Like women who get pregnant in their 20s, women who conceive in their 40s can have a whole range of different experiences in conceiving, carrying and raising children. Yes, we’ve all heard warnings about the ticking of the biological clock and advanced maternal age — and yes, there’s some truth to the science of it all — but it’s important to remember that women over 40 have just as much of a right to motherhood as anyone else…and they can (and do!) have really great outcomes.
Women over 40 are rocking pregnancy now more than ever. We spoke to a few women who have been through it to hear more about their experiences, and here’s what they had to say.
Monica + Andy: What was the process of getting pregnant like for you?
Kristen Paulson-Nguyen: I was 41 when I got pregnant and 42 when I had my baby. This was my first and only child. It was a total surprise! I conceived naturally the first time we tried. I wasn’t expecting that and was so shocked that I had three pregnancy tests before I believed it.
Shinjoo Cho: My husband and I conceived naturally about seven months after we stopped using contraceptives. No strategy or plans, we just paid attention to my ovulation days.
Claire Gillespie: Getting pregnant at 39 took a little longer than it did when I was 29 and 32. Getting pregnant with my first two children with my first husband (a son, 10 and a daughter, 8) literally happened straight away. This time around, we tried for a year before getting pregnant. As I was approaching 40, time was critical, so after trying for six months we had some tests and I was diagnosed with low ovarian reserve. We were devastated but vowed to keep trying. We were waiting for a follow-up appointment with the fertility clinic when we got the positive result we wanted so much. Initially, I didn’t believe it and took several tests before it sunk in that we were actually having a baby.
M+A: Did you expect to have a baby in your 40s or did that timeline take you by surprise?
KPN: I had never planned it that way–it just happened.
SC: It was planned. We had big life changes in our late 30s, [and] after recovering them, we wanted to try having a baby.
CG: Yes, we very much wanted to have a baby (we both have children from previous relationships, but this is our first together).
M+A: Did you encounter any judgment or negativity through your pregnancy?
KPN: I can’t remember any judgment or negativity, but the medical establishment considers you [advanced maternal age] if you are over 35, so it was hard not to feel old.
SC: No. Everyone was positive, encouraging, and elated for me to experience motherhood.
CG: None at all. Many of my friends have had babies at 40 or older. As more women postpone starting a family until later in life, I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal anymore.
M+A What was your pregnancy and birth experience like?
KPN: I was very happy during the pregnancy, but even as a healthy person, it was medically difficult. I was watched for preeclampsia; I developed high blood pressure and went on meds, and I had screaming headaches which they were reluctant to medicate for obvious reasons. I was in and out of the ER often during my third trimester and although it was a physical struggle, I felt my best mentally. Kind of like in an expectant bubble. I also hired a doula and I think that helped make it a positive experience.
SC: The pregnancy was very smooth and healthy. Not even a day of morning sickness. Just some fatigue and the usual aches and symptoms that accompany pregnancy. I performed and traveled right up until 35 weeks and had a healthy weight gain. My husband and I took Birth 101 and breastfeeding class at the hospital I was going to give birth in and found many mothers in their mid to late 30s, which was reassuring…I gave birth at a hospital two days earlier than the due date. The decision was made to induce me by one of the midwives and the hospital. They preferred not let me go past the due date due to my advanced age. I was induced for 36 hours, in labor for 9.5 hours, and pushed for an hour and 40 min before a vaginal delivery. The baby was healthy and there was no complication with labor but the induction is something I wish I had avoided. While I understand the statistics that puts older women at slightly higher risk of delivery complications, my health and pregnancy were in perfect shape and I wanted to trust that.
CG: I’m now 26 weeks pregnant and the experience has been great so far. I’m having a planned C-section (my first birth was vaginal and my second a C-section) so I know what to expect. I learned a lot from my first two pregnancies and have tried to use that knowledge to get me through this one!
M+A: Do you think there’s a significant difference between being pregnant in your 40s vs. in your 20s? Do you think society feels there is?
KPN: I don’t think there’s a huge difference and I didn’t feel judged by society. I think the struggle is more seeing those 25-year-old moms on the playground and thinking “shit, I wish I had more energy.” One huge difference is you can have more babies if you’re 30. Due to my medically tough pregnancy and then I got PPD after I gave birth; I didn’t try for a second child. I think the problem was more that both families pressured me to have a second child and I clearly was not able or willing to do that. I think with an older mom they push more for a c-section, maybe due to valid safety concerns…I had to do all the interventions because an older uterus can’t contract as strongly.
SC: This being my first and only baby, I can’t speak with a comparison. Aside from the increased precautions and processes taken by my midwife practice and the birthing hospital, I haven’t noticed a significant difference. It’s probably because I’m surrounded by friends who had their first and second babies in their mid to late 30s, so the 40s didn’t seem like such a huge stretch.
CG: I don’t see any difference at all. At 40, I’m physically fitter and mentally stronger than I was during my previous pregnancies. In fact, I’ve been less tired during this pregnancy than I was during my second pregnancy at the age of 32 because back then I also had a 2-year-old to look after. My children are older now, more independent and self-sufficient. I think society judges women who have [babies] in their late 40s or early 50s, but I don’t think 40 is considered “old” nowadays. Also, biological age doesn’t always equate to your “inside” age: cholesterol, organ function, strength, metabolism, brain health, etc.