Area mothers discuss later-in-life parenthoodGrand Forks, Minnesota women discuss their paths to first-time motherhood.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
When her daughter was in kindergarten, one of her classmates looked up at Susan Stern and asked, “Are you Katelyn’s grandma?”
“I said, ‘No, I’m her mom.’”
Susan didn’t let it bother her. “I just chuckled. Kids are kids, and they’re honest.”
She and her husband, Doug Stern, became parents later than most — at 42 and 44. They had been married 18 years when their daughter was born May 17, 2006. Katelyn, their only child, is a first-grader at Lewis & Clark Elementary School in Grand Forks.
“We call her our ‘miracle baby,’” she said.
People sometimes ask Susan if she’s aware of how old she’ll be when Katelyn graduates high school. “Yes, I’m aware of that,” she said. Such comments don’t faze her.
Attending school events with other parents, “I’m probably the oldest mom. I have the most wrinkles and the most white hair. I’ve had white strands in my hair since I was 21,” she said.
“I don’t have a complex about myself.”
The Sterns’ “miracle baby” was a long time coming. Along the way, they survived disappointment, grief, sadness, even resignation.
In the early years of their marriage, Susan and Doug were very active in sports. They played softball and volleyball together. “We got our playing out of the way early,” she said. As time passed, “we got into a routine, a lifestyle. The years got away from us.”
As a young couple, they endured questions — “When are you going to have kids?” — and not-so-subtle pressure to have a baby, but decided that if they were to become parents it would be on their terms.
“We were not going to do it for anyone else,” Susan said, “but because we wanted to.”
Not long after they found out they were expecting, about three months into the pregnancy, they shared the happy news with family and friends.
Then, Susan suffered a miscarriage.
“I was devastated.”
She dealt with the sorrow and a sense of failure, feelings she chose to “internalize” for the most part, she said. People didn’t tend to talk about such tragedies then.
“It happened. Maybe, my body was not ready…”
Later, she began to see the miscarriage as “a blessing in disguise,” she said. “If I had had a child earlier, Katelyn would not be here.
‘Not getting younger’
Years later, reality hit home.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m not getting any younger,’” she said.
The challenge of trying to get pregnant was stressful, and it took its toll. “I had thoughts of ‘can my body handle it?’” Each passing month without results was “a disappointment,” she said. She reached a point where she said, “I’m done.”
“Then, when you don’t plan it, it just happens,” she said. She was pregnant with Katelyn. “It was very welcome news. We were very thrilled, very thrilled.”
Susan was hospitalized for part of her pregnancy. Her doctor “was great,” she said. “She put me on bed rest. She took good care of me.
“Any first-time mom has worries. It doesn’t matter if you’re (an) older mom or a younger mom, you have the same questions. You think, ‘am I going to be able to care for this baby?’”
As an older expectant mother, she knew her increased chances of having a child with Down syndrome or other health issues.
“It didn’t matter to Doug and I,” she said. “We brought her into this world, and we were going to bring her home from the hospital regardless.”
Three years of trying
For Teresa Allen, of Eagan, Minn., who grew up in East Grand Forks, the daughter of Ben and Linda Novacek, her bundle of joy was also “a long time coming.”
She said, “I thought as long as I have a kid by 40, it’ll be fine,” she said. “From the date (we began) trying to the date of conception was three years.” She had heard stories of people trying to get pregnant for eight to 10 years.
Like the Sterns, she and her husband, Andrew Allen, led a very active life in the early years of their marriage — delaying their plans to extend their family. Establishing their careers was foremost.
When she began trying to conceive, the doctor told Teresa the stress level in her job was preventing her from getting pregnant.
“I was stressed out by trying to get pregnant and stressed out by the job itself,” she said.
She changed jobs, joining a much more “family-friendly” employer, where she still works.
In her quest to get pregnant, she tried a number of avenues including injectible drugs and acupuncture, she said. She turned to a shaman, who used crystals “to work with your chakras.”
“I was reaching for anything I could. It’s a crazy world when you’re trying to get pregnant.”
It’s also a discouraging one. “I did lose hope a lot of times — that definitely did happen.”
At 38, exhausted from the effort, she consulted a fertility specialist whose treatment — including regular ultrasound procedures, blood tests and carefully timed, self-administered shots — paid off after several months.
She “was just shocked” when she learned she was pregnant over Labor Day weekend 2011, she said.
Labeled “high-risk” and “geriatric maternal,” she “was encouraged to do a lot of testing.”
Dealing with pregnancy at an older age is daunting, she said. “You don’t know what’s going on. (The tests) kind of freak you out.”
“When you’re our age, there are so many decisions to make. Everything is charged and difficult. I was worried all the time.”
Two months before her 40th birthday, Sawyer was born May 24, 2012.
She immediately started physical therapy, she said. Having a baby “took quite a toll on me physically.”
Beyond the physical and mental stresses of pregnancy, there are drawbacks to parenthood later in life.
“When he graduates from high school, I’ll be 57 or 58,” Teresa said. She wonders if she’ll be able to see her grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren.
“I’ve taken good care of myself,” she said. “I hope that works for me.”
Susan has dealt with the fact that her daughter won’t have brothers and sisters to grow up with, but “it is what it is,” she said.
Even though Katelyn is an only child, she’s surrounded by family and friends.
“We’re lucky that Katelyn has a lot of people who want to be part of her life,” Susan said.
Susan realizes older parents are not always able to be as physically active with their children as younger parents, she said. It’s crossed Susan’s mind that, someday, Katelyn may need to be a caregiver for her and Doug, with no siblings to share that responsibility.
“We try not to worry about that too much because it’s stuff we can’t control,” she said. “I’m hoping it won’t be an issue, but you never know. These are things that everyone deals with.
“Hopefully, we’ll be around a long time.”
Older parents do have advantages over their younger counterparts, Teresa said, including more financial stability and careers that are established. “I’ve been in my career long enough to know how to do my job well. I have a certain level of confidence and competence I wouldn’t have had at age 25.
“I wouldn’t want to be younger, juggling a new career and a child,” she said.
Life experience has made Susan and Doug more comfortable, and probably more organized, she said. She’s a different parent now than she would have been in her 20s.
“Katelyn didn’t come with instructions. You have to find what works for you,” she said.
“I’m pretty strict with her; I believe in schedules and rules. Maybe, being older, I’m old fashioned, but she needs that.”
Based on everything they went through to become parents, Susan and Teresa say they are grateful for what they have.
“You appreciate things a lot more,” Susan said.
“Because I worked so hard for it,” Teresa said, “it really makes me appreciate this little life that’s been entrusted to me. I see it as a gift.”
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.