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by
Hillary Richard
,
March 10, 2022

The Truth About Pregnancy After 40

Like most things in life, having children when you are older has pluses and minuses.

I had swung from the chandeliers, sowed my wild oats, established myself in my career, and overall, was much more pragmatic about what I could and could not control about parenting a child.

I got married at 30. He was 24. I’m now 62. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about having kids or getting married before meeting Pete. Pete is the youngest of nine. He had definitely thought about having kids. But after we got married, I sort of assumed we would have at least one child. I was 33 when I got pregnant with Lucy. I immediately fell in love, not only with her, but with all things associated with babies - the smell, the intimacy, their unconditional need. I wanted to have another one right away. But, I was the breadwinner and I had to go back to work. I was a busy litigator, with cases all over the country. It was a demanding job.

About four years later, we decided to try again. But this time, it didn’t happen right away. Violet was born a full seven years after Lucy. My first pregnancy was easy; my second was decidedly not. I was 40. I had a lot less energy. I was cranky. Everything ached. I gained weight watching other people eat. Given the disparity of my experiences, I wondered, was this because of my age?

Pregnancy after 35 has a name - geriatic pregnancy. What? The dictionary definition of geriatric is “relating to old people.” Kinder doctors refer to pregnant women over 35 as of “advanced maternal age.” Semantics, aside, the label seems absurd. Especially now, when according to the CDC, the number of women having babies over 40 has doubled. But, there are actually increased risks to having babies as we age. Among them are: ​​”premature birth, low birth weight in the baby, stillbirth, chromosomal defects in the baby, labor complications, cesarean section, high blood pressure in the mother, which can lead to a serious condition called preeclampsia, and an early birth for the baby, and gestational diabetes, which also increases the risk of” I’m happy to report that while I did have a cesarean (as I did with my first birth), I didn’t have any of the rest. Sure, it took me years to get rid of the baby weight, but I had a healthy baby.

What doctors or the CDC don’t advertise is the benefits of having a baby over 40. I, like many women my age, was more financially stable. I was certainly calmer and more mature. I had swung from the chandeliers, sowed my wild oats, established myself in my career, and overall, was much more pragmatic about what I could and could not control about parenting a child. While I was often tired, I was also energized by this small human who spun around like a top and expected me to spin along on key. I didn’t have time to feel old. I was too busy pulling Play-Doh out of a nostril, chasing along the playground structures trying to keep my kid alive, or reading the Berenstain Bears for the millionth time. I forgot to focus on my aging. In hindsight, it was liberating.

About four years later, I finally had some time to take care of myself. I was running regularly and playing tennis. Physically, I felt great. Of course, I had to do all of this super early in the morning so I could get the kids up and off to school before I went to work. I know they say you can’t have it all, but it felt pretty close. Work was hard, but rewarding. The kids were old enough so they didn’t have to be watched like hawks every second. And Pete and I were able to rediscover having an adult relationship that didn’t center on divvying up child care duties and chores. I was content. But then my period was a few weeks late and I skeptically took a pregnancy test. I was 44. My childbearing years (I thought) were behind me. The three EPT tests I took firmly disagreed.

So there I was, due to have my third child at 45. If 35+ is geriatric, I was officially a senior citizen on the brink of death. My OB-GYN didn’t think the pregnancy was viable. I took progesterone for the first time. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope. On March 3, 2005, Jojo, my third child was born. It was a pretty easy pregnancy. She’s been a very easy child. Why? I’m pretty sure that aside from genetics, my lack of anxiety over the things you worry about  as a parent in your twenties or thirties contributed greatly to her calm. She’s 17 now and when she leaves for college, I will have been raising kids for 30 years, without interruption. But I’m older and wiser and calmer. I’m not afraid about where she will go to college or who she will become. I’ve lived long enough to know what to worry about and what not to. And here’s the kicker - research suggests that having kids later in life not only boosts your cognition and verbal memory, but may also cause you to live longer! 

Like most things in life, having children when you are older has pluses and minuses. It is definitely harder physically. But emotionally? Financially? It can often be much easier. George Bernard Shaw said that “Life is a flame that is always burning itself out, but it catches fire again every time a child is born. Life is greater than death, and hope than despair.” Aging, while tending the nascent flame of another human, has filled me with hope and enthusiasm. Highly recommend.

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Hillary Richard is a recovering lawyer, podcaster and political junkie. She’s tried cases all over the country, taught trial techniques to law students and worked on political campaigns. She was the co-founder of the podcast Raging Gracefully and one of the original moderators of The Woolfer.

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