I'M OUT OF the child-bearing game. They've retired my number. They've hung my jersey from the rafters, and I now have a job in the team's front office. I left behind records that will stand for generations.
But like many great athletes, I did not see the deterioration of my skills, and I had to be told my contract would not be renewed for a final season, that I'd lost a step. Maybe more than a step.
"Get over it," my doctor said to me when I expressed a desire for one more baby before quittin' time. "You know how old you are."
Apparently, that's not the kind of conversation they have at the University of Southern California, where they pioneered assisted fertility for menopausal women. When one of their patients turned out to be 63, the only surprise was that she wasn't 53.
When she was 13 weeks pregnant with a donor egg fertilized by her husband's sperm, she confessed that she'd lied about her age -- big time -- but it was too late to turn back.
A healthy baby girl was born last November by Caesarean section, and mother and baby are doing fine now that they've sold their story to the National Enquirer for an untold sum.
A byproduct of this birth to what may be the world's oldest mother was that gag writers for Letterman, Leno and Conan O'Brien were able to take long lunches last week, because monologues write themselves when you have material like this.
"Reportedly the baby's doing fine," said O'Brien, "although there has been some jealousy from [her] older brother, the retired school superintendent."
"Great chance to start 'Bring your Daughters to the Rest Home,' day," said Letterman.
"They can share large-print books," said my husband, who thinks he ought to be on late-night television instead of just watching it.
They weren't making jokes when Tony Randall became a dad at the age of 77. (When he said he wanted to have another right away, I thought, "Guess so.")
When a man becomes a father at the age most men are becoming grandfathers, everyone thinks it is a sign of virility.
When a woman becomes a mother past 40, everyone thinks it is gross. Apparently a man is a man forever, but a woman of a certain age becomes an empty husk.
(That old fossil Strom Thurmond was 66 when he married his second wife, a 22-year-old former beauty-contest winner, and he was older than the woman's father. They have four children together. I'm sorry, but that is gross.)
If women who do not want babies are considered unnatural and women who want them late in life are considered unnatural, you have to wonder who is writing the rule book. Is this like the movies? Under 17 not admitted without adult.
As a society we don't want teens to have babies, because they are too young to raise them, and we don't want older women to have babies, because they are too old to raise them.
If I'm writing the criteria for childbearing, age of the mother is not the first thing that I'm thinking about. Two emotionally mature parents, moderate family income and stable home life are way ahead of age on the list. Too many kids don't have these things for us to be worried about whether the mother lies about her age on her driver's license.
Truth be told, fathers do not fare well in this age-of-parent debate, either.
One of the reasons no one cares how old he is, is that nobody cares if he dies before the child is grown. Since the mother is presumed to be the primary care-giver, his early exit is not considered as devastating to the child as hers would be. As if children ask their dad's age before they will love him.
The birth of this child is one more example of how medical science and technology are pushing the boundaries of our presumptions, and the jokes of Letterman and Leno are a manifestation of our cultural discomfort. It bothers us that this 63-year-old woman does not fit into our stereotype of the energetic young mother in jeans and tennis shoes chasing after a toddler.
Because I understand this, I was tolerant of my husband as he followed me around the house making old-mother jokes at my expense. "Yeah," he said, snickering. "Can you imagine being a 70-year-old soccer mom?"
And I swallowed a smile when my daughter asked if he'd please use Grecian Formula on his beard and his remaining hair so she could have a young-looking dad.
Pub Date: 5/4/97