“Hello there, young lady!” my OB/GYN greeted me with a grin. He was only a few years older than me, but he thought it was funny as hell to tease me about my age. I was 38 and pregnant — far from geriatric, especially compared to lots of moms who have their first kids in their 40s and 50s, but apparently old enough to warrant mockery from my doctor.
It wasn't part of my plan to have my first child in my late 30s. I had been married and widowed once before marrying my second husband, who I'd met and briefly dated during my first year of college. After we reconnected in my 30s, we got together again, and after we got married we decided to have a family quickly. Unlike a lot of women who try to conceive in their 30s and 40s, I was lucky. We planned to have a baby during my husband's academic break in the summer, and, amazingly, our plan worked on the first try.
Unlike women like Janet Jackson, who recently became a mom at the age of 50 after giving birth to her first son Eissa Al Manna on Jan. 3, I thankfully didn’t get a lot of hate for being an older mom. But I still wasn't ready for the remarks that would come after I gave birth, or the other unique challenges that come with being a middle-aged mom.
Part of the reason why it was tough to be a middle-aged mom is because I ended up moving from Brooklyn to be with my husband, who was a philosophy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. If I'd stayed in Park Slope, no one would have looked twice at me: in Brooklyn, lots of moms put off having kids till their late 30s or 40s, and being a frizzy-haired, middle-aged lady in publishing is practically a prerequisite for having a baby. But after relocating to Nevada, I quickly realized that in Vegas, moms come young.
In my labor class, the moms-to-be were fresh-faced, glowing, and at least 15 years younger than me. A common question they had for the teacher was whether they could successfully nurse after getting implants.
In my labor class, the moms-to-be were fresh-faced, glowing, and a good 15 years younger than me. A common question they had for the teacher was whether they could successfully nurse after getting implants. The young couples looked quizzically at my professor husband and me, but didn’t ask questions.
But even without getting flack from friends or strangers, the medical community let me know where I stood. Doctors kept telling me I had a "high-risk pregnancy," due to my "advanced maternal age." While that was technically true, as there are risks that come with having a baby after the age of 35, such as a higher risk of developing high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, I felt fine, and my baby was totally fine. Since I felt like I was still fairly young, I was almost amused by the labels, as they seemed incredibly melodramatic.
Because I had a "high-risk pregnancy," I did undergo an amniocentesis, a highly unpleasant procedure during which a doctor places a needle directly into the womb to draw amniotic fluid. The procedure ostensibly tells you whether or not your baby has any chromosomal issues, and because women over the age of 35 have a higher risk of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome, that was primarily what the doctors were looking for. Although the amnio was uncomfortable, thankfully my baby was A-OK.
After my beautiful boy was born and had advanced to the ripe age of 1, my husband and I decided it was time for another. This time, I was 40 years old. The second pregnancy was a lot harder than the first: for starters, I felt uncomfortable nearly all of the time, and I had a super-active toddler who desperately wanted and needed my attention. I also developed antenatal depression, or depression during pregnancy, which only got worse when my OB/GYN detected slow growth in the fetus.
According to my OB, my baby wasn't putting on weight as quickly as expected, which can indicate serious problems with the pregnancy. Because I was in my 40s, my pregnancy was once again labeled high-risk, which was compounded by the fact that advanced maternal age is correlated with low birth weight. My doctor took the issue seriously, so to make sure all was well, I was sent to screenings first once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week.
I did have to deal with the occasional stranger asking if I was the baby's mother or grandmother.
To make matters worse, the baby was breech and was too stubborn to move. If I’d been younger, the OB/GYN could have tried to flip him so that his head faced downward, but no, I was too old, so that Buddha baby stayed put. I was told that I needed a c-section.
Though I felt no pain during the surgery, the recovery process was awful, and I was greedy for the Percocets during those first few days. Since my second baby was born two days before my first son’s birthday, I worried my toddler would feel ignored. Less than a week after the c-section, I had a birthday party for my Number 1 son. Maybe a younger woman could have pulled it off, but I was weeping in the corner by the end of it.
Raising my two babies in middle age had its ups and downs. I did have to deal with the occasional stranger asking if I was the baby's mother or grandmother. I also know that when I was younger, I would have had a lot more energy to deal with nearly four years of constantly interrupted sleep. My husband likes to joke about the time when in the middle of the night, my older son WOULD NOT stop crying, no matter what I did. I tried to nurse him. I tried to rock him. I tried to sing him to sleep. Finally, I held him in my hands, looked him in the eye, and said, “Why do you do it? Why do you do it?”
If you're an older mom, you might even find it easier to make the kind of sacrifices that parenting requires.
Still, there were definitely benefits to being an older mom. Because I was older, I didn’t mind having to stay at home with my kids nearly as much as I would have when I was younger. When I was in my 20s, I was almost pathologically social; in my 40s, however, I'd been to enough parties and poetry readings to know that I wasn't missing much.
Overall, I don't regret waiting till my late 30s to start having kids one bit. So if you're also a "young lady" in the family way, or if you plan to wait until your 40s to raise kids, the good news is that you are probably more financially and emotionally stable than you would've been if you had a baby in your 20s. You might even find it easier to make the kind of sacrifices that parenting requires. Ultimately, the wisdom you’ve gained from life will balance out the energy you’ve lost in the decades.