Mother and Daughter in the Delivery Room

Mother and Daughter in the Delivery Room

Dr. Chana Katan, senior gynecologist, Rebbetzin, and mother to 13 children, has just published a true page-turner written with sensitivity and humor about her decades spent working with women at various stages of life, mixed with her own personal reflections about her experiences as a mother and grandmother of a large family called Woman’s Life: A Personal and Medical Perspective (Beit El, in Hebrew).

In this book, Dr. Katan explains that one of the hardest stages of life for many of her patients takes place when they are in their 40s or even 50s, and they need to rethink their role—making the transition between being a mother of babies and young children to their new role as a mother of older children and grandchildren. I turned 40 this past winter, so I read this section with much interest…

The following is an excerpt from “Woman’s Life”:

The time is 8:30 AM. Our staff meeting has just ended. The Maternity Ward is filled to capacity, and I set off for the morning rounds.

Room 701. A young mother who has just given birth is sitting on her bed, which is already made in preparation for her discharge home today with her new baby, and she is shaking with sobs. She tells me with a choked voice that she cannot possibly be discharged today; she has nowhere to go with her baby because her mother gave birth several hours before at a different hospital, and therefore she cannot go to her parents’ home in order to rest up after the birth. What’s she going to do?

I suggest to her to spend several days at the Recovery House for Mothers; there she will certainly meet her mother and newborn sister…

Room 713. In this room a mother and her daughter lie side by side—both of them have just given birth.

Room 603. Gynecology Ward. A 42-year-old woman has just been admitted with massive bleeding resulting from a miscarriage in her 15th week of pregnancy and she is sobbing—in several hours her oldest daughter will be getting married.

I complete my rounds and go out to the hall between the Maternity and Gynecology Wards. A woman who is around 50 years old approaches me, and she presents herself as the mother of one of the women on the Maternity Ward. She pleads with me that she needs to speak with me about something extremely urgent. I stop for a moment, and she tells me that she was so moved by her daughter’s birth the night before—and now she feels that she must, urgently, experience another pregnancy. When can she come to my clinic for fertility treatments?

At my clinic that afternoon. A woman who is around 40, in the late stages of pregnancy, comes into my office with her 18-year-old daughter in order to receive pills to set the date of the daughter’s wedding. And I should also take one important factor into account—the mother’s due date…

The 50-year-old woman from the morning has arrived at my clinic without an appointment, to receive a fertility treatment immediately. And again she tells me: “Doctor, I saw my daughter nursing her son—and I felt an urgent need to nurse a baby, I miss that so much, I haven’t had a baby in 5 years, can you please help me to return to those experiences of pregnancy and nursing?”

I attempted to speak with her about the beauty of her age, about her current mission in life—to be a grandmother to an entire tribe and channeling her maternal strengths to assisting her daughter.

I hope that some of the words I said made sense to her, and helped to make some order in her stormy spirit.
JewishMOM, what are your thoughts on the benefits/drawbacks of late motherhood?

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21 comments

  1. Daniella

    I’m a spring chicken myself (Number Three is almost two months old and I’m only 25…), but the last pregnancy was really tough on me and I’m not sure my body will be up to carrying pregnancies in another 15-20 years… I think it can be a wonderful thing for a family, if the mother feels up to it. The first few years can be really tough, but you know, when you have older kids around to help out, that makes it easier–and it’s a wonderful experience for them, learning to care for and nurture their younger siblings.

    Basically, I think it can be wonderful, but it really depends on the mother’s capabilities and the needs of her particular family. My heart goes out to the 50-year-old woman in this story. There is something so beautiful about giving birth and breastfeeding, that totality of the nurturing of a newborn, and I know I’m going to miss it a lot when I “close up the stand” as they say in Hebrew. Still, if you’re not fertile anymore, your body is telling you something…

  2. “At my clinic that afternoon. A woman who is around 40, in the late stages of pregnancy, comes into my office with her 18-year-old daughter in order to receive pills to set the date of the daughter’s wedding. And I should also take one important factor into account—the mother’s due date…”

    Since when are pills are a prerequsite for setting a wedding date?

    • Amanda Elkohen

      the pills are hormones to prevent a chuppat nidda.

      • JewishMom

        yep, this is correct, dr. katan has a chapter about this earlier on in the book

  3. my story “4 Babies after 40” was posted here about a year ago, and i encourage everyone to revisit it.
    http://jewishmom.com/2011/06/21/having-4-babies-after-40-tamar-stones-story/
    the point of my post was that we don’t know what Hashem has in mind for us. as an older mother, i was not in the category of this excerpt, where women want to continue having babies because they don’t want to start looking for a new way of feeling fulfilled/useful at mid-life. believe me, as a psychologist, i have been well aware of the need to always move forward and engage in each stage of life. so, my personal plans for mid-life career/role changes have had to be put off as Hashem has seen fit to make me stay in the current role of being Mommy to Babies when other women my age are having to take on new roles.

    The main point i want to stress is that we have to make peace with whatever place we are in. Only by dropping the urge to argue/fight/complain about our current role will we be free to see the beauty and joy of our current situations. and that freedom then allows us to move forward and grow. perhaps that direction is not what we originally envisioned, but it is what Hashem knows is right for us. so, put down the boxing gloves, ladies, and enjoy the experience.

