Celebrities such as Marcia Cross, Halle Berry, Geena Davis, Holly Hunter and Annie Leibovitz make becoming a first-time mother over age 40 — 51 in Annie’s case — look glamorous and easily attainable.
But what is it like for an average woman who’s not privy to the luxuries a celebrity can afford, such as access to the best doctors and child care? While older, first-time parents encounter a set of unique issues — like being knee-deep in diapers while their contemporaries are shopping around for potential colleges with their teens — those interviewed say they wouldn’t have done things any differently.
“To outsiders it may seem like a hard job to have two kids at our age, but we’re just so happy,” said Diane Giambalvo, 45, who along with her 50-year-old husband, Philip, became first-time parents to twin boys three months ago.
“We wanted them so much that nothing else matters — lack of sleep, whether we eat cold meals or we don’t eat at all,” the Annadale mother continued.
Mrs. Giambalvo acknowledges some people may question her and her husband’s decision to have kids at this stage of their lives since they will not be around as long as those who started earlier.
But, “I don’t think it’s selfish,” she said, explaining, “We waited and planned for these kids and have so much love to give them.”
“My only hope,” she added, “is that I teach them enough to leave them in this world feeling independent.”
Michele Piersiak, who gave birth at 41 to her now-12-year-old son, James, echoes her concern.
“Like every parent, I worry about his [James’] future, and that I won’t be there when he has children,” said the Great Kills mom, who’s set up a brokerage and savings account for him.
But, “I never thought of age as an issue or a limiting factor,” she said. “At 53, I don’t feel my age or act my age.”
The single mother has no problems keeping up with her son, as evidenced by their action-packed trip to Mexico last February. They went zip-lining through the jungle, snorkeled in an underground lake and rappelled off a cliff, all in one day.
“My advice to anyone older than 40 [and considering parenthood] is to do what I did,” said Ms. Piersiak. “Discuss all the pros and cons with your spouse and doctor. Take all the necessary tests, and if it is a healthy fetus, go for it.”
GETTING MORE COMMON
According to Katherine Lewis, a physician’s assistant in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Richmond University Medical Center, while there previously may have been a stigma against people who’ve delayed parenthood, that is no longer the case.
“Because so many women in this generation are focusing on their careers and couples are intent on creating an environment where they are financially stable to support a child and a family, there are many women over 40 years old getting pregnant for the first time,” said Ms. Lewis, co-owner of Ten Toes, a New Dorp-based company that offers pregnancy and parenting classes.
And, while there are certain complications with getting pregnant over age 40 — such as the toll it has on a woman’s body and a higher risk of birth defects — she believes many of these mothers may be better equipped to handle the challenges of pregnancy than their twentysomething counterparts.
These moms are “well aware of the potential perils associated with being a high-risk pregnant patient and are therefore more attuned to the changes their body will undergo and are often extremely cautious about ensuring that they do everything in their power to carry their baby to term.”
Ten Toes co-founder Leslie Potenciano agrees.
“Since for the majority of women 40 years and older, getting pregnant requires some kind of medical intervention … these couples are often extremely well-prepared, anxious and willing to be as hands-on as possible, both during the pregnancy and once their baby arrives,” said Ms. Potenciano, a physician’s assistant at Richmond University Medical Center.
MAKING THE TRANSITION
For some older couples, it can be a difficult transition shifting from a carefree lifestyle to taking on parenting, the biggest responsibility of them all.
Terry and Frank Wersan, who met via Match.com in 2005, had spent the better part of their pre-baby relationship traveling, eating out and enjoying a carefree, spontaneous lifestyle. Having kids wasn’t a part of the Grasmere couple’s original plan.
“Although I always knew I wanted to have a big family, Terry, who is one of six children, didn’t initially feel the same way,” said Wersan, 43.
“Then one day in November (2007) when Terry turned 40, she bolted out of bed and said to me, ‘Oh my God, we’re missing it; we have to have a baby. How can we let life go by and not have a baby?'” he said.
So, that Christmas they gave it a try. By January, she was pregnant.
While Mr. and Mrs. Wersan were eager to welcome a new baby into their lives, they admit they felt apprehensive about the fact that life as they knew it was ending.
“Those first eight weeks after Natalie was born were definitely a culture shock for me,” said Mrs. Wersan, 41. “She was colicky and it was brutal. She would cry from 7 p.m. to midnight.”
Yet, despite the initial adjustment period, Mrs. Wersan is smitten with Natalie and couldn’t fathom life without her.
“I look back at my life before Natalie and I can’t imagine that there’s anything I’d rather do than sit on the couch with her curled in a little ball,” she said.
Her husband is just as wowed by the experience.
“When you look at your child and you see a little bit of yourself in there, it just takes your breath away and truly gives your life a sense of purpose,” he said.
Robin Gorman-Newman, who adopted a son at age 42 and is the founder of the Web site, www.motherhoodlater.com, notes there are several benefits of becoming a parent later in life.
“Many ‘later parents’ have more of an inner calm and don’t sweat the small stuff as much because they know what they want, they’ve already achieved [a lot of their goals] and are grateful for their child,” said the Great Neck, L.I., resident.
“They are prepared to focus on someone else and even invite that after years of doing their own thing,” she added.
In contrast, “A younger person may still be growing up or evolving when they become a parent, and they may put their own dreams or aspirations on hold, which can be frustrating and feel like a sacrifice.”
Mrs. Wersan says she is very happy she had Natalie later in life.
“We’re not struggling financially and my priorities are focused on her, whereas in my 20s and 30s, I had different priorities,” she explained.
While Wersan echoes his wife’s sentiments, there’s a part of him that wishes he had started his family sooner and believes had he met his wife in his 30s, they probably would have at least three kids by now.
“My only concern having Natalie later in life is that I have less of my life to give to her. I want to be able to see her at 40 with her own kids,” he said.
Still, he encourages other couples in their 40s considering parenthood to go for it, “because once that fertility window closes, you can’t go back.”
There are certain benefits as well as drawbacks to becoming first-time parents at over age 40.
Here are just a few of them:
Mentally more prepared to take on the child-rearing challenges that come their way.
Financially more capable to deal with the high costs of raising a child.
Have already “sowed their oats” and can devote all their attention to raising their child.
Delivering a baby has a bigger toll on an older woman’s body.
Higher risk of the baby having birth defects.
Will not be around as long for their children.
May experience an age gap with their kids as well as other parents within their kids’ circle.