Psychologist Dr. Frieda Birnbaum is 70 years old and a grandmother. She also has a 17-year-old son and 10-year-old twins. She wrote a book about being a late-in-life mom, “Life Begins at 60: A New View on Motherhood, Marriage, and Reinventing Ourselves,” urging women not to push aside their dreams due to age.
And her story is more complex than tabloid fodder. Her parents were Holocaust survivors. She moved with them from Germany to the United States as a young girl in the 1940s. As a woman in the 1960s and 1970s, she fell into a common early Baby Boomer pattern: Get married, support your husband and have kids. While her husband attended law school, she put her dreams of becoming a psychologist aside and focused on raising their two children.

As they got older, she went back to school to earn her psychology degree. But something was missing. She wanted more children; she knew she had more to give as a mother. With her husband’s support, she underwent in-vitro fertilization to have a child at 53 and twin boys, Josh and Jarrett, at 60.

No big surprise: The decision attracted plenty of media attention and spurred interesting headlines, like “Confessions of a 69-Year-Old Soccer Mom.”

 

But Birnbaum didn’t do it for attention, she says. Instead, she says, women are living longer and staying active later in life. So why miss out on motherhood? She talked to JewishBoston about the complexities of being a later-in-life mother.

 

What was your impetus for having a second set of kids later in life?

 

There’s longevity in my family. I don’t think women at 60 are the same as they were years ago. I refuse to give in to what I’m “supposed” to be.

 

Dr. Frieda Birnbaum
Dr. Frieda Birnbaum

Talk about your “first motherhood.” What was your life like then?

 

I always felt, and other women of my era felt, that they wanted to have children later in order to fulfill their identity first. But I had put my husband through law school. The message I received was, “It’s not who you are, it’s who you are going to marry.” He came home with a degree, and where was I? I felt misplaced. When I was 26, I had a son. Four years later, I had a daughter at 30. It was time to have children: If you didn’t have children after four years of marriage, what was wrong with you?

 

I had children, but I wanted to fulfill what I could accomplish aside from being a mother, which is the most important thing you can do, if inclined to do it. On a personal level, I felt it was time to have children, and I was blessed and they’re wonderful kids. But I wanted more. So I went back to school for psychology.

 

What made you decide to have more children at 53?

 

In my 50s, I felt that having a child was something I could do a good job at. I now have a son who’s 17. I didn’t feel any older than the parents at school. I don’t think I look any older. Then, when I was 60, I underwent in-vitro fertilization and had beautiful twins. Look, I’m basically the same as I’ve always been. In fact, it’s easier for me now! When I was younger, I was frustrated. I didn’t know what to expect. I felt as if I was overwhelmed. When I got older, I wasn’t as intense. I was a calmer mother.

 

Weren’t you daunted by health concerns?

 

I had no medical interventions. Women today are in great shape. They’re not retiring and sitting in a rocking chair. And it’s more common now: People are getting married and having kids later. My oldest son is married, and this is natural for him. Men and women are doing the same things, nurturing and working. It makes more sense. People are living longer. Maybe I’m 10 years older than what’s considered acceptable. Being in your 60s hits a nerve. People say, “How will you run after them?!” But it’s never been a problem.

 

How have you dealt with the stigma of being an older parent?

 

Here’s a big lesson: When people tell you things, they have their own agenda. They’re coming from their own place. But really, when people find out when I had children later, I hear, “Oh, my grandmother had a child in her 50s!” At first, it was, “You’re kidding me!” But now it’s, “This is the best thing you could have done.” I have grandchildren now, too. They play with my children. It’s wonderful to see.

 

How has parenting changed for you the second time around? Are cultural expectations different?

 

There are way more middle-aged mothers! You don’t see mothers in their 20s in elementary schools. Now it’s all about playdates and helicopter parenting, which are new words to me. And a lot more homework. I say, leave them alone already! In some ways, fun is out and competition is in. If parents are overly involved, they miss out on playfulness. But when you get older, that’s what you seek out.