Our Fifth Birthday

Five years ago in early 2012, I felt that I needed to share a story. It turns out that it was actually many stories, both mine personally and those of other women. My aim was to dispel a myth in a way that would encourage and motivate my younger sisters to contemplate their life plans around starting a family. The Advanced Maternal Age Project was born. It’s now a five year old.

Fast forward to 2013 and numerous traditional media outlets thought that the work was compelling. The Project was covered by the local Austin, Texas TV stations, newspaper, and a magazine. Interest in the Project was at an all-time high and women across the world heard about it through social media as well. It turns out that there was a trend a foot in the developed world around waiting until age 35 or better to start a family.

2014 was the time that the Project truly became an organization, with both an advisory board and a board of directors. We formed a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation. This structure still feels new and we are growing into it.

In 2015 and 2016, I took a hiatus from writing and curating original stories and interviews. It was not that I lost interest. Far from it. I continue to follow the trend of midlife motherhood in the news and support many local women who are making the choice to start their family at age 35 or better. I had to deal with a health crisis, work part-time, and focus on raising my children, who are now five, six and nine.

There is still much information and support to share, including for women who are well into their midlife and raising young children. Stay tuned.

As always, I welcome your feedback. – Sharon

Meeting the Doulas

We have been advising women to strongly consider having a doula or birth coach present at their childbirth and to look for help for a postpartum doula when baby comes and more help is needed. Doulas provide personal and customized help to couples and support to attain their birth plans and beyond. My own experience of having a doula with me during childbirth (twice) was so important in getting the experiences that my husband and I wanted with the best possible healthy outcomes. We provide guidance to women in how to choose a doula.

I had the pleasure of talking with doulas who are members of the Central Texas Doula Association on December 3, 2013 in Austin. Each of the doulas has helped women who are age 35 or better in their work and were interested in the focus of our nonprofit.

Central Texas Doula AssociationNotes from the meeting are shared below, which show the understanding and support that doulas have for women and their partners during this important time in their lives.

“Founder Sharon Munroe of the Advanced Maternal Age project shared with us today. She became a mom for the first time at age 40, then fostered to adopt at age 42, then had second baby at age 44; she has experienced first hand the deleterious effects of modern medical care on the psyche of the advanced maternal age (AMA) mom. She is a market researcher by training.

The words commonly used to describe an AMA mom can be depressing. “Elderly primigravida”, you could be referred to the new specialty of “geriatric obstetrics”. In her experience, the OB automatically assumes the AMA is a high risk patient, when sometimes there are NO risks at all, mom may even be in great shape. Many moms come away feeling more distressed and scared due to more tests, that “warnings” may be standing orders, but it may be the norm for that particular practice, they just don’t know any better.

She wants everyone to know YOU CAN HAVE A HEALTHY BABY AT AGE 35 OR OLDER, and believes that the more women who defy the odds and tell their stories the better.

Her website includes info on how to choose: a doula, midwife, OB and is intended to be reassuring, reinforcing that women have multiple choices/multiple paths in prenatal and birthing care. She feels she is seeing a trend to using midwives, more about getting what they want in birth and to be treated as a woman, not just a patient. She also acknowledged that if fertility was an issue, those women tend to lean more to hospital/obstetric care and often have a significant amount of fear and sometimes loss issues.

Her desire is that we channel our AMA moms to the website and then after the birth (sometimes years later) have them tell their story.”

 

The Birth of an Idea to 100 Articles

Many of us are inspired to begin businesses when we have children due to our new life perspectives and experiences.

75 weeks ago, in the Spring of 2012 I gave birth to an idea that has grown to over a hundred articles and contributors.

As some of you may know, at age 40 my life changed with the birth of my first son and by age 44, life looked completely different with two more children (a girl and a boy) in our family. I had been part of a childless couple for many years so one might say the change was drastic. Along the four-year journey I took some time to reflect. In my midlife, I’ve learned to better trust my intuition more than any other time in my life. 

Over and over I reminded myself that when I am positive and optimistic, great things happen.

During my first pregnancy, a traditionally trained obstetrician overtly gave me the “advanced maternal age” stamp. Somehow she felt compelled to share general risk statistics with me at each prenatal visit though they were at complete odds with my health and medical history; she had been my gynecologist for over 10 years.

