Birth of a 21st century phenomenon: Becoming a mother in midlife

By JudieJacobson | Jewish Ledger | June 25, 2014

Cyma Shapiro was 46 when she decided to adopt a child. She had helped raise her husbandís two children from a previous marriage, now grown, and was ready for another round.

Shapiro and her husband traveled to Russia to adopt a one-year-old girl and returned there two years later to adopt a boy. She discovered The Maternal Is Political, an anthology of essays by mothers on the connection between motherhood and social change. Little did Shapiro know, the very act of becoming a mother would turn her into an activist.

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'Mothering in the Middle' offers stories, support for becoming mom at 40

By Kathryn Roy | The Republican | May 22, 2014

"Mothering in the Middle," a presentation and conversation about women who become mothers in midlife, will be given May 28, at 7 p.m. at Forbes Library, by Cyma Shapiro, who compiled and collected the essays in "The ZEN of Midlife Mothering"

Shapiro, who became a mother again through adoption, at age 46 and 48, has spent the last five years putting a voice and a face to the growing number of women who become mothers after 40.

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Exhibit on Choosing Motherhood Beyond Age 40 at JCC

By The Longmeadow Newsroom | The Longmeadow News | November 21, 2013

A photo and story exhibit on Women choosing Motherhood Beyond the Age of 40 is at the Springfield JCC through Dec. 12, 2013. NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers — the first art gallery show dedicated to presenting women choosing motherhood over 40. It is now traveling North America.

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Scotch Plains JCC focuses on motherhood during October

By Suburban News | | September 24, 2013

Beginning Wednesday, Oct. 2, Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothers photo exhibit will be on display at the JCC, 1391 Martine Ave. in Scotch Plains. There will be an opening breakfast reception in the JCC café that morning at 9 a.m.

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'Nurture' looks at women 40 and older who embrace new motherhood

By Vicki Larson | Marin Independent Journal | July 2, 2013

CYMA SHAPIRO HAS seen the future of motherhood and it looks a lot like her — middle-aged.

In 2004, at age 46, Shapiro and her husband adopted the first of two 1-year-olds from Russia, making Shapiro one of the growing number of women in the United States who are becoming mothers for the first time after age 40. Two years later, they adopted again.

But while Shapiro saw the adoptions as just adding two more people to their extended family — she helped raise her husband's two children from a previous marriage — she experienced conflicting responses from family and friends, including jealousy and incredulity.

She felt alone. So she sought out other older new moms to share stories, and enlisted photographers on both coasts, Shana Sureck and Tracy Cianflone — midlife moms themselves — to take their family portraits. The result is "Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothers," a traveling exhibit of black-and-white photographs and the words of 25 mothers aged 41 to 65 and their children. The exhibit is at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael through Sept. 2.

"I feel this is the newest chapter in the women's movement and I absolutely feel that this is the zeitgeist of the times," says the 55-year-old resident of West Hartford, Conn. "The relaxation of family models in our family society, the breakthroughs in medical technology and the socioeconomic freedoms women have to pursue life choices that previous generations did not; from those perspectives, I'm fiercely determined to etch out a pathway for younger generations to follow, if they choose."

Shapiro talked to 58 women from differing socioeconomic classes, faiths and ethnicities, from single moms to married moms, lesbians to heteros. They came to motherhood by natural childbirth, IVF, guardianship, fostering, adoption, surrogacy or blending stepfamilies.

"I want women to say, 'This is me' or 'This could be me,' or 'I know someone and now I understand better her choices," she says.

Many went through incredible lengths to become Mom.

"One of the women in the show went through 13 inseminations and a handful of miscarriages. A good number blew through tens of thousands of dollars," she says. "It is absolutely stunning."

Shapiro hopes her exhibit busts apart societal myths of women and middle age. Because women are marrying later and living longer, fewer are choosing motherhood in their 20s. White birth rates are falling for women 30 and younger, first-birth rates in 2010 rose for women 40 to 44 and for women 50 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While she wants to "provide a voice, face and forum" for midlife moms and younger women who may chose to follow them, it's gone beyond that.

"I really do feel like I'm emerging almost as an activist. That wasn't the intent, but it's surely been a byproduct," says Shapiro, a former journalist.

Still, Shapiro doesn't want to paint an unrealistic picture of being menopausal while also deep in diapers. Midlife mothering has its unique challenges.

