Five older moms describe why they waited, how they conceived, and what it’s like to have kids in your 40s
Perrow with three-year-old Elizabeth at their Etobicoke home
Last November, a 56-year-old Toronto lawyer gave birth to a healthy boy. She used a donor egg and donor sperm, and it cost her $48,500. She belongs to a new cohort of urban, educated women who are waiting to become parents until after they’ve accomplished professional goals and achieved financial and emotional stability. The number of new Canadian moms aged 40 to 44 increased by almost 75 per cent between 2000 and 2011. That has a lot to do with downright futuristic fertility science, which includes dramatically improved egg- and embryo-freezing technology, cutting-edge procedures like pre-implantation genetic screening, and more surrogacy brokers to match wannabe parents with available wombs. The numbers are poised to spike even higher now that Ontario is covering one cycle of IVF for women up to age 43. But getting pregnant over the age of 40 can be fraught with medical and moral complications. Older moms have much greater health risks. It’s tough to chase a toddler with arthritic knees. And there’s the unnerving possibility that their child might lose a parent before reaching adulthood. What does it feel like to be one of those moms? Five women tell their stories.
Trudy Perrow, 43
Rehabilitation Consultant (pictured above with three-year-old Elizabeth in their Etobicoke home)
I always knew I was going to have kids. But I thought everything had to be perfectly in place first. During my 20s, I studied psychology at Western and eventually worked as a therapist in the U.K. By my mid-30s I was back in Toronto and ready to settle down. But where was the guy? I’d had a serious relationship in university, then dated here and there—nothing long-term.
When I was 36, I was diagnosed with grade one stage one synchronous ovarian and uterine cancer, which means it appeared in my ovary and uterus at the same time. That kind of cancer has a better prognosis than when one spreads to the other. But I needed a total abdominal hysterectomy—they were going to take everything, even the layer of fat that ran along my tummy (the only upside). I would never be able to give birth to a child.
I got the news on February 15, 2008. The next day I was in the oncologist’s office and booking my surgery for two weeks later. I was devastated. It sounds awful, but I didn’t care if the cancer was going to kill me. If I couldn’t have kids, I thought, I’d rather die. Later that day, I called a bunch of fertility clinics, scrambling to figure out if I had any options. I was able to book an appointment at the Create Clinic on Bay Street for the next morning. I explained I was getting the kit and caboodle out in 13 days and wanted to freeze as many eggs as possible. The fertility doctor told me that the egg-harvesting process takes 10 to 12 days and must begin on day three of a menstrual cycle.
She did a blood test and, unbelievably, I was on day three. It seemed like a miracle. If I began treatment that very day, we could potentially harvest some eggs right before my hysterectomy. I’d have only one shot, and I had to decide within a matter of hours. I spent the rest of the afternoon talking it over with my mom. But really, my mind was made up. I was going to do whatever I could to have a baby. It was hard for my family—all they wanted was for me to survive—but they supported my decision. I knew that I wanted to wake up from that hysterectomy with the chance of having a biological child.
I spent the next 12 days preparing for the hormone injections necessary to extract my eggs. I was dealing with terrible anxiety about my upcoming surgery and not knowing how far the cancer had spread. At the same time, I had to start thinking about sperm. Embryos are hardier and easier to thaw than eggs that haven’t been fertilized, and the transfer success rate is higher. The nurses walked me through the process—they helped me pick a donor who had similar colouring to me, so I’d have a greater chance of making a baby who looked like me. He was university educated and had a clean medical history. When I went in for my life-saving hysterectomy, I knew I would have five frozen embryos ready and waiting. The surgery went well, and three weeks later the pathology reports were clear—no further treatment was required.
About six months after that, I was back at work and dealing with the hot flashes and night sweats that came with medically induced menopause. Then I received more bad news—my mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, which is relatively slow to metastasize but ultimately incurable. It made me determined that my mom would meet her grandchild.
Surrogacy in Canada is complicated and expensive. You can’t legally pay someone to carry your child, but you can agree to cover their bills and expenses. I even know a woman who found a surrogate on Kijiji. I went through an agency and connected with a woman from out of town. She already had two of her own kids and had been a surrogate before. That eased my mind. It ended up being a good thing that she lived a few hours away; otherwise I’d have been tempted to drive by her house every night to check up on her. It’s hard to relinquish control over something so important. Between the legal, medical and agency fees, and the surrogate’s costs, it ended up running me about $70,000.
