“I want to have kids when I’m young, so we can grow up together and learn together.”
I said something like this when I was in my early 20s and first started to think about having children. Being a young mom made sense, since 20-somethings have more energy and stamina. In my mind, being a young mom was the norm. After all, who says “Let’s put off babies until I’m over 40 so I can combine new motherhood with perimenopause and joint pain?” Probably no woman ever.
So, I became a mom at 24, which felt very mainstream here in Texas. But life threw me a curveball in my mid-40s. Instead of enjoying the freedom our empty nest offered, my husband and I adopted two toddlers. When we first announced we’d be expanding our family, we got a few “Are you crazy? comments. Suddenly, I became “that older mom” — an anomaly in my community, where my peers were looking towards grandparenting. In fact, when it comes to my kids, I’ve literally been asked “Are you the grandma?” which doesn’t go down in the books as one of my favorite experiences.
Still, I’ve always appreciated that as moms, we often celebrate the fact that this crazy, amazing journey doesn’t always look the same for all of us. That’s why Babble teamed up with photographer Anne Sherwood to showcase moms who are happily outside the traditional “norm” with its new photo series, Motherhood Over 40. Through inspiring photos and stories of women who became moms after age 40, the series encourages inclusion in a world that often seems to focus only on younger moms.
Sherwood is a Los Angeles-based photojournalist with work appearing in publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic Adventure, and Sports Illustrated. She also came to motherhood a little bit later in life: Her son Everett was born just after she turned 40.
She said she was inspired to work with Babble on the photo project because she wanted to share the unique beauty of this fast-growing segment of the population: More women than ever are choosing motherhood after age 35. With this photo series, Sherwood hopes to help erase any stigma associated with becoming a mom later in life. After all, it seems men father children in their 40s, 50s, and beyond and society doesn’t bat an eyelash.
While it’s less common, women choose later-in-life motherhood for various reasons. Some postpone children to pursue their career or other opportunities. Other women, whose life goals didn’t include motherhood, end up changing their minds once they get a little bit older.
For example, Julia Frey, a freelance visual effects producer living in Los Angeles, “always assumed” she’d become a mom. Then, after she married at age 34, she discovered that she enjoyed the childfree lifestyle, and thought that “having kids might not be so critical to happiness.” However, her sister’s death in 2008 caused her to reassess once again — and today, she’s a 51-year-old mom to 6-year-old Harper.
Emily Grove, a 51-year-old mom of three living in Los Angeles, also reports not wanting to be a mother at one point.
“I wasn’t actively or adamantly against it,” she explains, “but being a mother wasn’t something I craved or wished to be or even [felt] called to be.”
However, Grove says she eventually woke up one morning to “the quiet warning that if I didn’t try to have kids, it would be a mistake that would be hard to reconcile within myself.” Today, Grove is a mom to a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old.
Other moms who chose motherhood later in life attribute not finding the right partner as a contributing factor. Fifty-year-old Hayley Hsu Farrar from Santa Monica says she always knew she wanted to be a mom but that she didn’t meet the right person to have a family with until later.
Babble’s Motherhood Over 40 photo series shows the beauty of motherhood during this season of life. It celebrates the fact that women can be vibrant at any age — and seeing these pictures is an affirmation for any mom who feels like the outlier at school, the soccer fields, or birthday parties.
Thankfully, the women who participated in the photo series report feeling no stigma associated with their age as mothers. All of Sherwood’s beautiful subjects are Los Angeles-based moms, such as Grove, who says her pregnancy has been a source of encouragement for others.
“I have never come across anyone with anything negative to say,” says Grove. “In fact, I have had the experience several times of women who have gotten hope that maybe they can still have kids when they felt like that ship had sailed.”
However, I know that many of us who had kids later do worry about stuff like not having as much time with our kids or not being a presence in the lives of our grandchildren. I have nagging thoughts that go like this: “If my son has a child when he’s 30, I’ll be 72, and when that child graduates from college, I’ll be pushing 100.”
But honestly, all mothers have fears. We all wonder if we’re doing a good job — regardless of age.
“The best part of motherhood is seeing our kids laugh,” says Caroline Hong-Bridges, who is a 47-year-old mom of three young children. “We get to see life and all its joys again through the lens of a child.”
While I’ve made my peace and learned to (mostly) gracefully navigate being the odd mom out, it’s affirming to see this broader picture that shows just maybe, I’m not really the odd mom out at all.