• Are You Too Old to Begin a Family at 40?

    Dawn Davenport

    Is 40 too old to adopt or do IVF

    How old is too old to start a family and how in the world do you decide?

    How old is too old to have or adopt a baby? 40? 45? 50? How do you make this decision? I received the following question last week.

    I am currently struggling – in fact, agonizing – over this decision. I am turning 40 next month and my husband is 45. After unsuccessful IVF treatments, we are considering adoption. However, as much as I dream of having a family, I’m worried we are too old to begin one at our age. At what age would you personally decide to give up on motherhood if you were in a similar situation? I feel that your answer would be so well informed that it might help guide me through this painful decision-making process. Thank you!

    I’m flattered that you value my opinion, but as you know, each person is different and will answer this question based on her own values and life dreams. I have, however, thought about this topic a lot and can share my thoughts. I should add that I’m assuming that you and your husband are in good health.

    The Lure of the Accidental Pregnancy

    It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if you could just accidentally (or accidentally on purpose) get pregnant. If only you could just forget to use birth control one night and end up pregnant. The decision would be made, and you wouldn’t have to be the one deciding. Chances are good that you’d worry a little, then settle into adapting.

    Unfortunately, neither infertility treatment nor adoption work that way. They demand a conscious choice.  They demand answering questions about your readiness. They demand money. Dammit!

    What are Your Dreams?

    What were your and your husband’s dreams for your life? Did they always include children or would you be almost as content to just be a family of two with the freedoms and joys of that life style?

    What are your and your husband’s dreams for the next 20+ years? Can you imagine being the mom to a preschool and elementary school aged child in your 40s, teen in your 50s, and young adult in your 60s? (Our society has extended adolescence into the mid 20s and many many young adults are still living with their parents well into their 20s.)

    Continuing is Easier than Starting

    Likely it’s the answer to these questions of what you want your future life to look like that is causing you to agonize over this decision because chances are good that you don’t know the answers. How can you since this is unchartered territory for you.

    I believe it is easier for people who are already in the midst of parenting to make the decision to have another child when they are in their 40s than for someone who is not a parent to decide to have their first child. They have a better idea of what they are getting into.

    People your age who are already parenting also know that they won’t be alone in this “older” parenting journey. You don’t run in the “parents of young kids” circles, so you might have no idea how many people in their late 30s and early to mid-40s are having and adopting children. There are many.

    If you decide to adopt or go through another round of IVF using donor eggs, you will not be the only parent over 40 sitting on kiddie chairs at parent-teacher conferences, coaching Little League, or worrying over how much homework is reasonable for an eight year old. You will not be the only parent over 50 teaching your kid to drive, worrying over setting a reasonable curfew, and visiting colleges. You will not be the only parent over 60 paying college tuition, cheering your child’s first job with real benefit, or celebrating a wedding. You will not be the only parent over 70 welcoming a first grandchild.

    Is It Fair to the Child?

    All decisions we make in regards to children are supposed to be made considering first and foremost what is in the best interest of the child. I absolutely believe that age is more than just a number, even though I wish that weren’t the case. Parenting is for life, and the active hands-on all consuming part will last 20+ years. You have to assess your health and energy to know whether this choice is fair for the child.

    What Would You Regret More

    You will never know for certain ahead of time the answers to the questions I’ve asked. Maybe the better question is which would you regret less: playing it safe with what you know or taking the risk to start a new life at 40?

    Would you have your first child in your 40s? Share your words of wisdom for someone trying to decide.

    P.S. My last child joined my family when I was 39 and my husband was 42. We would do it over again in a second.


    Image credit: greekadman

    22/04/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 38 Comments

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    38 Responses to Are You Too Old to Begin a Family at 40?

    1. Stacie T. says:

      I adopted Reed on my 50 th year. You are not too old! Get over that! Go for it!

    2. Mary says:

      I feel if you love the child go for it. I fostered my adopted child for almost two years before the adoption. She does have some issues to be dealt with; however, they could have shown up in a biological child. We love each other so much. We have our ups and downs just like a typical family and we work thru them. By the way, I’m 66. I made sure she would have a place to go if I became seriously ill and/or passed away. This is also someone who loves her and she love this person very much.

