Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Musings on life as an older mother: Part 1

Okay, PB friends, so now you know more about the pixies and Mr PB, maybe you’d like to learn a little more about me. Where to start? Hmm, ‘older mother’. Do I really answer to that? I suppose, demographically speaking, I do. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), ‘in 2004 the fertility rate for women aged 35-39 years exceeded that of women aged 20-24 years for the first time, with this trend continuing since then’. It seems to be a phenomenon attributable to Generation X. So where do I fit in? Born in 1970, I am definitely a Generation Xer as I mentioned here. I had the pixies when aged 35, 37 and 38 ½. It seems women like me have been contributing to the recent baby ‘boomlet’ Australia is experiencing. So how did I get here?

I’ve followed the heated public discussion about this relatively recent phenomenon of older motherhood with great interest, both before and after arriving on Planet Baby. Debate in Australia seems to cleave into six groups. I’ll look at each in turn.

1. She’s-having-babies-later-because-she’s-been-concentrating-on-her-career

This whole topic of ‘older motherhood’ seems to engender strong opinions and often harsh language. Some people seem happy to rush to judgment and see it through a clear black v white prism. Certain assumptions often seem apparent when this group is discussed, in particular.
A whole ironic greeting card line has emerged
I’m sure we’ve all read articles and blog posts criticising women who decide to establish themselves professionally first and then, once established, and, perhaps financially more secure, have children later. Such women are often derided as ‘selfish’ and ‘materialistic’ and criticised for putting their careers as the most important priority, with children a distant second. (Let’s forget for a moment the double standard that exists – that harsh ruler is rarely run over the childless men of the same age, I notice. This interesting article at least addresses that issue). The statistics show there are Australian women in that situation. I don’t know one – and I’m not judging here, I just haven’t met anyone in that particular situation yet. Maybe you have. Maybe that’s you.

However, there are also other societal factors at play here. As the ABS notes, ‘Time spent in education and a career can mean less time for partnering and having children as a greater proportion of a woman's childbearing years may be taken up with study and work’. And of course, up until very recently, Australia did not have any legislated parental leave provisions so having children was a cost borne almost exclusively by parents (save for the Baby Bonus and Family Assistance benefits, of course, and no, I won’t get into a discussion of the merits of such payments here as that’s a huge topic). So there are often a number of factors at play in deciding when to have children, not least the financial aspect, particularly if you have a big mortgage in cities like Sydney or Melbourne where a second income is almost required for you to meet your financial commitments.

2. She’s-having-babies-later-because-she’s-only-just-found-the-love-of-her-life

I do know women in the second group, the ones who have endured the so-called ‘man drought’ in Australia and found partnered happiness (whether married or not) late in their 30s. In recent years, I’ve followed with great interest journalist Jacinta Tynan's refreshing take on life as an Australian single woman in her 30s, followed by her finding ‘late love' and having a baby aged 38. So yes, it does happen (I’ll do a post on her published views on motherhood another day – note to self).
Found here
3. She’s-having-babies-later-because-she-had-fertility-reasons

There’s also been a steady increase in Australia in the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in recent years. Far from the unusualness of the ‘test tube baby' phenomenon we first heard of in the 1970s, it’s now far more common. Multiple births (which often result from ART) are on the rise. I don’t have any expertise in this area but have a number of friends who have had babies using ART. The journeys these women (and their partners) take and the sacrifices they make in order to become mothers are absolutely extraordinary and often heart-wrenching.

I’ve seen my dear friends go through numerous fertility tests (for both partners), endless doctors’ and specialists’ appointments, invasive procedures, unpleasant and painful side effects of taking the required medication, the agony of waiting to see if fertilisation has occurred (and not forgetting the numerous miscarriages or stillbirths) or of getting back in the saddle and trying again. And again. The monetary cost can be astronomical, the physical cost extreme and the mental cost almost soul-destroying. So, I applaud all those brave souls who fit in this group and wish them only the best in their efforts to become parents. The children born to these mums are precious indeed. Here’s the classic moment of discovery, beloved the world over.
And then there are the mums who, after having one child using ART, find themselves unable to have any more. They have their own set of emotions to deal with, acknowledging the blessing of the child they have while mourning the siblings they are unable to provide. Goodness, life can be hard, can’t it?

