How society loves a pregnant woman! Her ripe body seduces strangers into opening doors, offering seats and free scones at the local coffee shop, and marveling that she can still ride a bike and complete tough work assignments without collapsing. The pregnant woman holds special stature in movies and television shows: she’s witty and graceful, even in the grips of hormonal swings. Her beauty radiates, and her requests—for food, seating, air conditioning—rarely go unmet. The pregnant woman embodies life itself.
Unless she’s old.
And “old” for a pregnant mom starts at age 35. When a woman of “advanced maternal age” (35 or older) announces her pregnancy, skeptical frowns replace doe-eyed awe. Doctors describe her pregnancy as “geriatric.” Many women who become pregnant later in life feel apologetic for their timing—as though they selfishly invited bad luck and bed rest, birth defects and early orphanhood by getting pregnant at 35 (or older).
There are pockets where geriatric pregnancies are less alarming and are even, dare I say, the norm. Here in in Boulder, Colorado, land of the free-to-be-you-and-me set, the outliers are pregnant women in their 20s. Many of my friends had babies at “advanced maternal age.” My second kid, Silas, was conceived when I was 35 and came flying into the world when I was 36.
I don’t remember any of us new “old” moms freaking out about the things the media say we, as old moms, should freak out about.
Yes, most of us got screened for genetic abnormalities, knowing that the likelihood of carrying a Down’s baby or one with Trisomy 18 is higher when you’re older. Some of us talked about the suspected correlation between babies born with autism and advanced maternal age. I definitely asked my midwife if I should worry about gestational diabetes or have a higher likelihood I’d need to induce labor, since I was so old. (In a word, no. Eat healthy, decide about whether or not to labor around the baby’s due date, depending on important things like mine and the baby’s health…)
So I was lucky to be surrounded with a community of gray haired crones who were becoming moms in their fourth and fifth decades. I didn’t feel like an anomaly. But if I read the magazine articles and blog posts about the topic, I began to feel like crap.
The messages were unequivocal: “old” new moms are selfish, clueless, risk takers. They ignore their waning fertility until it’s almost too late; then they attempt to play God. Have kids young, the world insists, as nature intended, and you’ll thrive. Have ‘em later and you’ll be lucky to survive.
While it’s true there are increased medical risks with age, many have been shown to be overblown. Jean Twenge wrote a very eloquent and fascinating article about this very topic in the July 2013 issue of the Atlantic. The point is, there are medical risks with having a child, period. And while the entire fertility industry probably has stacks of information disputing me, and while women who are struggling with fertility might well call bullshit on my admonishment to not freak out if you find yourself 35 and childless, I don’t buy the idea that geriatric pregnancies are going upend society as we know it.
Waiting to have children was the best adult decision I made.
I did not get pregnant until I had wrung the most out of my single life, established my career, achieved success, weathered failure, and overcame setbacks.
By the time I went into labor at age 36, I had more money in the bank, more maturity, and a better sense of humor than I did when I was young. I had a devoted husband. Most importantly, I didn’t regret giving up my freedom for a kid. And I know I’m not alone. Women 35-44 are the only group in America whose birthrate is increasing. Younger women are either waiting or choosing not to have kids, plummeting America’s birthrate to its lowest on record. Which is to say, this new “old” moms thing? It’s not a momentary trend; it’s reality.