It may sound in­con­ceiv­able, but as a num­ber of later-life moth­ers are show­ing, the time has come to re­think age-old stereo­types about child­birth.

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents - By KAYLEEN SCHAE­FER

When mother­hood hap­pens later in life.

EAR­LIER THIS YEAR, Janet Jack­son sus­pended tour­ing be­cause she and her hus­band, wis­sam Al Mana, are now “plan­ning our fam­ily”, she an­nounced. A short time later, her brother Tito con­firmed on a ra­dio show that the star was in­deed preg­nant.

Fans were over­joyed but quizzi­cal as well: at 50, wasn’t Jack­son too old to be preg­nant? She isn’t, and she’s not the only mum-to-be em­bark­ing on par­ent­hood at an age when life is, ideally, less fraz­zled. tra­di­tion­ally, the fifties are when women are fo­cus­ing on boost­ing their su­per fund, but also guid­ing their chil­dren through the fi­nal phases of grow­ing up. But lately, more women in their late for­ties have been hav­ing ba­bies, and a hand­ful are push­ing past that age marker and get­ting preg­nant in their fifties. In 2009, when Jack­son was 43, she told BAZAAR she was still open to hav­ing chil­dren.“sure, I’d adopt.and I think that if I’m re­ally sup­posed to have kids, it will hap­pen if that’s God’s plan for me.”

It’s a sim­i­lar case for singer So­phie B. Hawkins, who, in the early ’90s when she was in her mid-twen­ties, was a break­out pop star with her hit song “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover”. She earned a Grammy nom­i­na­tion for Best New Artist, and kept on work­ing, not want­ing to stop to start a fam­ily. “I was so fo­cused on my ca­reer, I couldn’t have done it,” she says. It turns out Hawkins wasn’t ready un­til her mid-for­ties, and her last child, Es­ther, was born when she was 50. (Her son, Dashiell, was born when she was 44.) Both were con­ceived us­ing em­bryos Hawkins had frozen when she was 31. After hav­ing her son, she strug­gled with whether to get preg­nant again and the idea of sup­port­ing two chil­dren on her own. She over­rode those wor­ries to give Dashiell a sib­ling, in part be­cause that way, if she wasn’t around when he was older, some­one in their fam­ily would be.“i am 51, and Dashiell is so young,” she says.“he needs some­one to go through life with. He may not have me when he’s 50, but he will have her. I think I did the right thing.”

More than one in five women giv­ing birth in Aus­tralia are now 35 or older, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment statis­tics re­leased last year, and the av­er­age age of first-time moth­ers has risen to 28.6 years, up al­most a year since 2003. Mean­while, the num­ber of women giv­ing birth un­der 24 has de­creased to 17 per cent from 19 per cent in 2003. Health­care ad­vances mean that life ex­pectancy is up, and over­all, those who wait to have chil­dren can en­joy a par­tic­u­larly strong chance at a long and healthy old age.

“Women don’t have to do it all in their twen­ties,” says El­iz­a­beth Gre­gory, direc­tor of the women’s gen­der and sex­u­al­ity stud­ies pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton and au­thor of Ready: Why Women Are Em­brac­ing the New Later Mother­hood. “There are choices about the se­quenc­ing of life, and those are things peo­ple are hav­ing to in­vent be­cause they haven’t had these op­tions be­fore.” Data doesn’t yet show a boost in the num­ber of women hav­ing chil­dren in their fifties, but Gre­gory ex­pects it will. Cur­rently, birth rates are near an all-time low, which means women are wait­ing to have chil­dren, if at all.“there’s sort of a rip­ple ef­fect,” Gre­gory says.“you’re not go­ing to have lots of women who are 50 years old who have chil­dren to­mor­row, but they might do that in the years to come.”

Most women in their late for­ties and fifties are con­ceiv­ing us­ing donor eggs — and sperm — and go­ing through in vitro fer­til­i­sa­tion (IVF) to be­come preg­nant them­selves rather than use a sur­ro­gate. Older moth­ers have a higher risk of mis­car­riage, an ec­topic preg­nancy or other com­pli­ca­tions.the cost of IVF av­er­ages about $9155 per cy­cle, with ad­di­tional costs of up to $5000. Pub­li­cist Tracey Kahn had her daugh­ters, Scar­lett and Eloise, at 49 and 51, re­spec­tively, both by us­ing donor eggs and sperm. Dur­ing each preg­nancy, she suf­fered from morn­ing sick­ness but was cel­e­brat­ing nonethe­less.“i loved the bump,” she says.“as much as I was scared when the first pair of pants was tight, I couldn’t be­lieve it was hap­pen­ing to me. I was over the moon.” Be­fore Kahn could un­dergo IVF in her fifties, her doc­tor had her see a psy­chol­o­gist, who asked her how she’d feel when her daugh­ter was 45 and she’d be 95.That rat­tled her, and she thought,‘when she is grad­u­at­ing fromyear 12, am I go­ing to be walk­ing with a cane?’

Kahn says even the sleep de­pri­va­tion after her chil­dren were born didn’t bother her.“the sleep part is harder when you’re older,” she says. “But it’s al­most like sur­vival takes’re go­ing to get through it.” On the other hand, it can be hard to ad­mit — as some­one who spent a lot of ef­fort and ex­pense to get preg­nant — that hav­ing a child has its down­sides, too. Jes­sica Zucker, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who spe­cialises in women’s re­pro­duc­tive and ma­ter­nal men­tal health, says she sees some pa­tients who be­came moth­ers in their late for­ties strug­gle with post­par­tum de­pres­sion or work-life bal­ance but are hes­i­tant to ad­mit it.“many women hide their feel­ings even more be­cause they’re afraid peo­ple will come at them and say,‘you paid so much for this,’” Zucker says.“they feel like they’re go­ing to be judged.”

Even if you have your off days, don’t be afraid to move to the beat of your own baby rat­tle, Hawkins says.“i have a few friends who had chil­dren at 50. Ev­ery­one is re­ally happy.there is no rea­son to suf­fer. Life is short.”

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