If I listened to her, I certainly would have developed a stress-induced condition. Instead, I was empowered to overcome any barrier that came my way.

How could I improve the odds of not developing one of many conditions that rise with pregnancy after 35 such as hypertension or gestational diabetes?

  • I took care of myself with ample sleep, water, a healthy diet and exercise, including brisk walking, swimming and yoga.
  • Being older meant that I knew myself better and was more resourceful and determined to be healthy.

I felt compelled to tell people that I was 40 and having my first child. Once born, I showed him off, raved about his APGAR scores, our glowing health, and told a story of risk factors unfulfilled.

By age 43 I was pregnant with my second son (surprise!) and wanted the same healthy outcome. I the challenges were greater. This time, our first son was 3 years old and we cared for an infant girl who we were fostering and trying to adopt. I had founded one business and was recruited to help start a second one that same year. Wow, what a busy time it was!

Again, I surrounded myself resources, more than the first time, including a very supportive team of an OB, midwife, massage therapist, doctor of oriental medicine (for acupuncture) and a prenatal yoga instructor.

With another healthy outcome under my belt just one month shy of my 44th birthday, I was proud of myself, my bundle of joy, and even more vocal.

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Austin American-Statesman Features Austin Mom Creates Site for Older Mothers

logo_AustinAmericanStatesmanThis in-depth article appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday, August 17th on the first page of the Life section (page E1 and E6). The Statesman publishes an excerpt online for non-subscribers. Here is the full story written by Raising Austin columnist and mom Nicole Villapando with photography by Rodolfo Gonzales, who were a pleasure to work with! (Photos will be added once we receive permission to post them.)

BY NICOLE VILLALPANDO
RAISING AUSTIN

Austin mom creates site for older mothers

Sharon Munroe got tired of going to the obstetrician and getting the doom-and-gloom forecast for her pregnancy. She was 40 years old and wanted this baby who came at the right time in her life to be celebrated. All of the books and materials she was reading also were very negative.

She decided to switch obstetricians, and the germ of an idea began to form. There had to be a place where women of an “advanced maternal age” — that’s what doctors call pregnant women ages 35 and older — could find resources and read stories of other women who were pregnant or had children when they were 35 or older.

Last year, she started the Advanced Maternal Age Project, a website —advancedmaternalage.org — that delivers the things she wanted when she was pregnant with her son Patrick, who is now 5. Munroe is a market researcher by training and also owns local children’s store Little Green Beans.

On the site, Munroe features the stories of more than 30 women. She will be holding a workshop in September to help 12 more women write and share their stories.

The women talk about fertility treatments, birthing plans and delivery choices, pregnancy complications, and life as a new mom. “Women want to share their stories,” Munroe says. “It’s what we do.”

One of the great things about Austin, Munroe says, is the resources that are available to pregnant women, from traditional treatments to holistic methods. The site tries to emphasize the variety of what’s out there. “We don’t pass judgment,” she says. “What works for me might not work for you.”

The site does include a disclaimer that it is providing general information and does not take the place of a doctor’s advice, but Munroe also uses resources from the medical community, including her own fertility specialist, Dr. Natalie Burger of Texas Fertility Center.

The website and Burger do not ignore that age is a factor in fertility and pregnancy, but they try to be both realistic and positive.

“It’s incredibly important for women who are challenged by all the negative message in the media and elsewhere to have a place to receive positive messages about being a mature mother,” Burger says.

Burger sees these mothers as more financially and emotionally settled. “They are ready to be in a position to sacrifice time to create a family and not feel they missed out on things,” she says.

Munroe has been through many of the things older mothers might experience: fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization with donor eggs, and miscarriages. After Patrick came 3-year-old Jasmine, whom she and husband, Seamus, fostered and then adopted, followed by son Shannon, who is almost 2 and (surprise, surprise) was conceived naturally after they had stopped doing fertility treatments.

As a 45-year-old mother with three children 5 and younger, Munroe does notice the differences between herself and the younger mothers at her children’s preschool.

The common denominator, she says, is the younger moms have more energy. She does what everyone tells you to do: She sleeps when her children sleep. And if that means that on some nights Munroe is in bed by 8:30, then that is what she needs to do, she says. She also eats healthfully and gets exercise.

