Do we look like geriatrics to you? Of course not — but that’s how doctors describe these new mums just because they’re over 35. In an age of older mothers why are they still given such labels?
- Women are having children later and mothers over 35 are classed as geriatric
- Meghan Markle, who has ten-day-old son Archie, is one of these mothers at 37
- Clare Hill, 36, said she’s had plenty of time for her and now its time for daughter
- Rosie Phelps-Goggin, 40, is pregnant with triplets and said pregnancy is tiring
While a mother’s joy in her new baby is timeless, there’s much about modern motherhood that previous generations would observe with bafflement.
From gender-neutral baby clothes to organic mashed vegetables — and even what a mother’s circumstances are likely to be.
Not least among these changes is the age at which women have their first child, which has been rising for decades with the average first-time mum now 30 years old.
A startlingly high proportion are classified as ‘geriatric mums’ by the NHS, meaning that they are over 35. Among them, of course, is the 37-year-old Duchess of Sussex, proud mother to ten-day-old Archie.
As a sign of how times have changed, Meghan’s mother-in-law Diana was 20 when she had her first child Prince William, while the Queen was 22 when she had Prince Charles, her eldest.
Four mothers, who had their babies in their late 30s or 40s, have revealed what its like to be an older mother. Pictured left to right is Sarah Pree with Marnie, Catherine O’Learly with Eden, Clare Hill with Grace and Rosie Phelps-Goggin who is 28-weeks pregnant with triplets
And yet, with a 50 per cent increase in first babies born to women aged 40-plus, and women over 40 giving birth to more babies than those under 20 for the first time, the active, healthy and glowingly beautiful Meghan hardly fits the label ‘geriatric’.
Dr Geetha Venkat, medical director of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, says there is a good reason for this label. ‘After this age, a woman’s ovarian reserve begins to decline, increasing the risks of pregnancy. These are compelling reasons why, medically, this is seen as a cut-off point.’
She believes the idolisation of celebrity mothers like Meghan, and others including actress Rachel Weisz who gave birth last year aged 48, has encouraged a generation to delay children.
But while being older can increase risk in pregnancy, once the baby arrives an older mum may be able to give her child better outcomes. A UK study found older maternal age was associated with fewer hospital admissions and unintentional injuries for children up to age five — perhaps because older mums are more confident, capable and ready for the stresses of parenting.
So, what’s life like for the geriatric mums — who are, increasingly, the new normal for our society?
We spoke to four women about their experiences…
I’M NOT TOO PROUD TO ASK FOR HELP
Catherine O’Leary, 37, is a client director and lives in Morden, South West London, with her husband Ryan, 38, and their sons Austin, two, and Eden, seven months. She says:
Catherine O’Leary, 37, pictured with seven-month old son Eden, said she is in a better position financially to cope with living on maternity pay after saving up during her working years
Looking around my once pristine home, now overtaken with baby paraphernalia, I’m constantly amazed at how much my life has changed. But I’ve never been happier.
These days I think nothing of asking mums I’ve just met about anything from the colour of babies’ poo to advice about breastfeeding and the best foods for weaning. I think being an older mum means I’m happier to ask for help — like when I’m exhausted and I ask my mum Susan, 67, to mind the boys for an hour so I can sleep. I’d advise Meghan to be the same. There’s no point having an ego when it comes to mothering.
It wasn’t my plan to be a ‘geriatric mother’ — my husband and I started trying for a baby when I was 30. But I lost our first at 11 weeks in 2013, and was crushed. Then month after month went past with no positive test.
In 2015, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and told I wasn’t ovulating every month. I was prescribed Clomid, a drug which stimulates ovulation, and five months later conceived Austin, who was born in July 2016.
When he was a year old, I started to take Clomid again. Ryan and I desperately wanted a second baby, and Eden was born in September 2018.
Those years of unexplained infertility were incredibly hard, but I’ve accepted I just wasn’t meant to have my babies younger. I’ve taken two maternity leaves in quick succession — ten months with Austin and I’m planning to be off for a year with Eden.
I’m lucky that my company is very supportive and runs sessions to help parents transition back to work. I don’t feel taking time to have my babies will hinder my career, if anything it’s given me a boost.
I’m also in a better position financially to cope with living on maternity pay, thanks to savings I stored up in my childless years. Having time to progress our careers before children has meant Ryan and I have a good income to give the boys the best lifestyle we can. ‘Geriatric mother’ is a term I can’t relate to and I doubt Meghan can either.
It conjures up images of women debilitated by pregnancy and babies. Maybe it was more relevant in the past, but not now.
PEOPLE ASK IF SHE WAS A MISTAKE
Sarah Pree, 44, is a full-time mum from Horsmonden, Kent. She and fiancé Colin, 45, have daughter Marnie, one.
Sarah Pree, 44, pictured with one-year-old Marnie, said the biggest surprise since becoming an ‘older’ mother is how quick people are to comment about her decision to have a baby
Before I met Colin in 2014, I was sure my baby days were behind me. My son and daughter from a previous marriage were teenagers.
But I felt an overwhelming desire to have another child with him, particularly because he didn’t have children.
I was 42 but felt reasonably confident I’d be able to conceive naturally. I’d never had any fertility problems. I was aware I had a higher risk of miscarriage and having a child with a chromosomal condition. Like a lot of women though, I just thought ‘It’ll never happen to me.’ Sadly, it did. I lost our first baby 11 weeks into pregnancy and was devastated.
Within two months I was pregnant again. I felt a great sense of relief at the 12-week mark. But as the sonographer studied the screen at our scan, I had a sinking feeling that something was wrong.
The number of mothers over 40 has tripled since the 1980s — one in 25 of all UK births are now to a mother over 40.