"We are dealing with aging and dying parents, we are dealing with hormonal issues; our younger sisters are not," says Shapiro, whose children are now 8 and 10. "Now that I'm in my 50s I do feel a sense of responsibility in delineating the pitfalls. The positives are many, but the pitfalls are the emotional and psychological and hormonal changes we're all going through."

Retirement plans go out the window, and instead of reinventing themselves by starting new careers or going back to college, "our reinvention is our children," she notes.

It's a blessed reinvention, or so the mothers featured in the exhibit say.

"What I wanted to be in life was the mother of my husband's children," writes Fay Johnson, 63, who used a surrogate with her husband's sperm to become mom to Lily, now 20, and Chase, 16. "I am absolutely delighted and passionately grateful that I lived in a time in history when this was possible."

"I had to be slowly convinced that everything would be OK," writes Shea, 52, who is raising 6- and 10-year-olds with her partner, Ellen. "Having my children now, I wonder why I took so long to decide. I now have such a rich life."

Shapiro hopes more than anything that "Nurture" sparks a dialog; the societal shift has already happened.

"What I learned from all these women, and from some of my friends, is that there were so many secrets and lies. There was so much shame surrounding the length to which these women have tried and failed to achieve motherhood," she says. "I found out after our children were adopted, how many of my own friends had not shared the truth of their mothering lives with me. Miscarriages, disappointments in failing as parents, adoptions that never went through; I was so struck by this truth."

Shapiro is seeking funding to continue the project. It's clear from the responses she's gotten, whether at the actual exhibit or in emails, "Nurture" is touching a nerve.

"Most of us are pioneers, truly, and you can't be a pioneer by the nature of the word and not be creating a path where there hasn't been one," she says. "This has brought me so much joy."

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Embracing midlife mothers: JCC exhibit tells their stories

By Emma Silvers | J. the Jewish news weekly | June 13, 2013

In 2004, Cyma Shapiro and her husband, Richard, traveled to Moscow to adopt their first child together. Shapiro had helped to raise her husband’s children — then 19 and 21 — from his previous marriage, but at 46 she’d never had a child of her own. When she decided becoming a mother was important to her, it was an “absolute slam-dunk” to adopt a child from Russia, says the former journalist, in order to honor her Russian Jewish ancestry.

After a monthslong process, the couple arrived home to West Hartford, Conn., thrilled, with their 1-year-old daughter in tow. But some friends and community members were less than overjoyed by the news.

Cyma Shapiro and her children Abira and Ethan
Cyma Shapiro and her children Abira and Ethan
“We had a huge social circle, and there was such a lack of enthusiasm or any kind of interest … and I had the sense that people must be feeling things they’re not sharing with me,” recalls Shapiro, now 55. “And when I started to put myself into the arena of daycare and preschool, I started to feel really isolated.

“It became clear that choosing motherhood at my age was not something people really considered in the realm of plausible life choices.”

Still, she knew there were others like her out there. So she set about finding them.

“Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothers,” a collection of 25 black-and-white photographs and accompanying narratives, was born of Shapiro’s desire to hear from other women who also chose motherhood later in life (defined for the exhibit’s purposes as over 40).

As she reached out to women “from Alaska to Maine” for their stories, Shapiro worked with photographers Shana Sureck and Tracy Cianflone, both midlife mothers themselves, to take portraits of the families. The exhibit, which has appeared in eight other galleries and community centers across the United States, will make its California debut June 17 at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael.

Setting aside the one quality they all have in common, the women highlighted in “Nurture” couldn’t be more different from one another: They range in age from 41 to 65; they come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds — though several are Jewish — and every spot on the socioeconomic spectrum. They also represent the multitude of possibilities women have for becoming mothers later in life: adoption, in-vitro fertilization, surrogacy and more.

“I wanted every woman to be able to walk out of the show and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me,’ or ‘That could be me,’ ” Shapiro says of the widely diverse portraits.

Joanie Siegel (right) with Kathy and Devin  photo/shana sureck
Joanie Siegel (right) with Kathy and Devin photo/shana sureck
Much of her work is also showcased on the website she started while interviewing women, “I think when you see someone you can relate to, it’s easier to dispel myths about who’s capable of handling motherhood later in life and where the challenges are, which was one goal … I also wanted a younger generation of women who may be just starting out with these issues to feel supported, to see that other women have provided a blueprint.”