My daughter, Liv, was supposed to be born via C-section on a Tuesday in March 2012. The surrogate called me on the Sunday before to say her water had broken. My brother drove me to the hospital in record time. When I charged into the maternity ward, I saw a group of nurses cooing over a baby at their station. One of them asked, “Is your name Trudy?” The surrogate had told them to bring my baby out and wait for me to arrive. All I could say, over and over, was, “Are you sure? Are you sure she’s mine?” I knew that once I held her, I could never let her go. And when I looked down at her for the first time, all I could think was, She looks just like me. I was able to get a room next door to the surrogate, and my parents met us at the hospital—I was thrilled to see my mom hold her granddaughter, and she’s been helping me raise her ever since.
Liv is a wonderful kid, healthy and happy. Her energy is non-stop, which keeps me very busy. I’m working as a rehabilitation consultant for an insurance company. Being a single mom is overwhelming sometimes, but my family helps me cope.
So now the question is, what do I do with the remaining embryos? They’re frozen in time. I pay a fee every year to keep them in storage, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll have a surrogate carry another child. But that would just be a bonus. I’ve already got the baby I wanted so badly.
Ekua Asabea Blair, 56
My mother was the leader of my family. Everything revolved around her. She had six of her own children, but there were always at least two or three other kids—her nephew, some godchildren—whom she cared for in our home in Jamaica. Because of her, the idea of raising a child that you didn’t give birth to was always a familiar concept to me, and it ultimately fuelled my decision to adopt my daughter.
My family moved to Toronto when I was 18 years old. I studied hospitality and tourism management at Ryerson, but even while I had jobs in the food service industry, my true love was for my volunteer work—youth training, tutoring, breakfast programs. Eventually I decided I wanted to make this my full-time vocation. Today, I’m the CEO at the Massey Centre for Women. We work with young and marginalized pregnant girls and teen mothers—it’s exciting, rewarding and purposeful.
The work has always consumed me. I had a seven-year relationship that ended when I was 34, but even then I was always married to the job. I knew I was having an impact. I’ve worked closely with more than 200 kids during my career, and many are still in touch. My maternal instincts were satisfied.
As I reached 40, though, I decided I wanted a daughter of my own—in my experience, kids tend to bond with the parent of the same sex, and I knew I was going to be a single mom. Through my work, I was acutely aware of how many children in our city need a good home, so adoption was the obvious answer. After having helped so many, I believed I had a lot to offer.
My parents and I bought a house together. We knew I’d struggle to manage on my own, and this way my child would be surrounded by relatives—not only her grandparents, but also uncles, aunts and cousins who would be constantly running through the house. A big, powerful family.
I had to take a few vacation days just to complete the 60-page application to the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. It’s an intense process. The questions cover everything: how were you raised, who will take care of your child if something happens to you, why do you think you have what it takes to be a good parent, and, by the way, why are you really doing this in the first place? Then there were the mandatory workshops I attended, and the home visits from my assigned caseworker. And then the waiting for a good match. And then feeling the rejection and disappointment when another person or couple is chosen over you. That went on for two years.
It was April 25, 2002, when I got the call at work that I was going to be mom to Nyamekye, a little girl who was almost two years old. I was 43. I cried and laughed and cheered. The process of meeting her was incredible. I walked through the front door of the foster home and said hello. Nyamekye just reached up and grabbed my finger, walked me into the living room and over to the couch, and crawled up into my lap for a cuddle. I think she was just waiting to be the sole focus of someone’s love and attention—I was all hers and she was all mine. It was a beautiful moment. Don’t let anyone ever tell you there isn’t magic in adoption. I didn’t deliver her, but I fell in love with her instantly.
Six weeks later, Nyamekye moved in with me and my parents. Everyone in my family embraced her. Sadly, both of my parents fell ill and died a few years later. After that, my older sister came up from Jamaica, and she continued to live with me and my daughter until about 2008. When she left, Nyamekye and I were together alone for the first time. And that was hard. I struggled to find quality daycare, and I missed having a full, noisy house. I’d thought about adopting a younger sibling for Nyamekye, but without the support of my parents, I hesitated—and that’s probably my only regret. She’d be an amazing big sister.
What I don’t regret is waiting until I was older to become a mom. I was better equipped in my 40s than I was in my 20s, no doubt. Maturity and experience go a long way. The girls I work with have a tough road ahead of them—they’re worrying about where they’ll live with their baby and how they’ll finish high school. I had education, experience, financial stability and a supportive family on my side long before I was a mom. There’s no way I could’ve done it without those things in place.
Now Nyamekye is a teenager, and everything I do annoys her. I’ve been taking parenting classes recently to make sure I have the tools to support her and understand where she’s at, and why she’s feeling the way she’s feeling. I know she needs to pull away from me and create her own identity, but it’s a struggle. I hear it gets better on the other side of teenagehood, so I’m patiently waiting to get her back.
