I'm Frequently Mistaken As My Child's Grandma

by Julie Raeburn
Originally Published: 
Julie Raeburn sitting on a bench next to her teen daughter, while holding her two-year-old child.
Courtesy of Julie Raeburn

What’s a 49-year-old mom doing with a two-year-old? That’s the question on everyone’s minds as I chase my toddler down the supermarket aisle, bring her to story time at the library, or take her to lunch at our local café. Although a bit unusual, having a baby in my late 40s (in my case, age 47) made me eligible for me an elite club. One that celebrity moms like supermodel Iman and Janet Jackson proudly belong to. I am one of a growing number of women who are breaking down barriers and having babies in their late 40s or early 50s.

It’s one thing to read about older moms in the tabloids. It’s quite another to come face to face with one. That’s what I found when taking my baby with me on errands. When leaving Costco one afternoon with my teenage daughter and my baby in tow, the clerk checking my receipt looked me straight in the eye and bluntly said: “Are you their grandma?” Stunned about what she asked, I simply said, “No.” She snapped back with a disbelieving “You’re not?” I politely said “no” again and kept walking.

On the ride home, I tried to be chatty and upbeat with my kids, but I felt uneasy and self-conscious. I started asking myself if I really looked old enough to be the grandma of a teenager. When I got home, I looked in the mirror, and I saw what the stranger saw. There were tiny lines around both of my eyes and a look of tiredness. Yes, getting up in the middle of the night to feed a baby and then waking up at 5 a.m. with a high schooler can definitely age you.

Courtesy of Julie Raeburn

In the weeks and months after that, I really started thinking about older moms. I knew I couldn’t be the only woman to give birth to a baby past the age of 45. I did my research and found solid proof. Birth rates have been declining for all women in the U.S. except those in their 40s. For women ages 45-49, birth rates rose by three percent from 2017 to 2018. During the same time period, the birth rate increased by two percent for women ages 40 to 44. And, if that’s the case, there will be more of us out and about, going to soccer practice, running errands and waiting in line for stuff.

There are lots of reasons why women are having babies at an older age. In my case, my daughter was a menopause baby. I had been seeing my gynecologist for hot flashes and other perimenopause symptoms for several years, and in the words I exclaimed to my daughter who asked if I could have just one more baby girl: “I’m too old to have babies.” (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.)

Other women I’ve met chose to focus on their careers or take time to travel in their 20s and 30s. Others didn’t marry or find true love until 40 or older and chose to delay having a baby until they could share it with a committed partner. Advances in fertility drugs and help from fertility specialists have helped many older women achieve their dream of becoming mothers.

Even though numbers have been rising, it is still very unusual to have a baby in your late 40s or early 50s. In 2018, there were just over 950 babies born in the U.S. to women ages 45 to 54. In contrast, there were more than 566,000 babies born to women ages 35 to 39.

Even if older moms are a minority, I think that as a society there should be some common etiquette or courtesy we follow. Most of us have been taught not to ask a woman if she is pregnant, because she may have just put on weight or not lost the baby weight yet. Why can’t we do the same in public if we are not sure if a woman is the real mom of a baby? True, she could be the mom, or she could be the grandma or the nanny. But why do we have to know, and is it really any of our business?

I have heard a lot of rude remarks from strangers when out in public with my little one. The most memorable one? “You’re too old to be playing with dolls.” This was from an elderly customer at the grocery store, who said this comment, not once but twice, as I was checking out at the register. The cashier said to her, “She heard you. She smiled at you.”

I smiled at her because, although I’m definitely not playing with dolls, I believe that kindness is more powerful than rudeness. Chuckling inside, I thought of the poopy diapers I change, the nursing I do at 3 a.m., and the vomit I clean off my clothes from the stomach bug. Yes, definitely more work than a Baby Alive doll. But, even still, there is a whole lot of play going on. I get to tickle my little one, hear her delightful giggles, chase her around the playground, and dance in the kitchen while listening to Baby Shark. At age 49, I also take myself a lot less seriously, and it is way more fun being a mom at this stage of life than it was 16 years ago with my first child.

The best part? The hugs and the cuddles I get from my little one keep me feeling young. And besides, I’m just not ready to be a grandma yet.

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