Older Moms Increasing in Number
Being an “older mom” has its challenges and joys.
I belong to a group that I didn’t anticipate belonging to when I was a much younger woman: It’s the “older moms” club. Like most of my friends, I got married and had babies in my 20s. But unlike most of my friends, I had a baby at 40, as well. Go ahead – ask the question; everyone else did. Here’s the answer, “No, she wasn’t an accident.”
Not surprisingly, having a baby in your 20s is a much different ballgame than having a baby in your 40s. But more and more women are deciding to either enter, re-enter (as in my case) or continue in the maternity game well into their late 30s and 40s. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control in 2006, one out of 12 births were to women aged 35 years and older, compared to 1 out of 100 in 1970.
I wasn’t really interested in the statistics when I decided that I wanted one more “at bat” in the baby game. I just knew that I wanted another baby. Of course, I could have gone my entire life without hearing my obstetrician say, “Because you are at an advanced maternal age ..." That was just unnecessary, in my humble opinion.
Still, there are risks that need to be considered, said Dr. Kent Killian, a pediatrician at West County Pediatrics in Wildwood. “Most of the risks are related to pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, higher risk of preterm birth and greater incidence of cesarean delivery,” he said.
The other statistic that worries so many older mothers-to-be is the increased risk of a chromosomal abnormality, most commonly Downs Syndrome. Killian said the incidence of such a defect is about 1 in 1,000 for mothers under age 35 and increases to about 1 in 100 for women 40 and older.
But risks aside, being of an “advanced maternal age” offers lots of benefits, too. For example, I don’t sweat the small stuff nearly as much as I did in my 20s. No matter how bad any given “phase” may seem, I know it will pass quickly and be replaced by a wholly new and challenging “phase.” If my 3-year-old doesn’t get five servings of vegetables a day (or a week), I don’t lose a minute’s sleep.
And speaking of sleep: If she’s up every hour with a croupy cough and I’m having to sit in a steamy bathroom throughout the night to help her breathe, I don’t waste any time lamenting the sleep I’m losing. Instead, I can actually soak in the moments, relishing her sweaty little body pressed against me, knowing from experience that in just a few years, she will be like my teenaged daughter who doesn’t even call for me if she wakes up sick in the night, preferring to stoically suffer her symptoms in private.
That is also the experience of Ann DiCarlo, a 39-year-old Wildwood mother of six children, ranging in age from 1 year to 12 years. “When I had my first two in my 20s, I felt more crazed than I do with six because I was lots younger and inexperienced,” she said. “I have different expectations and different tolerances for what’s going on day to day now, and I take it all in stride.”
DiCarlo said she is not suggesting that she doesn’t get frustrated sometimes, but she feels like she has a better perspective that comes with maturity and life experience. “It’s just that when I feel like running out the door screaming in frustration, I can stop myself and remember to enjoy this baby and know that it won’t last forever.”
Karen Zohner, a Wildwood mother of six, had twins (now age 2) when she was 41, and her other children were ages 16, 13, 11 and 10. “It’s fun having children at this age,” she said. “I’m much more relaxed and it’s a more relaxing way of parenting. The nurses at the hospital were so glad to have me because I wasn’t a high-maintenance first-time mom.”
My older children sometimes balk at the things I let slide with my 3-year-old, declaring, “You would have never let US get away with that.” And Zohner gets similar protests. “Abby (her oldest) will be home from college and say, ‘Omigosh!! Why are you feeding them that?’ I’m more lenient than I was with her.”
Sue Templeton, a Eureka mother of two and principal of St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Eureka, had her first baby at age 38 and her second when she was 42. She believes that waiting until she was older to have children had lots of benefits.
“Because I had more life experiences, I didn’t go into crisis mode with everything,” she said. “I have more patience than I had in my 20s and I was more financially prepared. I was able to spend more quality time with my husband and we looked forward to raising children together.”
Certainly, there are a few downsides to being an older mom. Templeton joked that she doesn’t like being asked if she is her children’s grandmother. (I got that one, once, as well). And my teen doesn’t like being asked if she is her sister’s mother. No one hesitates to ask the “accident” question, which I never got when I was pregnant in my 20s. And DiCarlo laments the challenges of getting the back in shape.
“Still, if I went into a room with a picture of myself at 20 versus one with all six of my kids, I would choose the kids,” she said. “Maybe I could get back to that body if I had more hours to spend at the gym, but when my kids grow up and look back, will they be happier that I took them to the zoo and played puzzles, or will they say want a mom who was lean and trim, with only 5 percent body fat?”
Another downside to being an older mom can be a sense of isolation. Most of my friends have moved on from the playgroup scene, replacing it with full-time jobs, relaxing lunches at restaurants that don’t include a playground, tennis leagues and travel to places without amusement parks. And it just doesn’t feel right to join a playgroup with 20-something moms.
Fortunately, there are resources to help. For example, when I was in the Parents as Teachers program, I asked my parent educator to help me connect with other, older moms. Before I knew it, the organization helped us coordinate the formation of several older mom playgroups.
And there are plenty of resources online. Here are just a few: