By Jan Andersen
What are the advantages of being an older mother?
As an older mum myself, I can only perceive the benefits, but it is important to mention that age alone doesn’t predetermine your ability to be a good parent. You can be a great parent at 23 and a great parent at 63. However, I do believe that in our youth we often do not have the patience, life experience, the wisdom and stability that we may have at a later time in our lives. I have a direct comparison, because I had my first child at the age of 22 and my last at the age of 40 in 1999. When I gave birth at 40, I was entering motherhood with a lot more wisdom and experience of life and, I feel, am now better equipped to deal with any challenges I face. I am certainly in a better position to educate my daughter. I am more stable – both emotionally and financially – and have a lot more patience than I had when I was younger.
When I gave birth to my first son at the age of 22, I was a single parent and not only was I concerned about maintaining an active social life, but I was in a very unsettled phase in my life and certainly didn’t have the emotional strength that I have now. Whilst I loved my son dearly, I feel that I have enjoyed motherhood far more as an older mum. I cherish every single moment of my time with my daughter, Lauren, who is now six, and miss her dreadfully when she is at school. I spent a great deal of time educating her before she started school, which has paid off because she is, in her teacher’s words, “excelling”. She’s a bright, happy little girl and keeps telling me that I am “the best mum in the world”.
In general, older parents tend to be less selfish. They have been there and done that and are often no longer interested going out to pubs and clubs every weekend, or backpacking around the world, for example. They are less likely to view children as a burden and are more likely to spend quality time with them.
What do you think about Patricia Rashbrook, the 62-year-old who recently gave birth to a baby son?
I am thrilled for both Patricia and her husband. I believe they will make wonderful parents and will provide their son with all of his needs during his formative years, which of course is the most important time in a child’s life.
With regard to the media intrusion and critics, I think it’s rather sad that Patricia Rashbrook’s ability to be a good parent is being determined purely by her age. That’s like taking a 25-year-old parent with seven kids living on welfare, who smokes and abuses her children and saying that she’s a good parent just because she’s young.
Dr Rashbrook is a child psychiatrist, so is clearly aware of the benefits to her child and am certain that she did not embark on pregnancy without a great deal of forethought and consideration, as is the case with most older parents. She’s entering parenthood with a wealth of experience and I am sure will spend a great deal of quality time with her son.
We seem to live in a very negative, judgemental society. People should be focusing on the positive aspects of bringing a child into the world later in life. There are too many unwanted children in the world, so why criticise a mother whose child is clearly very much wanted?
I’d rather have 10 good years with a parent who truly loved me than a lifetime with a parent with whom I didn’t have a close relationship.
Won’t your daughter feel embarrassed about having an older mum?
What’s embarrassing about having a loving, caring parent? I can only assume that people who ask this are referring to the fact that the parent looks old, which is very shallow. Sadly, we still live in a society that judges us by the way we look and if we don’t fall within the parameters of what is acceptable image-wise, then we are unfairly criticised. People who are going to be embarrassed by having a parent who looks old, would probably be equally embarrassed about having a parent who is overweight, or has some other flaw. Frankly, I find it quite difficult to determine people’s age these days. I have seen grandmothers whom I assumed were the children’s mothers and vice versa.
I’ve spoken to many adult children of older parents and their views have been tremendously positive. Some of them have actually said that their friends of younger parents used to say that they wished their parents were like theirs.
Do you worry about being sixty when your child is twenty?
Absolutely not. My gran, for example, was in her late forties when I was born and yet I had a far better relationship with her than I had with my own mother, who was only 23 when I was born. It is the quality of time that is important, not the quantity. I wouldn’t exchange the years I had with my gran for a lifetime with someone with whom I didn’t have a close relationship.
Chronological age and biological age are often two very different things. You age doesn’t always necessarily dictate your outlook on life, or your energy levels. I know people of 30 who are going on 70 – mentally and physically – and people of 70 who have more energy than some 30-year-olds.
I am a very active, healthy person and intend to remain this way for decades to come! I also have a very youthful outlook on life and don’t anticipate this changing.
My own grandmother is an excellent example of someone of pensionable age who is still perfeclty capable of looking after young children. Not only was my grandmother in her sixties when she fostered children, but she looked after my eldest son full-time when he was a baby whilst I went out to work. She had far more vitality than many younger parents I knew at the time and I would not have felt confident leaving my son with anyone else.
My mother is 70 and belongs to a rock climbing club. Not only does she rock climb in places like the Alps and Pyranees, but goes white water rafting in Colorado and on adventure holidays to places like Iceland.
These examples show that not everyone gives up living life to the full, or has less energy once they reach a certain age.
With regard to life expectancy, you can die at any age. It’s not always something that you can predict. In fact, my maternal grandmother lived longer than my eldest son, who sadly died when he was 20 in November 2002. We are all dodging the grim reaper, whatever age we are, which is why it is so important to live life to the full and appreciate your family every minute of the day, even when you are at odds with them!
There is also the issue of gender hypocrisy. Whenever we hear of an older man becoming a father e.g. David Jason, everyone thinks he is wonderful. You don’t hear the critics condemning him.
What about the fertility experts who say women shouldn’t delay childbearing?
I think it’s wrong for women to be pressured into having children before they feel ready just because the so-called experts say that they might not be able to conceive at a later date. The most important factor is that a child is loved and wanted, not that they should be regarded as some sort of social accessory brought into this world because the experts say that the woman might be infertile later on.
