"How old are you, mummy?" asks my 4 year old son. "42" I reply. "That's a big number" he says. I smile at him and he moves onto the next topic, probably something to do with dinosaurs. Meanwhile my mind flicks quickly across a variety of topics. Will I see him through childhood or will I succumb to a horrible illness? When is Botox a necessity so I don't look like an old freak at the school gates?
Birth registration records showed that in England and Wales in 2014 there were more women over 35 years old than under 25 years old giving birth. This trend towards later motherhood has been linked with women's increasing focus on their careers and with men and women settling into steady relationships later in life. What's it like to be in this category of the older parent?
Let's rewind. It's 1992 and I am an undergraduate student; me and my female friends are told that we can be who we want to be, gender is not a barrier. So I embrace this and experiment with fashion, music and substances all whilst studying hard for my first degree. I don't have a care in the world.
Fast forward a few years and at this stage I am a qualified Clinical Psychologist having studied for approximately 7 years in total to reach this point. I am 32 years old, divorced and childless. I have left the "starter marriage" that I have outgrown at a crucial life stage but I tell myself that if nothing else at least I have an engaging career, great friends and travel. Life can be exciting even if kids don't come into it, or maybe I could freeze my eggs in case. I am an educated woman and I have grown up watching Sex and the City; I still have many choices!
After some other hiccups along the way (let's just not mention THAT ill advised trip to Vegas) I finally meet someone else. There is a slight technical hitch though, I am now 37 years old and what wasn't included in my years of education was the fact that this could prove problematic fertility wise. I feel a bit cheated somehow that I believed that I could have it all; a great career, money, stability, a colourful dating life and still find time to squeeze in some babies.
I am now 42 years old and am lucky enough to have a healthy and happy son. Since him there have been some miscarriages and my career has had to take a major back seat as, like many women, I have reduced my hours to take up more childcare and domestic duties whilst my husband works and earns more for us all. I am also pregnant again.
When I look back on this wobbly route to motherhood I am heartened to learn that far from damaging my child by being older I am potentially giving him a better life by virtue of me being wealthier, more stable and experienced. In 2014 researchers at Birkbeck University studied this trend of older mothers and found that their offspring were generally reared in a warm responsive home environment which prepared them well developmentally. I would agree that I certainly have paid more attention to what my son's attachment needs are first and foremost before considering my own needs. I was definitely less aware of how important this was when I was 25 years old, say. I was certainly more selfish too and in terms of finances, career and emotional stability I was worse off. At my age now I feel my travel experiences, career achievements and having a wide social network benefit me as a mum. I am confident in my skin and don't shy away from getting my son involved in activities and life; I am happy to explore with him without feeling as though I am missing out on going clubbing or something. The only drawback of being older is the worry that comes with middle age; the existential angst and awareness of the shortness of life. I worry that my partner or I will leave our children too soon. I just try to focus on the fact that we look after our health more now anyhow and keep my fingers crossed...
This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.
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