PREGNANT AT 50
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.
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 over.you’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.”