by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.
I was channel surfing this week and landed on the Dr. Oz show. The topic of the show was “When are you too old to become a mother?” That title certainly made me stop and listen. This article on Dr. Oz’s website interestingly points out that according to the Centers for Disease Control “the only group of women to show an increase in fertility for two years running was over the age of 40.”
I want to fully disclose that I had my daughter one month before my 46th birthday on my final in vitro fertilization attempt, thanks to an egg donor.
The show offered a variety of guests looking at many sides of the question of becoming a mother later in life. A reproductive endocrinologist presented the costs for different type of infertility treatment and the statistics regarding age and the relationship to success rates. A medical ethicist discussed her concerns about information like allegations of fertility drugs and cancer risk not being presented in an open way. Another physician discussed her concerns about “the shame and embarrassment
about older-age mothers”. She said that oftimes, later-life moms are judged by much younger mothers and others for having a child. I have felt that in my own life. Audience members revealed their personal stories about why it was so important for them to have a child and how they would repeatedly undergo the necessary financial, medical, physical and emotional challenges in their quest to become a parent. Another guest described her realization that she didn’t need to have a biological link to her child and the joy she found adopting her 2 children.
I had many reactions to the show as did the people who left their comments on his website responding to this show topic. I was really glad Dr. Oz tackled a topic close to my heart that isn’t often discussed on television in such an open and frank forum.
There are no easy answers to the question Dr. Oz posed. The reality is that the manner and time in our lives that we choose to have a child is the most personal of decisions and cannot always be carefully planned. We don’t all have the option of having a child when and how we want. A unique mixture of health, career, finances, life circumstances, significant others, changes in personal priorities and values, all blend together to determine the convergence of our family planning desires and what happens in our lives. There are no guarantees and often times there are many surprises both good and bad.
The medical technology that is available today and that continues to evolve offers
women more fertility treatment options with better success rates than ever before. Each woman needs to think carefully about her own age, lifestyle, and the stability of different areas of her life. Dr. Oz recommended that women ask themselves several questions to determine if being an older mom feels right. His list included:
1. “Why do you want a child?
2. What will you sacrifice to have a baby?
3. Why do you want a biological link?
4. What would you have to give up and are you prepared to do that?”
He also suggested that you try to imagine what your life would be like in 20 years. He asked viewers if they would alter any of those choices. None of us can anticipate what the future holds for us. Life would be much easier if we could. I can say my personal experience is that having a child later in life offered more medical challenges for me than it might if I would have had a child in my 20’s. I also know that as a 40+ mother I offered my daughter greater financial stability and a loving father who was nowhere in sight when I was 25 or 30. I am certain I am a calmer, wiser, more grounded mother now than I would have been 20 or 30 years ago.
Dr Oz. ended his show by commenting that he advised all women as they become 30 to begin to look at their parenting options. I am not certain how realistic this is and if that is something many women are able to do or would choose to do. My hope is that women can continue this important dialogue, that we don’t judge each other for the parenting choices that we make, and that as women we do step back and take the opportunity to explore our choices, life circumstances, and personal reasons for building our families. I hope the answers you find help create the right path for you in your parenting journey.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.