Pregnancy Later in Life
An increasing number of women past 35 – 40 years of age are having their first pregnancies and embarking on their journey through motherhood. Try searching ‘delayed motherhood’, ‘pregnancy later in life’ or … wait for it … ‘geriatric pregnancy’ on Google and you will be inundated with articles and statistics on motherhood after 35 years of age. I’m not going to regurgitate statistics, rather I’m here to tell you my story. I’m 38 years old and 29 weeks pregnant with my first baby. I have always wanted to have children and I would have preferred to have my first baby a lot earlier in life… but this is my reality and I do NOT regret my life choices or the road that has led me to where I am. My story is not unique, but it is real and personal. Here, I’ll share my insights on pregnancy later in life and more importantly, the things I’ve had to accept and come to terms with.
Choice or Chance?
Below are the most common reasons why women are having babies later in life:
- Women are more educated – Check. I have two undergraduate and two master degrees under my belt. It was easy for me to access higher education and learn new skills to enhance my career, so put simply, I did!
- Pursued meaningful careers – Check. I was an Engineer turned Management Consultant turned Project Manager turned one half of Tiger Mama Intimates. So now that I’ve explored an array of careers, I’m ready to experience the most superior career of them all – Motherhood!
- Pursued travel – Check. Like most people, I had the travel bug in my twenties. I didn’t have any dependents to tie me down so I explored my freedom and cities around the world.
- Want more financial stability – Check. Call me risk averse, but I wanted to be more financially secure before taking a step back from work to look after a baby.
Now… checking all the boxes would seem that it was a personal choice for me to delay having children. Wrong. I would have forgone a career or a trip around the world for the proverbial white picket fence and the perfect nuclear family. I was in a committed relationship for most of my twenties and early thirties, but life didn’t turn out how thought it would. For reasons beyond my control, I could not easily have children with my ex-partner. So for me it was chance, not choice, that I am having my first baby later in life.
Here’s the top 3 pros and cons of pregnancy later in life that I relate with the most:
Cons for Pregnancy Later in Life
- Declining fertility & Increased risks during pregnancy
The most common culprit of declining fertility for a woman older than 35 years of age is the quality and quantity of viable eggs that she has. We are born with a finite number of eggs, which diminish with time. The rate of decline increases significantly at around 35 years of age, before dropping right off at 40 years of age. I didn’t have an issue with my eggs but it was definitely a big concern for me. For other reasons, I conceived through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment – which is in my opinion – a medical marvel. It is amazing what modern medicine can do to help women achieve their dream of having children. However IVF isn’t exactly how most women dreamed of conceiving. One of the things that you have to do if trying to conceive later in life is to be prepared for the unconventional. IVF is impersonal, invasive and both emotionally and physically draining. The best advice I received prior to trying to conceive was from my sister, the other half of Tiger Mama Intimates. She said – you do what you have to do, so just leave your dignity at the door and pick it up on your way out. And ladies, no matter how young or old you are, if you’re going through IVF, take heed on those wise words, it’ll get you through the journey.
I was lucky enough to only need one IVF cycle and two embryo transfers before my BFP (aka Big Fat Positive). I’m one of the lucky ones. I know many women over 35 who have had multiple IVF cycles with no luck as yet. I truly respect and admire their dedication and commitment to fulfil their dream of a family. The infertility challenge is very real and it is not just a financial commitment but it is a huge emotional roller coaster. My advice is to be realistic about your journey – be prepared for the worst and be pleasantly surprised.
Once you’ve got your BFP, the journey still continues. Risks of bleeding during pregnancy, miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities significantly increases with advanced maternal age. Despite medical screening and tests, things can and do happen. Miscarriage and infant loss is devastating and if you need support to get through loss, please reach out and seek professional help.
No matter what your position on embryo screening, chromosomal testing during pregnancy or being a mum to a child with special needs, be prepared to face the “what ifs” and make hard decisions before trying to conceive. Only you know what you are capable of, and only you can answer the hard questions.
- Lower energy levels
Yes. Full stop.
