March 2012 Profile: Shannon Guggenheim
Relationship Status: Married
Residence: Campbell, CA
Children’s Names/Ages: Lily (9) and Ally (4)
Profession: I never know what to write in the “occupation” blank on the dentist or eye doctor forms because, like most people doing their best to make a living in the performing arts, I wear a lot of hats to make ends meet. In my perfect world, I’d write “Professional Actor/Playwright,” since most weekends of the year, I’m on stage as an actor at The Retro Dome (www.theretrodome.com) in San Jose, CA. However, acting doesn’t pay the bills, so my performing arts career is supplemented with my role as Producer/Marketing Director for the company, along with graphic designer, teacher, and host, as well as on a contract basis for other Bay Area companies, like designing and implementing the award-winning annual “Retail Star” incubator program for Madison Marquette.
Q: You had your second child at age 35. Did it feel any different being a bit older as a mom compared to our first child? How so?
A: I was very surprised by how differently my doctor and the OB nurses treated me during my second pregnancy as compared to my first. I didn’t feel any different at 35 from 30 so it was strange to have so many extra tests and procedures simply because I’d enter this magically 35th year.
As for life with a newborn at age 35, well, ours is a very different story from most moms because our second born was delivered after a very normal pregnancy via emergency c-section and immediately admitted to the NICU for six weeks. The cause of the oxygen deprivation she suffered in utero is still undetermined, but she has since been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and, although unrelated to her brain injury, Cystic Fibrosis.
Fortunately, 35 is the new 25, so I’m able to keep up with the terribly grueling schedule of managing Ally’s medical needs and specialized child care without feeling too taxed.
Q: What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? (Please share both)
A: “If I knew then what I know now…” – pretty common mantra for moms of two kids, especially when you have your second as a “seasoned” adult. I often think of how much I overreacted to situations at 30 that simply don’t concern me at 40. I also notice how much more patient I am with my in-laws. I know many, many moms have issues with their in-laws, and I was guilty as charged with my firstborn, but with age comes wisdom, perspective and tolerance. I realized that their input, their techniques, their contributions – my children are wonderful because of it, not in spite of it. I don’t know that I’d ever have been able to be appreciative of that as a younger mom.
The most challenging part about being a mom over 35? Looking toward my 50s and 60s and wondering who will care for my children in the event that my health or my husband’s might decline leaving my kids in their 20s to fend for themselves or to be burdened by the care of their parents, instead of enjoying their young adulthood.
Q: anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what? What do you love the most about it?
A: I am surprised by how concerned I was at 30 about what kind of stroller we had, whether our daughter’s clothes were cute enough, if I was carrying the “right” diaper bag, compared to how I view those “important” things today. The big box baby stores do a great job at making new parents feel like if they don’t have the best of everything for their baby, they’ll be cheated out of the romance of pregnancy and childrearing. In the end, though, not enough emphasis is placed on enjoying the miracle of your pregnancy (in an age when so many moms are miscarrying), reveling in the miracle of an uncomplicated delivery (in an age when too many moms and babies suffer) and then rejoicing in the miracle of seeing your child function typically in a world that doesn’t readily support families with disabled children.
I don’t want every new mom to have to experience life with a disabled child to appreciate how lucky they are to have a typically developing child, but it certainly gives you perspective. On those days when you’re yelling at your kid for running in the mall, moms like me watch you and wish our child could hold up her head, let alone crawl or walk or run. On the days that your children are arguing in the car about a toy, moms like me watch and wish our child had a sibling that could reach for the toy, let alone steal it or communicate to argue with her sibling. The trick for us moms of disabled kids, though, is to not judge those moms – not feel bitter that they have something we don’t. We just want all moms and dads, of every age, to understand what a gift it is to have a healthy, able child, whether or not he can sit still at the dinner table or writes on the walls.
Q: What do you most want to teach your children? What have you learned from them thus far?
A: In our case, Ally does the teaching. Ally has taught everyone in our family – grandparents and sibling, uncles and cousins – that in nearly every aspect of our society, we have our priorities wrong. Instead of working internally in our families to teach patience, tolerance and a judgment-free life, we are cultivating a society that celebrates Kardashian kitsch. We see Ally and her angelic face, her innocent smile, and her completely incapable brain and body and know she is here to teach us to focus on what is important, to regard everyone as valuable without judgment, to make the world a better place, rather than perpetuate choices that devalue our society.
Q: What does your family think of your work?
A: It’s a family business through and through. Lily (our oldest) is completely invested and has already asked, “If you die, can I pick the movies for The Retro Dome?” She’s completely invested, as are our parents who work tirelessly with us to keep our business open in this challenging economic time.
Q: What influence, if any, has your own mother or father had in your life and in your parenting?
A: My mom and dad’s greatest bit of advice was to make sure we include our kids in our life rather than make life all about them. It was easy in those first two years of having two kids, one with severe special needs, to make it all about them. That wasn’t helping anyone and would ultimately give our kids the impression that everything revolves around them. Now, thanks to my folks, we are living a more balanced life, where our kids are “in our life”, rather than “life.”
Q: Where do you turn for support as a mom? How important is to connect with mom peers? Do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later families?
A: We were very lucky to stay connected to four other families that were in our birthing class from our first pregnancy. We met once a month for a year, then every other month for a couple of years and now that the kids are 9 with busier schedules (and we’ve all moved away from our original community), we still meet annually. It’s great to get together with people who have the same perspective on raising a 9 year old. Similarly, I have an online community of moms of kids with special needs to bounce ideas and concerns off of.