Forty (or close) is the new 20 when it comes to having babies. It’s a distinct trend with a host of positives for women who delay motherhood. Benefits include living longer than those who give birth at young ages.
When my son was three years old, he and my husband went out to buy the weekend newspapers. One Sunday, as they approached the store, a gentleman crouched down to my son’s level and said, “It’s so nice that you’re taking your grandfather out for a walk.” Not vain, my husband was unperturbed by the comment. The incident has become a family joke. Yet I, and many older moms I have spoken with, keep ears perked, ready to deflect any “you’re the grandmother” comments or insinuations.
More of the norm
Think you’re too old to have a baby… you’re probably not. Just ask many first-time moms. Halle Berry gave birth at 41. Jennifer Lopez who had twins at 38. Or, ask one of your friends. In 2006 one in every twelve first babies was born to a woman over 35. When you look at women having babies regardless of whether or not it’s their first child, one in seven babies were delivered by women 35 or older.
Women are in no rush to marry or have children. In the mid to late 1950s, the median marriage age for women was 19. Today it’s 25. But, many women wait much longer to marry and have babies. Reproductive advances give women a security blanket on waiting. The surge in births to older women tells us that they are exercising that option. The National Center for Health Statistics states that in the 24 years between 1980 and 2004, the number of women giving birth at age 30 has doubled, at age 35, tripled and after age 40 has almost quadrupled. Forty is the new twenty.
Waiting with good results
In her book, “Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood,” Elizabeth Gregory, director of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Houston discovered that older mothers are usually more emotionally ready to cope with parenting. Gregory says that “many older mothers have met their career and personal goals so they can and want to focus on family.” Life experience is a boon in terms of translating work experience into running a household. She also notes that marriages among older women, almost 85 percent are married when they become mothers, tend to be more stable. Older, single first-time moms have built a stable support network by the time they have a child.
Although older mothers may face infertility issues, may have more difficult pregnancies, and are more likely to have Cesareans (National Institute of Health), the positives outweigh the possible problems for the women over 35 who are fueling the trend to motherhood later. Among them is a group called Motherhood Later rather than Sooner, a resource for midlife mothers. Women over 38 using assisted reproductive methods adjusted in almost the same ways to pregnancy as those who were younger. And, older mothers scored higher on things like ability to handle challenges and flexibility according to a study conducted in Sydney, Australia. This further underscores Gregory’s results.
John Mirowsky is a sociology professor at the Population Center at University of Texas. He also works with the National Institute of Health. Mirowsky says the ideal age to give birth is between 34 and 40. On the plus side, he reports that those mothers experience better health, have healthier babies, and are less likely to turn to risky behavior. Much of this excellent news relates to the fact that older mothers tend to have more education. They tend to be more financially as well as emotionally secure.
The Argument: You won’t be around…
Oh, yes, you probably will. When people say: “It isn’t fair to have a child at your age. You may not live to see your son or daughter married.” Or, “You won’t be around to know your grandchildren.” You can reply, “I’ll be here.”
Professor Mirowsky found that health problems drop steadily the longer that first birth was delayed, up to about age 34, then rise increasingly steeply, particularly after about age 40. However, The New England Centenarian Study conducted by Boston University Medical Center found that women who give birth after 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 or longer than were women who gave birth at younger ages.
Feeling like delaying motherhood? Go right ahead.