Late bloomer

Just when she had given up on the idea of be­com­ing a mother, a “sur­prise” preg­nancy changed ev­ery­thing. Lori Co­hen finds out what it’s like to be a ma­ture mama

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

NICOLA SAM­SON* WAS go­ing on with her life and fo­cused on her busi­ness and get­ting her health in or­der. She had given up on the idea of ever be­com­ing a mother. Af­ter all, dif­fer­ent ex­perts had told her rea­sons why she wasn’t fall­ing preg­nant. And, to con­firm that, she had up to the age of 43 seen nu­mer­ous spe­cial­ists and had a bat­tery of tests, with all of them con­clud­ing that preg­nancy was im­pos­si­ble.

Nicola hadn’t had a pe­riod for eight months and was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms of per­i­menopause.

Against all odds, af­ter a bout of nau­sea led her to a GP visit, she dis­cov­ered she was preg­nant – and al­ready nine weeks along. “She was sud­denly there up on the mon­i­tor suck­ing her thumb,” re­calls Nicola with a smile.

Nicola be­lieves a rad­i­cal lifestyle change is be­hind her preg­nancy.

“I had suf­fered from adrenal and chronic fa­tigue syn­drome for many

years. Prior to get­ting preg­nant I had got my­self into a re­ally healthy state. My nu­tri­tion was at its best and I was do­ing yoga four times a week. I be­lieve it was all a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to me fall­ing preg­nant,” she says.

Nicola’s story stands out be­cause she had her first child well into her 40s through nat­u­ral con­cep­tion, af­ter years of be­ing told she could not have chil­dren.

Later-in-life preg­nan­cies are far more com­mon than we think. Ac­cord­ing to Stats SA 3.4 per­cent of all births in 2017 were to mothers aged be­tween 40 and 44, and 2 277 were be­tween the ages of 45 and 54! The 2011 cen­sus states that 1 827 first-time moms were over 45. Un­for­tu­nately these fig­ures don’t re­veal if any of these preg­nan­cies were as a re­sult of fer­til­ity treat­ments.

IS IT A RISKY BUSI­NESS?

Your risks to your­self and your baby do un­doubt­edly in­crease as you age. Mothers aged over 40 are more than twice as likely to suf­fer a still­birth and the risk of mis­car­riage is higher. Ba­bies, on the other hand, are more likely to be born be­fore 36 weeks with a low birth weight.

Women above the age of 40 have more than a dou­ble risk of de­vel­op­ing con­di­tions such as preeclamp­sia and ges­ta­tional di­a­betes. An­other fac­tor is that the C-sec­tion rate is higher than that of younger moms, partly be­cause “older” uteruses do not con­tract as well, and you are also at a higher risk of clots and bleed­ing in the six weeks af­ter birth.

In Nicola’s case she had a healthy preg­nancy, but had pla­centa prae­via (a dan­ger­ous con­di­tion in which the pla­centa does not move up and away from the open­ing of the uterus dur­ing preg­nancy; this can cause se­vere vagi­nal bleed­ing and ac­ti­vate pre­ma­ture labour) so she opted for a C-sec­tion.

BE­COM­ING A MOM

Nicola and baby Layla* sailed through the preg­nancy and birth and suf­fered no com­pli­ca­tions – even the pla­centa prae­via re­solved be­fore the birth.

But there were other chal­lenges once she was born. “Jug­gling a baby with work and life is hard. I do think I would have had more en­ergy for moth­er­hood if I had be­come a mother when I was younger. I think back to how hard I worked when I was in my 20s. I know I couldn’t han­dle the same pace now. I imag­ine if I had that same en­ergy now for Layla,” says Nicola.

One of her big­gest con­cerns was how she would cope with the lack of sleep.

“I need solid sleep or I get very anx­ious, which was my big­gest worry. I thought sleep de­pri­va­tion would knock my sys­tem and bring back my chronic con­di­tion,” she re­lates.

She con­fesses it has been a chal­lenge, but her part­ner (who is four years younger than her) is a ded­i­cated dad who helps with Layla to make sure that both are able to strike a bal­anced life.

“I be­lieve that the more you are older the more aware you are of your vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and what’s good and bad for your body. You are more in tune with your­self.

“I have the self-knowl­edge and con­fi­dence to know when to ask for help,” she says.

The way our cul­ture has shifted to­wards a more shared par­ent­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is also a ben­e­fit of late moth­er­hood.

“Things were more tra­di­tional 20 years ago. If I had had a baby then I may have been the one left to do all the nappy changes and feed­ing, but fa­thers these days want to be more in­volved and know it’s im­por­tant for bond­ing with their chil­dren,” she adds.

Petite, slim and ooz­ing with en­thu­si­asm for her now two-year-old, Nicola says she loves be­ing a mom de­spite the hard work.

Adding that she hasn’t felt any dis­crim­i­na­tion as an older mom as some of her friends also had their first baby in their 40s, now that Layla is at preschool, says Nicola, she has con­nected with other moms in their late 30s.

“You con­nect with peo­ple be­cause you have chil­dren the same age and things in com­mon; for me age isn’t a fac­tor in friend­ship,” she adds.

DOES MA­TU­RITY MAKE YOU A BET­TER MOM?

Ap­par­ently, yes, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Eu­ro­pean Jour­nal of De­vel­op­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy. Re­searchers found that older moms were less likely to dis­ci­pline their kids ver­bally and phys­i­cally com­pared to younger moms. Chil­dren of older moms also had fewer be­havioural, so­cial and emo­tional prob­lems than chil­dren of younger moms.

The study au­thors at­tribute this to older mothers be­ing more “men­tally flex­i­ble”, pa­tient, steady and more tol­er­ant, which im­pacts pos­i­tively on the child’s en­vi­ron­ment. They also found older moms were hap­pier dur­ing and right af­ter their preg­nan­cies, had more sta­ble re­la­tion­ships and were fi­nan­cially bet­ter off.

There’s also good news for older moms wor­ried they will not live to see their grand­chil­dren. Re­search sug­gests that be­com­ing preg­nant later in life may ac­tu­ally slow age­ing, and even have a re­ju­ve­nat­ing ef­fect. Plus, a study pub­lished in the Menopause Jour­nal showed that women who have ba­bies over 40 are likely to live longer than those who don’t.

LOOK­ING FOR­WARD

For­tu­nately Nicola ran her own busi­ness from home, so throw­ing a sur­prise baby into the mix didn’t dis­rupt her ca­reer too badly, she says, and she was for­tu­nate to have a sup­port­ive nanny help­ing dur­ing Layla’s first year. Hav­ing the fi­nan­cial means be­cause her busi­ness was es­tab­lished took a lot of pres­sure off things, she ex­plains.

“I was able to fo­cus on my ca­reer in my 20s and 30s and even­tu­ally build my own busi­ness al­low­ing me to work from home and have flex­i­bil­ity.”

The only real re­gret, says Nicola, is ac­cept­ing that Layla will be an only child and that she will be in her 60s when she is a teenager.

“I hope I’m a hip 60-year-old and that she’ll keep me young. But the bless­ing of hav­ing her out­weighs these neg­a­tives,” she says.

“Though I do wish I had a baby when I was younger I think that by be­ing older I was in a good head space and ready to be a par­ent. And it was won­der­ful to prove all my doc­tors wrong!” YB

LATER-IN-LIFE PREG­NAN­CIES ARE FAR MORE COM­MON THAN WE THINK

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