George Clooney Can Do It

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 tenpercentpanda@gmail.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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It’s “Subfertility” To You, Please

It’s a fact: the current lexicon we use for Later-in-Life Parenthood stinks.  Leave it to Western Medicine . . . if there’s an opportunity to get a dig in, it does.  Lemme return the favor.

Snapshot: Two years ago.  I’m staring down a cocky med student.  He’s a large guy, imposing.  His manner is upfront, which I can mostly deal with, but his questioning is aloof, which I can not.  In particular, haughty Mr. Med Dude will not stop using the word “abortion” when discussing my multiple miscarriages.  It is driving me and my husband nuts.

Even after our repeated angry protests, he continues.  It’s not that he’s not trying; he simply can’t help it.  “Abortion” is built into his DNA.  “Abortion” is the official medical term.  “Abortion” is how he thinks of my plight and forever will.  I am aghast.  As if living through the miscarriages wasn’t enough . . . now I’m to be forcibly confused — by my own health-care professional — with someone who walks into a clinic to intentionally terminate her unborn child?

Some embarrassing nook of my brain hears a Bones to Captain Kirk exchange: “Dammit, Jim — I’m a doctor!  Not a caregiver!”

Patients do or should — have a right to expect their Bones to be both things: a diagnostician, and a nurturer.  The rampant unchallenged insensitivity so seemingly built-in to older pregnancy pursuits (and even some younger ones, too) isn’t necessary.

And something can actually be done about this, unlike, perhaps, some of the other problems we are facing.

Let’s start by choosing the words we work with with greater care.  It’s a small thing, but huge. Just a little awareness goes a long way.  First and foremost, we should keep in sight what a hurt and grieving almost-parent patient is feeling, has already felt, will have to still feel.

Clearly, the default mode right now is set to obliviousness.

Snapshot #2: Calling in for my much-anticipated HCG results, the nurse looks them up while eating her lunch.  This is a big moment for me; not so much for her.  In early pregnancy, the level of HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) in your blood needs to double every few days.  Although I am pregnant, I need to stay that way too.

The nurse experiences me merely as a voice on the phone.  For all she knows I may want this number to go down.  Fair enough, I suppose.  Yet entering into any conversation re: HCG numbers, really should be a heads-up; either way this thing goes, it’s gonna be loaded.  Something to be handled with compassion, not in between bites of Taco Bell.

When I hear my HCG number and recognize that it is, indeed, going down yet again, the nurse asks me which way I wished it to go.  “Up,” I say.  “Nope,” she says.  “This one’s gone south.”  (Direct quote.)

From the moment an over-40 woman is blessed with a positive test result — really, from age 34 on up, when the IVF-pushers get involved — her “High-Risk Pregnancy” is skeptically received by the very medical community which is supposed to help her accomplish it.  Due to her “Advanced Maternal Age,” said lady with “Diminished Ovarian Reserve,” who astoundingly managed to connect egg to sperm anyway, despite being a “Poor Responder,” is instantly regarded as suspicious, a normal outcome for her and her child unlikely.

Norman Vincent Peale would shit his pants.  Haven’t these people ever heard of the power of positive thought?

When the process does “inevitably” fail, matters only get worse.  A miscarriage — not the dandiest term to begin with— is charted as an “empty sac,” a “blighted ovum,” sometimes a “missed abortion.”  My personal favorite, exclusive to the lucky recurrent miscarriage crowd only: “habitual abortion.”  The grief-stricken gal who has repeatedly had to endure these losses is openly dubbed a “habitual aborter.”  Like she just makes a habit of tossing her new babies away.  Eh, don’t need that one . . .

Of course there are real and significant issues involved here, issues that need some clear definition.  But whatever benefit the doctors and nurses get from employing their current labels to communicate is surely outweighed by the constant dings and damage to their patients’ spirits and souls.

Western Medicine, you don’t have to believe in me.  But please do keep your pessimism to yourself when I’m dealing with you.  Wink and nod all you want behind the scenes to treat me, but when we’re together, a higher ratio of support to caution is required.  We already know this is possibly impossible; you are not saving us from anything with a reality check.  Give us some space to believe instead.  What’s the harm?

“Unexplained Infertility” is the perfect place to begin shifting the vocab.  To be allowed to cavalierly apply the “U” word to a suffering gal’s not-yet-discovered condition is a ridiculous state of affairs.  Her problem is not unexplained, it is undiagnosed.  Oh, it’s mysterious all right — especially if you don’t take the time to look into finding out what’s actually going on.  What’s really happening is that you are just one of hundreds, thousands, millions seeking a solution . . . and no one especially wants to take on figuring out your individual hot mess.

I propose “Subfertility” as a more appropriate, gentler label to use.  The days of this throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air-and-call-it-solved nonsense should end.  Respect, diligence, understanding are what needs to be granted to all human beings striving and struggling sincerely to create life.

And, once created, that life should have nothing but optimism on its side.

Snapshot #3: From my imagination.  I see a future blissful, fully supported pregnancy experience.  I am not called old.  I am not made to fear my own pregnancy.  I am not rushed into test after test because of my advancing decrepitude and potential to falter at any moment.  Yes, I’m a “Later-in-Life” (™ Ten-Percent Panda) mom-to-be, but this is very cool.  Very, very cool.  How awesome of me to finally achieve this, what strength I have shown, what rare and admirable purpose.

Personally, I refuse to have my psyche pre-bludgeoned by thoughts of the “high-risk” pregnancy I still hope to attain.  High risk, high reward baby.  I may be subfertile, but there could still be life in the ole gal yet.

Even if there isn’t — which, believe me, I fully understand is on the table — let’s think twice about choosing to handicap me before I’ve even begun.

What do you think?  What have your experiences TTC been like as an older-parent-to-be?  Positive?  Negative?  Neutral?  Please leave any comments below, email me at tenpercentpanda@gmail.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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