    3. Ali Jayne says:

      Thank you for writing this post!
      I’m currently in the process of gaining approval for Adoption myself (and I just turned 41) through the Ministry in BC (local adoption). The process for approval will likely take a full year…so that is something to consider (and gives you time to change your mind if it’s not for you – but start now even if you change your mind later!) My preference is to adopt kids older than 4 years old…so there are always options for the older parent.
      Plus there are so many kids in the Foster Care system who need a permanent home – they range in age from 0-18 years, so there’s always the option of older children to consider.
      Good luck to the person who sparked this post and conversation, I hope you and your husband find the right fit for you and get to have the family you desire :)

    4. Kathleen says:

      I always thought I older when I started my family probably in my 30s. However, when there was no one to share the burden with I dropped the idea of becoming a mother. There was no way I was going to do it alone. Lo and behold my husband wanted to have a child when we got married so we tried and failed at fertility and adopted at 43. I love it. I have no regrets, no feeling that I am missing something by parenting and staying at home. It is difficult to be the oldest first time mother, but I also get to relax more than others because I have been around the block. No worries about eating dirt and wondering whether I am providing enough stimulation. Its sword fights and silly songs. :)

    5. Kathy says:

      I have a friend that is 66 and has a 6 year old and a 3 year old. I don’t know how she has the energy, but her boys are clean, healthy, safe and well loved!

    6. AnonT says:

      Oh Dawn, this is why I LOVE creating a family because it addresses the tough questions!! This is one issue I have a really hard time with. I am 38 next month, my husband is 45. We’ve been trying for a little over 2 years. Every year that goes by, I calculate how old we will be when our child is 5, 10, 20, 30, 40…how old will our child(ren) be when one of us pass away? How old will they be when we may not be able to take care of them as well as we’d like? I know it is totally morbid but it’s really important. If we are successful with fertility treatment this year, and I have a child at 39, by the time that child is my age, I will be 78 and my husband will be 85. Although both of us have good “genes” and our families live to old age, these are ages that death is a possibility. When I think right now about losing my parents, I can cry myself to sleep (and both my parents are in their mid 60s). But for our kids (if we are blessed with them), it will be more of a reality when they are in their 30s. I don’t know if that is fair and I struggle with that a lot.

      • AnonT, I can’t answer the “fair” question, but I can say that many many women are having kids now at 39 so if you are successful, you will likely be surrounded by other moms your age.

    7. Christy says:

      I am 48 and just adopted a baby girl! My first (and she will be my only) child.

    8. Greg says:

      I can’t answer this because who am I to judge when a couple decides to start their family. Prior to infertility I would have said 40 is too old, but my experience has made me more humble and empathetic to other people. It’s impossible for me to judge when my circumstances of meeting my wife when I was 19 and getting married at 27. It’s easy for me to say they waited too long when the reality is their circumstances may have prevented an early attempt for children.

    9. Maura says:

      I am very encouraged by this blog and the comments. I am nearly 42 and my husband is 48. We are almost done with our home study. Lately I have been having these same thoughts about being too old to start a family. But, it is what we both want more than anything. I feel like my classmates slowest to start a family already have 6 and 7 year olds and others have kids in college. I am glad to see others who got a late start and still feel like it was a good decision for both them and the kids.

    10. AJ says:

      Reading this blog post – as well as all the heartfelt comments and shared experiences -brings me hope. Dreams of starting a family can feel like they are fading quickly as we get older… even when our desire hasn’t wavered.

      I started to question myself when confronted with the notion that there comes a time when starting a family becomes a selfish decision that is no longer in the child’s best interest. WHEN exactly that time has come isn’t always clear. I would still welcome the opportunity to attend soccer games in my 50s or graduations in my 60s… but I worry about my child feeling disconnected or missing out on experiences children share with younger parents.

      I would never want my children to be burdened at a young age by having “old parents” or being orphaned early when they still very much need me. I would love to be there when they get married, buy their first house or even need help with their own children. My parents were in their twenties when they started our family. They have always been actively involved and it troubles me to think I might not be able to participate in my children’s life in the same manner since I’m starting 20 years later than they did.

      I never anticipated entering my forties without a family of my own, but I will take heart in knowing there are many great examples of families that got a later start in life — families that are just as close and loving in spite of the bigger generational gap… and that while my dreams have so far been delayed, they are not yet beyond reach.

      Thank you all for sharing your stories!

      • AJ, I am so thankful that you are willing to think about when having children becomes a selfish pursuit. I would share that all decisions to parent are at least to some significant degree a selfish pursuit, but I hear your bigger point when you think about your age.

        One thought, however, for you to muse over. Young parents (in their 20s) are having children right at the same time they are getting started in their life and are focusing on getting settled into work. Often they are at the point in their jobs where they have little control over their hours and at a point where they need to work long and hard to be able to buy a house and set money aside for the future. You could argue that this is not the best time to be starting a family. My point is not that people shouldn’t have kids young; rather, that there are advantages and disadvantages to each age at having kids.

    11. Von says:

      I became a mother for the first time at 39. My own mother by adoption was also 39 and I believe younger parents are such an asset. I am saddened by the trend and find all those photos of new adoptive parents who look like grandparents quite disturbing and upsetting because I know the downsides of having older parents and of being one. It’s not all roses and rainbows!

