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Published: Sunday, 5/14/2006

A mom after 40

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lee Mitchell had Justin, her first child, at age 43. Lee Mitchell had Justin, her first child, at age 43.
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At the age of 44, Eugenia Boyer had given up on the prospect of ever being a mother.

"When you reach the age of 40, you think it's probably too late now," the Springfield Township woman said.

Mrs. Boyer and her husband, Bryan, had always loved kids, always wanted kids. Medical advances in fertility treatments were prolonging the child-bearing years for more and more women.

But it wasn't happening for them, despite a brief dabbling in fertility drugs, and the couple had come to terms that their family might just include the two of them and Tex, their Dalmation.

Then something mystical happened.

"My husband had a dream that I was pregnant," Mrs. Boyer said.

Eugenia Boyer had her first child, Nathaniel, 14 months old, at age 44. Eugenia Boyer had her first child, Nathaniel, 14 months old, at age 44.
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And, shockingly, it was so. At an age when many women are closer to being empty-nesters, she was preparing to be a first-time mom.

Now, a little over a year since she gave birth to Nathaniel - a curious little blue-eyed sprite with weightless wisps of blonde hair - she still savors the feeling.

"He's definitely a gift, a little miracle."

That's a theme heard over and over from a number of area moms who had their first child after they turned 40, and for whom Mother's Day is a special delight.

It's still rare for women to have kids after hitting 40, though those numbers are going up, in part thanks to science.

"I think we can speed the time to conception for many of these couples. The problem is that if their rates are very low, doubling or tripling that low rate is still not a very high rate," said Dr. Joe Karnitis, co-director of the Fertility Center of Northwest Ohio, which is based in Toledo Hospital.

Jolene Kopena had her 11-year-old twin boys, Jeremy, left, and Joshua, at age 42. Jolene Kopena had her 11-year-old twin boys, Jeremy, left, and Joshua, at age 42.
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In the decade following 1994, the number of mothers older than 40 rose by more than 65 percent in the U.S.

There were more than 100,000 in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available. Of those, more than 23,000 were first-time mothers, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The news is peppered with amazing stories, like Romanian professor Adriana Iliescu, who last year gave birth to a girl at the age of 66 and became the world's oldest mother thanks to in vitro fertilization.

Closer to home, Jolene Kopena was able to become pregnant - with twins, no less - at the age of 42 with the help of fertility treatments.

That came only after a miscarriage and other setbacks.

"I just, I couldn't get pregnant," said Mrs. Kopena, now 53, of Curtice. "You're thinking: What's the matter? You never anticipated not being able to have a child."

Then a fertility specialist in Ann Arbor told her those words a would-be mother never wants to hear: "You're never going to have a child."

Mrs. Kopena cried the whole way home. "I was very upset about it because I could not imagine not having children," she said.

Still, she decided to try fertility treatments one more time. They worked.

Even then, there were pessimists, reminding her that older mothers have an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, miscarriage, and chromosome abnormalities.

Mrs. Kopena knew the risks, but avoided tests she felt were invasive and pointless because she would have the baby no matter what. There were a couple of scary moments during the pregnancy and after - newborn Joshua didn't leave the hospital for 21 days - but everything worked out fine.

In some ways, though, that was the easy part. If you think having twins at age 42 is tough, think about keeping up with them in your 50s.

"I think the challenge is being able to keep up with them energy-wise," Mrs. Kopena said.

So far, so good, even if it means juggling her work teaching Spanish at Genoa High School and the University of Toledo with taking her 11-year-old sons, Jeremy and Joshua, to Little League and Boy Scouts. She's also active in the Toledo Mothers of Twins Club, which named her mother of the year a few months ago.

Motherhood has proven to have its own - sometimes unusual - rewards.

"You've never lived until you've had four hamsters escape with cats running after them," Mrs. Kopena said.

Clearly, the challenges of being a midlife mother are more than just the biology of birth. There are financial, social, and physical considerations that tag along, according to Nancy London, author of a guide for first-time mothers over forty, Hot Flashes, Warm Bottles (Celestial Arts, 2001).

"It's not how old should a woman be when she has a baby. That's just step one," she said in a phone interview from her home in Sante Fe. "How old is she going to be when [the child] is 13 and going through puberty? That takes a lot of energy."

When many parents are thinking about retirement planning, these couples have to add on saving for college at the same time. And there can be unexpected challenges to self-esteem.

"You feel great, and you think you look great," said Ms. London, who miscarried five times before having a child at age 43. "Then the first day you show up at pre-school, there are women 15 to 20 years younger looking a lot better. A lot better. Sometimes they ask you if you're the child's grandmother."

That's happened to Mrs. Kopena and Mrs. Boyer, but it's not a big deal to them. Neither are the other challenges.

"I just think, just because of my faith, we're not given anything that we can't handle," Mrs. Boyer said.

She had great role models for what she's doing now - she and her three siblings were basically raised by her grandparents, who were in their 50s at the time.

She wondered what her friends would think, but everyone seems to have embraced little Nathaniel, who often accompanies his parents on outings.

"I waited this long to have a little one. I'm not gonna push him off on a babysitter right away," said Mrs. Boyer, a former accountant who works some with The Pampered Chef, a direct sales company that offers kitchen products.

She relishes her boy every day - whether it's his curiosity about what's making the noise in the dishwasher to his time at Kindermusik, a program that nurtures children through music.

"I would never want to think about not having him," she said.

The same goes for Lee Mitchell and her son, Justin.

Mrs. Mitchell is a stepmother to three children (the oldest is 16), but she had her first biological child, Justin, in September when she was 43.

She got a late start on things, not marrying until she was 38.

"I never stressed," she said. "That never bothered me. I was a happy single. I didn't know if I wanted kids."

Once she and her husband Jarrod agreed to put "baby operations in motion," things didn't go well. A local doctor said she would be unable to conceive. She believed that God had other plans.

"I prayed about it," the Sylvania Township woman said. "He's a faith baby. I just thank God every day that He's given me the chance to experience a mother's love."

She said her age hasn't held her back.

"My age means nothing to me," Mrs. Mitchell said. "I tell people, don't let your age distract you."

She's kept in good shape and has help from her mother-in-law, who cares for Justin while she works as an executive assistant at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant.

She doesn't work out as much, but when she does, she makes Justin part of the routine.

"[When] I'm doing squats, I have him in my hand as my weights," she said. "He thinks I'm playing with him."

Things are going so well, Mrs. Mitchell couldn't help but wonder at one point:

"I've got the little boy. Can I go for a little girl?"

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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