Be­com­ing a par­ent after 40

Older first-time moms are nav­i­gat­ing preg­nancy and child rear­ing in a world that seems to cater to younger coun­ter­parts

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

After mul­ti­ple mis­car­riages and a long bout with in­fer­til­ity, Iris Waich­ler gave her­self one more chance, at age 45, to be­come preg­nant. She had a baby. But lit­tle did she know how dif­fer­ent it would be to be­come a first-time mother who was nearly 20 years older than the av­er­age first-time mom — 26, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion’s lat­est sta­tis­tics; it was 25 when Waich­ler gave birth in 2000.

“I had talked with moms in their 20s, and it was like talk­ing in an­other lan­guage,” says the Chicago-based part-time au­thor and mom to a col­lege fresh­man.

Most of the younger moms she met hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced in­fer­til­ity, nor had they faced the po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous and nervewrack­ing com­pli­ca­tions that can be linked with a geri­atric preg­nancy, she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the March of Dimes, preg­nant women older than 35 are more likely to have ges­ta­tional di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure and preeclamp­sia, and their chil­dren face a greater risk of com­pli­ca­tions such as Down syn­drome. A 2017 study found that chil­dren born to older moms also have an in­creased risk of heart dis­ease, con­gen­i­tal mal­for­ma­tions and men­tal dis­or­ders.

It re­ally puts life into per­spec­tive, Waich­ler said.

As the av­er­age age of a first-time par­ent in­creases — in some cities, such as Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the age has risen as much as 3 ½ years since 2009 — new older par­ents are nav­i­gat­ing preg­nancy and child rear­ing in a world that seems to cater to younger par­ents.

For Waich­ler, this meant join­ing par­ent­ing groups specif­i­cally de­signed for older par­ents. She found other moms who un­der­stood the chal­lenges she went through to be­come a par­ent, and they all had com­pli­cated life ex­pe­ri­ences that made them com­pat­i­ble. “We had so much in com­mon,” Waich­ler said.

Many older par­ents lack the nat­u­ral par­ent­ing com­mu­nity avail­able to younger par­ents sim­ply be­cause the older par­ents’ friends had chil­dren decades ago, said Eirene Hei­del­berger, an Illi­nois-based par­ent­ing coach and founder of GIT Mom (Get It To­gether, Mom).

“Their cur­rent de­mo­graphic of friends are in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent phase of their lives — they’ve all had kids and may have for­got­ten what it’s like to have a new­born baby,” Hei­del­berger said. “There may be less peer-to-peer sup­port.”

That’s why it’s es­sen­tial for older moms to find a re­lat­able par­ent­ing group, she said.

An­other dif­fi­culty that older par­ents may face is the phys­i­cal one: Par­ent­ing takes a lot of en­ergy, said Jaime Bron­stein, San Diegob­ased li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker. A 45-year-old woman prob­a­bly doesn’t have the same en­ergy level as a 25-year-old woman, she said.

For this rea­son, Angie Wall, who de­liv­ered her first baby at 43, re­al­ized she needed to shape up.

Wall said her en­ergy level was never too high to be­gin with, but she knew that she’d have to keep her body feel­ing young to be a good par­ent. So she be­gan eat­ing health­ier, drink­ing less al­co­hol and ex­er­cis­ing more of­ten.

“I don’t have time to be old: I have a new­born,” Wall said.

But de­spite some of the dif­fi­cul­ties that may come hand-in-hand with be­ing an older par­ent, there are also pos­i­tives.

A 2017 study pub­lished in Trans­la­tional Psy­chi­a­try found that chil­dren born to older fa­thers are more likely to have a high IQ, and those kids have bet­ter fo­cus lev­els. In ad­di­tion, San Fran­cisco re­searchers found that older par­ents are more emo­tion­ally and fi­nan­cially pre­pared for par­ent­ing than younger par­ents.

“Older par­ents may be set­tled in their re­la­tion­ships and ca­reers, so start­ing a fam­ily does not take on the same choice or bur­den that it might for younger fam­i­lies,” said Jamie Kre­iter, a li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker in Chicago.

This is a theme that many of the older par­ents in­ter­viewed men­tioned.

Sunny Fawkes, 47, said she had all her trav­el­ing and par­ty­ing out of her sys­tem be­fore giv­ing birth to her first child five years ago. Her to­tal fo­cus is on her son, and that’s ex­actly how she wanted it to be. “I don’t care about Fri­day nights or restau­rants any­more — I’ve done that,” she said.

Wall agreed. She said that her pa­tience is also bet­ter, now that she’s ac­quired wis­dom with age.

“My life is at a place where I can give him my all be­cause I had time to live life for me,” Wall said.

The key is be­ing ready and avail­able for a child, de­spite hav­ing lived for so long on your own terms, said Hei­del­berger, who ex­plained that al­though older par­ents may ex­pect to be done with their for­mer lives and ready to change ev­ery­thing for their new ad­di­tion — it could also be harder for those who have lived for so long with­out a child.

“As we age, we de­velop a strong per­sonal rou­tine,” Hei­del­berger said. “We be­come set in our ways, and hav­ing chil­dren later in life chal­lenges this rou­tine.”

Par­ents are thrust into an out-of-con­trol sit­u­a­tion, when they’re used to be­ing com­pletely in con­trol, and it could be more dif­fi­cult to adapt to this new nor­mal the older you get.

Waich­ler re­minded her­self that hav­ing a child was an ad­just­ment — but one that she could get used to and adapt to, just like any other change in her life. It was mov­ing on to the next phase.

She said she’s just grate­ful that she had this chance to move on to that phase be­fore she couldn’t con­ceive any­more, es­pe­cially since she got mar­ried later in life.

Waich­ler is in her 60s now — her daugh­ter just left the nest this year — and said she doesn’t have any re­grets, even though she is in a dif­fer­ent stage of her life than her peers.

Wall feels about it in a sim­i­lar way. Many of her friends are grand­par­ents now, but she said she doesn’t feel old enough to be a grand­par­ent, nor does she feel like an older mom. “He’s forc­ing me not to be my age,” Wall said. “It’s such a bless­ing.” Danielle Braff is a free­lancer.

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