In early 2002, Pamela Ohls’ daughter Jessica, then 17, sat in the family dining room doing homework with her boyfriend. Ohls stood in the bathroom, speechless, staring at a positive home pregnancy test.
Shocked, she asked her partner, Bob Klann, to look at the results. Klann was about to storm into the dining room and confront the teens when Ohls stopped him.
"It’s mine," she said.
"What do you mean? How could it be yours?" Klann asked.
They had never thought about having a baby, especially at their age — she was about turn 40, he was almost 41. Ohls was even on birth control pills to regulate her menstrual cycle. What’s more, she had adopted Jessica 10 years earlier after several miscarriages. Doctors said she would never carry a child.
The odds were resoundingly stacked against pregnancy. "It wasn’t even a matter of giving up hope. It was complete and total acceptance that there wouldn’t be a child," said Ohls, who lives in Queen Creek. A doctor confirmed Ohls’ home test but didn’t give her much of a chance of carrying to term, given her medical history and age. "They said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up, Pam,’ and so I didn’t," she said. But Ohls defied the odds — Dillon Klann was born on Christmas Day, three weeks before his due date.
"When they took Dillon, he was fine. We later found out that I started to hemorrhage. With it being an older uterus, it just gave out," said Ohls, who, after 25 hours of labor, had a Caesarean section.
Dillon is now an active 2-year-old with no health complications. Ohls, now 42, is also doing fine. But the family still has obstacles to overcome.
"I have a daughter, 19, who’s in college and a son who’s a toddler, and there is a stigma when we go out," Ohls said. "(People) think most of the time he’s my daughter’s son and I’m grandmom."
Ohls said she won’t have any more children — 40 was the maximum age she’d even consider it. She worries about keeping up with Dillon’s energy levels and what it’ll be like for him to have "older parents" in high school.
"I think of these women at the age of 56 and 60 having children, and I have a problem with it. It’s very difficult to keep up with a child," she said.
Older parents still elicit public stares and misperception, but Renee Frost, a marriage and family therapist and former president of the Arizona Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, said this family structure is becoming more accepted.
"In our culture, there’s been a shift," Frost said. The women’s liberation movement of the 1970s led to a focus on career, and now the number of women having children after age 35 — generally the age fertility begins to decline — is growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate for women between ages 35 and 39 rose 6 percent in 2003; the birth rate for women ages 40 to 44 increased 5 percent.
Rosalie Hirano of Tempe gave birth to her first child, Noah, when she was 38 and to daughter Olivia when Hirano was 41. She spent her 20s and 30s focusing on a demanding career, not starting a family.
At 37, she married Doug Hirano, who was 41, and they wanted to have children right away. After Noah’s birth, the career-oriented mom was scheduled to return to work, but couldn’t.
"As it got closer, I thought, ‘I waited this long to have a baby. This will be very difficult to leave him with someone else,’ " Hirano said. "With the pace of the job and everything else, I couldn’t see myself functioning well in both worlds."
Giving up a career for a family is a major transition at any stage in life. But when career has been your main focus for so long, Hirano said, the change is even more dramatic.
"As much as they say older moms are more stable and they’ve already had their life and they don’t feel like they’ve missed out, it’s also a bigger adjustment," she said. "I felt very isolated the first year of his life. All of my friends were connected to work, and most of the moms I would see out were much younger. I had nothing in common with these moms. I felt like a lost soul."
Before she joined a support group in her church, Hirano had a hard time meeting moms who could relate to her.
Janet Bose, 43, said there’s a kind of disconnect with some of her friends who have teenage children. The Gilbert woman and her husband, Dan, 47, welcomed daughter Alexandria 22 months ago — and Jenna just two weeks ago.
"My support group, my peer group, is going through way different stuff," Bose said. "Their kids are getting driver’s licenses now. When I’m going through that with the girls, my friends will have forgotten that stuff."
The Boses sometimes worry about the future and how their age will affect the girls.
"Kids always talk at school, ‘How old is your mom? How old is your dad?’ We’ll be the older parents. I can remember always wishing my mom was younger, and she was 30 when she had me," Janet Bose said. "We will be further away from those teenage years, and I think things have changed so much. I think that part may be challenging."
But the Boses believe age shouldn’t play a role in choosing parenthood later in life — especially when it occurs naturally, without complications. Dan Bose, a marathoner, said he’s active enough to keep up with the girls and isn’t concerned about getting too old or dying while they still need him.
"I can get hit by a bus when I’m 25 as well as have something happen to me now," he said. "Age is relative, and if you let that guide the decision, you probably shouldn’t do it."
THE MATURE ADVANTAGE
Ursula Hursh of Scottsdale said being 45 is a parenting benefit.
"I think I have more patience. I was a lot smarter this time," said Hursh, whose first son, Ryan, is 25 and second, Brad, is almost 5.
"I appreciate him more and want to take everything slowly," she said. "With Ryan, it was ‘Hurry up and walk, hurry up and talk.’ Now I realize how fast they grow."
Hursh had trouble with her first pregnancy 21 years ago and didn’t think she would get pregnant again. One month before her 40th birthday, she had terrible morning sickness.
"I thought it was early menopause," Hursh said.
"I went though a lot of emotion. I’m in no relationship with the father, my parents are Old World European and I thought, ‘How do I tell my parents?’ But for whatever reason, no matter how poorly it came about, there must have been a reason."
Although there are daily struggles, Hursh does not see her age having a negative effect on her ability to parent now — or in the future.
"It’s more of an attitude thing. I feel a lot younger than my age," Hursh said. "It’s worth every moment."