Monday 19 February 2018

'I don't feel like an older mum': the joy of motherhood after 40

Tea for two: Sinead O'Callaghan from Blackrock, Dundalk, was 41 when she had her daughter Rebecca. Photo by Tom Conachy

Chrissie Russell meets two 40-something mothers who see definite benefits to having had their children later in life

When Sinead O'Callaghan's friends and family found out she was pregnant they were delighted for her, but also concerned. "I think my mum initially was quite worried," she says.

"Just because of my age and the complications associated with being an older mum, like Down Syndrome and so on.

"I actually didn't tell many people until I was five months gone, just because I knew that even with the best will in the world, people would want to poke their noses in."

Sinead, now proud mum of her 22-month-old daughter Rebecca, was 41 when she had her and well aware that everyone has an opinion on giving birth past 40.

The subject tends to attract negative press largely because of the risks attached to later-in-life pregnancy.

Not only do the chances of getting pregnant in the first place decrease -- women at 40 have a 40pc likelihood of conceiving naturally, dropping to 5pc post 45 -- but carrying a child to term brings additional risks.

There's a greater possibility of developing high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and miscarriage. And when the child is born there's a higher risk of birth defects, most notably Down Syndrome, which affects one-in-200 babies born to mothers over 40 compared to one-in-700 for mums aged 35 to 39.

But get beyond the scary statistics and there are plenty of 40-something mums who go on to have a wonderful experience -- perhaps made better because they're older.

"We had been trying for years and then, finally, after our third go at IVF, we discovered we were having three boys," says Ann Cowman who gave birth in August 2010, one month before her 43rd birthday.

"They would have been special no matter when we'd had them. But I think because they'd been so hoped for and wanted, it's made us especially happy."

Ann and her husband Richard had been trying for almost seven years to get pregnant so it was by accident not design that parenthood came when it did.

But according to Ann, being an older mum to Eric, Alex and Jack has brought with it additional benefits.

She says: "I think I was more relaxed because I was older and, in turn, that made the boys more relaxed.

"I've seen young people with babies and they're very anxious holding them. Not only had I plenty of practice holding friends and family's babies, but I also felt confident in myself in a way that I wouldn't have done in my twenties or thirties. I felt, 'I can do this'."

Sinead agrees. She met her partner in her late 30s and because of work and living in different countries, they didn't start trying to conceive until 2009.

"I was very lucky and fell pregnant within months of trying and had a very easy pregnancy," she says. "I always wanted to be a mum but it just didn't happen until now."

Statistics show an increasing number of Irish women are having children later in life.

The CSO's figures for the third quarter of 2011 reveal there are more women in their early 40s giving birth than in previous years and the average age for first-time mums is slowly rising. In 2002 it was 27.9 now it's just under 30.

This change is reflected in the chat on baby and parenting forums. "One look at our members and it's clear that women are having their children later in life than in the past," says Francis Mac Aonghus, spokesman for EUmom.ie, one of Ireland's biggest parenting forums.

"We've witnessed a huge increase in the amount of interest in the subject of women conceiving over the age of 40, and the topic of being a young versus more mature mother is frequently one generating debate."

In the older mum's favour is the fact that she's likely to be more financially secure than younger women.

Older mums are also more likely to be satisfied with where they've reached in their career and more content turn their attention to parenthood.

Ann is on a career break from her job with Irish Rail. She says: "I've been with the company 17 or 18 years and I got my last promotion a couple of years ago.

"I know the job's there for me when I go back and I've every intention of going back. But right now I'm enjoying the here and now. I'm not thinking about work."

She adds: "Nor am I thinking about shopping, going out or going on holiday because I've done all that.

"There's definitely a sense of been there, done that," agrees Sinead. "I did all my living in my twenties and thirties. I worked and lived abroad and was very driven."

Sinead worked as a project manager in RBS in Edinburgh but now works part-time three afternoons a week for her family's business quoteme.ie.

"It suits me completely. I got to a high level in my career but there was a lot of stress and late nights. Now, I leave my work in the office and come home to be a mum."

With changing attitudes to age, 40 doesn't carry the same connotations as it might have done a generation ago.

"I don't feel like an older mum," laughs Ann. "I dress trendily and I've always been healthy.

"If anything, I feel like I've more energy now, having the babies makes me feel young."

Sinead reckons she's healthier now than ever. Every morning she takes the buggy on a five-kilometre run, and swam 30 lengths a day throughout pregnancy.

"I have a real understanding that in taking care of myself I'm taking care of her," she explains.

But what of the hackneyed line that when the baby graduates, mum will be in her sixties?

"I don't let myself get diverted down that route," says Sinead. "I didn't know what I'd be doing this time 20 years ago, so who knows what the future holds?"

Irish Independent

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