A 2010 Pew Research Center study found that more children are now born to women older than 35 than to teenagers. In 2008, the last year for which detailed data is available, approximately 8,000 babies were born to women 45 and older, more than a 100 percent increase from a decade earlier. Of those 8,000, some 541 were born to women 50 or older.

The exhibit’s simple black-and-white portraits reflect this trend by delving into the lives of these women and their children — sometimes a family of two, sometimes with partners, and in the case of one Hassidic rebbetzin, surrounded by her husband and nine children — without compromising their individuality or humanity.

Among them is Frieda Birnbaum, who had her third child at 53 and, in 2007, at the age of 60, became the oldest woman to give birth to twins. She and her husband had two children in their 30s, but as they grew up and moved out of the house, Birnbaum said. her desire for children only increased. Last year, Birnbaum told ABC News she felt more energetic than ever.

Joanie Siegel took in a 17-year-old girl through a foster care-to-adopt program and a year later, the girl gave birth to a boy; the three of them are now a tight-knit family.

Rivka Slonim (center) with her family   photo/shana sureck
Rivka Slonim (center) with her family photo/shana sureck
Shirley Pollock, a married mother with two adult children, adopted three Chinese children at the age of 55 after being struck by a documentary on Chinese orphanages.

Rivka Slonim and her husband run the Chabad House on the SUNY Binghamton campus. She had eight children before the age of 40 and one afterward. “We live a rich life in all the ways that matter,” she told Shapiro during their conversations. “Each child is the ultimate blessing.”

Shana Sureck, the exhibit’s East Coast photographer, had her daughter, Tali, at 40 via a sperm donor. She was recently divorced with no children, and had spent much of her adult life focused on her work as a newspaper photographer for the Hartford Courant. Now 51, she says the discussion about whether or not women can “have it all,” in terms of balancing children with a successful career and children, strikes a chord.

“I think you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time,” she says with a laugh. “For me, this was a great decision. I had a workplace where I had really established myself and had a lot of flexibility, which a younger mom might struggle with. And I’d already been on lots of photo adventures and trips — I wanted to stay home [with the baby]. That was where my priorities were.”

Sureck remarried, to a woman, and the couple now live in Northampton, Mass. with their daughter. The photographer says one big sadness has been that her parents died when Tali was very young. “That part is sad for me especially because my grandmother was such a huge part of my life,” says Sureck of one common challenge older mothers face.

“In the traditional family model, grandparents were around to help,” echoes Shapiro, “but women are redefining the model.”

Both women said they felt proud to be part of something that, from audience reactions, is clearly sparking dialogue.

“What I’ve been hearing is an increased awareness and appreciation from people who come to see [the exhibit], and that’s one really positive aspect,” says Sureck. “And for some of the people photographed, or who recognize themselves in these photographs, I hope it’s helping someone to go, ‘Oh, so I’m not alone.’”

“Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothers” is on display through Sept. 2 at the Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael.

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Mid-life mothers celebrated in travelling photo exhibit

By Isabel Teotonio | | March 20, 2013

Travelling photo exhibit called Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothers is at the Miles Nadal JCC until April 21.

No, she's not the grandmother — she's the mother.

Cyma Shapiro, 55, hopes you'll look beyond the grey wisps and thinning skin. She wants you to see the "breathtaking" lengths that new, mid-life mothers go through to have a child, not always their first.

She is the creator of a travelling art show that explores the joys and challenges of being a mom after the age of 40. The show opens Friday at Toronto's Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre for its only Canadian run.

Nurture: Stories of New Midlife Mothersfeatures 25 black-and-white photos of new moms, some in their 60s, with their families. The women have become mothers through IVF, surrogacy, adoption, fostering, guardianship, blending stepfamilies and natural childbirth.

"You can achieve motherhood at whatever age you choose," says Shapiro, an American writer who started the website

But, she notes, a woman's decision to be a mother, after she hits her mid-40s, can be costly, emotionally distressing and spiritually taxing.

"(People) don't realize the amount of time and energy (the women) spent thinking about how they would achieve motherhood," she said in a phone interview from her home in West Hartford, Conn.

"There's an enormous amount that goes on behind the scenes of every mid-life mother and that's what I wanted people to see."

The exhibit is especially timely as more and more middle-aged women are choosing to become mothers. While some women were unable to have children naturally, and others only met their partners late in life, medical breakthroughs and new family models have opened up greater possibilities of parenthood, says Shapiro.

"It's the newest chapter in the women's movement," says Shapiro, calling mid-life motherhood "a Zeitgeist of the times."

According to Statistics Canada, the number of women over the age of 40 giving birth rose to 12,915 in 2011 from 10,349 in 2007.

People often ask Shapiro if the show is meant to be inspirational or supportive. In truth, she says, it was intended to dispel myths about middle age, introduce a growing number of women opting to be mid-life mothers, provide younger women with role models and, most importantly, to give mid-life mothers a collective voice.

But after first seeing the photos up on the wall, with their accompanying family stories, she can see why they inspire. They are, she notes, "great stories of inspiration, hope, love, passion, conviction, willpower, perseverance and determination."

Shapiro came to the project by chance.

When she was 46, Shapiro and her husband travelled to Russia to adopt a daughter; they returned two years later to adopt a son. For Shapiro and her husband, the decision made "perfect sense," but after they started their family they were met with "puzzling reactions." After all, she was middle-aged and already had two adult stepchildren. Why would she do this? Her decision left her feeling isolated and lonely, she says.

She tried to network with other new mid-life moms and was surprised to learn there was little cohesion amongst them, largely because of the profound differences in their experiences. But the women she met, by phone and online, turned out to be a "breathtaking group of women, who at all twists and turns inspired me."

Initially, Shapiro wanted to share their stories in a book and interviewed 58 mid-life mothers from across the United States, from different faiths, races and socioeconomic classes. Instead, she decided on an art show, the first of its kind in North America. She hired photographers Shana Sureck and Tracy Cianflone.

Her discussions with other mid-life mothers made her realize she wasn't alone. And, she adds, there is "an enormous amount of power as a woman in making life choices that are truthful and fulfilling for you."

The free exhibit runs until April 21 at the Miles Nadal JCC at 750 Spadina Ave., near Bloor St. W. Regular gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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'NURTURE' exhibit to open at gallery (401)

By Nancy Kirsch | The Jewish Voice & Herald | November 9, 2012

Stories of midlife mothers told through essays and photos

gallery (401) hosts an opening reception for "NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers" on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m.; the event is free and open to the community.

In a brief interview in Providence, Cyma Shapiro, exhibit creator and writer, talked with The Voice & Herald about the project, which Shapiro called the first of its kind, one dedicated to presenting women choosing motherhood at age 40 and older.

Shapiro noted that the show is traveling through North America. It opened recently in Houston and will be shown in Toronto after it leaves Rhode Island.

After she was met with odd responses to her lifestyle choice of adopting a child later in life, Shapiro said that she wanted to establish support groups for women who came to motherhood later in life. Although those efforts drew good turnouts, she said, "It was the weirdest phenomenon I've ever seen. It was instantly apparent that none of the women liked each other. If they adopted, they only talked to women who adopted, in vitro mothers only talked to other in vitro mothers."

That led her, said Shapiro, now 54, "to network across the country to find as many iconoclastic women as I could and share their stories. I wanted to identify every race, religion, creed, gender status and family status that I the end of 2 1/2 years, I found 58 women from Alaska to Maine and Guatemala, none of whom I knew."

Although her efforts to turn these mid-life mothers' stories and photos into a book have not borne fruit to date — Shapiro was invited to turn the project into a traveling art show. And so, she did.

Her motivation and intention for "NURTURE" is threefold, she said. "One, to dispel myths about women choosing motherhood [at 40 or later]; second, to provide role models for younger [women] to make life choices irrelevant of age; third, to really educate society about who we are and why we've done [midlife mothering] and to redefine middle age."

"Why age 40," she was asked, "as opposed to 35 or 45?"

"I chose it as a cutoff point because I find it to be an age where women are making a very conscious and willful choice to pursue [motherhood] at all costs, be they financial, emotional, physiological [or] psychological," said Shapiro. "The women represented in the show...have come to motherhood in seven different ways: surrogacy, in vitro, natural, adoption, fostering, guardianship or blended step-families."

A Realtor and a blogger as well as a former newspaper journalist, Shapiro said that people asked her early on, "Are these intended to be inspirational stories?"

