AS new figures show that last year, 30,500 women aged over 40 gave birth – almost twice as many as those in their teens – we speak to three women about why they delayed having children.
‘I travelled the world before becoming a single mum’
Anya Murrells, 41, is a teacher. She lives in south London with her five-month-old daughter Dorothy.
“As the midwife lay my daughter on my chest, I stroked her cheek and fell in love. It was the perfect moment, at the perfect time in my life.
In 1996, when I was 15, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, causing pain and fertility problems.
I had surgery to laser away tissue and was put on medication. I was told the chances of me being able to have children were slim.
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At first, I was too young for that news to sink in, but as it did, I coped by convincing myself I didn’t want to be a mother anyway.
I’d focus instead on other things I wanted in life, starting with university.
So resolute was I that I didn’t want to be a mother, when I did become pregnant twice during my 20s while at uni, I had terminations both times.
I didn’t feel I could give a child the life they deserved or be the mum they needed. Instead, I focused on living my life to the full.
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I spent 10 years at uni, studying for an undergraduate degree in English literature and theology, followed by a master’s in theology, then another in marine biology.
I then worked in exotic locations like the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean and in Cape Town, while keeping a long-distance relationship going with my boyfriend back home.
In 2011, when I was 31, I returned to the UK. My boyfriend and I rented a house in Essex and I got a job as a teacher.
He was eager to get married and have a family, but I still had itchy feet.
When we broke up in August 2014, I moved to Kenya to teach English in a private school.
I loved the lifestyle there and used the long holidays to travel –gorilla trekking in Rwanda and seeing orangutans in the wild in Borneo were just breathtaking, as were the temples in the mountains of Myanmar and ice-climbing in Alaska.
After two years abroad, I decided to move back home to settle down.
I got a teaching job in Croydon and met a new partner online. He brought up the subject of kids after a few dates and, aged 36, I finally felt I was ready.
Because I’d fallen pregnant easily in my 20s, I wasn’t worried about whether I’d be able to conceive.
But over the next two and a half years, I suffered five miscarriages, never getting past 13 weeks.
Tests revealed my immune system was attacking my foetuses and I was put on medication to help.
When I found out I was pregnant in September 2021, aged 40, I felt incredibly anxious, but this time I didn’t miscarry, and at the 20-week scan I was overjoyed to find out we were having a girl.
Sadly, when I was five months pregnant, my relationship ended. My partner decided he didn’t want to have children.
Traumatised by what had happened, my emotions were all over the place. I knew I would love my baby so much, but it wasn’t how I’d imagined becoming a mum.
My three best friends weren’t going to let me go it alone, though, and one of them nominated herself to be my birthing partner.
When I held Dorothy, who weighed 6lb 4oz when she was born on May 22, all my worries faded away.
Five months on, we are a little team. My mum passed away from cancer when I was only seven and I miss having her around to guide me, but Dorothy and I are figuring things out and navigating this journey together.
She’s a great sleeper, and although I know life may get harder when I have to juggle work and childcare, for now I’m just loving getting to know her. I have a feeling motherhood will be my greatest adventure yet.”
‘If I hadn’t explored different careers, I’d be wondering what could’ve been’
Juliet Owen-Nuttall, 47, is a fertility wellbeing practitioner. She lives in Henfield, Sussex, with her partner Daniel, 40, a pastry chef, and their daughter Lyra, two.
“Chasing my daughter around the park, I picked her up and gave her a squeeze. I didn’t become a mum until I was 45 – and for me, waiting until that age has made it extra special.
I married my first husband in 1999, aged 24, but in 2007 we separated as we just weren’t right for one another.
After that, I decided to change careers from a shiatsu practitioner to a firefighter, spending two years attending fires and road accidents.
It had been a dream of mine, but although I realised it wasn’t right for me, I was grateful I’d had the freedom to explore it, before returning to my original career.
In 2011, I got together with my current partner Daniel. We’d been friends for eight years beforehand, and he told me after just a few weeks together that he wanted to have children with me. I felt conflicted.
At 35, I was aware of my biological clock, and other friends were starting to have babies, but the timing didn’t feel right. Daniel understood and we decided to go travelling instead, and explore new career paths for us both.
