A tale of two mums

Lat­est baby sta­tis­tics show it’s on for young and old

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - HEALTH RE­PORTER

THE good news is the num­ber of teenagers giv­ing birth has dropped to a record low, while the other good news is the num­ber of women aged over 40 giv­ing birth has risen to a record high.

Most ba­bies are born to women aged 30 to 34 but the growth in the 40-plus age group is a re­flec­tion of both mod­ern so­ci­ety and sci­ence.

At the other end of the spec­trum, in­ex­pe­ri­ence and good fer­til­ity means ac­ci­dents can eas­ily hap­pen, al­though they are not hap­pen­ing nearly as much. About half of all teenage preg­nan­cies are ter­mi­nated.

In 2016, 4142 ba­bies were born to mums over 40 (4.3 per cent of all births) com­pared to 2106 (2.2 per cent) ba­bies born to women un­der the age of 20.

Fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist Pro­fes­sor Peter Illing­worth from IVF Aus­tralia said the big­gest change was women hav­ing their first baby in their 40s.

“His­tor­i­cally women would have ba­bies un­til their fer­til­ity ran out, they’d have large fam­i­lies, then in the 1960s and ’70s peo­ple started to limit the size of fam­i­lies and av­er­age age of birth dropped back to the early 30s and it has just crept up and up. It comes back to the sheer cost of liv­ing and it’s harder for young peo­ple to put money aside to have a fam­ily and pay a mort­gage, that’s a ma­jor fac­tor that drives that,” Prof Illing­worth said.

The op­ti­mum time to have a child is in your 20s but mod­ern so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing liv­ing costs, has shifted the goal­posts. Fer­til­ity plum­mets after age 35 and, at age 43, your chances of fall­ing preg­nant is just 1 to 2 per cent.

“The ma­jor­ity of cou­ples we see in their 40s have not made a con­scious de­ci­sion to hold off fer­til­ity, it is cou­ples who have not had the op­por­tu­nity with a part­ner and the fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances to be able to have chil­dren,” he said. “IVF is still a tough road after 40, hav­ing chil­dren nat­u­rally or IVF once you’re past 40.”

But sci­en­tific ad­vances have in­creased your chances of con­cep­tion.

“If you look at the preg­nancy rates now for women over 40 are about the same for women who were 35 year old 20 years ago,” Prof Illing­worth said.

Kara Fran­cis is 18 and a new mum

to four-week-old Oc­tavia. “It was just an ac­ci­dent, I was do­ing my HSC so I had to think about go­ing ahead with that while I was 23 weeks preg­nant,” Ms Fran­cis said.

Ms Fran­cis is from Glen­reagh, just out­side Coffs Har­bour. Al­though the per­cent­age of teens giv­ing birth has al­most halved in the past decade, the Mid North Coast had the high­est per­cent­age of teen mums in 2016. The lat­est NSW Moth­ers and Ba­bies Re­port shows that one in 20 teen mums are based on the Mid North Coast. “I imag­ined I’d be­come a mum after my stud­ies when I had a good job, I guess at around 25, that’s what I planned any­way,” she said.

Ms Fran­cis and her part­ner Billy York, 25, are giv­ing par­ent­hood a se­ri­ous go with the help of Unit­ing Burn­side’s Charm’d parental sup­port pro­gram.

Rather than Oc­tavia be­ing a hin­drance to her teen mum’s life, she’s turned out to be an in­spi­ra­tion.

“I will study on­line, I need to fur­ther my stud­ies. I am more de­ter­mined than I was be­fore to be suc­cess­ful for her and be able to sup­port her,” she said, adding she wouldn’t change her lit­tle mis­take if she had her time over. “I feel up to the job and I wouldn’t change it for the world now, she has light­ened up my world,” Ms Fran­cis said.

Most moth­ers aged 40-44 are to be found in the North Syd­ney area and, un­like their teen coun­ter­parts, preg­nancy at this age is rarely an ac­ci­dent.

Imo­gen Cor­lette started try­ing for a baby at age 35 with her hus­band James.

After nat­u­ral at­tempts failed, the cou­ple em­barked on 11 gru­elling rounds of IVF over nine years be­fore Max was fi­nally born last year to his 44-year-old mother.

“It was a re­ally tough strug­gle, and at some point we had to de­cide do we buy a house or have a baby and the baby won and I wouldn’t change that,” the North­mead mum said.

Ms Cor­lette said there were pros and cons to be­com­ing a mother in your 40s.

“It’s not ideal to have your ba­bies in your 40s due to the health risks, but emo­tion­ally there are pros,” she said.

“You know who you are, you know what kind of mother you want to be and I don’t think I would have known that in my 20s, I don’t think I would have thought it through.”

Kara Fran­cis and baby Oc­tavia. Pic­ture: Nathan Edwards

Imo­gen Cor­lette with her son Max, 1, at home in Wat­sons Bay. Pic­ture: Dar­ren Leigh Roberts

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