When American expat Cassie Destino decided she wanted kids in her 30s, little did she know it would be almost a decade before she got her wish. “Becoming a parent was the first time that it was completely out of my control – I could take the medications and go to the doctor’s office and spend the money, but there was no guarantee [fertility treatments] would work and for a long time they didn’t work. So when they finally did, it forced me to be really mindful and grateful, in a way that I hadn’t had to be in my life,” she tells Gulf News in an interview.
“I remember my 40th birthday; I had twin four-month-olds,” she recalls.
Destino, who works as a fertility doula in the UAE, says that she’s conscious of being an older mum but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I’ve always been very aware that I was an older mum and I think there are good things about that and bad things about that,” she explains.
“I was able to spend my 20s and 30s doing the things I wanted to do like getting my Master’s degree and working and travelling and not having to factor in child care … and that was the experience I wanted to have… My husband and I had two incomes and we lived in San Francisco, and we went out to dinner on a Tuesday night for no reason. We really enjoyed that life – we chose to become parents later, but we had had those things out of our system a little bit.
I was able to spend my 20s and 30s doing the things I wanted to do like getting my Master’s degree and working and travelling and not having to factor in child care ... we chose to become parents later, but we had had those things out of our system a little bit.
“On the flip side, we will be raising our children well past the age that some of our friends will. Some of our friends will send their children off to university when they are 40 years and they’ll be still young and they’ll be able to do those things at that age. We’ll still be raising our children well into our 50s before they go off to school. So there’s that give and take, but I do feel like I have gotten to have some interesting perspective on the world, and on who I am and who I want to be, that serves me well as a parent. It gives me the opportunity to pass on life experiences and values that I was able to develop because I wasn’t taking care of children when I was younger,” she says.
It also gave her some perspective on how she wanted to bring her children up. “I understand and have taken the time to understand more about childhood development [than I would have if I were younger].
“I think a lot of people raise children in our generation in a reaction to the way in which we were raised. I think a lot about my children that I am certain my parents never once thought about. So I am very interested in understanding what they are doing developmentally. And I have learnt that there is no point getting upset with a three-year-old child who is behaving in the way that three-year-old children are supposed to behave. I cannot expect a three-year-old to behave like a seven-year-old and pick up their rubbish and not throw a tantrum in public, because that’s just not what their brains can do. And that has made me more patient. I don’t know if that’s my age or maybe I have more of an interest in reading about these things and trying to understand them, trying to understand that I’m raising people - not my children but, like, people of the world. And I want them to be equipped with everything they can be – and I don’t know if I would have taken that time if I was younger, if it would have crossed my mind if I was younger.”
For Destino, the fact that she had a late pregnancy also meant that she wanted to be present in every moment. “I had twins when I was older so I knew from the moment they were born, I will not be having other children. I’m only going to be getting older – I already have two and I don’t want to go through that fertility stuff again. So I have known through every stage of my children’s life that this the only time that I will have a first birthday party, that I can watch them learn how to walk, that I don’t have another baby coming a few years down the road to, you know, do things differently because I learned the first time. This is it. And there is a grief to that – it feels like their childhood is going twice as fast. And because so much of it is a blur – that first year, all you are doing is feeding the baby, cleaning nappies, making bottles, you never stop and you don’t remember it really well. So I’ve always been very aware that I’ve got to hold on to this as much as I can and be present for this as much as I can, and that is not my nature.
Shift in focus
“So being a parent has really helped me narrow my focus on to these two people. I put a lot of the stuff I used to do aside, so that I can really focus on these people and when you do that at 40, that’s a long time to be with yourself and then changing gears like that. I think changing gears like that at 25, before you’ve really settled in your way might be a little easier – when you do it at 40, it’s a big shift. After years and years of being an autonomous adult to suddenly having these people was a big transition that was made bigger because I was older,” she explains.
We are all just raising our kids, in this culture that isn’t our own, which has its own set of challenges – I’m American, my husband is English, and we are raising our kids in Dubai, so that’s three cultures that we juggle in our house, and that’s what I think we talk most about when talking to our peers.
It hasn’t been strange though, she says, being an older parent – today, more and more women are having babies later in life. “I think in this generation, with this much fertility assistance out there, it’s becoming less and less unusual to have an older parent. When I was a kid in the 80s, if I was five years old and my friends’ parents were 45, that would have been really unusual, but in this day and age, I don’t think it’s that unusual to be older,” she says.
“It’s only when you start talking about you know, ‘gosh I remember that thing that happened in the 90s’, and someone will say, ‘oh I don’t remember that I was only a kid’ – I’ll be like, ‘oh! I was in college’. Then it’s very obvious. But I feel like when you are parenting, the thing you have in common with other parents is the act of parenting and in that sense we are all in it together. We are all just raising our kids, in this culture that isn’t our own, which has its own set of challenges – I’m American, my husband is English, and we are raising our kids in Dubai, so that’s three cultures that we juggle in our house, and that’s what I think we talk most about when talking to our peers.
“Once you have the kids, I think, we are all just in it together.”
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