What Nobody Tells You About Having a Baby in Your 40s
A 20-year gap between siblings. A first pregnancy — with twins — at 44. Later-in-life mothers share our unique joys and challenges.
“Because of your age...”. It’s a phrase I heard at my first ob-gyn appointment confirming I was pregnant with my third child. And it’s one I would continue to hear in some form or another right up to the day I gave birth.
Perhaps the phrase stuck out because I had reached my preferred age cap for having another child — 39 — and I would exceed it by the time I gave birth at 40. Or maybe it stuck out because the midwives and doctors at my ob-gyn’s office were constantly checking off boxes on their “mom-is-40” checklist. Or because, with a 20-year-old and an 11-year-old at the time, it was assumed I had put my birthing years behind me.
Still, I was caught off guard when I heard more concerns than congratulations during those early appointments and conversations with friends.
If you’re embarking upon motherhood after 40, whether it’s for the first time or fourth time, your pregnancy, birth experience and motherhood may be different. That’s, in part, because there can be additional risks for mothers who become pregnant after age 35. But it’s not all negative; there is much to look forward to as well.
Here are some things I think you may encounter, you know, because of your age.
● Because of your age ... people will say stupid things. I heard it all: “Is the baby OK?” “Did you plan this?” “You’re done having kids after this one, right?” And then there was the time I shared my good news with someone and they responded as if I’d said there was a death in my family.
I initially ignored those reactions. But when I noticed that the comments stuck with me long after they were said, I knew I needed to speak up, and I began to call people out on their stupidity. I’m not suggesting you build up armor or become overly defensive, but be prepared for a range of responses.
Maria Rice Bellamy of Bloomfield, New Jersey, a college professor, had a different experience. She welcomed her first children, twin boys at 44. “My family was just delighted that I finally had children,” says Bellamy, who married just before turning 40. For the most part, she and her husband Melvin, who turned 50 just after the boys were born, have not experienced a lot of insensitivity.
● Because of your age ... you’ll become very familiar with the term “at risk.” Your doctors will inform you of all the things that can come with pregnancy and childbirth over 35. And rightfully so. There are some real concerns and physical risks to be aware of for both you and baby, including the increased likelihood of developing high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy — or the risk of having a baby born prematurely or with low birth weight.
The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome, also is higher. In my case, my husband and I chose to skip the genetic testing offered to women 35 and older. But I felt anxious throughout my entire pregnancy. I worried silently in the days before and after each ultrasound and tried to mentally prepare myself should my baby be born with disabilities. I allowed the Google results of “having-a-baby-at-40” and the comments of others to rob a little of my joy during my pregnancy. The worry was in vain, as I had a perfectly healthy baby girl.
There’s a fine line between being informed and being alarmed, so be sure to strike a balance.
● Because of your age ... you can feel out of place. The truth is you will be older than many other moms. Feeling out of place because of my age is nothing new to me. Having had my first child at 19, I was too young then. Even when I had my second at 28, I was still a lot younger than other moms in my town. And at 40, I managed to be living in a place that would have been better suited to me when I was 28. I can’t seem to get it right. You’ll have to remind yourself repeatedly, as I do, that everyone is on their own path, and that’s OK.
Bellamy’s boys are now 7, and at 52, she too is often reminded of the age difference between herself and other moms. But she’s found comfort in finding her tribe. “It’s important to find your peers because there are other people in the same situation,” she says. “There are plenty of parents who’ve had children in their late 30s. So, I look for them because they are a little bit closer to my age and they understand.”
● Because of your age ... you can be more intentional. You’ve learned a thing or two by now. About life. About yourself. About the mom you intend to be. About the values you want to model and instill in your kids. You can be more intentional about it all.
My pregnancy was unplanned, but it was far from unwanted. My husband, David, and I both desired a third child. And specifically, after having two boys, we wanted a girl. I felt that I was meant to raise and shape a woman. But when I began to approach age 39, I started to give up on that desire. I now consider myself blessed to have my daughter, and my approach to motherhood is much more intentional this time around.
● Because of your age ... you can appreciate the positives. Your pregnancy and birth experience may not be all roses. That’s the case at any age. Bellamy’s experience was full of challenges: fibroids, deep vein thrombosis (a type of blood clot that can cause a serious problem in the lung), three months of bed rest, a cesarean birth and nine days in an intensive care unit, among other issues.
Her twins, though, were perfectly healthy. “They could have gone home the same day,” she says. Bellamy’s recovery was a long one, taking three years before she felt herself again. Despite the issues she experienced, she says it was worth it. “I can't imagine my life without the kids now.”
Bellamy admits keeping up with two 7-year-olds at 52 can be exhausting. But there’s an upside, she says: Having children after 40 forces you to be active and keeps you young.
All the concerns and worries that I carried — both my own and those projected on me by others — gave way the day I welcomed my little girl and held her for the first time. We gave her our “if-we-ever-had-a-girl” name that we had for years before she was even a thought: Zara. And we picked a middle name that reflected how we felt about her: Joy. Now 2 years old, she truly is a joy to our family. And I celebrate and appreciate her daily ... because of my age.