Grey Hair and “Goodnight Moon”

Teresa Johnson is 48 and the mother of 2-year-old Nicolaus. Most of her friends have children in high school and college, and Johnson smiles when she talks about getting potty-training advice from coworkers who are 15 years younger than she is.

At the park, she often gets asked how old her grandson is. She’s not alone. These days more and more women are becoming moms after age 40.

They’re delaying starting their families to develop a career, choose a mate, settle into married life and stash away a little money. Some women don’t find the man they want to spend the rest of their life with until their most fertile years have passed, and some are starting another family in their second marriage.

Adoption is on the rise, and advancements in assisted reproduction are impacting the trend, as well. The pregnancy rate in women over 40 is rising faster than in any other age group. The number of live births to women ages 40-44 in the United States more than doubled between 1981 and 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics.

“Fifteen years ago, I’d say less than 10 percent of our patients were over 40,” says Dr. Nancy Teaff, an obstetrician-gynecologist and assisted reproduction specialist with Reproductive Endocrinology Associates of Charlotte. “Now, about 20 percent are 40 or older.”

She adds, “Forty is the new 30 ? for the most part, women today look young and feel young.”

Keep a Sense of Humor, Build Stamina
Johnson and her husband, Eric, who is 45, found out she was pregnant the day they turned in their adoption paperwork. Now, keeping up with a toddler is their greatest joy … even though others often assume they’re Nicolaus’ grandparents.

“I stick out at the playground,” says Johnson. “And when I buy him clothes, I’m always asked if I want a gift receipt.”

Claire Clark, too, says it’s difficult when she’s walking with her daughter, Caroline, in her Huntersville neighborhood and she’s mistaken as the 5-year-old’s grandmother. Clark, 46, and her husband, Jim, 44, adopted Caroline from Russia in 2004 after undergoing five years of fertility treatments.

“We try not to let it bother us,” says Clark about strangers’ comments. But she admits she’s done the math and realizes she will be 60 when Caroline is in college. “And we joke about ‘if we’re alive for her wedding.’ Jim and I try to keep a sense of humor about our age, even if we do feel tired sometimes.”

Sleepless nights and toddler tantrums certainly can take a toll and make forty-somethings feel more feeble than frisky. Teaff, however, says her patients know what they’re in for. “Going through the infertility process takes stamina, too, and my patients talk about having lots of energy. But the reality of having a toddler is something you don’t understand until you have one.”

Celebrate Your Wisdom
Carrie Reinecke, a clinical child and family therapist with Carolina Parenting Solutions, says older parents can bring life experience, patience and creativity to the picture, even though they may struggle with the needed energy to manage lack of sleep and more advanced career issues alongside play dates and preschool interviews.

Clark says she thinks she and her husband are able to “appreciate the little moments” more than younger parents can.

And according to Teaff, older parents who have stable careers and some money in the bank, often “are much more committed to parenting and putting their all into parenthood.” They are more able to have outside help and hire babysitters, she adds.

Dr. Anne Walker, a Charlotte pediatrician, says older parents can bring more wisdom and maturity to the raising of young children. “I think it’s wonderful if an older parent can put on the spontaneity of a younger parent, and at the same time, have the insight, settledness and security of an adult who, hopefully, is not growing up at the same time as his or her child.”

She also has firsthand knowledge on the subject. “I am having a blast being a 50s mommy, although I must admit, sitting cross-legged on the floor playing UNO isn’t so easy on those middle-age knees,” says Walker, who was 47 when her first two adopted children (she now has three) came to live with her and her husband, Tim. Walker is now 52, and her husband is 57.

Reinecke advises older parents to remember that their age is much less of a factor in childrearing than their perception, acceptance and feelings about being a parent over 40. “Older moms need to ‘own it,” she says. “They generally have waited a long time to experience that magical transformation from independent beings to caregivers, so entering into that role with confidence, acceptance and joy is the key. Celebrate the joy of parenting and relish it every day.”

How to ‘Own’ Being an Older Parent
Local family and parenting therapist Carrie Reinecke offers parents in their 40s the following tips:
• Enter the store and step foot onto the playground with joy and confidence; focus on what’s important to yourself and your child.
• Be prepared for those “How old is your grandchild?” questions with answers such as “No, I’m the lucky mommy here!” or “Actually, I’m the one blessed to mother this amazing kid!” Smile big, hug your child and move along.
• Find support among other local moms in their 40s. Try becoming part of a parenting social networking site, such as CharlotteMommies.com or MomsLikeMe.com.

Lee McCracken is an associate editor with Charlotte Parent magazine.