There’s a folder with all the adoption paperwork in my room, and Nyamekye knows where it is so she can look at it whenever she wants. I’ve always been open about her roots. We’ve been in touch with the birth family, and Nyamekye has met her biological mother and grandmother a few times. She knows what they all look like, and what traits she carries.
Recently, when Nyamekye was having some challenges at school, I called the birth grandmother and asked if the biological mother was drinking during her pregnancy. It wasn’t about casting blame—it was about getting information. The birth mom was 16 at the time, and probably didn’t even know she was pregnant for the first few months. The birth grandmother said she didn’t know, because when her daughter was pregnant, she was living at the Massey Centre. I was shocked: Nyamekye’s birth mom had been a client of ours, living there just a few years before I came and took over. When I told Nyamekye, she immediately asked, “Which room was I in? Where did I live when I was a baby?” She wanted to see it—it was another piece of the puzzle that is her early life story. We’ve recently lost touch with the birth family, but maybe that’ll change one day. I’ve done my part. I’ve opened the door.
She always says to me, “Mom, I’m okay. I’m glad I was adopted.” Maybe she’s saying it for my benefit, but she’s a thoughtful, introspective kid, so I believe her. I’m an older mom, and I won’t be here forever. At some point she may try to connect with her other family. And that’s fine with me. I just want her to be happy.
Monika Schnarre, 44
Model, Actor and Entrepreneur
I could never have been a mom in my 20s. I was an actor living in L.A., and I had zero financial security. I also didn’t have the focus for motherhood. Looking back, I think I was selfish and lazy. By the time I was 33, I was ready to start thinking about having kids, but I’d recently broken up with my long-term boyfriend. I was anxious about protecting my fertility, so I went to a clinic to investigate freezing eggs. I decided against it at the time but reconsidered three years later when I met my future husband, Storey, a realtor with Sotheby’s who’s six years younger than me. Though we hadn’t known each other long, he immediately said, “Use my sperm. Even if things don’t work out between us, I’ll sign off on it; you’ll make a great mom.” He was gorgeous and generous. How could I resist?
We married three years later and began a fraught journey trying to conceive using our frozen embryos. (I had become pregnant naturally twice, but I miscarried both times, and I didn’t want to waste any more time.) The most common thing people say after you get married is, “When are you having kids?” Honestly, that was the hardest thing to deal with—the questions. I was also injecting my stomach with hormones and driving four hours back and forth every day from my home in Muskoka to the clinic for blood work. The IVF process is very unsexy, very clinical, and it sucks all of the joy out of making a baby. But we thought, If this is what it takes, we’ll endure it. Unfortunately, none of the transfers stuck. Two years later, I was 41 and out of frozen embryos. After all that medical intervention and money, we’d ended up with nothing.
Over the next few months, I found out that the IVF had wreaked havoc on my thyroid, which was preventing me from conceiving. I addressed the issue by taking iodine drops, and six weeks later discovered I was pregnant—without any medical assistance. I gave birth to my son, Bode, two weeks shy of my 43rd birthday. I had hoped to have a natural childbirth with water and candles and Enya. But at 42 weeks, I was already 14 days overdue. We called a doctor in and she scolded my midwife for letting me go that long. They usually induce at 40 weeks for older moms. The doctor discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped around Bode’s neck, so I had to have a C-section. It was disappointing, but all things considered, Storey and I were over the moon.
In those early months, I fell into the baby vortex. My brain was just on a non-stop cycle. Did he poop? Did he pee? Did he eat? Did he sleep? They tell you motherhood is selfless and beautiful, but it’s exhausting. It’s tough to get yourself back, which is why I think it’s so hard on marriages in the first few months. You abandon your partner. I think that it should be illegal to get a divorce during the first year after a baby is born. Because although it’s incredibly stressful, it does get better.
When I take Bode to playgroups in Muskoka, I’m always the oldest mom. But when we hang out with friends in the city, I’m not alone. There are plenty of mothers in their 40s with toddlers. In fact, almost everyone I know these days had their kids after 35. There are pluses to having a baby when you’re young—especially because your body bounces back.
But there’s a wonderful sense of calm about being a mother in your 40s. I’ve done everything I wanted to do. I’ve travelled, I’ve worked, I’ve lived in different cities. I have no regrets. I don’t ever look at other women and think, I wish I could’ve done that. And now I’ve become the most efficient version of myself. I get much more done in a day—maybe it’s because I have no other choice. Bode needs me, he has to eat, he has to have clean clothes, he has to exercise, and I have to work, so there’s just no other option. I feel a bit like Superwoman. And it feels good. I’m proud of that.