  4. oh, chana jenny, i just reread the article and noticed your question at the bottom. what are the benefits/drawbacks of late motherhood?

    well first, the benefit of being older is that now i can consider myself an expert in babycare. i am more experienced than many of the so-called experts, so i feel confident in my mothering skills. i don’t get frazzled over things i know from experience are in the range of normal. and i can finally sit back and really enjoy my baby as she reaches and passes her milestones.
    (this is a variation on a theme that Rishe Deitsch once introduced when being interviewed for a television program about having large families. thanks, Rishe!)

    drawback? at the last well-baby viist, my baby was howling heartily at the insult of having an immunization. i commented that both my babies born in my older age (ages 46 and 49) are my loudest kids. i took it as proof that Hashem truly is in charge of the details; because He knew that an older Mommy’s hearing isn’t so good, he provided the later babies with louder voices….

  5. Shulamis

    Please let us know if and when this book gets translated into English!

  6. chana jenny please, can you explain to me how can a woman work hard as a gynecologist and raise 13 children at the same time?

    • JewishMom

      it’s almost impossible, and she has many regrets (which she discusses in the book) about the fact that she missed much of her children’s childhoods. She definitely tells her own daughters not to follow in her footsteps…I think maybe being a gynecologist in a clinic is more manageable with children, but working in a hospital as a mother sounds like a nightmare (maybe next week I’ll translate what she writes about this, it’s very powerful).

      • thank you, because i have a friend with 11 children and its already a more than full time occupation!!!

  7. This was a beautiful article, except for that 50 year old woman asking for fertility treatments on a whim. She sounded like my daughter asking for a lollipop because she saw the neighbor licking one. Please! There’s a time and place for everything!

  8. My husband’s parents had children in their later years. As grandparents to our children, they are not really available. My mother-in-law is so busy with her teens and 11 year old, they just lead an entire separate life than us. They aren’t always there when we need them, they are not that excited to see our children, as they have many of their own. They help when they can, but it’s not like a grandparent help, it’s like, “Ok if you need us, since we’re family, we are there for you.”

    In contrast, my parents’ youngest child is in his twenties, got married this past year. My parents are the ultimate grandparents. They love each and every one of my children, even when I have 5 other siblings with children of their own. They have pictures of their grandkids everywhere, and they call all the time. They just live to see their grandchildren, not too busy with their own lives anymore.

    • My mother-in-law was a great help. She had small children when I did, so whenever we came over the kids played together. She knew which toys and baby stuff were the best. It worked both ways because her small kids came to play at my home, and later spent many summers in my home too.

    • if Hashem decided that there is a time that we are not fertile anymore, we should have the emuna to understand that we have other things to do….like taking care of our older children!
      Mi Achir, Hasameah be Helko!! we should rejoice in our lot of kids!!

  9. I would love to hear from one of her children- about what it was to grow up with that kind of a mom.

  10. I am the oldest of seven ranging in age from 22 (me) to 4 months old. I am also expecting my second baby one week after my first born’s first birthday.
    One of the nice things about my mom having babies at a later age is that we can go through many of the new mom stuff together, like not always being able to go to parties or get-togethers or having to leave early when we do get to go, also having a “nursing partner”, someone to talk to while I nurse my baby for what seems like hours. Also her understanding of the lack of sleep mothers get with new babies (something that many people seem to forget).
    The only drawback for me (she might have others) is that because she had toddlers at home, she wasn’t in a position to come and help me during my recovery, I know she was disappointed that she missed out on that family tradition.
    Even with the the drawback(s) I can’t imagine life without any of my little brothers, and am so glad my parents decided to leave their family size up to HaShem. They are also incredibly understanding and supportive of our close together pregnancies.

    • Julia's Mom

      You are very sweet and understanding, Julia! It IS hard to be between two seasons of life. My time is not my own and I am not as available to my daughter and her children as I’d like, that is true. Her mother-in-law takes a more traditional Grandmother role. And that’s okay. HaShem gave us these children so how could I possibly regret having them in my 40’s?
      A woman’s child bearing years are not over simply because her daughter has reached her own child bearing season. Our society has put that idea in our heads, not HaShem. I definitely look forward to buying the book when it is translated into English!

  11. I think these stories are a little odd. I agree with previous posters who say that people need to be realistic about their age and not want to carry babies like they did 20 years earlier – if their current task is to be grandmothers… or just simply to move on…

  12. One should also Think of the future, if havibg a baby at 50 means marrying them off when they are 70. hashem senda infertelity at an age for a reaaon but whole we can we should have lota of kids im 22 and just has my 3rd last week! Bh

  13. It is so interesting reading the posts and seeing how so many women view this as a positive article when I had the opposite reaction. I felt there is a time for everything and it seemed too much for everyone when the mother was having a baby with her daughter. How can she be an excited grandmother when coping with motherhood herself? It seems almost unfair for her other children. In any event, I enjoyed reading the positive reactions you all had as well for some other perspective

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