We moved to Costa Rica in 2015 to start a horse riding business. It was completely different from anything we’d done before, but we just went for it.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and then I became ill with an infection in my womb and one of my Fallopian tubes. We ended up coming home within a year for medical treatment.
When the doctor told me it may mean I wouldn’t be able to conceive, I felt so stupid and guilty. I realised I’d been putting off having a baby because I was afraid of losing myself, my freedom and missing out on career opportunities, which I regretted.
I decided to focus on my physical and mental health, changing my diet, taking supplements and meditating, trying to come to terms with the news that my dream of being a mum may never come true.
Daniel was very supportive and together, we decided to at least try to have a baby.
In October 2019, aged 44, I took a pregnancy test and was completely overwhelmed when I saw two lines appear. After a year spent trying to conceive, Daniel was stunned, but so excited.
I was monitored closely because of my age, but I felt so fit and well during my pregnancy. Lyra was born on June 15, 2020, weighing 5lb, and I couldn’t believe she was mine.
Now two, she’s a real fire-cracker. She loves being outdoors and is very adventurous, petting animals and climbing trees.
I have no regrets about the age I started my family. I think older mums are in a better place and don’t need to prove themselves.
If I hadn’t travelled or explored careers, I’d always have wondered what my life could have been. I’m confident in the decisions I make.
I know how to take care of myself, while also devoting myself to my daughter.
I’d have definitely not been so sure of myself if I’d had a child earlier. I’ve fulfilled all my dreams – now I can concentrate on helping Lyra fulfil hers.”
‘I waited for The One’
Jayne East, 52, works in marketing and lives in Essex with her husband David, 53, a tree surgeon, and their children Josh, 25, James, 22, Josie, 11, and Abi, eight.
“Looking around the dining table at my husband and our four kids chattering and joking, I have to pinch myself this is my life.
In less than four years, I went from being single to married and a mum of four – including having a baby at 43 – and I’ve never been happier.
In my 20s and 30s I had a number of relationships, but none lasted for more than a couple of years, and I never felt they were the man I wanted to have a family with.
At one point, when I was 37, I toyed briefly with the idea of having a baby on my own through IVF, but decided it wasn’t for me – I wanted to create a family with someone I loved.
In my late 30s, my mum Gloria was diagnosed with cancer and any thoughts of babies went out of my head as I focused on spending time with her while she had treatment.
I was 40 when, in May 2010, I met David in a local pub. He had a lovely smile and his easy-going nature was attractive. There was instant chemistry.
He told me he’d been a widower for a year and had two sons, then aged 12 and 10.
It didn’t bother me that David had been married before and already had children. He was such a lovely man and we started dating.
Very quickly we talked about having a child together, and he said he’d love a little girl. I felt sure I’d met the man I wanted to have children with, especially when I saw how wonderful a dad he was to his sons.
That August, David proposed, but tragically my mum passed away a fortnight before our wedding in October. I was devastated, but knew she was so happy I’d found The One.
The following January I discovered I was pregnant, and both David and my stepsons were over the moon. On October 3, 2011, with David by my side, I gave birth to our daughter Josie, who weighed 8lb.
The following year, I officially adopted Josh and James, because we all agreed we wanted our family to feel whole.
Then, in April 2013, I was stunned to discover I was pregnant again at 43.
It wasn’t planned, but the whole family was so happy, and Abi was born on November 20, 2013, completing our family.
Today, life is a whirlwind of school runs, musical-theatre classes and swimming lessons, as well as spending time with Josh and James, who still live at home.
I’ve made new friends with other mums through baby and toddler groups, and if my age ever comes up, they’re always surprised by how much older I am than them – everyone always comments on how active we are, because we’re always out and about, cycling and walking.
Thanks to our ages, David and I are more financially stable than if we’d been younger parents, allowing us to go on more holidays and days out as a family.
I’ve really missed having my mum around, but people lose their parents at all ages.
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And like any working mum, it took time to navigate the juggle between my career and family life, but now I have that balance right.
I’ll never regret the age I had a family – David was definitely worth waiting for.”
- Source: Office For National Statistics
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