In kindergarten, I was labeled an “advanced” swimmer. That meant a smokin’ red wrist band and free range of the community pool. I wore my “advanced” label like Wonder Woman wore her wrist guards, blocking bullets and swimming the back stroke in the deep end.
Back then and for most of my life, “advanced” meant something good. That was until the past year, when I had my precious son Joshua, just days shy of my 41st birthday.
“Ahhh, advanced maternal age,” the nurse said with a sigh. And to be honest, I was sighing a bit myself, too. I was well aware of the difficulties women can face when having a baby in the over-35 age bracket. Fortunately, I was in good health and had a peaceful pregnancy. But even if I’d had problems, I was willing to take calculated risks in order to welcome a new life into the world. And speaking of risk, I take a significant amount every time I step into a car — yet I have no plans to give up driving.
Still the negativity associated with advanced maternal age is something I’d like to challenge. I’m not saying a middle-aged woman should get pregnant without considering the challenges, but I am saying I’d like to put a little Wonder Woman back into advanced maternal age. So I chatted with handfuls of moms who’ve had babies after 35. I heard all sorts of stories — about times of infertility and hyper-fertility, about exhaustion and sacrifice. But above all, I heard about the joy.
A huge theme I found in speaking with older moms was the pleasure of sharing a baby with his or her oldest siblings. This has been, by far, the biggest joy in bringing Joshua home. I’ll never forget my 11-year-old, Gus, helping out by holding his 2-day-old brother by the window: “Mom, he loves the bright red cardinal,” Gus said. Funny thing is, he seemed to be right.
Susie Lloyd, author of the hilarious book Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water, echoed the joy.
“I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to my oldest kids,” she said, “and they turned around and read it to our youngest ones — complete with choreography and character voices.”
From helping out during the dinner hour, to the story of the toddler who preferred an older sibling’s comfort over mom’s, the consensus is clear — older siblings are the best. They make bringing home baby so much better.
I also spoke with an NYC actress who’s found it hard to return to her profession after having two children in her late 30s and early 40s. While this mom, who requested to remain anonymous, clearly cherishes motherhood, she also misses acting. And even though she says she looks back on her theater years through “rose-colored glasses,” she says those experiences ironically fuel her new vocation, while providing something more.
“Recently, I laid in bed tandem nursing both babies,” she shared, “they were holding hands over my heart. I’ve never experienced such contentment.”
I could relate to this mom, but in a different way. My career in my 30s was building my family and nurturing my children, rather than working outside of the home. However, now — in my 40s — I find great satisfaction in applying all I painstakingly learned from raising my first few babies to raising little ones whom are most likely my last.
A fuller nest a little longer
Many moms I spoke with had had “surprise” babies later in life. They shared the journey of going from receiving unexpected, sometimes unwanted, news to — every single time — absolute infatuation with their newest baby. “God had a better plan” was the common sentiment among this crowd. The story I loved the most, however, came from my mother-in-law, Nancy. She found herself pregnant at the age of 39 after her husband had undergone chemotherapy and survived cancer, but was told he’d be unable to have more children.
Nancy ended up having yet another baby at 42 and remarks all the time what a particular gift her last two children have been, even 30 years after the fact. Specifically, and most recently, they provided the most support in her time of grief when her husband of 44 years passed away. At the time, her five older children were all married and busy with their own families, but the younger two were still single and able to be a special comfort to her.
Nancy’s story of love multiplying rather than dividing was a common one. “The house would be awful quiet without this last child” and “my youngest became an uncle when he was still a toddler” are all statements that speak of the beauty that occurs when babies arrive a little later and when generations overlap.
God is good. He’s established that the gift of a woman’s fertility lasts into advanced maternal age. And while He often sends surprises, he never makes mistakes.
Why I fired my obstetrician for calling my unborn child a “baby”