4. She’s-unable-to-have babies-because of-fertility-issues

The sad flipside of the last group is those who, despite years of trying, heartache, considerable financial outlay and distress just can’t have babies. Mother Nature won’t help and the miracles of modern medicine haven’t been able to. Theirs is the saddest and toughest situation. My heart breaks just trying to imagine their pain and sense of loss. At some point, they have to decide to stop trying for children and work out how to spend the rest of their lives as a childless couple. That must be particularly tough in a society which places so much value of having children. So many relationships founder at this point and I guess that’s understandable. Others thrive for once they’ve been to hell and back, they’ve still emerged, together. Such adversity can often be the crucible for embedding a rock-solid relationship in these circumstances. Some couples adopt children or foster them. Others don’t. I found this photo of an empty cradle on this blog written by an infertile woman.
5. She’s-chosen-not-to-have-babies

Of course, there are also many women who decide motherhood is not for them. As is their right. I pass no judgment. Making that decision may be simple or complex – I suppose it depends on a combination of your upbringing, life experience, life philosophies, medical condition and personal circumstances. This article by Rachel Cooke, ‘The Dummy Mummy Decade’, expresses the view of one such woman. It’s an interesting read and quite thought-provoking. It made me sit up and view the world from her perspective – walking a mile in someone’s else’s shoes is important, I think, to ensure I keep an open mind. I also chanced upon this interesting blog which canvasses a lot of the issues considered by those who decide not to have children. This study asserts that remaining childless does not lead to loneliness in old age as is commonly purported. Yes, there are a myriad of reasons why women choose not to have children.

And then there’s a sixth group.

6. She’s-having-babies-later-because-she-had-medical-(and-not-fertility)-reasons

Not much mention is made in the media of this group. That’s where I fit in. Mr PB and I married at 28 and always had the general idea that we would start a family at around 30, after a couple of years of establishing ourselves professionally in Sydney under our belt. But it wasn’t to be. I won’t go into all the unpleasant details here as it is something intensely private but put it this way, we weren’t even in a position to even try to have children until we’d been married for 6 ½ years.

For many years, maybe even 20, I had a rare, severe and undiagnosed chronic pain medical condition. I had a range of wide-ranging symptoms but no one ever joined the dots. After years of distress, heartache, major depression, pain, medication and desperation, my GP finally referred me to the kind and brilliant surgeon who solved my problem. We are forever indebted to him and the two other kind souls who helped me through the long process of treatment and recovery. It required several major operations, medication, intensive (and invasive) treatment and my taking a year off work to fully recover and get myself well again.

I returned to work and fell pregnant with Joshua a week later. I cannot express adequately in words the joy and depth of emotion we felt when we saw the positive pregnancy test result. Ah, the rapture! We underwent the slightly scary genetic testing which is recommended once you fall into the category of ‘older mother’. The results were fine, to our great relief. Our move to Planet Baby followed swiftly. I was 35 when our darling Joshie was born. That seems to be the cut-off age for ‘safe’ pregnancies in Australia nowadays. Given my previous surgery and medical history, I had to have an elective caesarean to avoid setting off my body’s ‘pain loop’ again. Here’s newborn Joshua.
We told my obstetrician we hoped to have a family with three children. He showed us the statistics which were starting to stack up against us and counselled us to leave at least a 16 month gap before the next baby was born. We then suffered some considerable heartache (something else I’d like to keep private)  and by this stage, we could see the result of my ageing in the genetic  test results. The risk of problems was increasing. Then sweet India was born just over two years after Joshua, when I was 37, again by an elective caesarean.
Our kind obstetrician then gave us an even stricter timetable if we wished to have a third child with a minimal risk of complications. The test results showed an even higher level of risk this time. Then darling Sam was born 19 months after India via my third elective caesarean. Here’s our littlest man.
Suddenly, after years of heartache and distress, not to mention watching so many of our friends have children whilst we couldn’t, we had three children under four. And they were all healthy. Five short years ago, we would never have imagined how our lives would turn around so dramatically. We are indeed blessed and remind ourselves of that every day. Our lives could have been so different had we not landed on Planet Baby.

Next, I’ll have a ponder about the reality of being an older mother in Australian society today. I’d love to hear about your journeys to motherhood. Did you have your children early or later or a combination of the two? Life can sometimes throw the most unexpected challenges and surprises in our way, don’t you think?

This post was rewound for And then there were four's Weekend Rewind on 7 October 2011.