Many of the older mothers do talk to her about their mortality. “They want to see kids graduate college and get married. They want to see their grandchildren,” she says. “A few regret missing time with kids.”

Munroe wants older mothers to not be afraid of the “high risk” label that gets put on all their charts. “You can go through the testing, but you don’t have to go through nine months of fear,” she says.

Burger recommends advancedmaternalage.org to all of her patients who fit the demographic.

“Patients are so excited that there is a resource for them,” Burger says. “It’s nice to hear other people are going through this.”

Storytelling workshop

Advancedmaternalage.org will host a workshop to help women who began a family at age 35 or older tell their stories. 10 a.m. Sept. 21. Location will be given upon registration. Free, but space is limited. Register at advancedmaternalage.org. For more information, contact info@advancdedmaternalage.org or call 512-666-7621.

PHOTO by RODOLFO GONZALEZ

Sharon Munroe, 45, plays with her son 23-month-old son, Shannon, at her home. Munroe has started a website to help women who are 35 and older who are pregnant.

YNN Interview: Nonprofit aims to end stigma surrounding older mothers

This interview was conducted at founder Sharon’s home and features her talking about the Advanced Maternal Age Project and her family.

At Home and On Camera

On a sunny day in August, getting filmed for our YNN News interview at home.

 


 

By Todd Boatwright, Morning Anchor

Sharon Munroe is a wife and mother of three. The last thing she wanted was a label because she had children later in life.

However, one label her doctor’s office gave her was “high risk.” She found that other women were in the same boat.

“I had my son at age 40. At 41, I decided to have more children,” Sharon said. “Unfortunately that often is very scary for women whether or not they have risks.”

Sharon fought back by starting a nonprofit called the Advanced Maternal Age Project. It includes a website designed for older moms with questions or concerns.

“Women write in with their stories. We interview women,” Sharon said. “We share information from experts.”

Fertility specialist Dr. Natalie Burger says there are positives to being an older mom, like life experience and financial stability, but there are real health risks after age of 35.

“Doctors are doing a good job informing patients about all the risks of being an older mom, but they a lot of times, aren’t hearing the positives like the values of being an older mom,” Burger said. “Fertility does go down as you get older. Not everyone will have the opportunity of using their own eggs. They might have to open up as to how they’re going to have their family.”

For Sharon, her family is complete. Her advice to older moms to be is to know yourself and stay strong.

“Because women have had children after 35 or 40 for thousands of years,” she said.

The Advanced Maternal Age Project will hold a seminar Sept. 21 in Austin. Click here for more information.

 

Interview Conducted with Jim Bergamo of KVUE-TV in Austin in My Home

It was wonderful to be interviewed about the Advanced Maternal Age Project by such an experienced health reporter, Jim Bergamo.

Filmed at my home and with my kids, it was nothing like what I had experienced before.

Here’s the video and article that Jim wrote.

I’d love your feedback.

Best,
Sharon
founder

Dual Paths to Motherhood

Two Paths After experiencing secondary infertility, a diagnosis of not being able to get pregnant and stay pregnant for over six months at age 41, I felt I needed to take charge and gain back some control. Is this common? Likely and a topic for future research I believe.

In my experiences I’ve found that if I want something badly enough I will find a way to make it happen. Sometimes I find multiple ways to achieve results. It takes a bit of tenacity and confidence, I call it the dual (or multiple) path approach. 

Advanced maternal age women are likely to take this dual path.

 

It feels a bit crazy when one is in the midst of pursuing both paths, but it allows one to have a greater chance of success faster.

Reading Sharon Simons’ new book Mom at Last, I considered my own past and paths to adding to my family. Sharon S’s is also a story of advanced maternal age and included three rounds of IVF and adoption of two young boys from Siberia, Russia. It’s important writing and caused me to reflect on the choices I’ve made. Sensing that her third round of IVF might not be successful, she Googled “adoption” and quickly discovered the path she wanted, which was international adoption. This head start on her second plan, confidence and resources likely propelled her forward quickly. Her writing indicates she is glad with her choice.

