Advanced Parental Age

By: Gregory Keer

A year-and-half ago, I wrote a column called "To Three or Not to Three." In it, I aired out the debate my wife and I had about having a third child. Wendy felt that she wouldn't be complete without kid number three. I was pretty much done at two and feared, among other worries, that I'd be stretched too thin if we went from "man-to-man defense" to "zone."

Well, my wife won out. I knew she would. She frequently (always) does. And she's often (definitely not always) right. She's the one to see the big picture, to recognize that the shorter-term pain is worth the lifelong gain. That's how I came to see her vision of our family life.

It did take time, though, to rise to Wendy's commitment level. Of course, the opportunity to have regular sex didn't hurt the decision to at least attempt conceiving. But I gradually became interested in baby names and the possibility of adding a daughter to our litter or another son to form a true boys club. After months of trying (with a couple of false positives mixed in), my wife emerged from the bathroom with that little blue line shouting out a definitive result. I felt excitement swell my chest, not to mention pride that the old man still had it.

Speaking of old, the issue of age is one of the new wrinkles we're dealing with in our third round of pregnancy. We didn't start our family till our early 30s, which seemed young to us in this modern era of working parents. Now that we're pushing 40, we've jumped to a different level. At our first important OB visit, there on the video monitor, just above the miraculous image of the tiny embryo was a label next to my wife's name Advanced Maternal Age.

As if our family expansion didn't have enough issues, now this machine was categorizing my wife as elderly. Maybe that's OK for medical students or insurance people, but it ain't OK with me. Nobody tells me that my wife is an "old mom." More importantly, what does that make me "Death-Risk Paternal Age"?

We're still reeling from the label and Wendy talks about how this baby's making her more tired than the first two did. I just think it's the weight of a life made more full by two kids, a mortgage, and a husband concerned that he'll be the odd one out once the baby comes. But what keeps us positive is our two sons, who will soon gain another teammate with which to terrorize us when they get older.

When Benjamin (our 6-year-old) learned he would be a big brother for the second time, he was over-the-moon. I'm not sure if his glee was enhanced by thinking he would catch up to his friends who had multiple siblings, or if he was thinking about the justice involved in knowing Jacob (2-1/2 years old) would have to contend with his own younger sibling. Whatever the reason, Benjamin has since settled into an old pro attitude, so secure with his position as the first-born that he doesn't talk to us much about the baby.

Instead, he talks to his friends. The other day, his buddy David asked him, "How did your mom get pregnant?" Benjamin shrugged and said, "It just happens. You can't control it." "How do you know she really is pregnant?" David went on. "You start to feel it tickling and you get sick," Benjamin reasoned.

Since he seems certain of how pregnancy works, we're letting him feel like a know-it-all for a while. It's Jacob who appears to be on less firm ground about being supplanted as the baby of the family. While he has played a little more with the doll and stroller he got last holiday season, he has also done a lot of climbing on Mommy's stomach, looking for a cuddle and a way to discount the bump in her belly. When asked how he'll feel once his sibling arrives, he said, with his nose scrunched up, "I want to fight the baby."

We're not worried that he'll perform jujitsu on the infant, but we're doing a lot to assure him that he'll still have lots of time with us and that he'll be able to teach the baby all he knows about favorite songs and somersaults.

While being a brother might be an involuntary mystery to Jacob, Wendy and I have chosen to be in the dark about at least one thing. After a couple of ultrasounds, including an astonishing (and a bit surreal) three-dimensional glimpse of our growing baby, we maintain our gender ignorance. As I said before, a girl would be nice and a boy would be wonderful too. But all we care about is a healthy child, especially now that we're of Advanced Parental Age. Despite all this mystery, much is very clear to me. Whether boy or girl, this child will be loved and entertained by an amazing mother, two funny and caring brothers, and a dad who's thrilled to have more content for his columns.

© 2004 Gregory Keer

Gregory Keer is a syndicated columnist, teacher, and on-air expert on fatherhood. His Family Man™ column appears in publications across the country, including L.A. Parent, Boston Parents' Paper, Bay Area Parent, Long Island Parenting News, Metro Augusta Parent, and Sydney's Child in Australia. Keer's concurrent column, Today's Family Man, is found at his online fatherhood magazine, He also writes for Parenting magazine, the Parents' Choice Foundation, and On television, Keer has appeared on morning shows and cable specials. He is the father of two (with one on the way) and husband to Wendy, a professor in child-development.

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