it is going to happen. Thanks to medical technology, it is even possible for women who have already gone through menopause to do intense hormone therapy to be able to carry a child.
Why are so many women so intent on having to carry their “own” baby? A most powerful component: being under the spell of our youth-crazed culture. If you are able to get pregnant it means you are fertile, and if you are fertile, you are still young, still virile. Even if it is not the woman’s egg (because it is too old) but a younger women’s donor egg, if she can carry and deliver a child, it must mean she is not aging, but still youthful, still part of that youth revered set.
It is a certain kind of denial–not a “denial of decrepitude,” necessarily, as many people in midlife and later these days are far from decrepid. But it is a denial of the fact that they are aging. Their body is the first to remind them, but the booming botox and beyond, and fertility treatment industries can fool them into believing it is just not so.
What would happen if we revered the aging process–would so many women have to go the mat to have to carry “their” own child? What would middle aged people do if they had wanted to become parents but for one reason or another had not had them? My guess is that women would not feel they have to fool their body into being younger again so they could carry a child.
If we revered the aging process, I’d like to believe that those in midlife would wisely face the reality that their “organic deadline” had passed (even for guys–older men have higher chances of having biological children with problems), and wisely ask themselves how they could get the experience of parenthood another way. Maybe more would adopt children at all ages, not just infants. And if that was difficult, they would use their energies to improve the adoption system to make this easier. Maybe more would find ways to be involved with infants, children, and young people in a myriad of ways to support them in growing up.
If we revered the aging process, at midlife I bet we’d see far fewer women fighting biology and more plugging in to how they can use their parental needs and energies with the children who are already here. They would wisely find ways to get their needs met in ways that help the larger context of the world. They would not need avenues like midlife pregnancy to support the illusion of youth.
What do you think? When you read Miller’s piece, what strikes you most?