April 30, 1997 in City

Some Things Arise From Deep Desire

Donna Britt Washington Post
 
Tags:column

So there I was. A dazed, self-pitying heap, vainly trying to fight off the second - or was it the third? - disgusting disease I’d caught from my 18-month-old in three weeks. Then a newspaper headline grabbed my attention:

“63-Year-Old Woman Gives Birth.”

I read on. A 63-year-old woman from California had lied about her age to get fertility treatments and used a donated egg to give birth to a healthy baby girl.

Certain that strep throat had rendered me delirious, I went downstairs where my mother and my Aunt Marian were baby-sitting - actually, chasing, appeasing and kowtowing to - my son, Skye. Mom and Auntie, who aren’t much older than 63, had heard the news on TV.

“The woman has got to be crazy,” said Mom, rubbing her arthritic knee.

“You have to wonder what she was on,” added Aunt Marian, picking Cheerios out of her hair.

“And what about the kid?” Mom continued. “When she’s 10, the last thing she’s going to want is a 73-year-old mother. … Skye, Don’t eat the jeep!” I called my friend who, at 41, is eight months pregnant and loved the story. Reading it, the shooting stomach pains that have plagued her for months ceased because she couldn’t stop laughing.

“Great,” she gasped, still laughing, “they’ll both be in diapers - Mom in Depends and the baby in Huggies! When I read this 63-year-old woman was breastfeeding, I thought, Isn’t that a great image! What’s she lactating - Ensure?”

Terrified that such uncontrolled hilarity could spark an early labor, we hung up. I headed upstairs - until I heard a local TV talk show discussing the news.

“I’d like to remind people that grandmothers have been raising children beautifully for years,” intoned one man. A fax was read noting how no one squawks when men of 63 have babies with their younger trophy wives. Someone named Ralph said that if the elderly couple was healthy, then “let the diapers fly.”

Then a grandmother, 64, raising her grandson, 4, called in. While she and her husband were doing a good job, she said, they really lacked the energy to raise a child today when there are “so many difficult issues.”

A woman of 59 who rides her bike 13 miles daily added: “A weekend” is the longest she can handle caring for her grandchild; most grandparents raising kids are forced to do so; many of them lack the stamina to be supertough on discipline - and we see the sad results at the mall every day.

I called my husband, an athletic 40-year-old who, after several 3 a.m. risings with Skye, is as crotchety as any man of 63. He supported the woman’s decision because “everyone has a right to do what they want, if it’s legal.”

I was reflecting on how most of the people touting this birth seemed to be men when my little man climbed into my lap. He demanded that Mama - not Grandma or Auntie - read “Young Joe” to him. And listen as he recited the names of everyone in the family portrait. And take him to the window to look at the “burr” chirping outside.

Babies don’t understand “Mommy’s sick.” They just want and need you. Even when you’re ill. Even when you have work to do. Even, God help you, if you’re 63.

I’d just made it to bed when my pregnant friend called back in a more serious mood.

“Wanting a child is not only about having some living demonstration of the love between you and husband,” she said. “It’s about sharing your life. How much will you be able to share if you’re 63? … Being pregnant at that age can be life-shortening. … Sure, you can be 20 and not see your child grow up, but you have to question her motivation. Who are you doing this for?”

That night, I felt well enough to sing my son to sleep. Staring into that perfect face, I knew why any woman might crave a baby. I sympathized but kept thinking, “At 63?”

Then my bachelor brother - the one who wonders why society honors women’s deep craving for babies but rejects men’s deep craving for sex with dozens of women - called. Though he’d heard about the mom of 63, he was reeling from an interview he’d just seen with actress Valerie Bertinelli.

“She said her life was meaningless until she had a baby,” he marveled. “Meaningless. It was like, ‘Forget my husband - life just kicked in when I had a baby.”’

Elder mom’s act, he said, boded ill - “Now, a man who thinks he’s out of the woods can marry a woman in her 50s and she’ll look up at him and ask, ‘So when can we start our family?’ … You can’t explain it or rationalize this.

“A woman’s just got to have it.”


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