Our baby was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome a week later, after I opted to have invasive testing. I was devastated, but termination was never an option — I loved this child already. I had a normal delivery at 39 weeks in March 2018.
Holding Marnie after her birth, I felt overwhelmed with love. To me, she was perfect.
A year on she’s just like any other child. We spend our days like any other mum and baby, going to music classes, walking with the pram and having fun. I know she’ll be my last child, so I cherish every moment with her, probably more than with my elder children. I also have more patience now!
I know it’s likely that Marnie will have developmental delays, but we’re prepared for that. I’m planning to take her to a specialist speech group soon.
But I’ve leaned that there’s still stigma around Down’s syndrome. I was left speechless when someone looked at Marnie in her pram and said ‘what a shame’. No one has ever openly linked my age to Marnie’s condition, but the biggest surprise since becoming an ‘older’ mother is how quick people are to comment about my decision to have a baby.
I’ve been asked by close friends was Marnie a ‘mistake’, and told several times I was ‘mad’ to have had a baby at my age. I just ignore those comments.
I don’t want to be pitied, there’s nothing about Marnie I’d change, and thankfully attitudes to Down’s syndrome are improving. I’m very active on social media and often get messages telling me I’ve changed someone’s perception of Down’s syndrome with my positive messages. My younger self would’ve felt anxious raising a child with special needs, but I’ve learned to take things one day at a time.
I hope Meghan feels that confidence, too. I do think it’s one of the advantages of being an ‘older’ mother that you have the maturity to trust your instincts.
I was told I’d never conceive naturally… so when the doctor told me I was expecting triplets I was dumbfounded
Rosie Phelps-Goggin, 40, has a three-year-old daughter and is expecting naturally conceived triplets
Rosie Phelps-Goggin, 40, is a marketing director. She lives in Somerset with husband Brad, 44, a pilot, daughter Gabriella, three, and is pregnant with triplets. She says:
For years, I had a deep fear of childbirth. My doctor told me if I wanted children to frankly ‘get on with it’ — but it was only when I hit my mid-30s that I felt ready.
After university I served in the military, spending time in Iraq and Afghanistan, then ran my own company.
When we did start trying, I had two early miscarriages, which were devastating. I felt like I had failed, and of course I wondered if I’d tried earlier, would I have saved myself such heartache? I had my daughter Gabriella at 37. The first six weeks of her life were the hardest — the constant worry I wasn’t doing things the ‘right’ way. However, as she began to sleep better I got more rest, and suddenly everything felt easier.
After her birth I developed such severe endometriosis I was told I’d never conceive naturally again. We were just about to start IVF when I discovered I was pregnant.
Then, at our first scan, the sonographer said, ‘It’s not one baby … it’s three.’ I was dumbfounded. To naturally conceive triplets at 40 seemed nothing less than a miracle!
Older mothers have a higher chance of multiple births because our ovaries can release more than one egg per cycle, but in my case one egg split into two, then one half split again.
So the babies, who are girls, are identical. It means my age had nothing to do with it, it was just a fluke of nature. A 200-million-to-one chance, according to my doctors.
I just can’t wait until they’re in my arms and although we only planned to have two children, I feel so blessed that I’m going to have four.
Still, if being pregnant at 37 was tiring, it’s exhausting at 40, and I know it will take my body longer to recover this time. We’ve hired a nanny from Norland College, where Kate and William’s nanny was trained, to help us cope when they first come home.
If my daughters wait until my age to have their own families, it means I probably won’t have long with my grandchildren, which makes me sad.
That said, having children later in life means I’ve had time to focus on myself and my career, and I’m ready to pour energy into them.
I’m sure Meghan and Harry would like a sibling for their baby, and my advice would be don’t delay. It only gets harder as you get older!
I’VE HAD PLENTY OF TIME FOR MY CAREER
Clare Hill, 36, is a finance consultant. She lives in East Sheen, London, with her husband Gavin, 38, a chief financial officer, and six-month-old daughter Grace. She says:
Claire Hill, 36, said some moments with her baby Grace have been tough but that she believes being an older mother makes her more patient and devoted to her needs
Gavin and I have been together for ten years, but I wasn’t in a hurry to start a family. It felt natural to wait until my mid-30s — that’s the norm in my social and professional circles.
The women I know want to focus on their careers, finances and travel before becoming mothers. Seeing older friends get pregnant meant I never panicked about my fertility.
Once I turned 35, I felt ready and became pregnant in 2017. However, at 12 weeks I miscarried. We tried again and in January 2018 found out I was expecting Grace.
I was surprised when, at an early antenatal appointment, the midwife told me my age was considered a ‘risk factor’. It seemed a bit silly if I’m honest, 36 is hardly ancient! It feels like a very out-of-touch description to me.
I had an easy pregnancy, which I attribute to years of running and yoga. Although I stopped both once I became pregnant, as I was quite anxious following my miscarriage. But my body coped really well.
Meghan looked glowing after giving birth and I’m sure her very healthy lifestyle has really helped her.
Needless to say, we’re besotted with Grace and I believe being older makes me more patient and devoted to her needs.
I’m content having my life revolve around hers, I don’t resent having less time for myself and I attribute that to being an older mum. Motherhood can be so restrictive, but I’ve had plenty of time for me — now it’s time for her.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some tough moments. No one can prepare you for the crippling exhaustion of those early weeks. Meghan is in the thick of that now. But it’s wonderful, too — I felt such incredible, pride introducing Grace to everyone.
Something I’ve learned is how invaluable ‘mum friends’ are. Meghan should seek out other new mums, especially of a similar age, because that solidarity is really important.
Some of my friends have older children starting primary school, but a few have babies closer in age to Grace and that breadth of experience and knowledge is invaluable, especially as my mum isn’t around to help me.
I hope Meghan can still have that normal experience of motherhood, despite her position.
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