There Are Benefits To Being An Older Mom, So Take Your Age-Shaming And Shove It

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older-momI was 37 when I had my first child and endured all of the scary “advanced maternal age” talks doctors like to give when you decide to use your working uterus to have a child. So when I became pregnant with my second child at 40 – I knew the pregnancy was going to be a shit-show of ominous warnings from everyone around me; Why are you using your old womb to reproduce? It turns out using said old womb may keep me alive longer than those who had kids early. Bonus! In a related vein, a lot of the studies that talk about women and fertility are completely outdated.

In an article in the Daily Beast today, Jean Twenge, author of The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, points out that all of these statistics we use to completely freak out women in their late thirties who decide to have children are based on some seriously archaic studies:

…the scary statistic that one out of three women over 35 will not be pregnant after a year of trying comes from an analysis of French birth records between 1670 and 1830. Studies of more modern populations find fairly high fertility in a woman’s late 30s. About 80 percent of women 35-39 will get pregnant naturally in a year of trying. That’s barely different from the 85 percent of under 35’s who will succeed.

I wish I would have known this during my second pregnancy. I was panicked almost the entire time about my old, dusty womb. I envisioned young pregnant women with wombs that looked like the magic bottle from I Dream of Jeannie – all pink satin and overstuffed throw pillows. Mine probably looked like the elderly Estella’s attic from Great Expectations; all dust and overgrown vines. How would my child grow surrounded by all that dust?

My early experiences in the pregnancy didn’t do much to alleviate my fears. When I had my first ultrasound, this is the conversation that ensued with the tech, who left me waiting for about a half hour wearing a paper gown before she arrived. When she finally walked in the room, I smiled and said “Hi.” She responded with, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-nine,” I said.

“Forty?” She replied.

“No, thirty-nine.” I insisted.

“Almost forty,” she decided.

“Fine. Almost forty,” I conceded.

I sort of felt like she was the doorman, and I was the old lady trying to get into the club. She looked me up and down disapprovingly, then let me through the velvet rope to the VIP room of age-shaming; the genetic testing department. Here a woman whispered to me about the 5,000 different types of genetic abnormalities they can test for in “a woman my age.” Holy crap. She really was whispering and leaning in close and it was totally freaking me out. It was almost like she was saying, “I won’t tell anyone how old you are if you don’t! Let’s just quick test for these 5,000 different ways you probably screwed your child up because your old ass insisted on having a baby.”

What would it do for women if we changed the language around reproducing later? A lot, I think. First of all, stress does nothing to help fertility – so if a woman could approach pregnancy in her late thirties with the idea that it may actually happen naturally, as is statistically supported – that’s a start. Also, we now know that women who have children later in life also seem to enjoy longer lives. From The Washington Post:

“We think the same genes that allow a woman to naturally have a kid at an older age are the same genes that play a really important role in slowing down the rate of aging and decreasing the risk for age-related diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer,” said Thomas Perls, a professor who specializes in geriatrics at Boston University Medical Center, and a principal investigator of the study.

The study found that women who had their last child after the age of 33 had twice the odds of  “exceptional longevity” — defined as living to about 95 — as women who had their last child before the age of 29. So instead of being overcome with all the ways that you may not be breeding a perfect human because you waited so long to do it – maybe we can start relaxing in the idea that our bodies are smarter and stronger than we give them credit for. I’m 41 and I have two healthy, young children. And according to this study I won’t have one foot in the grave for most of their important life-milestones, like so many people love to suggest when speaking about older mothers.

(photo: New Beginnings/ Shutterstock)