Actor Hilary Swank just excitedly announced that she and her husband of four years, Philip Schneider, are expecting twins. Swank is 48 and Schneider is 49.
Along with congratulations on Twitter were judgments — but just for Swank. She’s too old to having kids, some said. It’s selfish to have children when you’re “so old,” her children are more likely to have “birth defects” and perhaps Down syndrome, others observed. One person even tweeted that her baby’s first word will be “Grandma.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the news articles of her announcement mention Swank’s age but not Schneider’s. If she’s a “geriatric” mom at 48, wouldn’t he be a “geriatric” dad at 49? Where’s the tweet about their babies’ first word being “Grandpa”?
I’ll be honest—I couldn’t imagine being a first-time mom in my late 40s. I had my second child at age 37, and that was pretty exhausting. That said, studies indicate that older women — the age group having the most babies right now — actually make better mothers.
Plus a woman at midlife, as Swank is, can expect to live another 30, 40, perhaps even 50 years. While no one can be certain about how long they’ll live, she’ll most likely see her twins through their tender years and way into adulthood.
The most disturbing aspect about the conversations about Swank and other older mothers is the focus on just their age, not the dad’s — as if there’s no sperm involved in making a baby — and that if something goes wrong with her babies, it’s her fault.
Even if a woman is having a baby on her own, without a romantic partner, or co-parenting with a platonic friend, sperm is still part of the equation! And the quality of the sperm matters.
That often gets overlooked, notes Harvard professor Sarah S. Richardson. In a 2014 article in Nature titled “Society: Don’t blame the mothers,” she writes;
That said, there just hasn’t been much research into older dads, like Schneider, although whatever studies are out there seem to link older sperm to more common genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, schizophrenia and autism as well as rarer genetic conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome and dwarfism. As one study indicates, “birth defects are more often associated with paternal rather than maternal DNA damage.”
Plus, men of all ages who have been exposed to toxins, from pesticides to prescription drugs to wartime chemicals to booze, contribute to a baby’s low birth weight, increased birth defects and childhood cancers, as well as a higher risk of pregnancy loss, studies indicate.
Noting that couples nowadays are waiting longer to have children, Harry Fisch, a professor of urology who has studied how older fathers increase the risk of having a child with Down syndrome, says:
Right, it’s not. So when we talk about someone like Hilary Swank being pregnant in her late 40s without mentioning that the father-to-be is also in his late 40s, what is being said wreaks of sexism (with ageism thrown in).
I may not want to be a new parent at midlife and you may not to either, but some people do, and there shouldn’t be any judgment about that.
For those who are judging, what’s the concern? That Swank may die from pregnancy complications? That’s an admirable concern for sure, but there’s always a risk for mothers in the U.S. of any age dying from pregnancy, deliver and postpartum issues.
Is the concern that their children may lose their mother too soon? That’s also an admirable concern — and one that is no one else’s business. Wouldn’t you be just as concerned about them losing their father, who’s older than their mom, as the vast majority of fathers are, and more likely to pop off first?
Is the concern that their children may be born with Down syndrome, autism or other genetic disorders? Again, that’s no one else’s business, but if you’re going to point fingers, don’t forget to point them at Schneider and his geriatric sperm. And who knows what toxins his sperm might also have subjected the fetuses to?
In other words, it’s not strictly a maternal issue or a paternal issue — it’s a parental issue. So let’s stop judging older mothers.
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