It is nearly impossible to have a baby at 50 by accident. “Oops” does not happen; that momentary abandonment of good sense or caution will almost never result in a pregnancy. No matter how a child is procured, whether through technology or adoption, her 50-year-old parents have likely gone through some kind of hell—paperwork, blood tests, questionnaires, waiting, visa applications, mood swings, marital discord, and recalibration of expectations—to have her. These are the most wanted of children. And their parents, some would argue, can give them something that the youngest and prettiest don’t have: the wisdom of age and an abiding sense that life is a precious gift not to be wasted.
Fiona Palin started trying to conceive ten years ago, when she was 38. She underwent six failed IVF cycles and three miscarriages—including, the final time, a miscarriage of triplets. Depressed for years, she decided to give up hope, go back to school, and become a tourism consultant. She investigated adoption. She was keeping herself busy.
Last August, when she and her husband, Nick, who is 63, decided to thaw and use their last remaining embryo, abiding in a freezer since 2002, they were done “with everything but the crying,” she says. “I thought, This won’t work. Don’t put any hopes on it.” It did, though. Fiona learned she was pregnant in the bathroom of a Ralphs supermarket in Los Angeles, where, in anticipation of a long, boozy evening with relatives, she took a do-it-yourself urine test, just to be safe. “I screamed. I was crying hysterically in the toilet. If anyone would have heard, I’m sure they would have called security. I got myself together and went outside, and Nick was there. He said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ and I told him, and then he started crying. So we’re crying in this parking lot of this supermarket.” According to her obstetrician, Fiona’s pregnancy was “flawless.”
On the morning I met Katherine Anna Palin, she was 1 month old. Asleep, scrunched against her father’s chest, she was downy, dewy, seemingly boneless, a miracle of the most ordinary kind. Her parents were brimming over on that sunny day, in their rental near Lincoln Center, with the baby books stacked against the walls and the breast pump lying on the kitchen counter. “I didn’t have grandchildren, so I decided to make my own,” said Nick, shaking my hand and wiping the puke off his polo shirt in a single motion.
Kiki, as she’s called, will never share toys with (or steal toys from) a sibling. She has no living grandparents. Her parents are not blind to these realities, and her mother, born and raised in Australia, already imagines the Australian girls’ boarding school to which she will send Kiki when she is a teenager—an effort in the absence of extended family to give her “sisters.”
“If you look at it from an actuarial standpoint, I might not be around when she’s 30,” Fiona says. “If you sit down and look at the cold, hard facts, this is the truth.” But Fiona shrugs it off. She and Nick are “no regrets” people, a couple who vowed to climb the Great Wall of China while they were still healthy enough to do so, and then did.
“I’m very hormonal still, at the moment,” Fiona says. “And every now and then I just burst out crying. I am so happy. I can’t believe it. I’m just so blessed. And I just wish this on everyone I know.”