My mom was 39 when she had me, so maybe that’s why I’ve never been worried about being an old mom. If the hardest thing for me is to be the oldest mom at Bode’s high school graduation, I’ll take it. Who cares? I do think about my own mortality and not being there for my child. I’ve considered the fact that I might not be around after Bode is 40, but I hope to defy the odds.
Storey and I haven’t ruled out having another baby. My midwife has been supportive: she recently pointed out that the same risks were there when Bode was conceived. I was already over 40. And I had such a great outcome. The truth is, I just haven’t gotten pregnant again. But if Bode’s all we have, we still got really lucky.
Samantha Kemp-Jackson, 49
I got pregnant for the first time at age 19. My parents were highly educated people, and they were disappointed and concerned for me and my baby—the father was my boyfriend of a few years, and he ended up having minimal involvement. When Tassja was little, I felt incredibly driven to do something with my life—to prove that things were going to be okay. I moved back in with my parents and, with their support and an excellent daycare, I went on to get a degree in sociology and English literature from U of T.
I graduated in 1990 and got a job as a social assistance caseworker. When Tassja started school, we moved out on our own, and I continued to do casework for nine years. I found it challenging and often depressing, but I was being paid well for my age and I had a child to support. A few years later, I decided to switch careers. I went back to school part-time at Ryerson, got a diploma in communications and started working at a PR agency.
I met my husband, Rick, a software developer, through a friend of a friend, in 1993. We married in 1999 and decided to have another child. I had a fairly easy pregnancy, and I gave birth to our daughter Miranda when I was 37. By this time, Tassja was no longer living at home. Rick and I talked about trying for one more child. But nothing happened. I figured that was it.
I was 42 when I became pregnant for the third time. It was exciting and scary all at once. When we went for the first ultrasound, we discovered another surprise: I was having monochorionic-diamniotic twins, which is a fancy way of saying one placenta, two sacs. It became clear that I was going to have a difficult pregnancy. I was considered geriatric, or of “advanced maternal age”—and despite how unpleasant those words sounded, I had to get used to them. Because I’d be hearing them a lot.
When I first told my family and friends that I was pregnant with the twins, they were shocked. Everyone assumed that I was too old to have more kids, and we hadn’t told anyone we were trying. We soon found out that my babies had borderline twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, which means one twin takes most of the nutrients and the other doesn’t get enough. I’d have to be monitored constantly and be on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy. Once, I summoned the energy to go to a friend’s Christmas party. I was happy to be out of the house, until a woman I didn’t know very well joked, “I hear you’re having twins. Have fun with that!” Strangers would see my enormous belly and say, “You’re gonna have your hands full,” or, “Oh my god, at your age? You’re going to be exhausted.” As if that wasn’t obvious to me.
Our sons, Erik and Aubrey, were born six weeks premature. They spent their first week in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mount Sinai, then three more at St. Mike’s. Every day I travelled back and forth from home, expressing breast milk whenever and wherever I could. It was traumatic to leave them. When we finally brought them home, it was just as hard. The thing about twins is, there’s always one baby awake. I went back to work after a year, but before they were sleeping through the night. I was worn out, stressed and barely holding on. I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. Around the same time, I started a parenting blog so I’d have an outlet for the craziness that was my life.
After a year back on the job at the PR agency, with two babies at home and zero sleep, I realized I couldn’t do it all and decided to quit my job. “We’ll sell the house if we have to,” I said to my husband. It was a choice between working full-time and my sanity. I chose the latter. Shortly after resigning, I opened my own freelance PR consultancy. I also continued blogging. I’m no expert, but I suppose I have perspective. How many people my age can say they’ve raised four kids in four decades?
When I was a parent in my 20s, it was go go go, because I was trying to do everything by the book. Now I cut myself some slack. Otherwise, I feel pretty much the same as I did when I was 19, even though I’m perimenopausal and I have small, rambunctious kids. Tassja is getting married next year, and I might be a grandma soon. But when I go out for drinks with her, the bartender often mistakes me for one of her friends. And that feels pretty good.
Janine Hershenhorn, 50
My husband, David, and I moved in together soon after we met in 1988. We bought a house in Leaside 10 years later and got married in 2001, when I was in my mid-30s. I had a great job—I was in charge of the window displays at a Canadian retail line—and David was working in the restaurant industry. We travelled twice a year to Turks and Caicos, went on ski trips and ate out a few times a week. After the wedding, we decided to start trying to have a baby. But nothing happened for years. No miscarriages, no false alarms, nothing. We saw doctors and fertility specialists, but there was no medical reason why we weren’t conceiving.
