Happy Aging is a unique series focused on how to help you age well. These stories have been created in cooperation with AARP and Word In Black.
Celebrities have shown us that there is no traditional age to have children. At 50 years old, Naomi Campbell welcomed her daughter into the world. So did Janet Jackson. At age 48, Angela Bassett had twins through surrogacy. Fertility rates among Black women have changed dramatically over the years. The number of pregnant Black women aged 40 to 44 increased between 1990 and 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Motherhood later in life comes with serious considerations.
At 47, Deborah Douglas proclaimed that she did not want children. Now, at 55, the author and Director of Medill’s Midwest Solutions Journalism Hub’s thoughts have evolved.
WIB: Let’s start with this article you wrote back in 2018. You talk about fears driving why you did not want to have kids. Fear of “not having money,” fear of putting your body in a “state of pregnancy,” wanting to avoid being a statistic. Do you want children now?
Douglas: Well, I’m 55, so I can’t have children now. That’s not a possibility. I’d love children, though. And I believe that children love me.
WIB: You cannot have children – what do you mean?
Douglas: Well, I’m deep into menopause.
WIB: Would you consider other options?
Douglas: No. I still have the same considerations at this point. I’m obsessed with having the resources to retire. But, you know, you can’t really control anything, so I don’t know. At this point, if some little person was in my orbit and they needed me, I don’t know I would say no.
WIB: Going back to this question about resources, you wrote that the “American way of living doesn’t really support families beyond a few tax breaks.” Do you still believe that now?
Douglas: I don’t think that any of what our leaders, our elected officials say about supporting families or families being the bedrock of American society, I don’t think they believe any of that, and I don’t think that we have systems that actually support the ability of families to live and drive. And when it comes to marginalized communities, or people being at the intersection of many identities – be it gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, we definitely don’t have the support to have strong driving families and, to the extent that we do, it’s because of the institutions that we build and feed into and it’s because of our value systems, but it’s not because we’re in some sort of social or political context that actually supports that. Because we wouldn’t be the richest country on earth and have so many poor outcomes related to maternal mortality or infant mortality or just basic lifestyle issues like work-life balance.
WIB: What would be the solution for someone like you who believes everything you say and still desires to flourish?
Douglas: Well, I want to be clear that I’m not the same person now that I was when I wrote that piece. That particular year was a year of brokenness for me, which sent me on that odyssey of internal excavation, and I’ve just been observing and meeting all kinds of interesting people, especially other women and, in particular, Black women who are operating through a liberatory lens. So I admit then that I was gripped by fear, but I don’t think that fear should drive you. All of the thought leaders and wise women that are in my orbit – I’m seeing that we should be striving at all times to achieve our highest metaphorical potential and that I fully believe right now that if the system doesn’t work for you, that we should change it so the system can work. I think I grew up at a time where we thought we would figure out a way to play nice and integrate and soften edges and fold ourselves into tightly wound knots in order to matriculate and fit in with the system, and now I fully believe that systems need to be deconstructed and rebuilt to serve all of us.
WIB: Do you want to bring a child into this world?
Douglas: That’s not something I think about.
WIB: You’re describing very worldly things, like systems. Would you want to bring a child or raise a child – rear a child – in this society, in this world?
Douglas: That’s a different question. I still don’t trust the medical industrial complex. I still would worry about being fully regarded in my humanity as a Black woman. I was the first generation of students that went to heavily integrated schools, schools that were being integrated by he for the very first time, and I know what it feels like when you’re in a classroom where your white teacher never thought they would teach you and they don’t necessarily want to teach you or they can’t embrace you in the fullness of your vision for yourself. If I had a kid, I would help my kid navigate through that. I often thought when I was younger that I would be that parent that was always up at the school.
WIB: Do you feel that you’re a mother now?
Douglas: I have nurturing tendencies. Laughs.
WIB: You mention being pregnant before – your body going through that process. In what way does motherhood or an expression of motherhood manifest itself in your life now or in the future – children aside?
Douglas: I think that the destination for me always is love and joy. Anytime I can make an individual, especially a child, feel seen and regarded to feel the heat of my warmth and to know that I’m tapped into them and really care about their being and their self expression, to me that’s how I nurture people.
Find more information from AARP here about child rearing over age 50.