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A pause before parenting

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Monday, August 06, 2007 | 0 comments

Women who began their families later in life share the rewards - and regrets - of delayed motherhood
Dr. Abigail Mahoney of Peoria always knew she wanted children. But professional aspirations - including four years of podiatry school in Chicago and a three-year residency in Washington, D.C. - meant she delayed childbirth until age 36.


Valerie Hammond of Marquette Heights married early in life but chose not to have children. Her nieces and nephews were the kids in her life. But after a second marriage, she and her husband started trying. Her son was born two weeks before her 41st birthday.

Jennifer Hogsett's parents were 43 and 45 when she was born. She has strong feelings about having children later in life, but three years after she married her former husband at 29, they decided to start a family. At 37, she's now a single mother of a 4-year-old and 2-year-old in Dunlap.

Sherri Wright of Pekin had trouble adjusting to life as a parent after having two girls 15 months apart in her late 30s. "For me, it's a tougher adjustment because I had so many years of being able to go where I want and do what I want, and I didn't have to answer to anybody," she said.

These four Peoria-area women are among many today who, for a variety of reasons, are having children later in life. Here are their stories.

Career came first

There was a time in Abigail Mahoney's life when she didn't know if her dream of having a family would ever materialize. She was in her early 30s, preparing for a career as a doctor. Her days were consumed with work and study. And the right man hadn't come along.

She met John Mahoney, a hand surgeon, at age 35. They married a year later and started trying to have children immediately. As doctors, they both knew the potential risks involved with having children past a certain age.

"Those eggs weren't getting any younger," she said. "We felt like our best chance for (having a family) was right away."
Beyond age 35, pregnant women are considered of "advanced maternal age" and special precautions are taken, Mahoney said. The older the mother, the greater the chance for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. The Mahoneys also knew getting pregnant could be more difficult.

But it happened quickly - with no miscarriages.
Mahoney had Jack at age 36 and wasted no time trying for a second, Graham, who arrived 15 months later.

"We really didn't think we had the luxury of waiting three years," she said. "We're not going to have a third (child). We're thinking about adopting, and that's purely because of my age."
Both pregnancies were normal, although Jack came a month early. The Mahoneys chose not to have an amniocentesis to check for genetic defects. Instead, Abigail had a relatively new procedure called a nuchal ultrasound to check for any irregularities. The results wouldn't have changed the couple's decision to have the baby, Abigail said.

"If you're not going to change your course, it's probably not necessary to do any of (the tests). But when it's happening to you, you want to know everything," she said.

"We just feel so lucky to have had them right away. Everyone's healthy."

Today Jack is 2 and Graham is 1. Abigail, 39, works as a podiatrist in Peoria three days a week. She said the family's scenario is not unlike those of many of their friends and colleagues who also took time to establish careers before having children.

Sometimes they wonder if they would have had more energy in their 20s, Abigail said.

Their conclusion: Parenting is hard no matter what your age.

Second chance
Valerie Hammond had no children with her first husband. She remarried at age 38. After thinking it through - even writing a list of pros and cons - she and her husband, Dennis, tried for more than two years to conceive.

Hammond had several miscarriages. After one in the spring of 2003, the couple decided to try naturally one more time. She did not want to use fertility drugs.

She became pregnant with Dalton, now 3, about two months later. The pregnancy was considered high-risk.

"Being over 40, they panicked me all through my pregnancy," Hammond said. "I spent a lot of time there really nervous."
A little more than four months into the pregnancy, a test came back indicating the baby could have spina bifida, or incomplete closure of the spinal column. Hammond had sonograms every two weeks.

But Dalton was born - perfectly healthy - on Valentine's Day in 2004.

On a recent summer evening, the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy dashed from one activity to the next - keeping a balloon afloat, peering through his binoculars, putting on his bike helmet.

"One thing about having a child this late in life, I know what a true blessing he is. I have much more patience than I would have had in my 20s, and I also realize that I don't have to kill myself to be super mom," Hammond wrote to the Journal Star. "If the floor doesn't get swept today because we are reading a book or finger painting, it will still be there tomorrow."
Between working full time, coaching girls' softball at EastSide Centre and caring for an energetic 3-year-old, the 44-year-old admits life is hectic.

