What It’s Been Like Becoming a Mother in My 40s
When I became a magazine editor-in-chief in my thirties, I thought that my perk rich, cash poor, high-flying single gal lifestyle in the 1990s—press trips to Amsterdam and Paris, drinks with Ivana Trump at the Plaza, dinner with Christie Brinkley’s manager—sufficed for my lack of a maternal urge.
As “The Dating Diva” my alter ego, I penned a column for the magazine I edited and made television appearances excoriating women to value themselves, be a “sweet” bitch, and always leave a man wanting more.
In my personal life, I was a no-pressure date, because I had no baby wish to fulfill.
That changed when I met a man several years my junior who “got me” in a way nobody else ever had, and I tied the knot with him in my forties. After a year of marriage, I knew that my rock solid husband would make a great dad. I wasn’t so sure about myself as a mom. But it was the start of an idea. Then a diagnosis of age-related infertility got in the way.
A few painful, time consuming, invasive medical interventions later, I became a mother in my mid forties, (my daughter is now seven), joining the fastest growing group of women having children later in life and transforming my life, in ways I could never have imagined.
Becoming a mother after years of being responsible only for myself was a revelation. But, having a baby in my forties became a lesson in humility.
All new moms complain about being tired after having a baby. But after birth a younger mom doesn’t waste too much time worrying about getting back to her “old” self. I thought of nothing else.
To be honest, it took over five years for me to feel—and look— like “Estelle” again.
I was quite inept at mothering at first. I remember taking what seemed like hours to collapse my baby’s stroller and put it into the trunk of my car in the rain, diapering her, I broke into a sweat, as poo smeared everywhere, and I was hopeless at swaddling. I also recall schlepping the entire can of baby formula to music class, until a compassionate seasoned mom showed me a plastic canister I could bring instead.
I needed a village, but really only had one friend my age who had recently given birth—and she lived in another city. It took ten months for me to find my tribe, and only because one mom at music class invited me to join her book club. And along the way I embarrassed myself (lunging after a guy who had a stroller in the elevator of my building, asking if I could call his wife; commiserating with another mom that we were both winging this in midlife, till she cocked her head at me and dryly told me she had just turned 30, and failing at postnatal yoga when my baby wouldn’t stop crying, disrupting the class).
I couldn’t count on my compatriots to man that village either.
When I attended my twenty-five year high school reunion and shared my baby pictures, I relished the oohing and ahhing. And I, in turn crowed over the photos of their kids high school graduations, college dorm shots, even some early grandkids. Back then, I felt like I was living in the Twilight Zone, but by now I’ve gotten used to living in this dichotomy.
As an older mom, I’m aware of the circle of life, and value the time that I spend with my sweet girl. Knowing the struggles I’ve gone through in my quest toward emotional intelligence and resilience (I was bullied in junior high school) makes me want to pave the way for my child with the mortar of my hard-earned life’s wisdom.
To that end, we do a lot of role-playing regarding social scenarios, whether it’s enacting out conversations (or fights) between friends. I’ve also taught her that you can always change your focus or your behavior. And that if you set your mind on a goal (whether it is the deep water challenge at camp, or learning how to read chapter books, or mastering a dance step) if you work at it, you can achieve it step by step. I believe that knowledge is the essence of true power.
My seven-year-old daughter’s whirlwind after-school schedule (tennis, hip hop, chess, play dates) and weekend activity of never ending birthday parties can be exhausting. That’s why I make sure to schedule a sitter every few weeks for a date night with my husband. I also make sure to pamper myself every once in a while with a facial, massage or spa pedicure.
Still, I know how lucky I am to have her, and I love being her mom. It’s also not surprising to me that the research corroborates that older parents—after the age of forty—are happier parents. As a bonus, she keeps me feeling young, which a study shows will let me live a happier, longer life.
Since I have a sense of the finality of time, I want to be around as long as possible and that desire motivates me to take care of myself by eating food that isn’t processed, shunning sugar, working out and keeping active. I’m happy to see the ongoing New England Centenarian Study found that women who had children after 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than women who had children at a younger age.
In a lot of ways, my daughter has become my muse. My experience raising her in midlife has been the impetus for essays that I’ve published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child, Woman’s Day and a host of other publications.
Before marriage and motherhood, enjoying my “selfish singlehood”, I used to feel as free as a kite because I had so many choices on how to spend my time, but I’ve since learned that, as a line from my favorite musical Pippin proclaims, “If I’m not tied to anything, I’ll never be free.”
I’m as grounded as an old oak tree these days. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, writing coach and former magazine editor-in-chief. She has been published on the New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon, Quartz, Newsweek, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.