Having a Baby at 40: A View from Down the Road

Pregnancy is a physical and emotional adventure like none other. As your belly grows, the list of questions you ponder grows, too – boy or girl, blond or brunette, your nose or your husband’s, and will you ever decide on a name??? Perhaps a little worry creeps in, and you long to count ten fingers and ten toes. When you can’t sleep at night, you think about the sleep deprivation in your future, and the inevitable stress a new baby places on a marriage, on a career, most likely both.

If you are 35 or older, your doctor will scribble “advanced maternal age” (AMA) on your file making it hard to keep this additional question at bay: “Will I be too old to keep up with this child as he grows up and becomes an adult himself?”

Having a baby at 40: a view from down the road

When you are an older mom-to-be, at almost every turn, some (presumably) well-meaning person suggests, aren’t you a little, well, on the old side for having a baby? Like a careless remark about how tired you look, after you have made an effort to look your best, an insensitive comment sinks the spirit and rips little corners out of your confidence. And who needs that when you have the responsibility and incredible privilege of nurturing a growing baby, one who will soon be resting snugly in your arms?

As a mom who gave birth at (nearly) 35 and 40, let me be a witness with a longer view, one that spans from settling a newborn into the crisp new nursery to helping that same baby set up his first post-college apartment. I have no crystal ball and I count my blessing every day for the good genes I inherited from my parents, my stable marriage and the health of my two children. But after nearly two decades of motherhood, here is what I’ve learned about parenting, when parenting begins at an AMA:

You may be the oldest mom in the room but will not always be. The ages of your “mom friends” will be +/- five or ten years of your own. You will be friends with them based, not on the year they graduated from college, but on a shared sense of humor and values, and you will be deeply grateful for their kindness to your kids and to you. They will be the moms you seek out at school functions and will make coming to PTA meetings tolerable and often, worthwhile.

Don’t worry about the comments your girlfriends with older kids make to you. Laugh them off when they say they couldn’t imagine being pregnant right now. Of course not. They were thrilled when their kids were toilet trained. They will be overjoyed when their youngest runs down the steps of eighth grade for the last day of school. Once we are done with a parenting stage, we are truly done. Our friends cannot put themselves in our shoes anymore than we can slip our toes into theirs.

You will read about the theoretical downside of having a baby at 40, like this classic bit of negativity:

Do you really want to crawl around on the floor with a little child in your mid-40s? Will your knees be able to take it? Do you want the stress of an argumentative teenager in your mid-to-late 50s? Will your heart be strong enough? Will you have the energy and strength to endure the non-stop work and worry of parenting a child?

If you don’t already know this from personal experience, let me fill you in, it is hard to win a race with a well-napped three-year old and, likewise, every parent is exhausted when their sixteen year old takes the car keys and drives off, alone. It has nothing to do with the age of the parent and everything to do with the vexing and challenging age of your toddler or your teen.

Depending on your level of education, you may discover that you are not that much older than your peers:.

Among women ages 40 to 50, the median age at which those with a master’s degree or more first became mothers now stands at 30, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. In comparison, the median age at first birth for women with a high school diploma or less is just 24.

Twice in my life I was asked if I was the grandmother and, honestly, I was horrified! But both times I was with my three-year old, my 23-year old babysitter and, at 43, it was certainly a biological possibility. I was taken aback at the time but now, It makes for a semi-amusing family story.

I don’t drink special teas nor do I particularly enjoy kale. I put my yoga pants on one leg at a time and, sometimes, I actually work out! I grip my cup of Starbucks, just like countless other younger and older moms. It will be the same with you.

I dye my hair and ask my 19-year old daughter for fashion advice, realizing we both benefit – her strong style skills give my “look” an upgrade and she shops from my closet with clothes we share. We bond over mani/pedis and shopping, we sometimes go for a run or take a yoga class together. If I was a decade younger, she would have more clothes to borrow and I could run faster. Otherwise, little difference.

When she graduates from college, three years (fingers crossed) from now, I hope to be cheering for her while wearing heels – kittens over stilettos – not sensible shoes. As she walks across the stage to get her diploma, I will be reminded of how she was my very best 40th birthday gift, ever. I can’t imagine life any other way.

So, to the moms having babies at the big 4-0, let me be a voice of assurance down the road. Take care of yourself and your precious little one. Count yourself fortunate if you have a spouse who is devoted to you both. But ignore the naysayers, the ones who think that the 50’s are strictly for grannies. Motherhood is a big tent and it matters little if you step inside at 18 or 40, or somewhere in between.


About Mary Dell Harrington

Mary Dell is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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