      • Von, I was a mom in my 20s and in my late 30s. I think there are advantages to both ages. On the other hand, I do believe that at some age, you have to be realistic–age is more than just a number. We only have so many years on this earth and so many years of good/excellent health. Damnit!

    12. Brenda says:

      My husband and I are 54 and 53. We are adopting a five year old girl from Africa, the same age as our oldest granddaughter! I cannot imagine someone at 40 too old to be a great parent!

    13. Sophia says:

      I had my two biological children at 37 and 39 and last year my husband and I adopted a 1 year old from Russia (we are both mid 40’s). I can honestly say she’s been the greatest gift and I feel I am a much better parent than I was in my 30’s. Maybe I’ve just been slow ‘growing up’, but I feel I have a lot more understanding and patience now at this stage of my life. If I could have had my way, the adoption process would have happened a lot faster, and I would have become a third time mother around 40-41. But that’s not have it worked out (international adoption taking a long time). And I must say it’s all worked out for the best as this little girl was very clearly the one I was meant to mother! There’s also something nice in history repeating itself as my own mother was also 44 when she had me (my dad 46), an ‘after-thought’ after my two sisters who are 21 and 23 years older than I. (My mother and sister were pregnant at the same time and my niece and I were born 2 months apart.) My mum always used to say that I kept her young – that’s also how I feel 😉

    14. Teresa says:

      No, not too old at 40 to start a family! 40’s the new 30. We suffered for years with infertility, so finally we used egg donors, and it was the best thing that ever happened. I was 41 for our first born singleton and 42 for our boy/girl twins. We only wished we had decided to use a donor early on because I got pregnant immediately. We are doing great, and loving it! Our kids are now 8 and 9yrs.

    15. Carolyn says:

      I have a thought about the meaning of parents to adopted foster kids. Twenty years ago at my college graduation, a medical student I knew introduced me to 2 white haired people in their 70s, I assumed were his grandparents. He proudly introduced me to his parents. He explained later he had been adopted by his foster parents as a young teenager and how much he loved them. I remember feeling respect for both my friend and his parents. In that moment, in my 20s, I thought adoption might be something I would consider in the future.

    16. Michael Recant says:

      My wife and I were 45 when we went to China for our 1 year old daughter. We are 60 now and the only regret is that we didn’t decide quickly enough to get a second child. Yes, we will have to work until age 70 to see her all the way through undergraduate college but we knew that up front and accepted that.

      The disadvantages we ran into is that all of our daughter’s classmates had parents much younger than us, so my wife and I have had some social isolation. Also, I had some health problems in my 50s which resulted in a year that I could not fully participate in my daughter’s life. The main downside for our daughter is that only one of our neighbors or close friends had a child her age.

      The advantages were that we were much more financial stable and we both were able to focus more on her (and less on our careers) while she was growing up. Also being a little older enabled us to be more laid back in terms of raising her and enjoying watching her grow.

      So my suggestion would be to take a good look at your life and decide if there is anything foreseeable that would be a major risk for your child (financial issues, parental health problems, etc). If not, and if you have the energy, then go for it!

    17. Marni Levin says:

      My situation is similar to Bev’s and I totally agree with her philosophy. We had four grown-and-flown bio kids but felt we weren’t ready for an empty nest yet and our house was way too quiet. So at the age of 60 (though we feel much younger!) my dh and I adopted a sibling pair aged 13 and 7. Adopting them was the most challenging yet meaningful experience of our lives! Though some of our friends questioned our sanity, we feel our new kids help keep us young. Being a soccer mom in my sixties is amazing!

    18. Karen says:

      I used to worry about this question. Now that I’m 46 and preparing to be a first time mom, it feels totally silly. It’s time when it’s time! I can’t wait and I’ve never been so ready.

    19. Chris Macri says:

      We adopted a 2 year old and we’re both 40. Our family is doing fine.

    20. Heather says:

      I love Dawn’s comment “Things have changed.”

      When my mom was 38 I was graduating from high school. When I was just a few months shy of 38 I was holding my daughter for the first time.

      My mom thought we were nuts..

      My younger sister, on the other hand, had her children at 24 and 26 and, also, thought we were nuts.

      Our daughter joined our family at 3.5 yo so we weren’t starting life as parents with a new born which made a big difference for us. At 41 now with a 7 yo I feel like I am a much better mom than I would have been at a younger age.

      Everything has worked out quite well and we wouldn’t change anything. Neither my mom nor my sister thinks we are nuts any longer.

      Search your heart and imagine where you want to be in 10 or 20 years. Choosing to be a family of 2 is fine. Or if you choose to start adding to your family now you will find many moms and dads in your age range.

    21. chris macri says:

      I’m yoWand we just adopted A 2 yo. We’re doing fine.

