General Parenting Issues — 23 July 2007
Motherhood is a joy at any age

With the advancement of medicine and technology as well as social standards, women’s childbearing years have been significantly extended. With it came the debates about the wisdom and the moral issues relating to parenting in later years.

In the 1950’s the customary childbearing age of mothers was between 19 and 24. Pregnancy of women thirty years or older was only seen in very large families, and even then, it was uncommon. Since women entered the workforce in larger numbers between 1960-1980, they became mothers later in life, toward the end of their twenties. Pregnancy after age 30 was considered late and even somewhat risky. Births to women over 40 were rare and often associated with unplanned menopausal pregnancies.

Mothers in their 50’s giving birth is a new phenomenon made possible by new fertilization techniques. In 2006 a 62-year-old child psychiatrist became the oldest person in Britain to give birth, while a Romanian woman, Adriana Iliescu, who gave birth to a daughter at the age of 66, is believed to be the oldest woman in the world to become a mother.

Recent research published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Developments compiled findings of two national surveys on women between 51 and 61 years old. They found that: “Women who give birth over the age of 50 are both physically and mentally as ‘capable’ as younger women of being good mothers.” No higher stress levels and medical risks to the older women, as compared to younger ones, were found by a California study presented at the last year’s annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

More women in their 40’s also become mothers through adoption. It is no longer unusual for women in a variety of family constellations to opt for motherhood later in life.

Sociologist, Amy Pienta, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research compared the levels of happiness of childless women, early mothers, (before age 19), “on-time” mothers (between 19-24) or late (over 25) found that delaying motherhood was associated with higher level of well-being “probably due to being more career focused and having higher social standing.”

Though older mothers may have less energy than younger ones, they have greater experience, assets, wisdom, patience and deep devotion to their new task.

Ethicists and those who find later motherhood ill advised, raise the social and moral concerns about older mothers. Though mothers in their late 50’s or 60’s risk leaving their young children orphaned, mothers in their 40’s are statistically expected to live longer and be healthy enough to raise their children into adulthood.

The anticipated joys of motherhood and the innate drive to procreate and nurture a child are so strong, that they compel most women to include this experience in their lives. For many, even one child seems insufficient experience of sharing unconditional love with a new cherished life.

If you are a woman who deeply desires a child and are willing to refocus your life to become a full time nurturer:

• Consult with your physician to determine your physical readiness for motherhood.
• Consider your age as only one factor among many in electing motherhood.
• Understand that your focus will irrevocably change from self-centered to child-centered. Determine your ability to make this life commitment.
• Consider your comprehensive plan for this new role. Are you physically, emotionally, financially, socially and spiritually in a position to care for a baby and later a child intensively for at least 18 years?
• Assess your support base: a partner, family members, friends, hired help, preschools, in helping you take time to refresh so you can be at your best when you are with your child.
• Plan for your child’s wellbeing, should you become ill or unable to care for him/her. This applies to mothers of all ages.
• Do not get dissuaded from becoming a mother by those who may think that you are too young or too old to undertake this role. Their opinions only reflect their projected choices – not yours. Listen to other’s opinions as valuable input and then make up your own mind about your life’s choices.
• Most mothers will tell you of their hardships as well as the exquisite joys of being a parent. You will not really fully understand these until you go through it yourself, but if you choose motherhood in a responsible way, you will find it a worthwhile challenge of immense rewards.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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