She explained, "They are painful stories, stories of love and loss...but I think...people need to recognize the lengths to which we have all gone to achieve motherhood, the perseverance we used to get there and the uncharted waters that many of us had to navigate."

She says the exhibit's most important message is the "sheer willpower and determination and passion that all these mothers had to achieve motherhood."

The stories and photographs of 25 of the 58 women will be included at the gallery (401) opening, which will also offer wine and light refreshments. Shapiro and Shana Shurek, the project's East Coast photographer, are expected to attend.

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Coney Furniture Store Hosts Photo Exhibit on 'Midlife Mothers'

By Brooklyn Daily Eagle | Published online March 9, 2011

Percentage of Those Giving Birth After 40 Is Growing

CONEY ISLAND — At first thought, a furniture store may seem like an unlikely choice to have a photo exhibit. The setting was a perfect match, however, for "NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers Exhibit" at Raymour & Flanigan Furniture in Coney Island, which had its opening reception on March 3.

Shoppers were pleasantly surprised to see the photos and stories of midlife mothers and their children hanging on the walls of living room and bedroom settings throughout the store, just as they might be displayed in the midlife moms' own homes. They looked at the rich black and white photos and took a break from their furniture shopping to read the diverse biographies of the midlife moms portrayed in the photos.

The choice of locale was also to make the exhibit accessible to people who might not otherwise go to see a photo exhibit in a gallery or museum. It is the first time ever that Raymour & Flanigan has hosted a photo exhibit in any of its stores.

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Gallery Show Tells Story of Midlife Motherhood

By Susan Schoenberger | West Hartford Patch | November 18, 2010

When others saw fortyish women with babies and wondered what they could be thinking, West Hartford's Cyma Shapiro saw a monumental shift in the definition of motherhood. She saw that it was a story few people had told. And she saw herself. Shapiro and her husband had adopted the first of two children from Russia when Shapiro was 46, and she knew it was a decision that would change her life radically. What she didn't know, at the time, was that she was part of a significant trend among women adopting and giving birth to children after the age of 40.

Discovering that fact lured Shapiro into a project that is now on display at the Hartford Seminary's Women's Leadership Institute in Hartford. The project started out as a book but has turned into a gallery show of moving black-and-white photos along with descriptions written by Shapiro and words of the featured mothers. "There's so much edification in what's happening here," Shapiro said at the gallery show's opening. "There's so much support and love. Even with this one show we've already started to break barriers."

While the show features 25 midlife mothers, Shapiro has interviewed more than 50 from across the country. What they share, she said, is the decision to embrace motherhood at a time when they could have made a very different choice. "What had been a very well-ordered existence suddenly was turned upside down," she said during her introduction to the show. Despite the upheaval, Shapiro said these midlife mothers are changing the face of families forever. "We're all over the country," she said, "and we're really a force to be reckoned with."

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Midlife Mothers and Their Challenges Are Subject Of Photo Exhibit At Hartford Seminary

By Teresa M. Pelham | Hartford Courant | November 2, 2010

Photo by: Bettina Hansen, Hartford Courant

Featured in the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant

Excerpt: "I am very dedicated and passionate about putting these women in the spotlight," said Shapiro. "I very much want this to open a dialogue. I want people to say 'What? She's 63?' I want all of this to be discussed and discussed and discussed."

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Mid-life mothers find a forum in ground-breaking exhibit of photographs and stories

By Tracey Weiss | West Hartford Life | October 10, 2010

The number of women over 40 raising children has jumped from one in 500 more than 30 years ago to one in 88. Cyma Shapiro believes they all deserve a voice.

Ms. Shapiro, a town resident and late-in-life mother herself, went in search of others for support and instead found so many tales to tell she put it all together in the form of an exhibit of stories and photographs.

"NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers" runs from November 4 -22 at the Hartford Seminary (in Hartford, Connecticut) and tells the stories of 25 women who have made the choice to be mothers for a variety of reasons.

"The purpose of this show is to dispel myths and provide a face and a forum for future generations to see that making life choices at a different age is OK," Ms. Shapiro said. "Their stories are amazing, breathtaking. They came to motherhood in every way possible, but they share a commitment to redefining their mid-lives." For three years now, she has put together their stories. "I couldn't stop,' she said. "One would lead me to another and I would have to talk to that mom."