More than a record: Barb Higgins, at age 57, has a new baby

  • Jack Banzhoff is held by his mother Barb Higgins in their Concord home on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • As her mother Sharon holds Jack, Barb Higgins cradles her newborn's head in her the family home on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Barb Higgins holds her son, Jack, as her husband Kenny Banzhoff looks. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Barb Higgins kisses her son, Jack Banzoff, on the family’s porch on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • As her mother Sharon holds Jack, Barb Higgins kisses her newborn's head in her the family home on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/25/2021 4:34:45 PM

Barb Higgins has set records before, like when she became the first female athlete in the state to run a mile in less than 5 minutes back when she was at Concord High School.

Forty years later, at age 57, she’s set a new record – the oldest woman to give birth in New Hampshire.

This new piece of history came with the help of a little guy named Jack Kearsley Banzhoff, who was born just after noon on Saturday at Concord Hospital. It came with the help of several doctors, with the love and support of her husband Ken Banzhoff and daughter Gracie.

“No lie. I’m sitting here at my age thinking, ‘I just had a newborn,’ ” Higgins said from her Concord home with little Jack, weighing less than 6 pounds, sleeping nearby. “Yes, I’m scared and I’m anxious, but I’m so excited.”

Higgins and Banzhoff have been trying to have another child for several years because they felt it was right for them. The loss of their daughter Molly in 2016 to a brain tumor left a hole in their family. They were hit with layers of grief and loss. Through counseling and support groups they began to recover. 

They talked about trying again, they started doing research and then began taking the steps – thousands of steps – to have another child.

Higgins was clear – what happened to Molly was its own journey, separate from bringing Jack into the world. But they are also linked in a way.

“It likely wouldn’t have happened if she was still alive, but she’s not the reason we did it,” Higgins said. 

Older mom

When Higgins had Gracie and Molly, she was in her 30s. 

“I still felt like an older mother back then,” she said. “All my friends had already had their kids.”

Going through another pregnancy two decades later was different in some ways and the same in others. 

Certain milestones – like reaching 12 weeks of pregnancy and then 20 weeks – took on more significance. 

“Everything has more weight,” said Higgins, who is a member of the Concord School Board.

She kept the news to herself until the 20-week mark when she started telling close family and friends. Once she started showing, around 30 weeks, she told a few of her colleagues on the school board and more of her friends.

Reactions before and after Jack’s birth have been positive, “for the most part,” Higgins said.

“The community and culture around childbirth is a phenomenal community,” Higgins said. “Judgment is almost non-existent.” 

Higgins was always an avid runner. Recently she’s been doing cross-fit training. She said she’s in the best shape of her life, so carrying little Jack to term was no problem. Before they were allowed to even try in-vitro fertilization, she had to go through a battery of tests to confirm she was healthy enough to bring a baby to term.

Through trying to get pregnant, doctors discovered Higgins had a brain tumor of her own, which has since been removed. Trying to get pregnant again saved her life, Higgins said. 

Banzhoff, meanwhile, had battled kidney disease and went in for dialysis for years. He got a kidney transplant and feels healthy again.

“I feel great,” said Banzhoff, who is 65. “I feel younger than I did 10 years ago.” 

For those who question why Higgins would have a child well into her 50s, Higgins said everything has happened with medical approval.

“For a person who wants to say to me, ‘aren’t you reckless for making this decision?’ Well, no, because I never made a reckless decision,” she said.

Higgins isn’t expecting to get any quizzical looks pushing a stroller around since more older women are caring for younger children these days since the opioid epidemic. 

“I won’t be the only grandparent in the kindergarten line, but I will be the only one who had their own baby,” she said.

Plus, Higgins and Banzhoff have so much more time than they did when they were young parents. Higgins devotes several hours a week to the school board and teaches courses part-time through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. Banzhoff is retired.

“Kenny and I have just complete freedom to enjoy him,” she said. 

He’s arrived

Jack was due on April 13 and Higgins figured she’d deliver a little early, but not March 20. 

Last Friday, Higgins had a fairly typical day. She worked out in the morning, had a busy afternoon, then her blood pressure began to rise. It was reaching dangerous levels for her and the baby. Doctors decided to induce her on Saturday.

Higgins wasn’t ready. She tried to push back.

“I wanted to follow my plan,” she said. “I wanted it to go the way I wanted it to go.”

She had to go home to pack.

“I was running around the house up and down the stairs,” she said. “I had that really high blood pressure but I didn’t feel bad.”

Banzhoff was right there when Jack was delivered at 5 pounds, 13 ounces.

“It was emotional. It was scary,” Banzhoff said. “He’s the littlest baby I’ve ever seen.”

Based on the timing of the pregnancy, Jack’s due date was close to Molly’s birthday, which is April 1.

That was more coincidence than by design, said Higgins. Several other attempts at fertilization didn’t take. It just so happened that this one did.

“When you’re my age, you’re really at the mercy, and magic, of science and biology,” Higgins said. “The whole process was following its own path.”

Higgins has an attitude of serenity, almost a spirituality, around the entire process. 

“Every time I passed a test or turned a corner, I felt like I was supposed to,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, it’s because I was not able to. It would have been heartbreaking but that’s the way we looked at it.” 

“I had a feeling I was supposed to do this and I took every step of the way.”

The record

Her newest record comes with an asterisk because state statitics on the subject aren’t 100% definitive.

As in vitro fertilization has become more common, more older women are giving birth. From 1995 to 2005, no woman over the age of 50 gave birth in New Hampshire. From 2011 to 2021, 26 women over the age of 50 have given birth. 

“The number of women 50 and older giving birth is pretty tiny and pretty rare,” said Nichol Marshall, with the state Vital Records Administration.

In the last decade, the oldest woman in New Hampshire to give natural childbirth was 55 years old, according to state vital records.

The State Library was also researching the issue, but it stands to reason these types of records are being set, said State Librarian Michael York.

“Fifty-seven, well that’s not old anymore,” York said. “Take a look at the records. We have people living past 100 routinely.”

Higgins and Banzhoff said they weren’t trying to set any records, but Higgins will take it.

“The athlete in me loves that little stat,” she said. “I also love that it gives some women getting older who think it’s too late, a little hope. I want older women to say ‘see, she did it.’ ”

But looking down at her new baby, with his blonde hair and long, skinny arms and legs, he’s more than a statistic or a record to his mother: He’s perfect.

“It’s his life and his existence here, which has nothing to do with my ego,” she said. “He’s adorable.”

Thursday morning, Jack’s big sister, Gracie, took him out of the crib and held him by the window as she had her cup of coffee.

She plans to teach him everything he needs to know, including the full Taylor Swift anthology. Higgins took in the scene. 

“This is really something,” she thought.

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