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zen of midlife mothering

The Economics of Midlife Mothering – Part I

44

Cyma Shapiro, 56, a writer and executive director of the art gallery show NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers, and the writer/creator of MotheringintheMiddle.com. NURTURE features a collection of 25 (out of 60) stories told through words and photos, of women from across the country who chose motherhood over 40. Both endeavors are intended to celebrate midlife mothers — women choosing motherhood over 40 through adoption, in vitro, natural childbirth, surrogacy, fostering, guardianship and blending stepfamilies.  Cyma is also an author.  The Zen of Midlife Mothering celebrates the heartbreak and the glory of women choosing motherhood over 40 for the first, repeat, or last time, and of those standing firmly in place as mothers now in mid-life. In this increasingly popular trend of new older parenting, these women do not share a collective consciousness like many of their younger counterparts, but rather a rainbow of disparate and diverse voices representing a vast array of ages, life circumstances and personal perspectives.  Welcome, Cyma!

Ten years ago, at age 46, sitting in our room inside the Moscow Marriott, I was not thinking about the costs we’d already incurred on the way to adopting our one-year-old daughter.  Spending tens of thousands of dollars on everything from paperwork to airplane flights, from “orphanage charges” to overnight hotel stays, money and my age were the last thing on my mind. All I knew was that motherhood was now mine, and so was my daughter. (Two years later, I returned for my son).

Now, the reality of those choices has taken hold, determining so much about our present lives and impacting the direction of our future – in medical costs and other modalities for our children, in the normal costs of just having children and raising a family at a time where costs are rising, and in the forecasting and planning to send them off to college.  We do not have a college fund, as we did for our older children. We also do not have the (savings) funds we once did. We now know that we will continue working far past the traditional retirement age. And, in all of this, I know that we are not at all alone.

Some statistics: According to 2010 Pew Research results, since 1990, birth rates have risen for all women ages 30 and older. Although in some cases the number of births is small, the rate increases have been sharpest for women in the oldest age groups — 47% for women ages 35-39 and 80% for women ages 40-44, for example. “This delay in age of motherhood is associated with delay in age of marriage and with growing educational attainment. The more education a woman has, the later she tends to marry and have children. Birth rates also have risen for the most educated women, those with at least some college education, while being relatively stable for women with less education. These dual factors have worked together to increase the education levels of mothers of newborns.”

Further, in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Population Economics, researchers found that college-educated women gain 12 percent in long-term earnings per year of delay. That means, a woman who starts her family at age 30 makes about twice as much (in the long term) as she would if she had started her family at 22.

As the writer/creator of a number of midlife mother entities, I’ve written extensively about what I believe is the “newest chapter in the women’s movement” and the Zeitgeist of it all. This phenomenon is here to stay, the result of (the impact of) the women’s liberation movement which extolled the freedom for women to choose education and career, first, over family, and provided encouragement to use birth control (delaying childbirth); breakthroughs in medical technologies and reproductive science, including IVF, the use of donor eggs/sperm and egg, and ovarian tissue freezing; socio-economic freedoms for women – delaying marriages and reaping the benefits from higher education; a relaxation of the traditional family models as we know it; and the desire to find the right Mr./Mrs. Right.

While new mothers over 40 are more likely to have established and successful careers, commanding higher salaries and greater financial resources, the cost of buying into motherhood – IVF, surrogacy, adoption, etc. can range from a few thousand dollars up to $50,000/child for adoption; the same relative range using a surrogate and (potentially) substantially higher for ongoing IVF/specialized treatments. And, it often comes just as the trajectory of professional success is poised for the highest heights.

What price will women pay to achieve motherhood? At what cost will someone over age 40 go to, to fulfill a dream of loving, nurturing and having a family? Does the increasing number of women choosing new older parenting mean that the sheer economics of it all require fundamental changes in our society? With the redefinition of the family model going into the 21st century, will all of this impact and encourage the passing of a (long-awaited) federal Family Leave Act?

Cyma answers these questions in our next post.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington