There is a small and growing trend of women becoming mothers at 50 and older
Report: An average of 13 children were born every week to women 50-plus in 2013
Women 50-plus who have children say there are challenges but tremendous upsides, too
Janet Jackson might soon become the new symbol of the rise of the 50-year-old mom.
The 49-year-old singer/songwriter, who turns 50 next month, announced to fans in a video on Twitter on Wednesday that she would be delaying the second leg of her “Unbreakable” world tour because she and her husband are focused on family planning.
“I thought it was important that you be the first to know. My husband and I are planning our family, so I’m going to have to delay the tour,” she said with a smile. “Please, if you can try and understand that it’s important that I do this now. I have to rest up, doctor’s orders. But I have not forgotten about you. I will continue the tour as soon as I possibly can.”
There’s no word on how Jackson and her husband, 41-year-old Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana, hope to build a family, whether through natural means, fertility treatments, surrogacy or adoption.
If Jackson has or adopts a child, she would be following in the footsteps of other mothers, such as singer Sophie B. Hawkins, who already had a young son, and decided to have another baby at 50. She admitted her age made her think more than twice about the humongous and life-changing step.
“I went through waking up crying and saying, ‘Am I too old? Will I suddenly at 51 have my knees give out?’ ” Hawkins, who used a sperm donor and was implanted with her own frozen embryo, told People magazine in 2015.
“Now I don’t have any of those fears because I feel healthy and strong. I’m also setting up a good net of support, and that’s the key to anybody having a child.”
Jackson and Hawkins are part of a small but growing trend of women doing what was unthinkable only a few decades ago: becoming moms at 50 and beyond, according to a recent story in AARP The Magazine.
In 2013, an average of 13 children were born every week to mothers 50 years and older, the magazine reported. In 2012, women 50 and older had 600 babies, up from 144 births in 1997, based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And those numbers don’t take into account the women who become mothers through adoption or surrogacy, women like Deborah, who had a child “close to 50,” she says. She used a surrogate after she learned through in vitro fertilization that she could get pregnant but could not carry a child to term.
A few years later, Deborah, who wanted to use only her first name for this article, had another child after her surrogate offered to carry and deliver a second baby for her and her husband.
“That was the best decision we made, or she helped us make … because I do think that it’s a bit of a burden on an only child to have an older parent,” she said.
’Sometimes they think I’m the grandma’
Deborah, now the mom of two girls 9 and 13, says she’s never felt judged or even singled out for her unconventional path. Part of the reason for that, she suggests, is that she’s raising her children in the New York area, where midlife mothering is fairly common.
“I think when my kids were little, like when I was in the nursery school crowd, I don’t even think I was the oldest parent,” she said. “I mean, if you go to other parts of the country, sometimes they think I’m the grandma.”
Cyma Shapiro, who adopted a child from Russia at 46 and another at 48 and has stepchildren who are 29 and 31, hasn’t gotten the “Are you the grandmother?” reaction. But she knows plenty of women, many of whom write for her blog MotheringintheMiddle.com, who have heard that and then some about their decision to enter motherhood in their late 40s, 50s and even 60s.
“They get … ‘Could you really have had this kid?’ and ‘Why did you adopt at such an old age?’ and ‘If you had him yourself, how did you get there?’ ”
After DeAnna Scott, who had twins through surrogacy at 46, was featured in a newspaper article a few years ago, most of the comments were not exactly supportive, she said.
“A lot of feedback to that article was … ‘You people are selfish’ and ‘How could you do this?’ and I didn’t read the rest,” said Scott, a contract manager and photographer who lives in Ventura, California.
“Personally, I don’t think anyone around me would really have the guts to say that to me.”
Frieda Birnbaum of Saddle River, New Jersey, definitely heard it all after her decision to have twins at age 60 became front page news around the world. (She had a child at 53 and has two grown children, all with the same husband.)
“I wanted to have twins, they (said), to look younger, to make a movie or to write a book,” said Birnbaum, a research psychologist who appears regularly on nationally syndicated radio programs.
“I don’t think so. Taking progesterone shots is not really something that I would risk my life for a book for. … I did it because my husband wanted to try.”
No one ever questioned her husband about the decision; it’s part of the double standard that midlife mothers face, said Birnbaum.
“I was on a (radio) show with Rod Stewart, who just had a child … they didn’t speak about him having a child. It wasn’t a matter of discussion at all.” (Stewart’s seventh child was born when he was 60 and his eighth at 66.)
When 40-plus moms were front page news
Dr. Mark Sauer, vice chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, is one of the early pioneers of using in vitro fertilization with older women. When he published a study in 1990 in the New England Journal of Medicine about his work impregnating 40-year-old women, it became an international event, he says.
“It was a banner headline everywhere, and people thought, rightfully so by the way back in the context of that time, that these women were really old,” said Sauer, who’s also professor of obstetrics and gynecology and program director of the Center for Women’s Reproductive Care at the Columbia University Medical Center.
Twenty-five years later, Americans seem more comfortable with IVF in general and with women getting pregnant in their 40s, Sauer said. There are also signs, namely in the medical field, that people are growing more accustomed to women having children at 50 and older, he said.
He cites how some 30-year-old residents at the hospital sometimes don’t even mention deliveries overnight by women 50 and above in the morning reports, because “it’s so commonplace.”
“I’ve at times said, ‘Are you not going to say something about the 53-year-old?’ They’ll be like, ‘What do you want to know about her?’ “
The challenges to midlife mothering
Becoming a mother at 50 or older is certainly not a decision that most women approach lightly.
For women who want to get pregnant, they’ll probably need to rely on IVF and use egg donations, unless they froze embryos at a younger age. IVF with an egg donation could cost as much as $25,000 to $30,000 for a single attempt.
The older the woman, the greater the health risks of hypertension, diabetes and even death, medical experts say. There are also health risks to the child.
“What never gets picked up in these stories … is there’s a lot of women doing this stuff that doesn’t work for them. They don’t get pregnant, or they miscarry, or God forbid, they have a disabled child, and now they’re maybe 50, 55, and they’re got to deal with it.
“They have to be prepared for that,” Sauer said.
There are immense challenges for women who become mothers through adoption and surrogacy later in life, too.
Scott, the mother of twins who are 21 months old, said it wasn’t until her kids were born that she “started to get a little freaked out.”