God favored ‘older parenthood’

ABED AL HASHLAMOUN EPA A Palestinian carpenter carves a wooden sculpture of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus at a workshop … Continued

ABED AL HASHLAMOUN

EPA

A Palestinian carpenter carves a wooden sculpture of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus at a workshop in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, 12 December 2012.

“Mother. Don’t you ever say that again. And, there is nothing left to say in this conversation!”

I was 35-years-old when my mother with trepidation broached what she knew was a sore subject for me, and said the words that went too far. It was a spring afternoon. I was wearing blue cut-off jeans and a raggedy grass green tee-shirt with the word “YES” printed on it. I was leaning on a kitchen stool holding the phone and staring out the screen door while having a casual conversation with my mother. And then out of the blue she said this, “So don’t get mad but I’ve been thinking…have you thought of freezing your eggs?” I stood up on impulse and turned my body around with a sudden jerk as though my mother had beamed herself up into my kitchen.

“What?”

“I just mean, you’re not married yet and I don’t know maybe it’s…”

And that’s when I ended the conversation and got off the phone before I said things I’d regret. I sank back onto the stool in awe and defeat. I couldn’t believe it. My own mother who for so long had been the champion of faith and hope and encouragement when it came to my “late blooming” as a potential wife and mother, if my mom was giving up hope what the heck did that mean?

I knew I was not getting any younger and that with each passing year science informed me that my chances of being a mommy with a healthy child were decreasing exponentially. I never considered having a child without being married and at the time of that conversation I was unwed. Plus I was finally just getting some sense of vocational identity and since I hadn’t found a suitable husband I was rightfully fully 100 percent engaged with my growing profession as a writer and speaker. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the proverbial ticking clock. It didn’t mean I wasn’t occasionally already prone to worry that the suitable guy might come too late. How could I not be aware of such things in a culture that insists on telling women when, how, why, and if they should have babies, and with science to back up nearly every major public opinion? I have nothing against women who freeze their eggs. But for me, such action would go against my spiritual belief to trust God for any future pregnancy to happen naturally it was to happen at all.

That conversation with my mother was four years ago. I am not 35 anymore. No suitable man has shown up since. I am still unmarried and without child. So one can imagine how uncomfortable it was for me to read the latest nearly-viral article, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society: The scary consequences of the grayest generation” published last month in The New Republic and written by respected journalist Judith Shulevitz. The article is an in-depth, clearly researched piece about the high-risk dangers and pitfalls of having children later in adult life. Ultimately readers are left to ask themselves if it’s both fair and wise for adults, mainly women, over 35 to bear children. I will be honest. I did not finish the article. For one thing, informative and well written as it was, it was too depressing. But for another slightly more compelling reason, I didn’t finish the article because I happened to be reading it in the midst of the Advent season, that liturgical time of year in which Christians are invited to relieve the story of a God who works beyond reason and logic.

By the time I chanced upon Shulevitz’s article I had already been meditating on the first chapter of the gospel of Luke for several days. A different narrative had already captured my imagination about motherhood, about what is fair, wise, advisable and possible. The story of Elizabeth and Zachariah is of two old Jewish people whose story sets the Advent and Christmas season in motion. They are the faithful couple who did not have a child until “they were both getting on in years” because Elizabeth “was barren.” And then God stepped in and they gave birth to John the Baptist, who according to Christian tradition was the forerunner to the Christ, the scruffy honey sucking wilderness man whose sole purpose was to announce that God does keep God’s promises. In this case a promise to fully reconcile humanity to the God of creation. Just a small little thing really. I sometimes wonder if part of the reason Zachariah was struck dumb after he got the message that his old wife would be pregnant was because God wanted to spear him the certain guffawing and ridicule that would follow any conversation in which he might have shared “the news.”

