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The brand-new middle-age mom

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Thursday, August 30, 2007 | 0 comments

When Cynthia Goodwin's doctor told her she might be pregnant, "I started laughing hysterically," the Phoenix resident says.

Goodwin was 47, childless and menopausal - she thought. That was in July 2003. Today, her and husband George's daughter, Anna, is 17 months old and keeps Mommy running. "She's kept me more active than I was before," says Goodwin, one of the growing number of older women enjoying first-time motherhood.

Call it the late-life baby workout, a routine that beats Pilates for vigor: Moms with creaking knees doing squat-thrusts to pick up toys, bench-pressing 8-pound newborns, breathlessly jogging after scampering

Though women dubbed "advanced maternal age" by the medical community make up a small percentage of American mothers, their numbers are increasing. From 1990 to 2002, birthrates for American women ages 40 to 44 increased 51 percent. In just one year, from 2002 to 2003, birthrates for women 35 to 39 grew by 12 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Arizona, the results are even more dramatic. From 1990 to 2003, birthrates increased 57 percent among women 40-44 and rose 17.9 percent for women 35-39, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Women are delaying childbirth for many reasons. Couples are marrying later, and they're also divorcing and having babies in their second marriages. Many women pursue careers before starting families. Birth-control methods have improved, preventing many unintended pregnancies until a couple feel the time is right.

Medicine has made the decision to delay childbirth easier. Technology can slow the ticking biological clock with drugs that allow women to boost fertility past the age when the body naturally starts winding down. The delay is not always by choice. Some women struggle with infertility for many years until science comes to the rescue.

Good for business

The trend is being felt in the maternity industry. At the Baby Couture & Caviar Kids boutique in Scottsdale, owner Chrissy Speros says at least half of her customers are over 35.

"More of our customers are 35 to 40 rather than in their 20s," says Speros. She fits the profile herself: At 36, she's pregnant with her first child.

The trend also is causing some shifts in the styling of maternity wear, says Mona Astra Liss, national director of publicity for A Pea in the Pod maternity stores. Clothing is more career-oriented, more elegant. "These women want to wear the same designers they wore pre-pregnancy," she says.

Melissa Flaherty, manager of a Motherhood Maternity shop in Phoenix, says that increasingly, women whom she assumed were grandmothers have turned out to be customers for maternity clothes.

"Everybody's having babies, no matter what age," Flaherty says.

Sometimes those ages are extreme. In January, Adriana Ilienscu of Romania set a world record by giving birth to her first child at age 66, using donor egg and sperm. In a mid-April interview with Good Morning America, Ilienscu insisted she's physically fit: "I run very fast."

Such extremes are rare, and sprinting down the halls of the maternity ward is not for everyone. With advanced-age maternity comes the realization that we're not as young as we used to be.

Kathryn Langmade, 41, says other parents at her child's Phoenix preschool sit cross-legged on the floor, but she grabs a chair. Who needs stiff joints? Langmade had her first child at age 36 and her third, a girl, on April 5.

New York writer Judith Newman has written one of the bibles for the post-35 mom: You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman: Diary of a New (Older) Mother. At age 40, Newman developed tendinitis in her hand from lifting her twin boys, who are now 3 1/2.

"I had to get steroid shots in my hand," says Newman, who endures crawling through plastic playground tunnels on middle-age knees.

Risks rise with age
The medical risks for mother and baby at such an advanced age have been well-documented. Even becoming pregnant is tough. Fertility rates begin to decline when a woman is in her 30s. The over-35 age group is at higher risk for pregnancy-related diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and preterm birth.

But a new study done in Arizona by Jamie Balducci, director of maternal and fetal medicine at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, suggests those risks are still minimal.

Balducci matched birth certificates with a statewide neonatal intensive-care registry from 1994 to 1998. He looked at mothers 35 to 40 and mothers over 40, then compared their health with that of mothers under 35. The sampling included 41,075 women in the younger control group, 36,801 in the 35-40 group and 4,272 in the over-40 group.

Balducci presented a paper on his findings before the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists at a conference last month in San Francisco.

The study found that, predictably, women over 40 faced more risks in all categories - elevated blood pressure, gestational diabetes, cardiac problems, birth defects - than younger women. But what surprised Balducci was that
"even though the relative risks for these parameters go up, it's not that overwhelming."

A key factor is the health of the woman, he says.
"I see women 35 to 40 who are extremely physically fit . . . The baby only does as well as the health of the mother."

But do the math. Laurie Pheil, a Phoenix freelance designer, added up the numbers before having twins in April at age 45. She'll be 58 when her children become teenagers.

She's not concerned. Though her own mother was only 22 when Pheil was born, she thinks she can have the same best-friend relationship with her children that she had with her mom. "I want to be that kind of mom. If you work hard at it, you can be the kind of mom your kids want you to be."

Laura Lamberto-White, 52, says having daughters who are 13 and 10 keeps her young. "I look at some people my age and they look old," she says with a laugh.

Lamberto-White and her husband, Danny, spent 30 years in education in the Peoria school district. Now retired, they have the luxury of being home with Emma and Sydney instead of having to establish careers. They believe older couples make great parents.

"We aren't so self-centered on our needs," she says.
"We know who we are."