Even with pregnancy brain quite early on in my pregnancy, I was still able to physically function whilst working on Tiger Mama Intimates and do general day to day activities. I was even scolded by my fertility specialist to not walk so fast and to take it easy. Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I suddenly felt pregnant at approximately 24 weeks gestation. One day, I was puffed putting on my shoes, couldn’t keep up walking next to my sister, and couldn’t… just couldn’t… get through the day without a nana nap. And don’t get me started about the sore back!
So here’s my practical advice – firstly, listen to your body and put your pregnancy first. Rest when you need to rest and learn to not feel guilty taking a nap or a day off. The dishes can wait till tomorrow. Secondly, reach out to your loved ones and support network. Pregnancy and babies really do bring family and friends together. Lean on others when you need to. You aren’t a failure as a woman or as a mum to need help. Thirdly, do yourself a favour and don’t bust your bump (pun intended) trying to do everything yourself. Get take out when you can’t be bothered to cook. And if you can afford it, hire help to clean the house. Every bit helps.
- Tick tock
As if your body clock isn’t ticking loud enough when trying to conceive, here I’m talking about a different type of time constraint. Many older first-time mothers feel the pressure to either:
- rush to have all the children that they want whilst they have the stamina and body to do so; or
- accept that they won’t get to have the number of children that they have always wanted.
Sometimes, you don’t have a choice which way to go, and you will have to be content with one child. But if you are lucky enough to have a choice, you need to once again ask yourself some pretty hard questions. Do you want a sibling for your child? Can you physically, mentally and emotionally go through the journey with trying to conceive again? Will you be happy with just one child? These are questions that only you (and your partner) can answer for yourself. As for me, I would be content with just my baby that’s growing in my tummy now. But then again if life gives me another bub I would receive it with open arms.
Pros for Pregnancy Later in Life
- Financial security
Unless you hit the jackpot and set yourself up for life in your twenties, it’s safe to say that you are in a better financial position to provide for you and your children later in life. Having greater financial stability and savings in your bank account is definitely going to serve you well because as we established, you’re more than likely to need fertility treatments and/or more medical screening and attention as an older expectant mum.
- Mental maturity
Now, I do not mean to generalise or stereotype a woman’s mental maturity, as many women in their twenties are mentally mature. But more often than not, one’s mental maturity is more established and family-focused later in life. I was one of those who loved and relished my youthfulness and freedom in my twenties. I lived life to the fullest and loved being responsible for no one else but me. No hang ups, no dependents, just me. So at 38 years of age, I consider myself to be much more mentally mature than I was at 28. Psychologically, I certainly feel more capable to face the challenges of motherhood. I’m not the thrill seeking 28 year old anymore, I’m very much content spending my Saturday nights in and be bed by 10pm!
Also, I think with age I’ve become more patient and have enough emotional intelligence to be able to understand and cater for other people’s emotional needs – something that is going to come in handy with a child I’m sure! So all in all, I’m certainly more family-orientated and ready to become a mother now than say 10 years ago. I don’t feel that having a baby would be a sacrifice to my social calendar, career or independence. I know that I want a family, I want this child and I’m ready for motherhood.
- Greater commitment
This goes hand in hand with greater mental maturity. Some researchers have found that children born to older mothers have more advanced language skills, do well academically at school and have better mental support from their parents. Why? Because put simply, their ‘older’ mothers are committed to spending time with their children on a daily basis to contribute to their mental development. As with greater mental maturity, older mums are less likely to feel pressured by their career and social obligations and are therefore more at ease to invest their time into their children’s development.
Do I agree with this? Yes and no. The yes vote is quite self-explanatory but the argument is a huge generalisation. I think that most stay at home mums of any age have made huge sacrifices to their lives to cater to the needs and development of their children. Culture and family backgrounds are also huge contributing factors. My family culture is highly family-centric. My nieces and nephews have all done well academically and are all mentally astute. There’s no denying this is a product of the dedication and time that my sisters put into the welfare and mental development of their children…. But they were not ‘older’ mums when they had their children. So… yep…. I sit on the fence with this one.
As I conclude, my point is simple, you are the captain of your own life. Only you can decide what is best for you – to start a family as a younger mum or as an older mum. If motherhood later in life is for you then I hope that I’ve managed to convince you that there are ways to get around the cons. Like my sister says, you do what you’ve got to do to fulfil your dreams. Good luck mamas!