Penny’s Story

Here is the narrative, which we call “Okay. Here’s a bottle. I’m going to sleep.”

Penny and Her Family

Penny and Her Family

Once I left for college I started my life anew. My grades improved drastically and I found value in building a career for myself. During this time having children never even crossed my mind. Looking back now I realize it was because I never had a maternal figure to look up to or learn from. Also, I surrounded myself with friends who were in relationships were the end goal was not marriage. 

Within my group of peers I was considered normal, throughout all my twenties, to not be married nor have children.

In my late twenties I began a serious relationship with an American who was getting his Ph.D at Melbourne University where I was in school. I moved to Chicago with him once he finished his degree and eventually the relationship dissolved. I stayed in America and in my early thirties met my future husband, Brian. The relationship I had with him was different from all the others. He came from a stable family and was well grounded. It wasn’t till I met him that I even thought of having children.  Before we got married I told him that I wanted to have children as soon as we were married due to my age and being a Type 1 diabetic. I needed to have this conversation because he was 6 years younger than me and I needed to know he was committed. He was more than happy to and after we got married we started growing our beautiful family. I gave birth to our first child, Chloe, at age 35. We were still living in Chicago and that was where I received my care.

My experience with my doctor could be best defined as clinical and non-attentive.

I noticed my AMA label and was just required to have weekly routine checkup appointments. My doctor did a poor job of communicating to me the developments of my pregnancy and my concerns with Type 1 diabetes. He didn’t feel the need to inform me because he felt I should just trust his decisions.

Audio File

 Penny Describes Her First Pre-Natal Experiences

As a result of this poor relationship, I experienced noticeable symptoms that were overlooked. During the third trimester, I was experiencing painful edema in my legs and while leaving my appointment a nurse pulled me aside and said I needed further testing. It turned out she saw that I had characteristic signs of preeclampsia and was the one to bring it to light. My experience after was mostly a blur.   I had gone from just going through the swing of things without explanation to being in a serious predicament. I received steroids to help develop my baby’s lungs so that I could give birth as soon as possible as to prevent me from having a stroke. I finally had the cesarean when Chloe was at 36 weeks gestation. She was kept in the NICU in order to monitor her lungs and her blood glucose level since I was a diabetic. I wasn’t able to see her until three days after giving birth and only saw instant photos (polaroids) from what Brian took.

Afterwards complications still arose. I ended up getting an infection from my cesarean and Chloe had an infection in her hand from the I.V. The damage to her hand was so severe that she almost needed plastic surgery. Thankfully both infections cleared without any permanent damage. This time was particularly tough for me though. I was only able to stay with her for 16 weeks and it was hard parting since we had both been through such an emotional ordeal. I really wasn’t ready to drop her off at daycare and start working again but I didn’t have a choice.

Later on at age 40 I gave birth to my son Elliot. This pregnancy was definitely a different experience than my first pregnancy. Before I became pregnant with my son I attended a yoga class where there were other moms that described their pregnancies in passing. They reflected on their pregnancies with positive memories and support. It was then I realized what I had been missing. Since I was new to Austin, a friend from the class recommended a doctor that she had a great experience with. After meeting with him I knew he was just what I needed. He communicated well and helped me create a medical team to support me throughout my pregnancy. He recommended me to a specialist who helped plan my diet and keep my A1C in check.  Once the time for delivery came I had a planned cesarean and everything went smoothly. The only hiccup after was my son wasn’t able to breastfeed. When he was in the NICU to monitor his blood glucose he got used to the taste of formula. I tried everything to get him to feed and had to resort to using formula. The upside was that I could say to Brian “Okay. Here’s a bottle. I’m going to sleep.” 

I learned to roll with the punches though and let go of my ideal expectations of motherhood.

 

Audio FilePenny Talks about the Challenge of Breastfeeding

I have definitely been through my share of ordeals. I still have to manage my diabetes and get chronic fatigue from time to time. Anytime I need a break to rest Brian is always there to step in with bath time or mowing the yard. It is also hard to work full time as a social worker in a medical setting and not see my kids as often as I would want. We are working on are savings so that I can work just four days a week to stay home with the kids more. With all of life’s challenges, though, I have been very resilient and retained a positive spirit. What ultimately gets me through is the love for my family and the love the have for me.

Chloe and Elliott

Chloe and Elliott

Expert Voices: Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW

 The Experience of Being a Mother of Advanced Maternal Age (MAMA)

Sharon Munroe, one of the founding mothers of The Advanced Maternal Age Project, asked that I write on my observations of women over the age of 35 who become moms. I should tell you that my writing comes from a blend of personal experience becoming a mother at age 45 through an egg donor and my professional work as a licensed clinical social worker for the last 30 years.

The technological gains in infertility treatment have increased success rates and parenting options like surrogacy, foster care, and adoption, offer more opportunities for women over 35 to become parents for the first time.   Many women are getting divorced, starting to have 2nd families, or choosing to become single mothers.

Becoming a first time over age 35 mom offers several advantages.  Many people have more financial stability at an older age.  People often have had the chance to fulfill their career goals later in life and may feel less of a pull between career and parenting at this stage of their lives.  In my experience as a social worker, women that enter parenthood at a later age are more certain about their choice to become parents and this may result in a stronger commitment to the parenting experience.
I believe that we have more to offer our children as an older parent because we bring our life experiences, knowledge, coping skills, and life lessons to our new role as parents.  All of us must face life challenges as we grow into adulthood.  The obstacles you encounter during your parenting journey may feel less like a crisis when you bring this experience, organizational and problem solving skills, and wisdom.  Many people I have known have expressed stronger feelings of self confidence and greater patience as they grow older.  These are important skills in a parenting toolkit.

Another advantage to having a child later in life that many people overlook is that you may have a more established community network of friends and family that are an important of your life.  This additional support when you become a new parent is invaluable and offers a lot of comfort. In my experience working with older parents I know they often have made many sacrifices to become parents.  As a result of this they are especially committed to giving time and attention to their children.

One issue that frequently arises with older moms is an increased awareness of your mortality.  Many times parents that start later in life can end up having one child.  I  hear these parents express fear about becoming ill or disabled as they grow older.  They are fearful about being a burden to their children.  There are no guarantees about the onset of an illness or an accident regardless of your age.  One thing  MAMA’s can do is become proactive about health and lifestyle choices.  Eat well and exercise.  Schedule appropriate medical visits and preventative tests like mammograms and pap smears. Take an active part in taking care of yourself because this ultimately helps you take care of your child.

Older parents often express a concern about their physical ability to keep up with their children.  As you age you may find that your energy level does diminish.  The lack of sleep that goes in conjunction with being a new parent contributes to stamina concerns. Mothers with young children need to use the nap time as a time to help you rest and recharge.  Women often use this time as a time to rush around and do chores.  Find ways to play with your child that gives them a chance to run around and get tired.  Make play dates to give yourself a break.  Find places that may be more confined where your child can play and you can safely watch like a fenced in playground.  We had a wonderful place that was indoors and was like a “fantasy kingdom” with dress up areas and places for imaginary play.  My daughter loved it.  She would run and play changing costumes, going into castles, and I could sit closely by and watch her.

One tough challenge for older moms is to find other older moms.  When I initially had my daughter I was desperate to find other women around my age to talk with.  I initially felt I was the only mother in the world who was going through menopause and had a child going through the terrible two’s simultaneously.   I contacted my local RESOLVE chapter. RESOLVE is a national organization devoted to supporting people experiencing infertility. They referred me to a woman who had started a parenting after infertility group who lived 2 blocks away.  That group had women in it who were all MAMA’s.  They have become dear friends.  We still get together over 10 years later.  Having a trusted peer group where members speak the same language, openly talk about questions like disclosure, or what to do with frozen embryos, has brought me comfort, friendships, resources, and a sense that I am not alone.  Another aspect of this group is the kids in it have become a part of their families due to infertility treatment or adoption.  They are growing up with other kids that were conceived or brought into families in similar ways.  This normalizes their experience and they will have friends they can talk to as they grow older and may struggle with questions about their biological origins.  Websites like the Advanced Maternal Age Project may be a place to find others geographically close to you to link up with.

We have all heard the expressions “you are only as old as you feel” or “age is just a number.”  Remember to view yourself as a parent and not attach an age to it. The best any parent can do regardless of age is to be an active participant in your child’s life offering comfort, stability and guidance as you all grow together.  Parenting is one of the most satisfying and challenging  jobs anyone can take on. It is on the job training regardless of your age.  Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Good luck on your parenting journey.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years.  She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility and authored  the award-winning book Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire.