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Having children at 40 has pros and cons

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Saturday, January 09, 2021 | 2 comments

Image: At 40, Gina Bumgarner was pregnant with her twins sons Baylor, right, and Blaine, who is pictured playing with sister Addison, 14

In her early 40s, Deborah Walker still had hopes of becoming a mom.

Like many of her peers, she'd chosen to first focus on her career and then on children. The Hermitage, Tenn., woman had already suffered a pregnancy loss. But four days before moving from New York to Nashville to join her husband, she found herself pregnant.

At the age of 42, she gave birth to little Madeline.

You have a rich life tapestry to wrap around your child, says Walker, now 45. I love that I'm an older mom. I wasn't ready before; I wasn't the person I wanted to be to be a mother. I am now.

This is the age of the older mom. But fertility favors the young, raising the question of, biologically, how old is too old to have a baby.

When a woman reaches her late 30s and her 40s, the possibility of conceiving naturally -- or conceiving at all -- is a door slowly swinging shut.

Plus, there are higher risks of pregnancy loss and genetic issues that accompany pregnancy at an older age.

Beyond that, there are ramifications to consider, such as simultaneously funding college tuition and retirement. But many women feel there are inherent rewards in waiting those extra years.

Many women in their 40s have had a chance to figure out who they are, says Dr. Cornelia Graves, medical director of Baptist Hospital's perinatal and obstetrics program in Nashville.

That's really important because when you're in your 20s, sometimes you have children because it's the expected thing to do. Whereas women in their 40s, this is what they've elected to do. 

The risks of conceiving

Fertility drops off sharply in a woman's late 30s. But women can still conceive naturally up until around age 50, Graves says.

But biologically, the best time for having a baby is between the ages of 22 and 32, she says.

If you're trying to get pregnant in your late 30s or early 40s, the literature says you should try for a year before seeking help, Graves says. I say three to six months because your time is much more limited.

A woman's fertility is highest and the possibility of complications lower, earlier on. Women are born with a finite number of eggs. Not only do those eggs wane in number as a woman ages, but they've weathered more. When you're 40, your eggs are 40.

That's why the possibility of genetic irregularities such as Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder, grows as a woman gets older.

Fertility starts to slide in a woman's 30s, says Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis, chairwoman of obstetrics and gynecology at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. By age 40, the decline becomes even more drastic.

For all those reasons, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine encourages women to have all their kids by age 37, she says.

Obviously, that's not realistic for many women and the type of lifestyle we have now, Richard-Davis adds. Women are getting married later and having children later. It doesn't mean if you're over 40, you can't get pregnant, but the probability dramatically declines.
However, Hollywood has provided some recent examples of older moms.

Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry had her daughter in March at age 41. Nicole Kidman, who's 40 and married to country music singer Keith Urban, is expecting her first biological child in July. (Kidman has two adopted children with former husband Tom Cruise.)

Why women wait

Age-related infertility is increasingly more common. One in five women wait until they're older than 35 to start their families, reports the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

ASRM attributes the trend to several factors: the availability of contraception and the high divorce rate, coupled with more women in the workforce, women marrying at an older age and married couples waiting to be financially secure before starting their families.

Add to this mix that many women simply just don't realize fertility begins to wane in their late 20s.

Then there are the added complications of raising a child at a later age.

Vikki Adkins of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., got married at age 33. She had her first child when she was 39 and her second at 41. Adkins considers herself a high-energy person, but keeping up with a 6-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy can still be tough.

She worries about the future, funding her children's college educations and her own retirement. Not to mention adolescence and menopause will probably make concurrent appearances.

I am 48 now and lucky I have my children, Adkins says, but I think it is harder than when you are in your 20s and early 30s.

Not that there aren't advantages, too, to have children later in life. Many moms feel their age is an asset, giving them patience they lacked before. Medical professionals also notice the difference.

I think you've kind of learned to roll with the punches of life, so you don't fixate on every little thing, says Baptist's Graves.

Image: The Way of the Fertile Soul: Ten Ancient Chinese Secrets to Tap into a Woman's Creative Potential, by Randine Lewis. Publisher: Atria Books/Beyond Words; Original edition (November 6, 2007)
The Way of the Fertile Soul:
Ten Ancient Chinese Secrets to Tap into a Woman's Creative Potential

by Randine Lewis

Being fertile and fruitful can mean giving birth to a child -- but to have a fertile soul means to give birth to the true self a woman wants to be: to live a life filled with passion, strength, joy, and adventure.

In The Way of the Fertile Soul, Dr. Randine Lewis outlines ten ancient Chinese medical and Taoist secrets that hold the little-known key to successfully conceiving babies, new dreams, and fulfilling life for women at any phase in their lives.

The Way of the Fertile Soul encourages women to strive toward health, abundance, and a fruitful, joyous approach to life.

By using diagnostic questionnaires, qigong exercises, and guided meditations to help the reader understand how the elements of nature express themselves in her body, mind, and spirit, The Way of the Fertile Soul provides the tools to greatly increase a woman's chance of conceiving, identify imbalances, reduce stress, increase energy, and uncover her intrinsic creativity and express it fully.

📚 Paperback: 240 pages
Click to order/for more info: The Way of the Fertile Soul

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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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  1. Anonymous says:

    I am 38, unsure if I would like to have a child, not for physical reasons, but that I have been called selfish by women professions, such as nurses, and alike that say I am selfish for not having a child. Whilst also being compared to an accountant? My life is dominated with loving and caring for my sister and her two children, I am not and heartless, but question the society I live in that has violated me, tormented me, bullied me - do I really want to be responsible for another life, that may face the same or similar harassment. Kent.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have a grandma that is older then you and wants to get pregnant. Do you think she can?

Don't just sit there, reading this story or article - say something! Do you believe it? Do you think it is impossible? Do you wish it was you? Do you have a story to share (it might get published!)

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