Are you ever too old to be a mum? Expectant mothers over 40 on the rise
Published 13/10/2016 | 09:17
Announcing her pregnancy only hours before, Geri Horner - Ginger Spice in a previous life - was glowing as she debuted her baby bump at the Attitude Awards this week. Cradling her softly rounded stomach, the 44-year-old ensured that all eyes were on her at the star-packed bash.
And it looks as though, after a rocky start, Geri and husband Christian Horner are about to get their happy ever after. Christian's parents refused to attend the pair's wedding in 2015, but the two appear to have overcome family dramas and are reportedly excited about this next chapter in their lives.
"God bless Mother Nature #mamaspice," Geri tweeted earlier this week.
Geri, already a mother to 10-year-old daughter Bluebell, may look like the very picture of glowing health. Yet at 44, healthcare experts deem her pregnancy a 'geriatric' one.
And actress Claire Sweeney - who herself became a mum at 43 - wrote Geri a revealing open letter this week.
"I'm glad I left it until later in life because I'd got my career and felt more settled," she writes. "I don't feel geriatric and I bet you don't. I bet you'll agree when I say I don't feel any different to when I was 20."
Geri is the latest in a long line of celebrities who have become pregnant in their 40s. Janet Jackson (now 50) grabbed plenty of headlines when she announced her first pregnancy in May. With the baby due in coming weeks, Janet has been on bed rest on doctor's orders.
Elsewhere, actress Laura Linney gave birth to her only son, Bennett at the age of 49, while Geena Davis gave birth to twin boys Kian and Kaiis (her second and third child) at 48. John Travolta's wife Kelly Preston also gave birth to son Benjamin in 2010 at 48. Other mid-life mums include David Bowie's wife Iman (46 when she welcomed Alexandria in 2000), Holly Hunter (who gave birth at 47), Halle Berry (47 when he gave birth to her second child Mateo) and Marcia Cross (45).
Closer to home, several well-known faces are looking forward to becoming a new mum in their 40s. Lucy Kennedy (40) announced her third pregnancy in July.
"Being pregnant at 40 is no big deal," she told the media. "I'm in the Coombe with Hugh O'Connor, who is like a god to me, and I'm the average age of his patients, if not one of the younger ones waiting on the corridor. It's funny, when I was 35 five years ago, I was thinking, 'Oh my god, I'm pregnant and pretty much a granny', but now I'm not batting an eyelid.
"I went for the initial scan at eight weeks and asked, 'Are you sure everything is okay?' and they were like, 'Don't be ridiculous, people are having babies at this age.'
"I'm fit-ish, I do yoga and run around after two kids… I'm more like a 34-year-old in my mind. Besides, look at Pamela Flood, who was 44 and looked and felt absolutely brilliant when she was pregnant."
She's right: each and every one of these well-known women is, to the public's eye at least, the very picture of vitality and contentment.
And they're certainly not alone. In fact, recent Eurostat figures found Ireland has one of the highest proportions of births of first children to women in their 40s, with 3.4pc of first-time mothers in 2013 aged 40 and over.
More and more Irish women are leaving it later to have children and in 2013, according to the CSO, 3,989 women aged 40 and over were registered as giving birth in Ireland with 223 births to women over 45.
"We know that the average age of Irish people starting their families is 32 or 33, but the average of couples attending our clinic is 38 or 39, and a significant amount of them are on the other side of 40," reveals Dr John Kennedy, medical director of fertility specialists SIMS clinic.
The reasons for this increase are plentiful: IVF has never been as visible and financially viable an option as it is now.
Media messages, perpetuated by the celebrity fetishisation of pregnancy, hint that a woman isn't whole until she has a child. And we are told, time and time again, that women have more choice than ever before, and this extends to parenthood.
And like Geri, it may take one or two times to find a 'forever' partner, even if you have had a child with someone else.
"People aren't willing to settle down and prefer to focus on their careers in their 20s and 30s, and often meet someone in their late 30s," asserts Kennedy. "What's happening as well as there are a lot of people in their second big long-term relationship. They're not willing to compromise on their happiness and spend 40 years in the wrong relationships, so they break up and start again, resulting in a resetting of their social circumstances."
For her part, Pamela admitted that she waited to meet the right partner (in this case, husband Ronan Ryan, who she met when she was 37) before starting a family. What's more, Pamela has noted that her third pregnancy at 45 was 'easiest by a mile'. And while she was subjected to a barrage of online hate after announcing her pregnancy, several more well-wishers supported her after she stood up to online trolls.
"Women have kids in their 40s all the time now," she is quoted as saying. "If you're lucky to meet your significant other in your 20s, you're done with having kids by the time you're my age," she stated.
Maura Derrane, meanwhile, had her son Cal at the age of 43: "People make a big deal of it [having a baby in one's 40s] but lots of women do it," she said. "I say go for it. There are advantages to being an older mum - you're much more confident and practical."
Last April, Derrane put age down to her decision not to have another child.
"Now that Cal is a bit older and I think about it, it would have been nice to have another child," she is quoted as saying. "I mean I'm not going to, I'm too old."
Of course, this begs the question: are you ever too old to become a mum?
Certainly, there was widespread outrage when 65-year-old grandmother Annegret Raunigk recently gave birth to quads (using donor eggs and sperm).
Top British consultant gynaecologist, Prof Geeta Nargund, recently urged women not to postpone parenthood until their 30s, but what of those who only feel ready - emotionally, psychologically, financially - in their 40s?
In its annual clinical report in 2015, Holles Street hospital noted that almost 40pc of women attending the hospital are over 35 years old, which is also associated with a range of adverse outcomes.
These include miscarriage and chromosomal anomalies such as Down syndrome.
"The risk of miscarriage goes up enormously with age," says Kennedy. "There's a big risk in all pregnancies of around 20pc-25pc, but the risk of miscarriage in one's late 30s is about 50pc, and goes up by about 9pc every year thereafter.
"You are also more likely to have a chromosomal or structural problem with the baby, and more likely to have pregnancy-related problems like high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes.
Kennedy notes that a significant number of 40-something women will explore the option of using donor eggs if they have tried other options.
"Age is only one factor," he says. "We look at other things like ovarian reserve or egg quality.
"The body at 40 is often not able to deal with the rigours of labour, but then a lot of people are very fit and healthy for their age. Give me someone who is older, fit and healthy, as opposed to someone who is younger, obese and has a bad diet."
And just as diet, exercise and sleep are the cornerstones of wellbeing, Kennedy also advises women considering a pregnancy in their 40s to be mindful of their healthy.
"Those things are certainly more powerful from a fertility point of view," says Kennedy. "Folic acid is mandatory regardless of age, and vitamin D and B-complex supplements are a good idea as well."
"Above all, my advise is to get cracking if you're well into your 30s or 40s," he surmises. "Don't agonise over whether or not to do it, and make the decision sooner rather than later."
For more information on SIMS clinic, see www.sims.ie