The truth about first-time mums in their 40s

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

My name is Cari and I am older mother. I had my daughter at the age of 43 - she is now 11 (you can work my age out, if you must).

Having a child in my forties was not something I had planned on. Contrary to popular myth, I was not a career-slave, so wedded to my job that I couldn't even conceive of conceiving. In reality, it was down to circumstance - I just didn't meet anyone with whom I wanted to have children until the age of 39.

And for most of the women I interviewed for my book, The Secret Diary of a New Mum (Aged 43 1/4), the story was the same. I spoke to more than 100 successful, professional women and only one said that work was the reason she had waited. Not the most compelling of cases, is it?

Technically, anyone over 35 is classed as old in the maternal stakes. I discovered this within five minutes of my first antenatal appointment when I was dubbed "geriatric" - not great for the self-esteem.

But even before I was pregnant myself, I had been irked by suggestions that I must be a "selfish career woman" for leaving it so late to have children. Sure, I had a great job as a television producer, but I'd have had a child earlier if I'd met my husband a decade earlier. I simply had no choice.

Living in north London, I was not short of older mums to talk to as part of my research, but I also cast the net further, anxious not to reflect the experience of metropolitan mothers alone. Yet the stories I heard were very similar.

For the majority it was about circumstance, rather than choice. Many, like me, had not met the person they wanted to have children with until later. For some it was about not finding a life partner at all and making the decision to have a child on their own. For others, it was about trying to have a baby but it taking longer than they had imagined. Everyone's story was different, but most would have leapt at the chance of having children earlier if possible.

Women have always had babies in their forties. Yet the cliches abound. If I had a pound for everyone who assumed that I'd had fertility treatment, I would currently be lying on a beach in the Maldives.

Of course, it's important to be realistic about the chances of conception as you get older, and not to rely on false hope. Most women know only too well that over the age of 35 their fertility begins to decline - it would be naive to assume your body can be co-opted into doing whatever you want it to, regardless of age.

Advertisement

That said, there are things that just don't need to be said when time is running out - like the doctor who, when I had a devastating miscarriage during my first pregnancy, said "it's a miracle you got pregnant in the first place, don't count on it ever happening again".

There's more. People like to have opinions about older mothers, and they're not shy about sharing them. As an older mum I have been accused of being "unnatural" - though what's unnatural about conceiving a much-wanted baby beats me. I've been called "selfish" because I will die and leave my child motherless. This is not, I should add, something I am planning on. Plus my grandmothers both lived long lives. If I follow suit, my daughter will be stuck with me until her fifties.

Everyone also assumes that older pregnancies are fraught with problems - but the experience of those women I interviewed suggests that, for the most part, they are not.

I do remember the day after the birth (I had a caesarean section) shuffling oh-so-slowly down the ward, feeling like a victim of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Meanwhile, the woman in the next bed, who was sliced open just after me, skipped round the room with the bounce of a lamb. Was that because she was 20 years my junior? Or was she just better at dealing with pain? I will never know.

Another cliche oft-spouted is that older mums get much more tired. It's hard to see how a 43-year-old might feel significantly more fatigued than, say, a 36-year-old, but the bottom line is that if your baby sleeps (mine did), it's pretty much okay.

It's frustrating to be told we "can't run around". I'm not sure when fortysomething became classed as "doddery", but maybe these people would like to join me and my husband in one of the daily badminton matches going on in our garden.

I have friends who had children later, and many who had theirs in their twenties and early thirties. Have our experiences been significantly different? I don't think so. We work, we socialise, we go to the gym, we take our children to school and playdates. Age has nothing to do with any of that. We join the PTA, go on holiday, help with homework. Age has nothing to do with any of that either.

Aside from the odd discord when it comes to cultural references (I recall one friend asking incredulously "Is it true that you can play records on both sides?"), there's been very little to mark us out as older.

Do I feel I have disadvantaged my daughter by giving birth to her at 43? Absolutely not. Would anyone even be asking me that if I had given birth just four years earlier? No.

Being an "older" mother does not make you worse - or better - than any other. It does not automatically disadvantage your child. It is not "unnatural" (still trying to work that one out) or selfish.

I loved being a mother to my daughter when she was small and now, as she is about to leave primary school, I love it even more. Age is immaterial.

That said, I'm definitely too old to think about having another...

Cari Rosen is the editor of Gransnet (gransnet.com) and author of The Secret Diary of a New Mum (Aged 43 ??)

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on The Daily Telegraph, London.