Having Your First
Over 35? Over 40? and Beyond...
By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.
Since 1982 there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers
of women having first babies in their mid-thirties and later. Increased
numbers of women born during the 1947-l965 baby boom are entering their
later childbearing years and many of these women have delayed raising
children until later in life. It is expected that these two factors will
increase the proportion of total births accounted for by this age group
by 72% from 1982 to the turn of the century (cited in "Older Maternal
Age and Pregnancy Outcome," by John P. Hansen, Obstetrical and
Gynecological Survey, volume 41, no. 11, 1986. )
Statistics for pregnancy and labor outcome for women having
first babies over the age of thirty-five are varied and inconclusive.
Though there is a higher rate of complication in labor including a greater
number of cesarean sections for older women, statistics do not separate
out women who are healthy during their pregnancies from women who experience
other medical problems, such as diabetes and toxemia. Most authorities
on this topic agree that if you are generally healthy, get exercise and
maintain a healthy diet your chances of having a normal labor should not
be any different now than when you were twenty-five.
However neither of these viewpoints address the special
emotional concerns and stresses which are a reality for the woman having
her first child later in life. These are important to consider since attention
to emotional concerns can decrease anxiety which could otherwise contribute
to difficulties in labor.
Women having children later in life come to parenthood
with a different perspective. Work and career have often played a large
part in women's lives by the time they reach their mid-thirties. The life
changes for women who have established careers or work activities before
having children are very different from the changes of women who are still
in early adulthood.
Women in my practice who are having babies later in life
commonly have feelings of greater loss of their previous lifestyle. Their
work and career identities are more established and so they often have
greater adjustments to make to new motherhood. Even when career goals
are not a concern, mid-life is a different time in the life cycle to give
birth. Independence and freedom have become long lasting patterns of life
which must change. Financial arrangements in the marriage may also shift
dramatically if the woman held a high paying position and will be losing
her income to stay home with a new baby. These changes may affect a woman's
self-esteem and account for a greater degree of emotional adjustment.
And finally, women having babies later in life have often
waited because of their own fearful expectations of motherhood. Not all
women who have waited until later life to have a baby are fearful. However
it is possible that women waiting to have babies until later in life are
in general a more ambivalent group. Additional stress of down's syndrome
and other genetic defects that increase with age also contribute to anxiety
for the pregnant mother over thirty-five. Medical researchers have long
overlooked the influence of life change factors on the outcome of labor.
In the quest to understand the higher complication rate of women over
thirty five, researchers have missed the emotional life of the women they
If you have concerns about blending family and career,
financial change, or letting go of your previous lifestyle you are amidst
a growing number of women. Your concerns are real and need to be addressed.
Joining a support group and writing in a daily journal will help you work
through your fears. Talking with your partner and other women who are
experiencing the changes of motherhood in mid-life can make the difference
between postpartum depression and a healthy adjustment to motherhood.
Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist
specializing in prenatal and family development. She
trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model
and is the author of An
Easier Childbirth, Birthing
Normally and her latest book, Making
Healthy Families. Her articles on family
relationships appear in professional journals and
she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such
as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting.
. She also serves on the
advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
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