Christi Lindh woke up on her 40th birthday and took stock of her life. After getting divorced at 30, she'd spent the last decade searching for a prince charming to settle down and have children. But now, with her 30s in her rearview mirror, Lindh asked herself what she'd like her life to look like in another 10 years. "I realised that, while a relationship would be great, if I turned 50 without having been a mother, I'd regret not having done something about it," she said. So Lindh, a senior marketing operations manager from Illinois, decided then and there to start researching adoption.
According to Nicole Witt, the executive director of The Adoption Consultancy, the age of first adoption in the U.S. has been steadily rising over the past three to five years. "It wasn't a dramatic change all at once," said Witt, who works as a kind of "adoption planner" at the consultancy, where she helps connect prospective parents with agencies and attorneys to aid in their process. "About five years ago, most clients were in their mid-to-late 30s. But more recently, that age range is becoming the minority, and more clients are coming in in their 40s."
As more and more women choose to enroll in college and join the workforce before having children or getting married, the average age of first marriage for females in the U.S. has climbed to 27, compared to 23 in 1990, according to Pew statistics. This is also correlated to women having babies later in life, which means that those who experience difficulty conceiving look into fertility treatments later, too. This is significant because, according to Witt, the majority of the adoptive parents who make up her clientele have already tried to get pregnant naturally or through IVF first.
"The age in which men and women are experiencing these milestones has shifted up," she said. "And most of these clients have tried other avenues before considering adoption."
"I knew that my baby didn't necessarily have to be my biological child."
That was the case for Julie Connolly, an executive assistant from Florida, whose first daughter was born when she was 41. "I met my husband at 35, after having dealt with an ectopic pregnancy in a previous relationship," she said. "I knew after that pregnancy that I'd likely have fertility issues." (Ectopic pregnancy is not always an indicator of future difficulty conceiving, though damage to fallopian tubes is possible.)
After Connolly and her husband married, and after unsuccessful attempts following that first pregnancy loss, she tried a round of natural cycle IVF (in which only one egg is harvested during ovulation). It was at a fertility clinic that she met Witt, who helped connect her with the birth mother of her two daughters.
"I was tired of waiting [for a child], so this seemed like a better option," Connolly said. Lindh, for her own reasons, agrees. "I had a man who offered to be a sperm donor, but the idea of pregnancy freaked me out a little," she said. "I knew that my baby didn't necessarily have to be my biological child, which is why adoption seemed more attractive."
Witt says that folks in their 40s tend to be more financially stable and more motivated to start a family than her younger clients, which makes them seem like ideal choices for birth mothers. But there is still a slight snag to this trend. "Birth mothers tend to be in their 20s, which means they tend to favour younger adoptive parents," Witt said. "They tend to want someone who is closer in age to them, because they usually look for parents who are similar to them and who they're comfortable with." According to an analysis of several studies, the majority of birth mothers who independently place their children for adoption are between the ages of 17 and 30.
Birth mothers who choose to can have a lot of say in the parents their children are eventually placed with. In fact, three years after Connolly adopted her first daughter, the birth mother reached out to let her and her husband know she was pregnant again, and to see whether they'd be interested in adopting that child, too. So, Connolly's two daughters are biologically related to each other, too.
The dichotomy of adoptive parents getting older, while birth mothers remain in a younger cohort, in Witt's estimation, could slow down the upward age trend at some point. "Because expectant moms do prefer younger parents, I don't see the [average] age of first adoption going much higher than mid-to-late 40s," she said. She also brought up the fact that as advances in fertility treatment continue, the dynamic of the entire adoption business can shift, limiting it more and more to families, like Lindh's, who see it as their first choice.
Even so, the fact that there are people choosing adoption in their 40s may be the canary in the coal mine, signaling that stigma surrounding older parents will start to wane. The more prevalent new parents in their 40s are, the more public opinion begins to shift. The good news is, these moms already know they've made the right decision for their families.
"My son is the best thing that has ever happened to me," Lindh said. "And being older has allowed me to be more comfortable with my decisions as a parent, which makes the whole situation pretty incredible."