A tale of two mums
Latest baby statistics show it’s on for young and old
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