It seems everyone is talking about women who choose to have children later in life.
New York magazine recently featured a 63-year-old pregnant woman posing in the buff on the cover, asking, “Is she just too old for this?” In a recent blog post, HuffPost blogger Barbara Hannah Grufferman wrote she's a better mother because she had children in her late 30s and early 40s. Meanwhile, a Perth, Australia doctor touched off a firestorm of criticism when he called older mothers “selfish.”
While the debate rages, there is no doubt more and more Canadian women are choosing to put off child-bearing until they're in their 30s and 40s. According to Statistics Canada demographic estimates, nearly half of all births in 2006 were to women aged 30 and over, double the 1981 proportion (23.6 per cent).
Most women are aware of the physical risks of waiting to procreate until their late 30s or 40s, from infertility issues to birth complications (a recent study showed first-time mothers over 40 are at higher risk for issues like gestational diabetes and preterm birth). But are there also psychological ramifications to putting off procreating?
Toronto counsellor and psychotherapist Kimberly Moffit says older women facing fertility issues can experience tremendous psychological distress.
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“The process I've seen take a toll on women who are choosing to procreate later is definitely the IVF process,” she says. “Women go through incredible emotional turmoil hoping they'll be able to conceive and can feel extremely pressured and even lose their self-confidence. It's a very stressful process where they may have a husband or even family members counting on their body to procreate. The stress can often be detrimental to the conception process and the whole thing can become a vicious cycle.”
Story continues below: Check out these celebrity moms who gave birth after 35.
As well, women who have become accustomed to 15, 20 or more years of adult life without children may find it more difficult to adjust to the new world of playdates and colic, particularly if they're coming from a life where they were in positions of authority at work and highly social.
“A dramatic change in lifestyle can often leave new mothers feeling saddened, anxious and even depressed,” says Moffit. “It's hard for any woman -- no matter the age -- to leave behind her old lifestyle, which may have included a blossoming career, friends and a socially cosmopolitan life all for what seems like a mix of dirty diapers and feeding time. Even though they love their kids, it's very normal for mothers to not only feel like they miss their old lives, but to also feel bored or unstimulated.”
Husbands and dads just don't seem to understand this, says Moffit, which can make the new mom feel even more alone.
“Talking to a three-year-old just isn't the same as catching up with a friend about the latest film or political event,” she says.
Then there's the spectre of menopause -- will older moms end up raising young kids while dealing with the challenges that menopause can present?
“Absolutely. Why not?” says Moffit. “Women's bodies are designed to procreate right up until menopause, so it's likely lots of mothers in this generation will experience menopause while they still have young kids.”
Though the psychological ramifications of procreating later can be difficult for new moms in their late 30s and 40s, the good news is older moms are in good company.
If you're struggling with sadness or anxiety due to infertility or the transition from career woman to mother, your family doctor can refer you to a support group that might help. The Infertility Awareness Association of Canada offers support groups across the country and websites like Mothersover40.com help older moms connect with others in the same boat. Closer to home, older moms can find support simply by checking out who's at the local park.
As Dr. Moffit points out, “We live in a day and age where mothers in the neighbourhood aren't all 25 or under anymore -- the most common range for motherhood is early 20s to early 40s.”
So if you're having trouble adapting to your new role or you're worried about parenting through menopause, don't be afraid to reach out, she says. Odds are it's all probably happening to the other older moms in your neighbourhood too.