A Positive View of Midlife Parenting
©Jan Andersen 2002
When I discovered I was expecting my fourth child at the age of 39, the consensus of medical opinion appeared to be that I was prehistoric and that by the time my child had reached school age, I would inevitably have a brain like a soggy rusk and the mobility of a stuffed animal. However, despite the plethora of depressing statistics and my personal fear that all my vital parts would either drop out or drop off following the birth, I had a problem-free pregnancy, a normal delivery and a very healthy baby girl.
Regardless of the pessimistic statistics, however, one in five women worldwide currently delays having her first child until the age of 35 and the majority of these women give birth to perfectly healthy babies. Although there are undoubtedly elevated risks associated with being an older mother, pregnancy is a risk at any age and experts now agree that there is little added risk for a healthy mother in her forties. Certainly, a fit woman in her forties is more likely to have a successful pregnancy than an unhealthy woman in her twenties, a reassuring fact that may encourage more women to start considering an HPT instead of HRT.
However, every woman at whatever age, owes it to herself and her future baby, to ensure that she is in optimal health before attempting to conceive, which obviously means eating a diet rich in vitamins, taking a daily Folic Acid supplement and quitting harmful practices, such as smoking and drinking alcohol.
If an older woman is embarking on a subsequent pregnancy, she will have some idea as to how her body reacted to her previous pregnancy or pregnancies. If she encountered problems such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, then there is an increased risk that she may suffer similar disorders again, but this is not a certainty, since every pregnancy is different. However, a woman embarking on her first pregnancy will not know how her body copes with pregnancy, or whether she has always been infertile, so it is easy to attribute any problems she may encounter to her age, when in actual fact she may well have suffered from similar problems had she become pregnant in her twenties.
The benefits of midlife mothering are numerous, not least the wealth of experience that older mothers can bring with them on their journey into parenthood. Older parents can often offer a deeper sense of security to a child, because they themselves are more sure of their path in life, they have probably already carved out a career, have learned to develop tolerance and understanding and are often more financially and emotionally stable.
From a health point of view, there is evidence to suggest that women who become pregnant in their forties are less likely to suffer adverse symptoms during the menopause. This is apparently due to the elevated levels of hormones that circulate the body during pregnancy, which appear to afford some protection against the less pleasant physical aspects of the approaching menopause.
Other Older Mothers' Experiences
I have spoken to hundreds of other midlife mothers, all of whom spoke positively about the experience. Here is what some of them had to say:
Bethany 46 says, "I was 44 when I gave birth to Megan and I can honestly say that it has been the greatest experience of my life. She weighed 9lb 13oz and I remember the midwife saying to me, "How can a tiny thing like you produce such a huge baby?" I'm glad she didn't say, "How can such an old person as you.." It would be nice for Megan to have a brother or a sister, so it wouldn't be a disaster if I discovered that I was expecting again even at 46!"
Carina is 43 and gave birth to her third child, Robert in February 2001. Carina says, "My pregnancy was really no more difficult than the other two had been. I only suffered from mild morning sickness for the first three months, but nothing incapacitating and after that I really bloomed. Robert was born in under three hours, with minimal pain relief, (there wasn't time for an epidural), and he weighed in at a very healthy 9lb 10oz! My body has almost sprung back into shape and I have found the transition from independent career woman to stay-at-home mother a breeze."
Sarah is 45 and gave birth to her fourth child, Emily, in September 2000 when she was 44. When I discovered I was expecting Emily I tried to remain positive, but I felt that there was a lack of support for older mothers, both from the medical profession and in the media. I would occasionally read a magazine article that was supposedly portrayed an optimistic picture, but then the negative aspects always counterbalanced the feature. Personally, I found this totally unnecessary, since most women are fully aware of the risks that have been thrown at us by the medical profession for so many years.
Emily arrived just four days early after a sixteen-hour labour and an epidural, which made the entire experience almost comfortable. She was born naturally, without the assistance of birthing aids such as forceps and I didn't need any stitches. Emily weighed 8lb 1oz and was the heaviest of all my children.
My recovery has been incredible and I don't remember feeling this fit and energetic after the birth of my first three children. I guess there's a lot in that old saying, "Life begins at 40." It certainly has for me!"
Finally, here are some more positive reasons for becoming a midlife mother:
· Social science statistics suggest that children of older mothers are more likely to do better in school and enter into professional occupations
· If your turn around the statistics of a 1 in 100 chance, at the age of 40, of giving birth to a baby with some degree of chromosomal abnormality, it still means that you have a 99 in 100 chance of having a perfectly healthy baby
· Mothers over the age of 35 have the right to opt for certain pre-natal tests, such as CVS and amniocentesis, something that is not automatically available to younger parents
· You're too busy to have a midlife crisis or worry about the menopause
· If you have older children, they often help out with the baby and around the house
· You don't suffer from the "empty nest syndrome", like so many middle-aged parents when their youngest sibling leaves home
· You now have a genuine excuse for getting down on your hands and knees and amusing yourself with Barbie dolls and train sets, playing hide-and-seek and I Spy, dressing up as Santa and going to watch the latest Disney movies
· Being seen with a baby automatically knocks years off of your age!
· You don't need to attend the gym as regularly. Racing around after a young child is adequate exercise
· You may not yet be a grandmother, but you still have a reason to purchase all those cute outfits that they create for babies these days