Why Have a Baby After 50? By Karen Day
photo by of Harper and Karen by karen kuehn
Deciding to have a baby after 50 may be this world-traveling journalist’s wildest move yet.
Having a Baby After 50
I opened my post office box and removed an AARP magazine, a La Leche League newsletter, and a postcard of a pagoda in Myanmar, which I'd mailed to myself two weeks earlier while on assignment in the country formerly known as Burma. The Idaho mountain morning was autumn orange, my first at home after 24 sleepless hours flying economy class from Yangon. My baby screamed whenever the stroller stopped rocking, and the early miseries of a cold pounded in my head.
A young woman standing next to me at the post office smiled and nodded at the stroller. "What a beautiful baby," she cooed in a swoony voice. "Where's his mother?"
Putting on a smile stolen from mug shots of serial killers, I said, "This old hag is his mom."
I am 54 years old and suffering the delirious consequences of weaning a baby and being one of the first Western journalists to visit Naypyidaw, the new capital city of the military dictatorship that has held the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for much of the past 18 years. No doubt, I am also the first breastfeeding 54-year-old journalist to go this route. (No, I didn't take my son with me: Myanmar, military dictators, and babies really don't mix.) But today, deadlines looming and baby wailing as if his hair is on fire, I choose to blame my entire exhausted life on the airline's lack of business-class upgrades and on Mary Martin.
I was 7 years old when Peter Pan soared before my eyes. No Wendy envy and shadow mending for me. Martin set my imagination free and ruined any future I had as a shop clerk or a stay-at-home mom. Nothing since has been able to hold me down -- not marriage (past or present), four kids, State Department warnings, or leaking breasts. I'm not complaining. My dual careers as a journalist and as a mother are rewarding: unimpressive pay, but magnificent scenery once you get outside the refugee camps or the laundry room.
So perhaps that's why I've been dodging bullets in the third world and giving birth for four decades. The possibility of my dying on the job does not seem too alarming, since fate can hit you with a truck anywhere. But to some, having a baby in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s sounds like a nasty habit, right up there with chewing tobacco or scrubbing grout with your toothbrush. There should be a 12-step program for women like me, rebels who can't give up their quixotic causes or their diaper bags.