It’s 5:30 a.m. A loud “raspberry” screeches through the monitor from my daughter’s nursery and jolts me from a sound asleep. For a moment, I’m confused. What is that noise? Is this a dream? My sons’ rooms are upstairs, too far away for me to hear their televisions or stereos blaring. This sounds like a … a baby. A baby. My baby!
I haven’t heard these sounds in over a decade, since my boys were babies, and it makes me smile. Although our daughter is six months old now, there are still many mornings when I wake up and ask myself, “Is this really happening? Do I really have a new baby at 40?” Her happy squeals and crows answer my question with a resounding “Yes, mommy, you do!” According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of women delivering babies after age 40 has doubled over the past 20 years. It is a well documented fact that women over 40 have more difficulty conceiving and that the rate of miscarriage increases with both maternal and paternal age; however, these statistics are not deterring many women from starting or growing their families well into their 40s. And most doctors agree that a healthy woman in her 40s is more likely to have a healthy pregnancy than a 30 year old with hypertension, obesity and a seizure disorder.
Getting pregnant at 40 wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. My life was coasting smoothly along, the cruise control set at 55. Did I really want to jump back into the fast lane of diapers, burp cloths, car seats and play dates? Besides, pregnancy at 40 … there are a lot of depressing statistics out there. We had two happy, healthy sons, and I was fearful of rolling the dice when we were already so blessed. Was a third healthy child asking for too much? After much prayer and after consulting with my OBGYN, my husband and I made the decision and began trying for a third child. Two years and two miscarriages later, we finally received the happy news that I was pregnant, and that the baby girl developing inside me was healthy and growing strong! It took a lot longer this time around, but our prayer and perseverance finally paid off.
For me, pregnancy at 40 wasn’t all that much different than it had been in my 20s. In fact, I’m probably in better shape now than I was back then, so in many ways it was easier. Morning sickness, sleepiness, tired back and feet, uncomfortable waddle — all seemed achingly familiar. Despite a few extra doctors’ appointments and a few more tests to ensure the baby’s health, I breezed through my 40 year old pregnancy with little effort.
And the birth? No sweat. Baby number three popped out with barely a push!
As with my fears for a healthy pregnancy and baby, I also feared my abilities to parent a new baby after all these years. Would I really have the energy to keep up with a toddler? Could I handle sleepless nights? Selfishly, would I ever have another minute to myself? My brain was constantly doing the math: When she’s 10, I’ll be 50; when she’s 20, I’ll be 60. WHEN SHE’S 30, I’LL BE 70 YEARS OLD! My brain shuts down at this point, but this brings to mind one of my biggest fears of all: being so much older than all the cute young moms of her classmates. In the first six months of my daughter’s life, I have discovered several things about myself and my ability to parent a new life. I’m a better parent at 40 than I was at 25. For one, I’m more patient. The little things don’t bother me nearly as much as they did the first time around. I know that crying jags and sleepless nights won’t last forever, so there’s no need to panic.
I’m not in a hurry for her to grow up and become more independent. I like her small and helpless and reliant on me for everything. I feel no pressure for her to crawl or walk or say her first word. She’ll do it all in her own time. I’m not constantly comparing her to her siblings or other kids her age, stressing out that she’s falling behind. I take time to enjoy her. If housework doesn’t get done or dinner is late, so be it. A stroll on a sunny day is more important. I appreciate and enjoy the little things like drool covered fists and splashing in the tub. At 20, there was a constant nagging fear that that some problem would arise that I couldn’t handle. At 40, I know I can handle anything.
And those 20 something year old moms? I run circles around them with my eyes closed! Midlife motherhood has proven to be one of the best decisions of my life. We have a beautiful baby girl who has added a new dimension to our family. She is teaching my boys the joy as well as the responsibilities a baby brings. And in my case, practice may not make perfect, but being a midlife mom certainly proves that we all can improve with age.
So for the 40 something year old women out there who are considering jumping in or back in to motherhood, listen to your biological clock, but don’t let it scare you into missing out on a beautiful experience. Older moms have a lot to offer!