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01/24/2007

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The Ahluwalia family enjoys an afternoon with one another at their home in Traverse City. Bira, top right, and wife Martha, bottom left, had children later in life. Martha was 44 when she had twins Julian and Miriam. Martha is now 45 and Bira is 69. Their eldest son, Xavier, is 5.

'A father forever'

When parenthood comes later in life

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Martha Ahluwalia puts a winter jacket on 1-year-old son Julian before heading outside.

TRAVERSE CITY — Anita and Alton Baldwin were doting grandparents when they got the shock of their 43- and 55-year-old lives: the stork had a delivery for them.

"It was a surprise to both of us,” said Anita Baldwin, adding that an accident and a medical condition had supposedly left the couple, who had adult children from previous relationships, unable to have children together.

Bira Ahluwalia was 62 when he married for the second time, with strings attached.

"He knew if he married me, he'd have to accept kids,” said Martha Ahluwalia, who had the couple's first child two years later and followed with twins four years after that.

The couples are among a growing number of Baby Boomers embracing parenthood in mid-life. Whether starting second families or the ones they postponed until after establishing careers, or adding to the first with "bonus babies,” women 45 and over gave birth at double the previous rate between 1990 and 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maggie Eitzen is a childbirth educator for Munson Medical Center, which offers "New Beginnings” and "A Time to Be Born” childbirth preparation programs. She said more older mothers are participating in both programs.

"They're kind of sheepish when they come in and we have all these youngsters,” she said.

"I laugh that I'm this age and Bira's this age and we have these little punklets,” said Martha Ahluwalia, a former incentive travel director who waited until she was 39 to marry. "The price is I'm 45 and my parents are both deceased. But would I change where I'm at now? No. I just feel lucky. I feel like I've had my cake and eaten it, too.”

Brian Dungjen waited until he was 45 to marry and was anxious to have children. Still, it was a surprise when, just a few months after the wedding, while at the doctor's office for another purpose, he and wife Michelle learned she was pregnant.

"We were sitting in the waiting room and a totally different physician came in and said (Michelle) was pregnant,” said Dungjen, president of a local title agency. "I'm sure that we sat there with our mouths open, just stunned. She finally had to ask us if we were OK about it.”

Now, with son Sam nearing his first birthday, Dungjen is so high on fatherhood he said the couple is considering having another child.

"It far exceeded any expectations I had,” he said. "It's the most incredible, fun-filled thing I've ever done.”

Although statistically, mid-life parents have more difficulty conceiving and more childbirth and labor problems, Eitzen said they often have a better foundation for parenting.

"What I see with older parents is they're more laid back,” she said. "They aren't in that building mode like these young parents. They have their home, they have their career. They're not worried financially. They're not in that accumulation stage. They're much more laid back and patient. Do they have that stamina? No.”

"It's a little harder now after such a long break,” said Bira Ahluwalia, who has two children in their 30s and 40s from a previous marriage. "I'm tired at 9 o'clock, especially with the 5-year-old because he has so much energy.”

As part-owner of a manufacturing company near Chicago, Ahluwalia, 69, works full-time and often travels internationally for business. But what he lacks in time and stamina with his young children, he makes up for in enthusiasm.

"When I'm there on the weekend, I spend every minute of the day with them,” he said.

While it's hard to bear the brunt of parenting Xavier, 5, and Julian and Miriam, 1, near her large family in Traverse City, "I'm learning if I stay calm, cool and collected I go much farther,” Martha Ahluwalia said.

"I look at younger moms and I think they've got it all together or they're flying off the handle. Nothing really seems to bother me, whether it's sleepless nights or whatever. I'm eating this up,” she added.

"It's easier to be a mom the second time around,” said Anita Baldwin, 47, who's raising her 3-year-old daughter, Aly, side-by-side in Kingsley with Aly's nephew and niece, 1 and 4. "Back then, it felt like I was being pushed. Now I don't feel like I'm being pushed. Before, when they were playing, no big deal. Now you stop and you watch.”

Mitch Dillon, 43, recently had his fourth child with wife, Diane, after a 16-year gap.

"When you're first starting out as a parent, you still have your life, and any change at all is a little irritating,” said Dillon, of Traverse City. "At this point, I've accepted that I'm going to be a father forever. That is who I am.

"I guess I think a little more now about his education, his going to college, where I was thinking about retirement,” he added. "I'll never retire, but I probably never would have anyway. The longer I stay active, the healthier I'll be.”

Misgivings or no, Dungjen said he goes through times when he thinks he's not the world's best parent.

"But I think everyone goes through that. I don't think it has anything to do with age,” he said. "If anything, my age probably enhances my rapport with (Sam) because I'm a lot more friendly and patient and kind than I used to be. Age has mellowed me.”

And while he's conscious of the fact that he'll be drawing Social Security by the time his son is in college, "I fully expect, especially with the better health care people have now, and the lifestyle, that I'll be around for a good long time,” he added.

"If I could go back and change things so I could actually have kids earlier, I would do so. But c'est la vie. Things are what they are and I'm not going to let it bother me that fate has decreed that I'm a parent for the first time at 46.”

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