"I won't say they don't wear you out," she said.

But Hammond was ready for the challenge. She had freedom in her youth to do what she wanted - unlike classmates who had children right after high school and often leaned on their parents to help raise them. She also says she's more financially stable.

Hammond said she's run into several other mothers in her softball circle who had children later in life with a second husband, whether they had kids before or not.

"I do think it's becoming more common," she said.

Is that your grandma?

Jennifer Hogsett knows what it's like to have older parents. Her father wasn't able to attend her high school graduation because he was 64 with heart problems. He died the following year.

She remembers how her parents wouldn't go on the rides with her at amusement parks - and the inquisitive questions from classmates.

"In second or third grade, I can remember my father had come to school and (someone) said, 'Oh, is that your grandpa?' I was devastated. I was just so embarrassed," Hogsett said.

By her late 20s, Hogsett didn't think she'd ever marry and have children herself.

"I just thought I was going to work, be independent, do my own thing," she said. Even after marriage, she and her now-ex-husband waited three years before they thought about having kids.

Initially, they planned to have one child. But after her son, now 4, was born when Hogsett was 32, she thought it might be nice for him to have a playmate close in age. Her daughter, now 2, came when Hogsett was just about to turn 35.

Because of her childhood experiences, Hogsett says she has strong feelings about having children later in life. She said she feels she's at the high end of what's ideal.

"You have to do obviously what's right for you and your situation, but there has to be a happy medium where you're not young and immature, you have some knowledge of how the world works, but you're not so old that you won't be able to attend your child's graduation," she said. "I have (older) friends who don't have kids and I'm, like, 'Oh, I hope you aren't thinking about having them now.' "

About a year after Hogsett's daughter was born, her marriage dissolved. Being a single 37-year-old mother comes with certain sacrifices, she says.

Her recent job choices, for example, have been based on the hours and location more than anything else.

"It is a daily struggle to make ends meet with one income and two rapidly growing children," she wrote to the Journal Star. "There are days I wish I would have had them when I was younger so I would have more energy, but mostly I am grateful that I waited because I feel like I have more wisdom than if I would have had them in my early 20s."

Still, her parents weren't there to share in the lives of her young children. Her mother was 70 with Alzheimer's when she was pregnant. "She didn't go baby shopping with me," Hogsett said.

Tough adjustment

Sherri Wright of Pekin has mixed feelings about the decision to have children later in life.

"I had my first child at age 37 and my second 15 months later. Sometimes I am glad I waited until I was older and my marriage was stable. Sometimes I wish I hadn't had them at all, that I was too old," she wrote to the Journal Star. "It gets frustrating being called 'grandma' or being older than (my children's) teachers.

"Please don't get me wrong. I love my children and wouldn't want anything to happen to them," she said later. "But I think I would have been much happier had I not had any children.

"I feel so guilty for being selfish," she said. "I feel really guilty that I'm not Carol Brady."
But Wright said she doesn't feel like she's the only one out there who might feel the same way.

"Society says that once you're married, you're supposed to have kids. I felt like I was a woman, I was supposed to. Everybody said, 'Now you're married; you're supposed to have kids,' " she said.

Wright and her husband went through three years of infertility treatments before she became pregnant. Once she started the treatments, she said it was hard to stop without success. The couple tried artificial insemination again for a second child when Wright's husband, who's in the military, learned he'd have to go to Iraq. Two weeks after she became pregnant, her husband found out he wasn't going overseas.

Wright was nearly 300 pounds when she gave birth to her second daughter. She later had gastric bypass surgery and is now able to do many of the things she couldn't earlier in life - but she also has new responsibilities.

"At this point in my life, all my other friends, their kids are in high school and they don't have to find the baby sitters," said Wright, 41. "The women who have kids my age, they're in their 20s, so we have nothing in common."
But there is hope.

"As my older daughter is getting older and we can do things together, it's getting a lot better. So hopefully as they get older we can bond more," she said.

Source: http://www.pjstar.com/stories/080607/FAM_BDVIMJU6.038.php



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Catherine

About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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