My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.
Forrest Gump’s quote from the 1994 movie of the same name, always comes to mind when I reflect on my life thus far. Married at 37, pregnant at 40, giving birth at 41 and again at 42. My box of chocolates has been interesting. Crazy for some. Inspirational for others. Just fascinating for me.
I was born to a woman, who in 1972 at the age of 30 defied societal norms and gave birth to her first child at a ‘ripe old age’. From my Mother’s recollections, I knew that it was quite an usual “achievement” but I only fully grasped the enormity of it when I, at 37, had not “used my womb”.
I called one of my dearest Aunt’s, now deceased, to share the joyful news of our pending marriage. Her response was priceless. With all sincerity she said, “Oh that’s wonderful, I’m so happy for you and you don’t even have to worry about having children now cause you’re too old”. We had a good chuckle together. In her mind, I was getting a good bargain. A life partner without the “hassle” of child-bearing. Even today, I cannot reminisce about that without it bringing a smile to my face. I know that she, together with my Mum and all my ancestors, are so proud of our precious gifts.
So being an older expectant mother, I had the advantage of many years of witnessing a trend of how women, particularly those in what is considered to be middle to upper-class in South Africa, treat pregnancy and giving birth. My Mother gave birth to four children, between the period 1972 to 1981. The first three were natural and the last “lammetjie” was a c-section.
Back then, it was still uncommon for fathers to witness such.
I wish she was alive today so that I could get her version, with the value of my life experience. I also don’t have the benefit of my Father’s memory as he was not present at any of our births. Back then, it was still uncommon for fathers to witness such. But her description of the last birth was that, at 39, she was “ordered” to have the operation which was part of a medical practical session as she had a group of medical students, presumably soon-to-be gynaecologists, witness the procedure. I now understand that that could have been a tacit acknowledgment that she was old, which made the c-section viable. There was never any mention of trauma or distress before labour or anything untoward which would have necessitated an emergency c-section. So I’d say my assumption is fair.
Since that was in 1981, more than 36 years ago, and in the absence of valid research, I will use that to pinpoint the beginning of a transition over the years that has seen women elect to have caesarian sections; major abdominal surgery and what is now common place in private hospitals around the country. The statistics are vague, but you can do a quick survey amongst your own family members, friends and colleagues. If you can find 10 women who have given natural birth in the past 10 years, they’re bucking the trend.
When I found myself pregnant and AMA (advanced maternal age), I would have become another c-section statistic if I had continued with a gynaecologist as my primary ante-natal caregiver as I, as one doctor described me, was high risk. Based purely on my age. I was able to fall pregnant naturally, without any invasive medical intervention, have a normal healthy term, but I could not give natural birth. I had seen and heard this from others, but to experience it first-hand was quite an assault.
At playschool, my son’s contemporaries have parents who are almost half our age. Honestly, it isn’t an issue for us at the moment as we seem to be “blending” in quite well. But we’re not sure whether nature will be as kind to us in the next 10 to 15 years and whether we may be mistaken for the grandparents at graduation.
Why are we so obsessed with the “normal” age range to have children?
Which brings me to my point. Why are we so obsessed with the “normal” age range to have children? My Mother was confined by it in the 1970s and I experienced it 40 years later, along with thousands of women who battle sub-fertility and infertility in growing numbers, regardless of age, by the way. The so-called “lifestyle” diseases, as though we consciously chose this alternative, so must deal with it.
Grandmothers have taken on parenting roles for centuries. Socio-economic variables in South Africa and indeed around the world, see many more women in their later years continue to provide primary care for children of all ages. There’s no perception that this is abnormal and it’s actually preferred in the absence of parents. But a woman feels intense pressure to have children in her “child bearing years”. Once she’s passed that, she feels like a loaf of bread, a few days beyond its sell-by date. Stale and good for toast, maybe.
Parenting is a lifelong commitment to nurture, love, discipline and provide a stable, warm environment that enables a human being to grow and excel on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. To be the best that one can be. Is there an age limit for that?