Meet Later Mom: Rachel Siegel
NAME: Rachel Siegel
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married
RESIDENCE: Great Barrington, MA
CHILDRENS NAMES/AGES: George, 4, Patrick, 1 1/2
I am an actor, writer, and audiobook narrator. Some stuff I feel proud of: my theatre work here and in the UK, my three episodes of Chappelle’s Show, but especially the comedy sketches I write, produce and perform myself. Here’s my Sound of Music one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmCasABEO6M and a little bit of me doing Kate Winslet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SRu2Vrevck
What was your road to parenthood like? Surprising at each turn. I got pregnant unexpectedly when my now husband and I had recently moved in but were unmarried. It was honestly the first time in my life I was not absolutely scrupulously careful about birth control. (Can’t say the same about adverbs.) I was only 34 but felt like an irresponsible teenager– I took sex ed, I knew you could get pregnant the first time you were not careful, how did this happen?? When I went to the doctor and they wrote “AMA—for Advanced Maternal Age” on my chart, because I would be just 35 when the baby was born, I laughed out loud.
The second time was another, very different challenge. We found out through a quad screening and then amniocentesis that our son had Down syndrome. We chose him, and had a beautiful, robustly healthy boy, born by surprise on our vacation on Cape Cod!
What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? I had major baby lust when I was 22. I was in absolutely no place to have a child, but I was very close to some children I took care of, and I remember wanting a child terribly. I think sometimes, now, what that would have been like. And I think it would be great to not feel so tired, to have my kids independent soon and a new life beginning for me in my early 40s. And then I think, missing everything I did in my 20s and 30s??? Unimaginable. I’ve had fun and sowed some wild oats. I’ve traveled, gone to graduate school, had different kinds of relationships, done interesting work, made plenty of mistakes. I like to think my kids get the benefit of both my successes and my missteps. I can’t not mention my husband here– there is no question that our stable relationship is the foundation of my kids’ life, and there is no way I would have been able to sustain a solid relationship when I was in my 20s. But I feel tired and ANCIENT some days, and I know my older husband does. When I fantasized about myself as a mom when I was younger, I was the super fun, energetic mom swimming in mountain lakes with my kids and spending rainy afternoons creating paper doll civilizations. It wasn’t a picture of me lying on the couch planning what I was going to eat after I put my kids to bed, which I am embarrassed to say is often the case. But that might have happened at 25 too.
I also feel very very grateful they both came along; being a mother is never guaranteed, and as you get older you begin to wonder if you will get to be a mom. I have a friend who says that each of your kids is here to teach you something particular, and I really believe that. I might have had the benefit of those teachings earlier, but I am not sure I would have been mature enough to really take them in the way I do now.
Has anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what? What do you love the most about it? I love that there are these little people in the world I helped create, people who I get to get to know and to help into the world. I especially love everything about kid world—their crazy imaginations, their weird interests and the funny stuff they say. I know volumes more about construction equipment now than I ever would have discovered on my own. They are the best creative inspiration for a writer, and that includes my younger son, who is mostly non-verbal at this stage. And I am surprised by how hard it is. I spent a lot of time with children when I was younger but man, is it different when they’re yours. I was totally confident I was going to kick ass at parenting, but I find myself confronting parts of myself that are not so nice sometimes, and it can be hard to work through that with yourself, and with your kid. I don’t think I would have had that ultimately pretty useful confrontation with myself without having children.
Can you share a funny or AHA parenting moment with our readers? Hmm, so many. One that stands out as a bittersweet, sad/tender moment was right after my second son was born. I was putting my older son to bed. He was two and a half at the time. He was very jealous about the baby’s breastfeeding and was generally having a hard time with the adjustment to having a new baby brother. We were cuddling, and he pretended to nurse and then suddenly bit my nipple. I cried out in pain, as many will remember your nipples are incredibly tender when nursing a newborn. He felt so bad, he started crying too. And then we cried and held each other, and I could feel so clearly how he was feeling—how confused and sad he was to not have our exclusive attention, how much he wanted to be the baby, and how angry he was that he wasn’t anymore. I felt very close to him in that moment. It still chokes me up to think about it.
