A Blessing, Not a Burden: The Benefits of Being an Older Parent

Rachel Pomerance

Robin Gorman Newman fell squarely in the age-is-just-a-number camp. Until she hit 42, when, after struggling to become pregnant, she and her husband welcomed the adoption of their beloved son. Having just moved from Manhattan to the 'burbs, she did what new moms and residents do: aimed to acclimate. But she found chasms, not commonality, at a local meeting of moms and their babies.

When a fellow mom complained that her mother shopped too much for their new addition, Gorman Newman, whose own mother had passed away, spoke up. "You know, you should give your mom a big hug," she told the woman. And furthermore, give her my number--she can shop for my child, Gorman Newman added.

Thud, went the realization: No, she wouldn't find like-minded folks here, because, yes, age matters. "In that moment, especially as a new mom, I need to be with people who understood where I was in my life."

A lot has changed since then-about a decade ago, when, unable to find existing support groups for older moms, Gorman Newman started her own. Between 2000 and 2008, pregnancy rates for women between the ages of 40 and 44 have climbed by 22 percent--while pregnancy rates have dropped among women in their teens and 20s, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Today, Gorman Newman's group, Motherhood Later...Than Sooner, boasts a website, chapters throughout North America plus one in the United Kingdom, a blog and e-zine. The group celebrates the status of its members with the tagline, "For Moms with more life experience than baby experience." Having overcome fears, endured loss and, essentially, lived long enough to realize the fragility of life, Gorman Newman says she can transmit that strength to her son and take plenty of issues in stride.

[See How to Be a Better Example for Your Kids.]

Of course, biology can present older parents with real challenges. A woman is at her pregnancy prime in her early 20s, says Glade Curtis, co-author of the "Your Pregnancy" series of books, which include "Your Pregnancy After 35." Plus, complications can increase as the risk of miscarriage, surgical deliveries, genetic disorders and the mother's medical conditions increase with age. Still, Curtis stresses key advantages to having a baby later in life--so many, in fact, that older moms-to-be have "just as good if not better chance of being healthy" and delivering a healthy baby as their younger counterparts. Why?

"I think a more mature woman is planning things, including her pregnancy," he explains, noting that a younger woman may not intend to become pregnant or even realize she's pregnant until she's already two months along, when organ development is already under way, Curtis says. So the extent to which a woman is caring for herself before and during pregnancy, the better for the health of mother and baby. That means, for example, eating well, avoiding alcohol and drugs, regularly seeing the doctor and educating oneself and one's partner with material recommended by said doctor, he says.

[See Best Foods to Eat During Pregnancy.]

Additionally, becoming pregnant later in life often means a woman is more secure--with herself, her finances, her partner in life and her decision and joy in having a baby.

"By the time you've reached your mid-30s, early 40s, you've sown any wild oats that you might sow," says Lois Nachamie, a psychotherapist and couples counselor in Manhattan and author of "So Glad We Waited! A Hand-Holding Guide for Over-35 Parents." "It's a volitional choice, and that choice informs I believe the entire experience," says Nachamie, who gave birth to her only child at 42.

As Nachamie explains, older parents are more involved in the children's development than their own. And that can lead to more confident kids.

[See The New Pregnancy Nutrition Rules.]

Still, later-in-life parents may require unique emotional support.

Hollywood moms may portray a glitzy side of later pregnancies, but there's no glamour in feeling judged for being an older mom, says Gorman Newman. Meanwhile, support can be critical for later moms, for whom parenting has come through particular hardship, whether it be waiting for the right relationship or struggling with fertility, she says.

Gorman Newman advises women who want to become moms later in life to keep an open mind about the path that may take. "There's more than one way to become a mother," she says, noting, for example, the prospect of adopting a slightly older child from foster care. "At the end of the day, it's really up to the universe what's going to happen for you." In any case, "later-in-life moms are some of the most grateful moms I know."

At around and after age 40, Curtis says the ability to conceive starts to diminish and advises anyone considering pregnancy at that age to talk to her doctor if she hasn't become pregnant within three to six months. He also advises that older women prepare for pregnancy by first addressing other medical concerns, like getting a mammogram or adjusting medications, and taking a prenatal vitamin to do "everything you can do to maximize having a successful, healthy pregnancy." As to the father's age, Curtis said the data linking autism in children to older fathers requires more evidence. But if you want to be a dad and you're approaching 50, "it's time to get moving," he says.

[See Trouble Trying to Conceive? This May Be Why.]

Apart from that, enjoy the magic of this experience. "Pregnancy does not happen that many times for us in our lives," Curtis says, noting that expectant parents can "get hung up on the scary things, the difficult things, and I encourage people to realize what a miracle they're involved in."