I am not suggesting that we refute or ignore science when it comes to trying to make wise decisions about when to parent. But I am saying that my perspective on what is possible and wise is also largely determined by a narrative that begins with the impossible reality of a God who engages with humanity in often times illogical and seemingly foolish ways. As a Christian woman who is in the “high-risk” bracket and not in a position right now to have a child there is this crazy, but convicting element of trust, and hope. I have to trust that if raising children is in my future then God will make a way even if the “facts” say there is no way, or that the way is full or risk and danger. I have to trust that when it comes to my desire to one day be a parent that God’s imagination is larger than mine with regards to how that might come about. I also have to trust and hope in the sustaining power of God to help bear the weight of desire that may very well go unmet. Those are risky moves too.

I can’t help but wonder what a time traveling Elizabeth might feel and think while reading Shulevitz’s article. I wonder what Elizabeth might have put in the “comments” section.


Enuma Okoro is a speaker and an award-winning author of three books on the call and challenge of the spiritual life.

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  • WmarkW

    I commend you for not having a child without a spouse.

    Hopefully you’ll never have to explain to your child that s/he has Downs syndrome because you took a fable’s deus ex machina storyline seriously.

  • gdalfonzo

    Thank you, Enuma, for this beautiful and inspiring piece.

  • Maresi

    First of all, to WmarkW: Ouch.
    Secondly, Enuma, I want to give you a massive hug. We recently decided that due to lots of factors we won’t be adding anymore children to our family despite my intense longing for another. I get that ache. Your faith in the sustaining power of God to get us through the times when our hearts’ desires go unmet inspires mine. Much love to you.

  • Super YM

    Trust and hope… that really is what it comes down to! Thanks for the beautiful reflection! I’m in a similar situation, so I relate the entire article. I feel that it is one thing for ME to put my trust in God in regards to vocation and family, and quite another for my PARENTS to do so. But if I stay true to the life God is calling me to live, then I hope and pray that He’ll help my parents let go of their expectations for my life and also put their trust in Him.

  • rrouse1962

    I disagree with the title of this. How on earth can a WAPO writer (or any other human) claim to know that a god favored ‘older parenthood.’ Your ANCIENT TEXT tells you a god favored older parenthood.

  • ECO

    Yes, trust and hope is always the calll of faith. But those can be very active verbs as well I beleive. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • ECO

    Thank you for taking the time to read my piece WmarkW. Yes, hopefully, I will never have to explain what you propose to any future children I might have. Best to you.

  • nkri401

    I am sorry for about what I’m going to say – Ms. Okoro, you might as well wish to be impregnated by God.

    Mea culpa.

  • LTrotterman

    If you’re sorry for something you’re going to say, you might as well not say it at all.

  • LTrotterman

    You’re rude and shouldn’t be allowed to leave such nasty comments to people who have worked hard to create a thought provoking piece.

  • nkri401

    I do not disagree and I try to practice “if you don’t have something nice to say don’t say at all.”
    However, if I feel I need to discipline my children, I do not do that with glee. It’s in that context.
    Again, I don’t mean to be condescending but sorry that I look like condescending.

  • nkri401

    Even though I’m being more than a bit snarky, I wish nothing but good luck to Ms. Okoro.

    However, the headline is at odd with the following statistics from March of Dimes. Surely, you are not suggesting God favors Down syndrome.

    •At age 25, the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is 1 in 1,250.
    •At age 30, the risk is 1 in 1,000.
    •At age 35, the risk is 1 in 400.
    •At age 40, the risk is 1 in 100.
    •At age 45, the risk is 1 in 30.

  • Secular1

    Why is this article inspiring. Does it inspire you to be determinedly stupid by purposefully planning to give ones brain a sabbatical? It actually sad, in my book.

  • Secular1

    Actually Maresi I commend you and your SO a lot, for using your brains that mother nature had bestowed on us, through eons of evolution. You did the right thing instead of risking upon a child unconscionable ailments, just to gratify your passing desires.

  • Secular1

    I do not see this article as inspiring or warm as a few comments have expressed. First thing that came to my mind is that Ms. Okoro is battling with her values and expectations of the society (and kith & kin), definitely commendable in of itself. That said, I have to be blunt about her present stated, as can be surmised from her writing here.