What do you most want to teach your children? Kindness, empathy, the value of hard work, good manners, the importance of a sense of humor. Faith. Resilience. In no particular order.
What do your children think of your work? It’s hard to say exactly. My older son thinks I work at some mysterious chore occasionally from a writing office I gave up eight months ago. Every time we pass it he says, “That’s your office, Mama!” I have given up telling him I no longer work there. When I ask him what mommy does, he says, “Cook!” and he’s not wrong about that.
What influence, if any, has your own mother or father had in your life and in your parenting? Enormous. I do think that on some level, parenting is an exercise in dialogue between your parents and your own adult mind. I often feel that I am bouncing between what they would do and what my instincts say to do. There are things I always thought I would do differently, and I suppose I do, but motherhood has given me such an appreciation for my own mother, what she did, what she continues to do. I try to be like her–her patience, and self-sacrifice, and the way she was invested in what we were invested in are big models for me.
Where do you turn for support as a mom? How important is it to connect with mom peers? How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later families? I have one very good friend I’ve known a long time with a child who is my son’s very good friend. We are big and important supports for each other, and I can’t imagine this journey without her. We are both creative types and had kids after careers, so much of what we talk about is that balance, and we have really helped each other with it. There are lots of other friends, new and old, I see on playdates and at school and with whom I share a lot of the nitty gritty of child-rearing, school, etc. I have other good friends with kids, but they live far away, so we don’t share as much of this journey together, which makes me sad. This can be the challenge: geographical proximity becomes hugely important when you’re a mom, because you cease to be mobile the way you were when you were single. I feel very grateful for the new local friends I’ve made through having kids, and they are great. Though it’s true what people say: you never make friends again the way you did in school and college. So the friendship based on having kids the same age or kids who are friends has a different quality than a friendship based on finding each other as individuals in the world.
As for Motherhood Later, it is wonderful for parents with things in common to have a forum to find each other and connect. I have experienced this very powerfully with the DS community. Because there are so few children with DS in my area—not one within two years of my son’s age within an hour’s radius—the web is really where I find connection and support. Parenting is an isolating prospect at the best of times and we all need connection and support.
What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? Well, I realize this might be one that people have different feelings about, and it gets into hot button political territory too, but it’s my experience, so I am going to go there. I know that many older women are scared of having a child with Down syndrome or another disability the risk of which increases as you age. Down syndrome is often cited as the single greatest “risk” women face who conceive in their later years. (Though the rates of children born with DS are actually higher to women under 35, because their fertility rates are higher.) The medical community translates a DS diagnosis into a lot of negativity and fear in many cases, often based on outdated information—he’ll have health problems, he’ll walk late, he won’t speak— none of which has been true thus far in our case. I understand not everyone feels able to care for a child with a disability, which is a lifelong responsibility. But truly, all parenting is a huge challenge and forces you to accept your kids for exactly who they are (and it’s also a lifelong responsibility). With a child with something like DS, it is just a question of degree. My younger son is easier in some ways than my older son and in other ways more challenging. But I will say that the choice to accept him into our lives has felt like the most right choice of my life. After living a life focused on achievement and external reward, loving my son feels like a gift of a very deep kind. The love he returns is so pure and so unconditional, and it’s brought a very expanded consciousness to our whole family. I would even say it’s rippled out into our extended family and community.
Additionally– life for children with DS has never been better, and children growing up now with Early Intervention services and inclusive education programs have excellent prospects to go to college, work at real jobs, get married, and have real, fulfilling lives.
When you became a mom, did your own mother or father share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated? My parents aren’t ones for passing wisdom on. But I did realize a lot of the values they subtly or not instilled in my sister and me once I had children. I think my mother’s religious faith and her general positive outlook on life has been a guidepost in difficult times, and especially in our journey with our son with Down syndrome. She is really the most achievement-oriented person among the four grandparents, a very driven person, and I could see that his diagnosis was difficult for her—this was not how she imagined her daughter’s life or her grandchild. But she turned around in characteristic positive fashion and loved him instantly, and has supported me enormously with Patrick, always remaining positive about him and his abilities, and giving help and advice about his therapy and his health when I’ve asked for it. She is one of his favorite people, and it always touches me to see how accepting and loving she is of him, how she is the first to celebrate his every triumph.