The other day a pregnant friend told me she’d been strong-armed by her ObGyn into submitting to an invasive genetic screening due to her “advanced maternal age.” She’s thirty-six. I’ll leave the rant about being bullied by physicians for another post. This post is about being a woman of so-called advanced age—which, when you’re pregnant, is over thirty-five.
Now, I don’t typically go around broadcasting my age. I go with “you’re as old as you feel,” but I’m over thirty-five. Three months ago, I gave birth to my second, perfectly healthy baby girl, and I was older than thirty-five when I had my first. I’m not a doctor, and I’ve read the evidence against pregnancy after a certain age. But if one is otherwise healthy and all those many blood tests come back negative, there are many benefits to being a first-time mom later rather than sooner.
Most days, I don’t feel the age on my driver’s license. In fact, most days, I still feel like that insecure fifteen-year old who’s wondering if she got her outfit “just right.” I almost never think of myself as an “older mom,” but I’ve got friends from high school who are grandmothers (obviously they are on the other end of the maternal-age spectrum).
Being a new mom over the age of thirty-five is not so rare anymore (and it’s becoming less rare every year). I certainly don’t feel as if the words “elderly gravida” should be written on a medical chart of mine, ever—I don’t have an AARP card, thank you very much. If I’ve gotten enough sleep (which, with a three-month old, I probably haven’t) I feel pretty energized. If I’ve had the opportunity to exercise, my energy levels could actually be quite high.
When I was twenty-three, I had way less energy than I do now. I slept in on the weekends and napped on the subway both to and from work. Better eating habits and a stronger commitment to exercise (and no smoking!) have ensured that I’m otherwise healthier and in better shape now than when I was younger. The complications I did experience during my last pregnancy (Placenta Previa and Gestational Diabetes) were more likely caused by my previous C-section and having been pregnant before (multigravida) than my age (again, not a doctor).
Because I’ve waited to have children, I’ve gotten quite a few things out of the way that I might otherwise feel I’d missed out on. I’ve traveled, not extensively, but all over North America and to Europe and the South Pacific. I’ve got my partying out of my system. Gone are the days of staying at the bar until last call—let’s be honest—there was a time when I thought being at the bar after last call was really cool. Now I’m A-OK with powering down the Kindle by ten. I’ve eaten at some of the top restaurants in the world, so I don’t feel bad that now most dinners out happen at places with paper placemats and souvenir sippy cups. I’ve overspent on clothes, bags and shoes, so I’m happy shopping the clearance section at Nordstrom Rack and spending what I save on my girls.
Being a mother is amazing. What I could say about how much I love my daughters could fill volumes, but parenthood doesn’t come with a lot of freedom. I think if I’d had my children in my early twenties I’d probably resent them. I really don’t do anything on the spur of the moment—it’s hard to make last-minute plans when you have childcare to consider. Yesterday I wanted to go to Stop & Shop but didn’t because my husband was out and bringing a toddler and an infant grocery shopping was too daunting a task to attempt. If I can’t even food-shop when the whim takes me, how could I ever accept plans for the weekend on a Friday?
Being a mother also requires a fair amount of selflessness, and I don’t think I possessed that to a huge degree when I was younger. I’d say waking up three, four, five times a night to breast feed appears high on the list of selfless acts. Forget about having children, even being pregnant is an act of selflessness—the aches and pains, the weight gain—I would not have been willing to put up with those things at twenty-two. And there is something about experience being the best teacher—I barely had my own stuff together when I was in my twenties—how could I have raised children when I could barely remember to buy toilet paper? (Coffee filters make a great stand-in for t.p., by the way).
I’m sure there are lots of wonderful things about being a young mom—the body bouncing back faster after pregnancy comes to mind (my mother-in-law has told me many times about getting back to her pre-baby weight at twenty-five without even exercising!). But I think there may be something to Newton’s law—that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Having young children keeps me young. I have to have the energy to run around at the park, to stay up all night with a sick kid, and the patience to endure the same Disney song on repeat for an hour (You’re Welcome!).
I have to stay healthier longer so that I can be there for my children for as much time as possible. Staying fit and eating right help me do that, but there is nothing that will make you feel like a kid again like seeing the world through a child’s eyes. I get to experience their awe every day and that makes this “old mom” feel like a young again. Besides, forty is the new thirty, right?