    22. Lizabeth says:

      I am 47 and a single parent with an adopted 3.5 year old. I agree with all of the favorable comments about the joys of older parenting and the ease of finding other older parents with young kids. I would add a few things to consider, however. It might take a few years before you actually have a child. I started my family building adventure at 40 with time spent on adoption, then trying to get pregnant, and then back to adoption. The adoption of my daughter was finalized just after I turned 45. Also, to take care of some of my worries (about being her only parent, and turning into a senior citizen when my daughter is a young adult), I made sure to draw up a will, powers of attorney, guardianship, and adjusted my retirement savings plan. Even with the worries, I wouldn’t trade my parenting experience for anything!

      • Lizabeth, I’m glad you raised the point about how long adoption can take. It’s one thing to begin at 40, but it isn’t likely that you’ll be 40 when your child comes home. Also, great point about the legal responsibilities that come with being an older parent. They are the responsibilities of ALL parents, but older parents need to act on them sooner rather than later.

    23. karen says:

      When I first saw this post I dreaded reading the comments and now I am so glad I did! I am 49, single, starting foster care (starting with respite, short term placements and then once my feet get wet) with hoping to adopt and having a child has always been my dream. I love the questions asked. I would be thrilled to have every next day in my life filled with motherhood (ok, I know I will not feel that way every single day when/if it happens :-). I guess my point is that while my energy is lower now than 10, 15 years I ago, it is clear to me that I feel more energized when taking care of children in my life both physically and emotionally. I know it will be diff when they are with me all the time and that I will need lots of help. That is what I’m focusing on now – how to get that.

    24. I’ve never met anyone who regretted their decision to parent. But I have known people who struggle everyday with their decision not to. I started my infertility journey when I was 38 and ultimately adopted my son (as a single mom) when I was 41. I think about doing it again all the time! I’d say go for it!! And by the way, granted I live in a big city, but I never feel like the oldest parent.

    25. Tamara says:

      I adopted my second at almost 42 – she came home at almost 4, so she was born when I was 38. She is special needs and I’m a single mom so I thought seriously about what would happen if something were to happen to me. It still is a worry I have. However, I now am the almost 44 year old mother to an 11 (almost 12) year old and a 6 year old. They wear me out and keep me hopping. I love it – though I have my “what was I thinking” moments that all parents have. I would say that if you both want to be parents, then go for it. There are plenty of children who would love to have parents. If you’re too concerned about a newborn, there are plenty of older children available for adoption – both through foster care and internationally. Good luck.

    26. Carolyn says:

      To give a balanced perspective, I will also add that we hired an au pair. So I do have help with twins. I am not a supermom, but I am really enjoying my children. It seems financially reasonable and works out to $8/hour. I can schedule her on weekends and holidays to have some down time with my husband. Au pairs come to the US on a special visa and are like a cross between exchange students and nannies. We have a great bond with ours. From a mother of multiples, this is simply a suggestion of something I found helpful.

    27. Bev Gunn says:

      I adopted older children (3 of them!) at age 56! Went back 18 months later for #4-so I am the grandma attending parent/teacher conferences as the mom of a 14 yo! I do admit I am running on limited energy, but my son is so glad to have a Mom that it does not bother him that I am older-since he was only 7 when I adopted him he has no other memories of a mother (all were in orphanage for 7 yrs before they came to me). Many challenges and achievements have filled the last 8 years, but I cannot imagine my life any other way!
      If you want it, go for it! Life will never be boring or totally peaceful with little feet growing out of their shoes as they run through your life! Many children are waiting for someone to love them as they are and give them homes. It is not for the weak willed, but for the strong in spirit to parent these wonderful (and challenging) children.
      God bless you as you consider this trememdous step in your life!

    28. Carolyn says:

      It’s funny because almost 40 seems on the younger side of “old” to me. I had twins at 41 and found it invigorating. I am the eldest of 5 children and my younger sister, now 25, was a surprise pregnancy for my 40 and 44 year old parents. I doubt my mom would be so proficient with technology if it weren’t for the last two kids! She cracks us up with all of her app suggestions. I call HER when I have a computer issue!

    29. too old to start a family says:

      My husband and I are in the process of adopting 2 girls 6 and 9 . Had them since they were 5 and 8 . I’m gonna be 42 and my husband 51 . All depends on what your heart desires what would take you happy. In my eyes age is not seen by the love you give. We also have a 3 yr old child in our home as well.

    30. Jody, in many ways it surprised me that someone just turning 40 thought she might be too old since not all that infrequently the people asking me that question are in their 50s.

    31. Angela says:

      Im 43 and just starting~

    32. Jody says:

      I know a ton of people having their first child in their 40s. Nothing wrong with that!

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