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
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.
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