When I turned 40, my sister-in-law, who is a fertility nurse, gently asked me if I wanted to explore IVF. I decided against it: if I was meant to have a baby, I’d have a baby. There had been a few times over the years when I had broken down with frustration over my inability to get pregnant, but they’d passed. I knew we were going to be okay. At that point I decided to switch careers and get my real estate licence, which kept me busy.
Two years later, my best friend had a baby. I was thrilled for her, but it hurt. I realized how much I wanted to have kids. Soon after, my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer. I was especially close to him, and the news was devastating. My life revolved around taking my dad to his oncologist and to chemo, and my husband was working late hours. We didn’t have sex for six or seven months.
My dad died on December 14, 2008. The next few months were a blur of sadness. David went away on a ski trip, and when he came back, we had sex for the first time in what felt like forever. About a month and a half later, I didn’t get my period, and I knew something was up. My cycle had always gone like clockwork. So I sent David out to get a home pregnancy test, even though I couldn’t believe it was even possible. It came back positive. So he went out and got two more. Ditto: two lines every time. We were gobsmacked.
The next day, my doctor confirmed that I was pregnant, and my due date would be December 14—the same date my dad died, one year later. I burst into tears. I was 44 and pregnant: one life was gone, and another was coming to take its place. Because of my age, I was considered a high-risk pregnancy and had to undergo weekly tests to monitor the health of the fetus.
Despite it all, I had the easiest pregnancy: no sickness, no high blood pressure. I ate takeout Thai food like it was my job and gained 26 pounds. It was thrilling, but every once in a while I’d think, Shit, are we really doing this? Our life was pretty good the way it was. Could our marriage handle this disruption?
I arrived at the hospital on December 14, 2009, and was given Pitocin to induce labour. Twenty hours later, I had only dilated by a few centimetres, and the baby’s heartbeat was showing signs of stress. I ended up having a C-section. We named our son Cooper Charlie, his middle name after my dad. Honestly, I remember looking at this little thing beside me and thinking, Er, can I change my mind? I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.
Cooper weighed five pounds, 15 ounces at birth, and he lost 10 ounces in the first 24 hours. We were in hospital for five days, and I couldn’t get him to latch. I attended classes and consulted a lactation expert. I even went out and bought a $500 pump system—but I just wasn’t producing milk. It was awful. After a day or two, a nurse finally intervened. “Don’t let those breast feeding fanatics make you crazy,” she said. “I’m getting you some formula, because your boy is losing weight and this is stupid.”
When I first told people I was pregnant, I didn’t hear one negative word or judgmental statement about having a child at my age. But when people found out that I wasn’t breast feeding? They acted like I was a monster. The guilt about not being able to feed Cooper in those initial days made me want to be a supermom in every other way possible. I wouldn’t even let my husband change a diaper for the first year of Cooper’s life. Cooper was also an awful sleeper—for the first two years, he woke up every two hours. I’m an insomniac already, so I just didn’t sleep. It got to a point where I thought I was losing my mind. I didn’t suffer postpartum depression, but sleep deprivation is its own hell.
I quit my real estate job after my maternity leave was up. I didn’t have a kid at this stage of my life to put him in daycare all day and only spend a few hours together at night. I wanted to be there to see him do all his firsts. Maybe it’s because I’m older, and I’ve had a couple of careers, that I was okay to sacrifice things so I could stay at home (no more twice-yearly beach vacations, for instance). We’re lucky that we could make that choice.
I’ve been mistaken for Cooper’s grandma a few times. That smarts. Just recently when I stopped by his school, he blurted out in front of the class: “Mommy, did you know you’re the oldest out of all the mommies?” Most of his friends and classmates have parents in their 30s or early 40s, so yeah, I’m always the oldest mom. But I don’t care. People often say, “He must keep you young,” and it’s true, he does. I get to reread my favourite childhood books, watch TV and play games at a time in my life when I’m more relaxed and patient.
The hardest thing is my lack of energy. I’m constantly aware of it, especially with an active little boy. When he goes to bed, I go to bed. In fact, we co-sleep, which horrifies my mother. But it works for us. My husband often comes in late, so I’ll fall asleep with Cooper in our room, and when David comes home, I’ll move into Cooper’s bed and leave the boys in ours. David snores, which drives me crazy, and the kid punches and kicks in his sleep, plus we have an 85-pound golden doodle and two cats who are also trying to share the bed. It’s nuts, but I wouldn’t change a thing.