Will he or won’t he? It seems Celebrity Watchers everywhere just can’t get enough of speculating over whether George Clooney, age 55, will finally become a first-time dad.
When Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin welcomed new babies at age 57, nobody blinked. Donald Trump was 59 when his youngest child was born, Paul McCartney was 61, Rod Stewart and Clint Eastwood each 66. Elton John and Steve Martin both have toddlers at home; they are 69 and 71 respectively.
Papa was a Rolling Stone: Ron Wood became a new dad to twins at 68; Mick Jagger brought his 8th child into the world at 72 and all was peaches and cream (or, Brown Sugar, if you dig).
See anything unfair with this picture?
Society’s default attitude toward “Advanced Paternal Age” is largely accepting — laced with maybe only a few gentle jabs about diaper duty while these daddy-gents are simultaneously headed towards diapers themselves (or, in John’s case, homophobic protests vs. the”designer” IVF babies that allowed him and his husband to build their family despite being gay, gay, gay).
Knee-jerk sentiment toward Ladies of A Certain Age seeking motherhood, however — even when it’s a first child she’s desperately chasing — is not nearly as accommodating. When Janet Jackson chooses (or is able) to finally have a baby at age 50: watch out. Snicker, snicker . . . isn’t she a little old for that kind of thing? (Don’t do this, but if you did: Googling “Janet Jackson too old” returns all manner of hateful Twitter troll tweet reports plus a cornucopia of articles negatively analyzing the merits of her pregnancy. Search for the men above and any babies on the way for them are discussed joyfully, mostly presented as normal.)
This is the difference between being judged and being understood. Older moms, and wannabe ones, are routinely viewed through a much harsher lens than their male counterparts. Their actions scrutinized, decisions criticized, overall parent-worthiness questioned from before sperm even meets egg. Somehow it is inherently dubious for a lady to have waited to pursue her supposed dream — what the hell was she thinking putting things off for so long? (Like this is anybody else’s business to begin with.)
In my case, it wasn’t exactly my choice to encounter Multiple-System-Failure Meltdown precisely at the age I most needed last-gasp abundant health; that’s just what happened. Please gimme me a break that I am still here at 46 as a result. If you had had embryo after embryo created with your beloved husband implanted in your uterus only to disappear repeatedly before your body deep-dived into disrepair . . . and then clawed its way back toward recovery, year after slow year . . . you very well might be here too.
Instead of getting recognition for the sad truth of this, I more often encounter eyeball roll-ish vibes and what I imagine as the juicy, hushed conversations behind my back: Aren’t they done with that yet? It’s foolish of them to still hope! The emotional sabotage here is indirect; such is the nature of bias. It’s the absence of vocal support — the loud silences — that chip away at a gal’s legitimacy. Unsure themselves about how to handle the situation, people on the outside tend to assume/hope this topic has been resolved. This is likely more comfortable for them to believe . . . not so great for the woman still in need of a little back-up, however.
Rather than the understanding, even respect, that the fellas get . . . the Over-45 TTC (Trying-To-Conceive) message boards are chock full of ignorant comments from folks who find it appropriate to freely scoff and opine. It’s common to come upon some disapproving someone slinging invective re: the ethics of bringing a child into the world so late when, in eighteen years, said child’s mama might not still be alive on earth to take him/her to college.
While, okay, that might happen . . . it’s also true that any child might also lose a parent before some particular milestone. Tragedies happen all the time; miracles too. Should a woman really give up on fulfilling her chief, most profound function in life just because some anonymous a-hole is up typing at 2 a.m. labeling her selfish?
Apparently, attacking a woman’s psyche, choices, appearance, stamina is still fair game. Pursuing childbirth later in life, ladies are continually put in the position of having to justify what the hell they’re doing, what they have been doing all along, what they will continue to be doing for the rest of their years. Like their babies will somehow receive less love and quality care because they didn’t manage to execute this whole life thing perfectly themselves.
Would a man ever have to face attitudes anything like these? Nada, nope, no way.
Well, I don’t need to defend myself. Janet Jackson doesn’t either. She and I — and countless others — just have to do what’s in our hearts. The best option I’ve found is to become Bulletproof. My own personal impenetrable support. No one gets to make me feel like my Suitable Parent Score is rapidly descending simply because my skin and breasts already are. I’m the only one who can determine the best timing for the major events in my life.
Women like Sheryl Crow and Sandra Bullock — both single moms in their 50’s now raising adopted children — they kick ass. Many a famous actress has given birth late into their 40’s: Susan Sarandon (46), Halle Berry (47), Holly Hunter (47), Kelly Preston (a.k.a. Mrs. John Travolta, 48), Geena Davis (48), Laura Linney (49) . . . there are many, many more. Joan Lunden, Cheryl Tiegs, Annie Liebowitz have all had babies in their fifties.
These star stories are merely high-profile examples; please do not mistake me for being celebrity-obsessed. The take-away is that George Clooney doesn’t have to worry about any of this crap. It’s good to be George. He can become a daddy, or not become a daddy, and everything’s fine. There’s no negative reflection on his fundamental George-ness . . . no blame if he doesn’t accomplish such a signature feat within his life span . . . no problem or judgement if he does.
Hopefully one day society can get to the same place with poor Jennifer Anniston, now 47. Rather than continuing to go tabloid-crazy over her every potentially bump-hiding fashion selection, maybe we can give her some space to do whatever she wishes to with her body instead. She may still bear a child . . . or she may not. Either way, it’s really not up to anyone else but her to have a say, or a snicker.
Later-in-Life parents, celebrities or not, male or female, are all operating from a sincere place: they wish to nurture, experience, behold new life. They long to build a family, seal bonds, enter into a new, fulfilling chapter of existence. They are on a beautiful mission. Why muck it up?
What do you think? Have you experienced this same cultural-gender bias yourself? How has it affected you? Please leave any comments below, email me at email@example.com, or use the Contact page on the 10PP website. All thoughts, reflections, attitudes are always welcome (within reason!). Let’s discuss.
© 2016 Rebecca Bryant/Ten-Percent Panda
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