Women who feel under pressure to have children before they are ready might end up feeling resentful and are more likely to immediately hand the child over to a childminder, because they don’t feel ready to take a career break or take an active part in childcare. An unwanted child born to a younger mother is far less likely to fare well than a much-wanted child born to an older mother.
It is very presumptuous to assume that all women are going to meet the right partner by the age of 35. Are the fertility experts suggesting that women should find a partner who may not be suitable just to enable them to have a baby during their optimal breeding years?
Not all women delay conception in favour of a career – they want to delay conception until they are happily married and can provide a stable family life for their children.
Isn’t infertility an issue for older women?
Not always. The greatest risk is for first time mothers over 40, because of course they have no idea whether they’ve ever been fertile. If they have trouble conceiving, they will be thrown the “old eggs” line, but they may well have had problems conceiving at an earlier age if they had tried. They’ll never know.
There are many causes of infertility, not just age, so I think that you have to look at each woman as an individual. Does the woman smoke? Does she drink alcohol? Is she malnourished? Is she exposed to harmful chemicals or other toxins in the environment? Is her partner healthy? These are questions that are often overlooked when an older woman is experiencing fertility problems, but almost certainly areas that are explored in younger women trying to conceive. The male factor is sometimes overlooked too. I have had several “older” friends who discovered that their partners were the ones with the fertility problem.
Women should also get in touch with their bodies and learn to recognise possible signs of declining fertility, such as irregular periods for example and other symptoms that might indicate peri-menopause. Looking at your family history is also a good idea, since genetics plays a part. If your mother had an early menopause, then you are more likely to go through the menopause early and if she had a late menopause, then the chances are that you will be fertile for longer.
I think that society places enormous pressure on women to have children by a certain age. Older women wishing to become pregnant are bombarded with over-exaggerated statistics about declining fertility and the risks involved in having a baby after the age of 40. I have met many women who became pregnant for the first time and gave birth quickly and easily after the age of 40.
I had a laparoscopy a few years ago and was told that I had the reproductive system of someone in their early twenties.
What about potential risks of pregnancy after 35, 40 and upwards?
Pregnancy is a risk at any age. The biggest issues are, of course, fertility and the increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities. However, a woman over 40 still has a greater chance of producing a healthy baby than one with disabilities.
Doctors should be focusing more on the health of the individual, rather than their age. If a woman over 40, for example, smokes, drinks and lives on junk food, then yes, she is bound to encounter problems, but there is no reason why a fit and healthy woman in her forties shouldn’t have a successful pregnancy and healthy baby. Doctors need to explore all the other reasons for infertility and not just throw the age factor at more mature women.
Do you thing that being an older mother affects the way you raise your children?
Definitely. As an older mother, I am far more in tune with my daughter’s needs than I was with my other three children as a younger mother.
When I gave birth to Lauren at the age of 40, I was far more prepared. I was in a stable relationship with my partner and was much more settled in my life, professionally, financially and emotionally.
After my daughter was born in 1999, I gave up a full time marketing career to combine working from home as a freelance writer with looking after my daughter. She has given me so much joy and I could not even contemplate returning to a mainstream occupation. I feel that I have the best of both worlds. She is such a delightful little girl and is very advanced – intellectually and socially.
Although all of my children were breastfed for up to a year, I continued to breastfeed my youngest daughter until just before her fourth birthday. I would not have had the time or patience to do this as a younger mum.
Does being an older mum affect your relationship with your child at all?
I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter. She certainly helps to keep me young! I just cannot ever imagine not having had her. Lauren is such a caring, affectionate child and attracts friends like a magnet. Although I love all my children equally, I feel a special connection with Lauren.
Do you have any statistical information regarding older mothers?
• Recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of women giving birth over the age of 40 has almost doubled in 10 years. During the 1990s, the conception rate among women aged 40 to 44 rose at a greater rate than for any other age group
• It’s not just a British phenomenon, many thousands of women around the world are having babies later in life. In Sweden in 2004, almost 3,000 children were born to mothers over the age of 40. When you consider that the population in Sweden is less than the population in London, that’s a significant number of older mothers
• Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University says that people who had children in their 40s generally spent more time with their children and had a closer connection to the children’s friends than younger parents
• Studies show that women over the age of 40 who have babies are four times more likely to live to 100 than women who give birth at a younger age
• A team at Finland’s University of Turku suggests women who raise a family late in life tend to die later
• In May 2006, UK figures released by the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority showed that the number of women over 50 having babies is soaring
You own Mothers Over 40. Can you tell us briefly about the website?
Established in 2002, Mothers Over 40 is a positive, encouraging and supportive resource for older parents and all those planning a baby after the age of 40. Informative articles, books, news, humour, links to invaluable fertility resources and a penpals’ facility to enable mums and would-be mums over 40 for to connect and interact with others in a similar situation. [http://www.mothersover40.com]
About the Author
Jan Andersen is an accomplished writer, author, copywriter and book editor with experience on a wide variety of commercial projects for a broad spectrum of audiences. She is also the owner of eight websites, including Mothers Over 40, an inspirational and encouraging resource for older parents. Jan currently undertakes regular commercial copywriting assignments, which include corporate web sites, marketing literature and the editing of technical documents and books. Jan is the author of the successful ebooks, “Enhancing Fertility After Age 40” and “Improve Your Fertility Naturally”.
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