I remember when I heard the term “geriatric” to describe older moms nearing advanced maternal age at the doctor’s office. I was only 34 at the time, and I would be “nearing” advanced maternal age close to delivery. On one hand, I was not shocked to hear the language the medical staff used to describe me. After all, I had had a lot of time to read about pregnancy by then. I was familiar with the terms. I knew it was coming. On the other hand, I was a little shocked when I heard those words used out loud to describe me — someone everyone always assumed was much younger than I really am.
I never imagined that I’d become a mom so close to advanced maternal age. But it also shouldn’t have come as a surprise. My mom had my siblings and me in her late 30s. In my 20s, my friends would sometimes remark that they were the same age when their moms had them. We would pause to think what our lives would be like with children so early in our 20s. At the same time, I would pause and think about what my mom was doing in her 20s without children. She had an entire life before kids, it seemed, even though she hoped to have kids someday. That was the model of a mother that I grew up knowing. It was totally OK to do your own thing and then have kids.
Keep in mind, there have always been — and will always be older moms.
They say that more women are waiting to have children now. But I can’t help but think about how many women in the past had children well into their 40s. My great-grandmother had my grandfather in Ireland at age 41 and then another son at age 43. In fact, many women in my family tree had children “later in life.” While women may have started to have children earlier decades ago, lots of women still had children later in life.
Even so, what role models do we have to go on to become successful older moms? How do we become mothers who enjoy the empty nest period? To live long enough to play with and get to know our grandchildren? How do we become mothers who are able to push through exhaustion and the stigma of being “older” to find joy and happiness throughout our lives?
What’s it like to be an older mom?
Much has been written on the benefits of being an older mother. There are also reports that science proves it’s OK to get pregnant when you’re at advanced maternal age. While many of these articles are heartwarming, what’s the reality of being an older mother beyond birth?
As the daughter of an “older mom,” I noticed a few things. As a child, I knew my mom was special. I used to joke that we kids kept her young at heart. And I still believe that we did — for a time. I also watched my mom when she was totally exhausted, when her work was hard, and when her health finally got the best of her. Even as a badass older mom in the 80s, she still had to deal with everything that comes with being a person. What I noticed most of all is that while we older moms can (and should!) celebrate our strength in the beginning, we also need to think about building habits that carry us into happy and healthy futures.
While we older moms may be “further along” in our careers, that doesn’t mean we should stop learning and growing.
I’ve read that a pro of being an older mother is that we’re generally “further along” in our careers. I’m truly baffled by this. Aren’t we older millennials who are just becoming mothers the same millennials who struggled with student loan debt and were challenged by the economic crisis in 2008 and now during this ongoing pandemic? Aren’t the reasons we “waited” to have children tied to these financial burdens?
A few years before my mom had me, she had just uprooted her life. She moved to a different state to start a new job as a high school teacher. She had 10 or 15 years less in the school system than someone who had started right out of college. This meant less of a pension and less coverage from health insurance during retirement. But my mom was also a problem-solver, and she often took on second jobs to challenge herself and to keep money in the bank. She never gave up on her ability to learn and grow and try new things, even after she finally retired from teaching. This could sound familiar to any millennial who restarted their careers after the 2008 financial crisis — or anyone who is thinking about it now, given the pandemic.
While I’m “further along” in the workforce and have more confidence in the know-how to create a better work-life balance for myself, I can’t help but think about how lay-offs, starting over at new companies, and not negotiating for higher pay is going to affect my retirement someday — which will be around the time my children are just starting out on careers of their own. I also recognize that the role I’m in now may not be the role I’m in forever. And I likely have 20+ years left to work before I can retire. There’s a lot I can do between now and then. And as a millennial, I know not to get too comfortable in any single job. I hope I can further my career and my path by continuing to learn new things, explore my interests, and push my boundaries.
While they say older moms can be healthy during pregnancy and childbirth, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue thinking about our health after our babies are born.
It’s not a secret that having a healthy baby as an older mother can feel like a marathon — the process of getting pregnant, the emotions experienced because of loss or losses, the testing for chromosomal defects, the constant monitoring for signs of life — it’s a lot. After all that, the relief of finally holding the baby feels like a vacation. For a minute. Until it’s not and we’re left feeding, bathing, and soothing our babies day and night. Recovery is rough, no matter your age. But after a while, we find time to go back to our old selves, right?
It’s not that easy. My mom had 3 kids 3 and under when she was 38. And while she was an amazing mother who cooked dinner every night, helped us with our homework, and stayed up even later to sew costumes or make us surprises, she didn’t have a lot of time to herself to care for herself. And I noticed. Instead, she invested in caring for us — making sure our hair looked nice with regular perms, making sure we had clothes for school, making sure our doctor’s appointments were up-to-date. I’d always ask if she wanted anything for herself and she’d say, “No.” But now I wish she had said yes.
Self-care is trending right now, and honestly, as an older mother, it overwhelms me. While I do not condone the mom-shaming (I think a shower counts as self-care, that’s where I am in my life right now), I know that the self-care promoters are right. I know this because self-care is important in prolonging our lives.
I disagree that self-care is all about massages, manicures, and cocktails with friends. We older mothers need to think longer-term than that. What self-care habits can we focus on that we can sustain over time? What self-care can we give ourselves while our children are young, when they get older, and when they are out of the house? Just like pregnancy and childbirth felt like a marathon, self-care should also be something we take in stride — something we practice, work at, and ultimately makes us able to live long enough to see our grandchildren graduate from high school someday.
Speaking of girl time, have you met a mom friend yet?
I’m asking for a friend… As an older mom, I recognize how difficult it can be to make mom friends who are the same age, even in a city littered with “older moms.” Where are you? I don’t know where you are! Making mom friends (or frankly, having any friends) as an older mom can be really hard. You’re busy with the kids all the time. You’re busy with work all the time. Maybe you’re caring for an aging parent. You can barely hang out with your spouse as it is. Fitting in a coffee with a friend is super hard, and after canceling on the same person five times, do they even want to hang out anymore? It’s hard to tell.
My mom was often 6 to 15 years older than all of my friends’ parents and yet she was able to hang with anyone. She was always cheerful, offering advice or supporting a friend whenever they needed her. It didn’t seem to bother her that she was older, and it didn’t seem to bother anyone else either. At least from where I was watching. But maybe it mattered in the beginning, when we were younger, when she was still new to the community and “odd” for being older then. I’ll never know what that experience was like for her. But I applaud her for making it look easy.
Making — and keeping — friends is the only way to build a supportive community. And while it might be a struggle to find the time now, it’s going to be important in the future. Especially when our children grow up and move away. We’re going to need a supportive community at that time. And then long into the future, we’ll need the support as well, when our health begins to decline and our children need support to care for us. Or we may be called on to be that support for our friends’ families. Do whatever you can to stay connected and in touch.
I know a lot of older moms who continue to be badass after birth.
They never stop learning. They continue to grow and stretch themselves. And they support fellow parents and develop life-long friendships. I’m inspired by them and in awe at the same time. How do they manage? How do they make it look so easy? I’m looking to them for advice, guidance, and support to grow as a mom despite my age as my own kids grow older too.
Are you an older mom with wisdom to share? Drop a comment below to share how you’re doing.
Thank you so much for writing this article! All of these things are things I have also been thinking about as an “older mom”. I am so thankful to have had my 20’s and 30’s to grow as a person, but am also sad to think about the time I’ll miss out on with my kids later in life. I’m trying to model my mom’s behavior and set aside time to exercise each day (or as much as possible), and trying to ask for help more often. I wish we lived closer to do older mom things together Tirzah.
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