ARE YOU TOO OLD TO BE A MOM?
The hardships and rewards of having a baby in your 40s
The age of first-time moms in the Western World is increasing. More and more, women delay motherhood, voluntarily as they spend time on their education and carriers, or involuntarily because they do not have a partner or because of infertility problems. In the last decade, the number of women giving birth after the age of 35 and 40 has tripled and quadrupled, respectively. The advances and accessibility of reproductive technologies are partly accountable for this sharp rise in older mothers.
Even though motherhood is as old as the human species, we are breaking new ground socially and personally with first time mothers in their mid to late forties.
If you are wondering whether you are too old to have a baby here are some pros and cons that may help you in making your decision:
Advantages of having a child later in life:
Older parents are typically more financially secure, completed higher education, and have an established career, which may make having a child, easier.
Research shows that “older mothers” may be more emotionally ready for parenting- they have achieved their career goals and want to focus on their family. They are also more confident in dealing with the ups and downs of parenting and report less parental stress than mothers in their 30s.
Older mothers are more likely to be in committed co-parenting relationships and have a positive overall family experience. They tend to be married and both parents tend to split family responsibilities, leaving less of a burden on the mom. Almost 85% of older mothers are married when they become mothers. Even single first-time moms more often have built stable support networks before they have a child if they are older.
Older mothers often have greater appreciation and feeling of gratitude for their children. They report feeling “lucky” to have the opportunity to be moms. Older moms are more emotionally ready to be parents and fully embrace parenthood. Moms that waited a long time for their children tend to be more involved with them and less likely to employ a nanny. They spend a lot of time with their children and are often more able to accompany their child on a field trip without fear of losing their jobs.
An Australian study showed that older parents are more flexible and better able to handle challenges.
A recent study showed that children of older mothers had higher intelligence scores and outperformed their peers academically. The authors found that mothers waiting longer to have their children are more engaged and dedicate more time and resources to their education.
Disadvantages of Having a Child Later in Life:
Fertility decreases with age and most women who wish to become pregnant in their 40s will require fertility treatments. Women in their mid-to-late-forties who want to carry their own baby most often use an egg donor. While fertility treatments can be beneficial and help women become pregnant, they also have physical, emotional, and financial repercussions. Women often become consumed by infertility- they go through an emotional roller-coaster every month and spend their life savings on years of treatments, often to be left to grieve the loss of their opportunity to have a biological child.
Due to the high cost of fertility treatments, and advanced parental age, couples often end up with smaller families than they initially hoped for.
Physically, carrying a baby at an advanced age is not easy. The likelihood of pregnancy complications such as, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension, increase after the age of 40. There is also increased chance of a miscarriage and Cesarean sections.
Older mothers may go through the distinctive life stages of menopause; raising a young child; and caring for elderly parents, all at the same time. As women approach menopause, their hormones begin to diminish, depleting their physical energy. Mothers in their late forties often describe being fatigued- being truly, overwhelmingly, tired much of the time. The demands of raising small children run counter to physical exhaustion and can create a lot of frustration and struggles. Older mothers’ partners and family may not understand the emotional and physical demands experienced by an older mother.
In most cultures menopause is a period of turning inward and reflecting. An older mother may want to take time to pause and reassess her life, to ask questions like: ”Who am I now? What haven’t I done that I’d like to do?” This is an internal process, but there is little time for self-reflection when you have a young child. There is a conflict between the natural tendency of a menopausal mother to slow down and turn inward and the high energy needs of her child.
As you immerse yourself in preschool and play dates, a typically youthful environment, you will be in close contact with young moms, who are really blooming and may even be pregnant with a second child. In contrast, as an older mom, you may often be mistaken for your child’s grandparent.
You may be really tired and have no energy to do sports with your child the same way a 30- something-year-old mom can. Your child may even notice how old you look and how you can’t play with him/her the same way other moms play with their kids. Aging in a culture that dismisses older parents and glorifies youth can make you feel humiliated at times.
You may not be around long enough to see your child achieve important milestones such as graduating from college or getting married. Even if you are alive, you may not be physically capable and vibrant enough to be there for your child. In fact, your child may end up in a situation whereby he/she has to take care of you in his/her early adulthood. Your child, especially if he/she is an only child, may have to live much of his/her adult life without family.
For this reason, older moms often wish they had started their families 5-10 years earlier.
So, what to do?
As you can see, there are many issues to take into consideration if you are a woman trying to decide whether to have a child. If you are a younger woman and have valid reasons for delaying motherhood, you may want to think about not only what you want, but also about what might be best for your future child. If you are middle-aged, you may want to reflect on your life and take the path that is right for you- either choice will come with its own set of challenges for you to overcome. Women entering menopause without children often feel great sorrow for the loss of the opportunity to have a child. Grief therapy can help overcome this challenge. If you feel strongly that motherhood is your path- that your life won’t be complete otherwise- and are ready for difficulties ahead, go for it! Others have taken this road before and help will be available for you along the way.
Having a therapist can help you sort through your concerns and find the courage to go through extreme fertility measures, or adoption in order to become a mom. Counseling can help you gather the necessary support to achieve your dream.
The next article in the series will address issues from the perspective of children of older parents. Stay tuned…
Dr.Irena Milentijevic is a licensed psychologist who specializes in helping mothers and those hoping to be mothers overcome stress, loss, and depression. Her offices are located in Houston and the Woodlands, Texas. Visit her website, www.DrIrena.com to get her free report, “Moms and Mom Wannabes: 10 Ways To Overcome Depression and Reclaim Your Sanity”.