  1. Oh Jane, you've made me cry, what a beautiful post and such a happy 'ending' with the pics of your three gorgeous pixies.

    I was the youngest mother in my mothers group by 5yrs when I had Will at 28 with a handfull of the mothers in their 40s already.

    With Glen being 9yrs older than me he was keen to start a family as soon as we'd said 'I do' but I told him I wanted to hold off for 5 years as I wanted to 'live my life' first. I'm glad that I did as I certainly wouldn't have been in the right mind frame to have a bub in my early and mid 20s. We were so lucky that we had no fertility problems.

    I don't pass judgement on anyone as long as they love and nurture their child.

    I do feel like a 'young mum' when I'm down at the local park but motherhood has given me a new kind of confidence that work and age could never have given me.

    Thanks for sharing your stories, I love reading them. Have a lovely evening with your pixies.

  2. Oooh, I can feel my blood pressure rise at the mere mention of pt. 1, it's all I can do not to get into a long, long, feminst rant in the comment section of your blog :-)

    To answer your question: I had decided a long time ago that I should conceive a child at about 27, for various reasons including that I could not ethically justify me in my particular financial and general situation aborting a Down's Baby, but also to give myself time to establish a career too.

    My partner got himself a post-doc in Prague when I was 28, and I had no career opportunities the Czech Repuplic, so I thought I'd use the window to have a baby. So we got knocked-up and flew over pregnant, with just enough time to sort out the birth in a foreign country ... which a story on its own.

    This interestingly makes me one of the younger primary-caregivers at my particular playgroup. My best Mummy-friend from playgroup is about 8 years older than me, and I'm pretty sure at 29 the youngest one there (though it's not like I've asked around).

    Despite my age I still feel like an older mother though - I've got my career, a PhD a postdoc and some decent papers under my belt - it was only because I got through school quicker that I was free to make that decision. I would have had to make some serious sacrifices otherwise.

    Thank you for sharing a bit about your personal experience too. I don't why, but I must confess that I never really thought about people in the pt. 6 category before. Perhaps it's because, like for you, it's not something that you can just bring up out of the blue like some of the other situations. Anyway, I learnt something, so thank you.

  3. Hi Jane,

    Having my first at 34 I feel like an older mum too. And I remember during those sleep deprived days I felt like the oldest woman alive! I think we had a combination factors going on - a bit of career establishment, meeting Steve closer to 30 than 20, and some unexpected fertility issues too. But we're lucky and so grateful for our two precious bundles and I do actually feel lucky to have had my pre-mum years to study, travel and have fun.

    I just wanted to say how cute your pixies were as newborns - and they all look exactly the same!

    X Sarah

  4. Gosh, some very interesting responses. Janette, thanks and sorry for making you cry! What you say about your mothers' group does seem to bear out this phenomenon of older mothers at the moment. I'm so pleased you were able to approach motherhood when you wanted and without difficulty. I agree about the whole judgment thing as well - life's hard enough as a mother without judging others as well. So often I think "There but for the grace of God go I" when I see a child misbehaving - it could so easily be mine.

    And, Nadiah, there was a hyperlink missing for the article I mentioned in the bracketed italics under group 1: look at http://www.drpetra.co.uk/blog/women-blaming-and-babies/ to see it. And thanks for sharing your story - most interesting to see how you juggled it. I think so often people get hooked up on the whole age thing when we should really just focus on the fact that we all have motherhood in common. Full stop. Oh, and thanks for the comment. It doesn't hurt to shine a light on these hard topics occasionally.

    Sarah, don't remind me about the sleep deprivation! I'm so very pleased that motherhood worked out for you as well, notwithstanding no doubt some heartache and hard times. And yes, I did have to concentrate when I posted those photos to make sure they were in the right order! J x

  5. Gosh all these factors - i just never EVER make assumptions on why or age or how many children choose, you never know, could be heartbreaking & it's not life, why should it bother me??
    I don't fit any mould, being born in 1975, marrying my childhood sweetheart, having 2 degrees then 4 children by the time i was 29, where do i fit in?? I also had the keen-to-marry-&-start-a-family kind of husband, so basically i had absolutely everything going for me. As a scientist you'd think i'd be more interested in the statistics but i was in the 19-23 year old category first time round & had such low risks of everything, gosh, so fertile we had twins next round. For my 4th i didn't bother with any tests either.
    I think it's all attitude, i was at a business conference with a lady 10 years my senior telling me how remarkable she was as a businesswoman & mother & i let her go on & on, then watched her face as a fellow school mum came over & started talking P&C. Ha!! She has no clue i was so young, successful & a mother of many. Hmmm . . . don't judge honey. You know who i want to impress - my CHILDREN, no one else.
    Must admit, being a 35y.o. mum at the high school induction at a city private school, i felt VERY young indeed. FYI my parents were in their 40s when i was born, all you need is love, safety & family!! Love Posie

  6. Hmm, interesting post. I'm a bit of an old fart at almost 39 and still trying to work out the baby thing. It is a dilema for me. I am waiting for the flash of insight so I know what to do :)

  7. Hi Jane... There's so many factors as to why women have children later... I had my first child at 31... I think that puts me on the cusp of 'older mother'... I did enjoy a career first... a failed long term relationship... and two years with no menstruation... I guess these were all contributing factors... personally I don't think I was mentally ready for children before this time... I am in a good place now and am able to give my kids my all. I'll never know any other way... so who know's whether I would have been a good young Mum?? I would never judge anyone, based on the age they have children... My mum had her first at 18 and she is an excellent mum! Lx

  8. I'm 22 and having my first baby in March.
    I feel pretty young in some contexts but not so much in others.

    I know a lot of mothers between about 25-40 and I feel as though I can hold my own in a discussion about babies. I know two other mothers (now older) who had their first at 21.
    I feel lucky to be starting young as I have more energy etc and Ill still be really young when my kids are grown up.

    I never was really the career type so I don't think I will miss that all that much. My kids can be my career. I think if I'm an ok mum Ill be happy.

    My husband and I expected fertility problems so we decided to just give it a try and (maybe because of our age) it took only 3 months to conceive.

    I am so excited about pregnancy and birth and being a mum. I don't have any regret at all and wouldn't have it any other way.

  9. We didn't get pregnant exactly when we wanted to, and this might sound crazy, but it made me feel better to think that my child's future mate wasn't ready for my son to be born yet or else they would be too many years apart. I believe it all happens when it is supposed to :)

  10. Reading your blogs in the morning is like reading a great short story! Thanks again for sharing another part of you. It's always great to put a face, story or life behind bloggers who seem so "unreal" at times.

    Being Korean, having kids past 30 is considered OLD and is looked down on, as if we can control when we have kids! Before I had our Nathan, I had a little medical scare and had to go through several medical procedures as well which took up a few years so I feel you. We were told we would not be able to conceive naturally and had looked at adoption after looking into fertility clinics but we did get pregnant! He's our little miracle baby! I'm so glad you had great results as well and your 3 little ones are just too precious!

  11. Wow! These responses are so impressive - thanks for sharing, ladies. I think they highlight the wide range of circumstances in which women find themselves. I suppose that is why I wrote the post in the first place as I was frustrated at the media's lazy analysis of what is going on in Australia today.

    I only ever seemed to hear that either (a) women were having children later because they'd put their career first or (b) it was because they were partnering later. There are so many other reasons as you've all highlighted and many of which overlap.

    Oh, and on reflection, I think there are at least another two groups to add. One is those women who have lost a child, whether through miscarriage, termination (and there can be all kinds of reasons behind making that decision), stillbirth, death shortly after birth (due to pre-existing medical conditions or SIDS, for example) or even later on in toddlerhood (by choking or drowning, for example). I know friends who have experienced all these tragedies. Some of these mums choose to have more children after this event so there can be a big gap between their surviving children. The other group is the women who, having had children, then leave their partner or husband and find love again later in life and have more children with that person.

    So yes, it's a complex issue which probably deserves a little more attention that it gets in the popular media. Life's hard enough without society slapping labels on us women!