The first time Lamberto-White went to parent-teacher night at daughter Emma's school, she feared she'd be the oldest mom there. But, she says, "the age thing never comes up." Her closest friend has grandchildren the ages of Emma and Sydney. "We laugh about it."

For Martha Mann, 43, who devoted herself to a career in the film industry and in teaching, babies never came into the picture until she was older. "I didn't give a thought to it," she says.
"I didn't have a biological clock ticking."

Now married for two years and the mother of a son born April 10, she's hearing nothing but positive comments and doesn't feel she stands out as an "older" mother, adding
, "it's really common now."

Mature parents
Older mothers tend to be more educated and more affluent, author Newman believes. They have enough money to give nature a helping hand if costly fertility treatments are needed.

At the same time, middle-age couples also may find themselves paying their kids' college tuition well into retirement.

Pheil and her husband, Ross, were building a custom home when the twins arrived. They haven't missed a beat finishing their dream house. Ross Pheil, 48, worried about paying for college. But his wife is confident loans and grants will be there when they need them.

The twins, she says, "just make my life so complete. I can't imagine life without them. I have everything I wanted in life."

In many ways, new moms over 35 aren't much different from new moms of 25. Thumb through the magazine Plum, targeted at the over-35 pregnant woman, and the topics are universal: eating for two, prenatal yoga, pregnancy and sex, insurance during maternity leave. Other articles hit the niche: the revolution in fertility treatments, 35-plus celebrities, health concerns of the older mother.

Plum's target audience is women 35-45, says publisher Rebekah Meola. Published by the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Plum doesn't take a position on the wisdom of postponing pregnancy, Meola says. Women don't necessarily plan to wait, she says. Most are simply busy with careers and forget to put "have a baby" on their to-do lists.

Though women used to have children at a younger age and enjoy life during the empty-nest years, the reverse often is true now, says Dr. Michael R. Foley, medical director of the Phoenix Perinatal Associates/Obstetrix Medical Group of Phoenix. Older parents have
"sewn their wild oats. (For them) now is the best time to be parents."

What's different about his older parents? They're more mature, he says. They're more seasoned, tolerant, patient. Some are more protective of this precious gift they've waited so long for - and perhaps spent thousands of dollars to conceive.

The downside, though, is that women who know their way around an office can find newborns sometimes more difficult to manage than the crustiest boss. Foley says, "That controlling nature that's been their friend all their lives comes back to bite them on the butt."

Interrupting an established career can give a new mother pause. Kimberly Lodge, director of public relations and communications at St. Joe's, says it was hard to take a break from the job she loved at the peak of her career - even for maternity leave.

"You're used to going, going, going," says Lodge, 38, who got married two years ago. "You've invested so much in your career, your education."

Now she often has to break off what she's doing to go home to 5-month-old Erin. Her friends' kids are in high school.

Regrets? Not one. She was ready for motherhood, she says:
"I'm so thankful."

Anne Milligan, 36, is watching her friends make plans for summer vacation while she cares for her newborn daughter in Phoenix. Last summer, she was hiking across Scotland.

"I'm glad I waited," says Milligan, a chemistry teacher at Gilbert High School.
"I feel my life is in order. I was pretty much an idiot before I was 30."

Ethical issues
Ethicists are reluctant to pass judgment on women who choose to postpone pregnancy, especially those who come by their babies naturally.

Men customarily become fathers at an advanced age, Susan Wolf, professor of law and medicine at the University of Minnesota, points out. Today, many grandparents are raising their children's children.

"Women in their 40s are not that old in today's society," she says
. "I'm in favor of individual assessment."

Arthur Caplan, director of the Bioethics Center at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that women, especially single women, should not be having babies in their 50s and 60s. It's risky for mother and child, and multiple births often result.

"Trying to have triplets at 50 is a good way to kill yourself and produce sick or dying babies," he says bluntly.

We don't yet know the long-term repercussions of late motherhood, he says, for families or society.

Caplan's not alarmed at the trend, though he scoffs at the notion of the 66-year-old Romanian mother. Late-life babies are still exceedingly rare and will continue to be so, he believes. No one relishes the thought of holding PTA meetings in a retirement village.

At any age, parents make sacrifices to have children. Langmade says she and her husband are happily putting off thoughts of vacationing in Europe or luxuriating at a spa.

She becomes emotional when she talks about her three children. "When you wait that long, they mean so much to you," she says, her voice breaking. "To not have kids, I would have had a real loss. I wouldn't have the joy I have with my kids."


Image: What Every Woman Should Know About Fertility and Her Biological Clock, by Cara Birrittieri. Publisher: Career Press (May 26, 2009)pixel
What Every Woman Should Know About Fertility and Her Biological Clock
by Cara Birrittieri

-- Until now, there has been little practical advice on what women can do about ticking biological clocks.

What Every Woman Should Know About Her Biological Clock is the first book to explore a woman's reproductive life span completely, from beginning to end.

Based on Cara Birrittieri's own experience of running up against a slowing biological clock, she shows women for the first time how to "tell what time it is" with a simple blood test that gives them a peek at the state of their ovaries.

Image: Buy Now on Amazon.comPaperback: 224 pages
Click to order/for more info: What Every Woman Should Know About Fertility and Her Biological Clock

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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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