    First of her quoting one fairy tale about two fictitious characters Elizabeth & Zachariah’s late child as some kind of, non-existing divine’s, divine favoring (as she puts it, of older parenthood. Not only that she feels despite the statistical evidence, her faith will allow, her to escape, or rather her future progeny of the ailments, that befall the children of older mother. One saving grace is that she has not acted on her desires. Reading the below;
    “But I am saying that my perspective on what is possible and wise is also largely determined by a narrative that begins with the impossible reality of a God who engages with humanity in often times illogical and seemingly foolish ways. As a Christian woman who is in the “high-risk” bracket and not in a position right now to have a child there is this crazy, but convicting element of trust, and hope. I have to trust that if raising children is in my future then God will make a way even if the “facts” say there is no way, or that the way is full or risk and danger. I have to trust that when it comes to my desire to one day be a parent that God’s imagination is larger than mine with regards to how that might come about. I also have to trust and hope in the sustaining power of God to help bear the weight of desire that may very well go unmet. Those are risky moves too.”

    Continued Below:

  • Secular1

    I have three issues with her.

    1) The thought process itself is not only convoluted, but points to how easily this process would deteriorate into abject amoral activity. If one could see in that isolated fairy tale a divine endorsement, then that one can easily see an endorsement for homo-phobia, slavery and many more grotesque practices..

    2) Does this woman really think that her deity some how intervene on her behalf and nudge the probabilities in favor of her child, as a reward for her faith. Then what is to be said of those other women and their faith, who give birth to mis-fortunate children Shall we assume that the mothers of all those unfortunate children are devoid of faith?

    3) Question 2 raises the issue of correlation between faithful and the being good. If divine rewards of healthy babies are directly proportional to the goodness of the person as reflected by their faith? Does that mean the younger women are more likely to be a more good than older women, as evidenced by the fact that children of younger women are less likely to be afflicted with any ailments. From her writing it also follows that the women of ailing children must not be of the same level of faith as her and then by induction less good. Is this really the thinking

  • WmarkW

    Honest discussion of religion and politics is what we do here. We can’t observe the common cultural practice of quietly respecting even the most outlanding beliefs of faith as “none of my business if someone chooses to believe it.”

    The primary “thought” I got out of her column, is that she understands the risks of later parenthood, but will draw inspriation from the biblical story of Elizabeth and Zacaharaiah. It’s one thing to draw inspiration from the courage and commitment of bilbical characters. Quite another to count on getting the same divine favors.

  • ShowMeTheData

    You probably don’t need god to solve this problem. Evolution will ultimately work this out.

  • ANNUIT COEPTIS

    All humans come under physical laws of nature. Of two different births in the bible, it be of interest of where the sperms came from that fertilized the two different eggs.

  • Secular1

    Some claim it is parthenogenesis. Although there is no evidence parthenogenesis among any of the more complex species, much less amongst mammals, & primates. Besides parthenogenesis is obviously asexual form of reproduction so, from where comes the “Y” chromosome? That rules out the birth of Jesus.

    If parthenogenesis is not the mechanism, then it must be the holy ghost. That posits the question was JC child of incest? Given that the RCC in its infallible wisdom posited that Mary was also immaculately conceived, presumably by the same pesky holy ghost’s doings. Then if JC was also conceived by immaculate consumption with the contribution of the “Y” chromosome, then it follows that the holy ghost is both the father and maternal grand-father. hence the incest pickle. I am sure there is enough scholarship on this blog, on that tome of fairy tales. Let’s see the rationalizations, they will spout.

  • Secular1

    ShowMeTheData, I agree with the first part of your statement (in fact I will drop the word “probably” completely). The latter half I will not bet that will necessarily happen. Do not think that just because few or many, many, many people think it is a problem, does not mean evolution takes it on itself to work it out. First of all evolution has no fore thought, as my previous sentence may suggests. It is silly to think one can predict what the zig zags it will take it in an uncontrolled circumstances.

  • ThomasBaum

    Mary being “immaculately conceived”, as you put it, has absolutely nothing to do with “how” she was conceived.

  • gdalfonzo

    Faith is not stupidity. Faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”