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Middle-aged women describe late motherhood

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Monday, October 15, 2007 | 0 comments

For years, Bryce Farrell, of Bourbonnais, had her hands full raising four kids.
But now her oldest, Ally, 20, is finishing her last year of school at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. Her son, Kerby, is a 16-year-old junior at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School.

Then there's Rory, 13, and 10-year-old, Bayley. Those boys are eighth- and fifth-graders, respectively, at Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center and Liberty Intermediate School.

All of the children are pretty self-sufficient, which is great for a 45-year-old mother working full-time as a Headstart teacher at Millie Proegler School in Kankakee. But last year, she and her husband, Tim, 46, got the surprise of a lifetime: Bryce was pregnant for the fifth time.

The news took awhile for the Farrells to get used to. "It was a big shock," Bryce said.

After all, the couple realized they would have to peruse the baby aisles again. They were practically kicking themselves because, after all these years, they had just gotten rid of all the baby stuff a few months prior. Tim, a gray-haired administrative assistant for Calvary Bible Church in Bourbonnais, said friends and relatives came to their rescue by the time their son, Ryne, was born last February.

But that was just the beginning. Bryce and Tim had to readjust their schedules to change diapers, make bottles and give baths. They also needed as much energy as they could get to carry and bounce the little guy, now eight months, on their knees.

A growing trend

It's not unusual to find women in their 40's giving birth these days, even if most middle-aged couples are usually preparing for retirement and grandparenting.

Just look at Hollywood. In 2000, singer Madonna gave birth to her son at 41. The following year, actress Geena Davis gave birth to a daughter at age 46 and later, had twin sons when she turned 48.

This year, "Desperate Housewives" star Marcia Cross, and superstar actress Halle Berry even made headlines. At age 44, Cross gave birth to twin girls this past February. Berry, 41, is pregnant with boyfriend Gabriel Aubry's baby.

Sometimes pregnancy comes as a surprise. But over the last several decades, more women have gotten pregnant in their 40's purposefully, said Dr. Angie Beltsos, medical director of the Chicago-based Fertility Centers of Illinois.

Beltsos said many women postponed marriage to focus on higher education and their careers. Or they got married but took several years to enjoy their mate, thus putting motherhood on the back burner.

Beltsos said the media often places a positive spotlight on women giving birth at later ages, but believes that creates a fallacy that there's no biological clock ticking. She said the insinuation that pregnancy over 40 is as easy and safe as when one was younger can ultimately cause heartache for women who waited too long to try to conceive.

Many older couples depend on donor eggs and fertility drugs to become pregnant. That's because the average woman's ability to get pregnant slows just before age 30 and steeply declines after hitting 40. A woman's supply of eggs needed for conception diminishes with each passing year.

"The egg is not well-oiled as a machine as it used to be," Beltsos said, further explaining that unhealthy eggs can increase the risk for miscarriage, preeclampsia and diabetes. Mothers over 40 also tend to produce babies with Down syndrome and other genetic disorders.

Other downfalls

Even if all goes well during pregnancy and delivery, there's always the demands of parenting.

Beltsos said older women typically find caring for a new baby more exhausting than their younger counterparts. Fortunately for the Farrells, Ryne isn't a big crier, and their other kids help out by changing diapers and baby-sitting.

Life can be more stressful when children reach their teen years and experience peer pressure, and the parents are over 60. Aging parents also face the pressure of staying healthy enough to raise children until they become more self-sufficient, Beltsos said.

The physician isn't totally against late motherhood. Beltsos said the likelihood of "successful" child-rearing gets higher with age, and mothers are usually more financially stable as they grow older.

Such has been the case with Lisa and Walter Sanford of Kankakee.

Lisa, 51, is a successful Realtor for Speckman Realty. She and Walter, a 53-year-old traveling real estate trainer and speaker, attained a large, plush home in Kankakee's historic Riverview District by the time their two daughters, Abigail, 6, and Meredith, 4, were born.

They have already money set aside for the girls' college education. Paying for childcare has never been a problem. Abigail and Meredith eat Seattle Sutton healthy meals when their parents can't make dinner. The Sanfords, which value family time, also take frequent vacations around the world.

Walter said late parenthood can be stress-free.

"When you have life priorities that are in your face, it's hard to read a kindergarten book to your kids," Walter said. "I don't how 20-year-olds do it."

Lisa said she didn't wait to have kids because she foresaw those benefits a decade ago. She unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant before turning 40 during her first marriage.

After tying the knot with Walter in February 1999, the two planned and prayed for kids. Doctors told them that it was nearly impossible.

After they "put it in God's hands," Walter said they got pregnant without the use of fertility drugs and donor eggs. Their kids are in perfect health, he added.

Both Bryce Farrell and Lisa Sanford recognize that delivering after age 40 is out of the norm. Yet neither woman feels like she deserves special significance. As Lisa puts it, "I don't feel like I am as old as I am."

By the numbers

50 -- Percentage at which birth rates for U.S. women aged 40-44 years have increased over the past 25 years

20 -- Percentage rate that a woman under 30 can get pregnant any given month

5 -- Percentage rate that a woman over 40 can get pregnant any given month

90 -- Percentage rate for miscarriage in women over 40

20 -- Percent of U.S. women over 40 who seek treatment for infertility

Source: www.medscape.com ; www.medicinenet.com ,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Society for Reproductive Medicine
http://www.daily-journal.com/archives/dj/display.php?id=405471





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Catherine

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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