By Laura Futurama
My activist Jewish grandmother would have been horrified to learn that I became pregnant at age 50, with the help of modern medicine.
My grandmother was one of the early founders of Planned Parenthood in New York state in the 1920s, and had secretly dispensed birth control pills to married women. She would say that at my age, my job was to contribute to society by using my writing experience to support important causes--especially the fight to end overpopulation. “For God’s sake!” she would have told me, “What have you done?”
Gramma would have admonished me for creating a child with the aid of thousands of dollars, daily hormone shots, an acupuncturist, a naturopath, and a team of fertility doctors who thought getting me pregnant was an interesting experiment.
What’s more, my grandmother would have said, at my age I should use my talents to fight war, help overcome cancer, halt global warming, feed the poor, teach kids about environmental issues and ensure all dogs have a home. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to serve on the boards of organizations like Brandeis University’s Women’s Committee, Young Audiences and Jewish Family Services, as she did.
And yes, my grandmother, like my friend Margaret, would have accused me of vanity. Why should I act like 35 or 40 when I was really 50 and there was so much to be done to improve the world?
“But Gramma,” I would have told her, after completing the overpopulating deed, “I’m youthing!”
And then I would have explained how it felt to be rich with child at the age of 50.
When I became pregnant, my tastebuds jolted to attention, so that my pregnancy diet of super-nutritious foods--avocados, eggs, lentils, mangos, nuts and yogurt—tasted sumptuous and fulfilling, as though prepared by a gourmet chef. My body was awash in fluids that moisturized my skin and hair; I lavished in uninterrupted 8-hour sleep, and was overcome with crushes on the fertility doctors who magically made me a late-in-life new mother. Estrogen-enhanced lubrication erased some of the wrinkles around my mouth and eliminated the redness in my eyes, giving me the courage to flirt again, just for fun.
I felt so….young! Surely this must be right and good!
And for nine months, I relished in compliments about how I glowed, how much energy I had, how young I looked, and how brave I was. I went swimming everyday, took a trip to Mexico, took long walks with my dog, worked until a week before my due date and felt immune to the dangers of a high-risk pregnancy.
And then it happened. Overcome by the realities of being 50, my body began to act its age.
A week before my son’s due date, my water broke. After 24 hours of pitocin-induced labor and the onset of pre-eclampsia (signaling a stressed kidney) I found myself propped in a hospital bed, having undergone an emergency C-section to deliver my 8-pound boy. My legs had swollen into logs; I was sure that all the formerly magical youthing moisture had drained from my upper body and set up camp in my immobile lower limbs. Meanwhile, beside me was my dear baby, so drowsy from the pain medications administered to me that he refused to muster up enough energy to breastfeed.
Perhaps the worst insult came a few days before I left the hospital. My doctor was on vacation, and in his stead came another doctor, clearly, like my grandmother, an outspoken supporter of Planned Parenthood, the World Health Organization, the Brandeis University Women’s Committee, and the Stop 50-something Women From Giving Birth Organization.
“Was this an accident?” she hissed? “Let’s talk about birth control so you don’t do anything like this again.”
I didn’t tell her about the longing that led me down this path. I didn’t tell her about my lost babies, my nursery stocked for eight years with baby clothes, infant lotions and G-diapers; my constant checking of vaginal fluids for signs of ovulation; and the impossible-to-overcome certainty that my days as a mother weren’t over.
No, at that moment, as I tried to hide from her stare, I told myself, sadly, that my youthing adventure was over. I had discovered the stark reality of refusing to act my age: My body had buckled, my newborn was suffering from an overdose of drugs administered while he was inside me, and I was accused of being irresponsible and vain.
But wait a minute!
Infuriated by the doctor’s condescending, insulting tone, I decided to rally. I would breastfeed, and with my baby by my side, I would be inspired to use my writing experience for good. Maybe I wouldn’t help solve global warming, stop poverty, or find a cure for cancer.
But, armed with my experiences and the voice of my grandmother, I could contribute to the critical discussion about what it means to grow older in the age of agelessness—when women can bear children in their fifties and sixties and take advantage of the supplements, creams, surgeries, naturopathic remedies, Chinese medicine, herbs and other tools that make them healthier and allow them to live longer.
On the down side, the body eventually buckles, babies are being born to parents who may not see them graduate from college, and we’re contributing to overpopulation. On the other hand, as older women, we’re wiser, more experienced, and in some ways better equipped to raise the children who may follow in my grandmother’s footsteps.
Gramma, wherever you are, I may still make you proud.
More from living