    Oh, and just quickly, that's lovely news, Rinny. I look forward to following your little one's arrival. And Jenn, I am so thrilled you've had your sweet little man. How you are finding time to blog with a 7 week old is astounding! J x

  12. I was a young Mum starting @ 24 & completing the job @ 27! I was lucky to have had my 3 'Little Darlings' at that age, as now @ 54 they still consider me 'sprightly' enough to want to take me out clubbing!! (The Night Club variety, not the big wooden thing!). My own parents were late to the whole deal (Mum @ 33 & Dad @ 54). I loved them dearly, but oh dear I never considered them as Night Club companions. I was able to re-establish my beloved career once the kids went to school & have never looked back. If you are able, buck the trend & do the mothering young, you won't regret it!
    Millie ^_^

  13. Goodness, Millie, most impressive. I can't imagine the pixies going out clubbing - I can't think much more than a week ahead at the moment! But you're only as young as you feel, right? Even though I'm 40, I don't feel middle-aged. Time will tell if the pixies consider me an older mother or just their Mum, age irrelevant. J x

  14. One more category - the one where the husband is not ready yet. Being a dad is a huge responsibility, especially if you would like to be in a financial position to be the main breadwinner for a while. My hubby returned to study as a mature age student and qualified in his late 20s, so he was only getting his career started when we married. It took me 5 years to talk him into having a child, because he felt the weight of the responsibility so heavily. He still does. By the time I had my son, I was 37, even though we'd married when I was 29. Once upon a time, I might have dreamt of having 2 children, but as a couple we have decided on only one, and as a mum of a bright, active and spirited young man, I am very happy with this decision.
    Let's not forget that parenting is a 2-parent decision.

  15. Excellent point, Cath. It is a burden not lightly-shouldered. I'm so pleased you have a son. Thanks for stopping by on PB. J x

  16. What beautiful children and what a blessing! I, too, feel the judgments. I get the older generation mother thing at this point, along with the mother of "too many," and other judgments with how I parent them. It's sad that we do this to each other. It would be nice if we could just accept each other for how we are and live and let live, huh? Wouldn't life be so much more loving and accepting. You seem like such an amazing woman. I look forward to reading up about things on your planet more in the future! Thank you for sharing these parts of yourself.

  17. Why, thanks, Julie. And I totally agree with you on all points. Motherhood is a tough enough gig without all the judging. J x

  18. I think if you have your children in your thirties these days you wouldn't be considered an 'older Mum'. So many are cranking out kids in their 40s now that 35 seems positively youthful!

    I had my first at nearly 32 and my third and forth at 35 and a half. Nothing like pumping them out!

    I don't regret the decisions I have made but I reckon if I had my time again I would have started earlier. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and dealing with teenagers at the height of their craziness in my late 40s /early 50s is going to be lots of fun!

    Thanks for Rewinding x

  19. Hi MM

    It sounds like we did something similar - I had ours 3 in 3.5 years as well.

    If we'd had the choice, we'd have started earlier too but we had to surmount medical hurdles first which delayed everything. I count my blessings every day that I managed to have 3 healthy children in my late 30s when so many of my friends are trying IVF, fruitlessly.

    J x

  20. Hi Jane..I know this is an older post of yours but found it on your little pop up..would you like to read these thingy at the end of your latest post. I have just felt that in reading of your journey into motherhood I have had a beautiful insight into your life..thank you for sharing.

  21. My pleasure, Carol. Thankyou for such a lovely compliment. J x

  22. Love the newborn photos of the Pixies! So divine! I had the Captain just after I turned 33 and would you believe I was the second youngest in my Mother's group. Most of the women were very late 30s or early 40s. All of them had had fabulous and interesting careers beforehand and most of them cited point 2 as the reason for delaying babies. In my case it was waiting until Ross was ready and we felt financially secure enough. Having babies in Sydney is soooo expensive! Both mine are CS babies as well and I am a bit scared of having a third CS. Must call you one day to discuss this further before I am definitely too old to have number 3! x

  23. Thanks for your sweet words, Em. That's interesting - I wonder if it had anything to do with the demographics of the areas in Sydney we lived in. Intriguing!

    Yes, Sydney was too expensive for us to consider raising the pixies there, especially without family support. Life is a lot calmer down here, for sure. And yes, ring me any time! J x

  24. I enjoyed reading this post but haven't had a chance to read all the comments yet. I had my first child and my one and only child when I was a few months off 42! I don't think it was for any of the reasons above. I didn't believe in a body clock until I got to very late thirties and then suddenly it went into overdrive! Nothing happened except miscarriages and I was convinced that was that. I started to believe Parenthood would not be in our destiny,as I had spent so many years shunning motherhood. Then, out of the blue, age 41 I became pregnant naturally. I am now 46 and the proud mother of a gorgeous four and a half year old boy!

  25. Oh Claire, I'm so delighted to read of your happy ending after all that heartache. What a blessing your son is! Just delightful. J x


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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