I agree with all of this, but one thing I haven't seen mentioned as much is her status as a role model for older mothers. She had her older son and daughter in her early 30s while working as an attorney, but after the death of her son Wade at age 16, she stepped back from her career, focusing her energies on the domestic sphere. Within four years, she had two more children: Emma Claire
and Jack, born when she was 48 and 50, respectively.
It used to be quite rare for women to have kids that late in life (although it has always happened; my stepmother's mother
gave birth to her last child at 47, in the years before any kind of reproductive technology).
These days, it's usually due to IVF and egg donation that such motherhood is possible. Although those processes are a blessing for those who use them, sometimes this kind of older motherhood makes people uncomfortable. Maybe it's because scientifically assisted motherhood seems to violate the laws of nature (even more than octogenarian daddies!), or maybe it's just because we tend to judge women more harshly than men. But like it or not, older motherhood is with us to stay.
In "Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood," scholar Elizabeth Gregory
writes about how longer life spans make later motherhood more possible and enjoyable for women. "In the past," she writes, "you basically had to have your children early because the likelihood was you'd be dead before you were 50." She also points out that while Elizabeth was nearing and in her 50s when her kids were born, her husband
, John Edwards, fathered his youngest child at 55 -- and nobody commented on that aspect of the story.
The double standard that judges older mothers far more harshly than older fathers may always be with us, but we can at least point it out, examine it and ask if it's truly fair. As Gregory writes in a Time Magazine article
about the Edwards children, "It's always a gamble, but it's like that for people at all ages."
The big worry, as stated in the article, is what happens to the kids (even though Elizabeth Edwards
stated clearly for years that they would be raised by their father after her death). There's always the fear that we'll die when our children are young, and statistically, it is slightly more likely that our kids might lose us too soon if we have them later in life. Yet there's nothing predictable about life, with or without kids. All we can do is be the best possible parents
we can be, both as caregivers and role models.
From what I can see, Elizabeth Edwards
did that. And if she learned anything in her life, so full of highs and lows, it is this: You can't predict the future; you can only prepare. As much as we worry about leaving our children behind when we die, sometimes they leave us first. Elizabeth Edwards
will be buried next to her late son, Wade, where I hope she will rest in great peace.