In November 2009 after enduring a second miscarriage, my husband and I attended an information session for prospective foster and adoptive parents. While waiting to hear if we were to be accepted into the training program, we began our donor egg IVF paperwork and testing. We selected our donor. While waiting for her tests to be completed, we were selected to start our foster/adopt training in March. Daily hormone shots, paperwork and Saturday training classes filled my non-working hours in the Spring of 2010. Sometimes they were all consuming. I handled most of the work. I did not want end the year and turn 43 without some progress towards my goal, a sibling for my son.

While our procedure was not successful, we did receive our certification as foster and adoptive parents. Our first placement came seven weeks later and is now our adoptive daughter. Goal achieved.

Have you taken dual paths to motherhood? We’d love to hear your story.

Remembering an Anniversary and a Loss

LossThree years ago this week, our hopes and dreams of adding to our family were dashed. We actually gave up trying to have our own child, a sibling for our son.

After two losses through miscarriage in 2009, we were told and truly believed that my “old eggs” were the problem with getting pregnant and we had opted to try a fertility treatment.

Donor Egg IVF seemed to be a logical choice since we knew that I was otherwise healthy, could get pregnant and was able to carry a baby to full term. My husband’s sperm checked out fine. Our son was healthy and two and a half years old. I was 42 1/2.

The process was fairly long in my opinion from the initial consultation to the implantation of the two fertilized embryos some six months later. Most of the time was in selecting a donor for the eggs, the clinic communicating with her, and them preparing her to ovulate and produce many eggs for the IVF process.

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Remembering and Releasing the Pain

cryingwomanThe Advanced Maternal Age Project is about women sharing stories and resources so that we can provide great support for one another. It is through support and resources that we may overcome many barriers as we become mothers. Some of our stories are very sad and painful and even difficult to talk about. Time makes it easier to think about them and begin to make sense of it all.

This is one of those stories about a pregnancy and a loss. It is the hardest story to tell so far.

Elated about an engagement to a loving man, planning a wedding just a couple of months away, and the fact that I was turning 39, we made what felt like a logical choice to stop using birth control. One never knows how long it can take to conceive until one tries, was the conventional wisdom. I had read that it could take months to be fertile after being on the birth control pill. Our dream was to only wait months and not years for a child since we were older. We went on vacation and had a wonderful and relaxing time together.

That very first month, we conceived and we were thrilled with the possibility of having a child early in our marriage. The first weeks were easy, really easy with no morning sickness and no symptoms at all. Having never been pregnant, my tummy was fairly flat and I felt strong. No worries then and an exciting next stage ahead. We continued to plan our wedding and honeymoon, keeping our news a secret to all but our close family and very few friends.

Prenatal, genetic testing seemed like a logical choice for us and it was highly encouraged by our obstetrician since I was now 39 and my fiance was 47. Neither one of us had been tested before. Now we were going to test a tiny embryo.

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What to REALLY Expect – Panel for Expectant Moms

Bump_Club_LogoOn May 22nd, I had the pleasure of being on a panel with a distinguished group of speakers, all of whom support women with childbirth, which was hosted by the Bump Club, a fast-growing group for expectant and new moms in Austin, Chicago and Minneapolis. Other speakers on our panel included Wendy Howard, NR, BSN, a labor and delivery nurse, Cheryl Sipowski, MS, LPC, a counselor for couples and individuals, and Dawn Gibson, MSW who supports mothers with individual mind-body coaching.

 

Here’s what I told the Austin audience:

It was through conversations with other mothers that I realized that many women want to share their experiences with fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum in a supportive environment.

I started telling my story of a first pregnancy and childbirth at age 40 about 5 years ago to close friends and family. There was no Bump Club or other local group for new “older” mothers. I was pretty much on my own.

Fortunately since February 2011, I’ve owned a children’s and maternity store called Little Green Beans, which helped me a lot through my last pregnancy (from both a support and baby gear acquisition perspective).

  • I delivered a healthy baby boy at age 43 at 11 months. He is my third (and last) child.
  • My middle child, a daughter was adopted from foster care locally in 2012. She has been mine and my husband’s to raise since she was 5 days old. She’s now 2 years and 9 months old and resembles Dora The Explorer in her looks and personality.

My conversations with other women lead to a lot introspection in 2011 and early 2012, the writing down of my stories and then we birthed this website in April 2012.

The project was a feature story in May in Austin Woman Magazine and many of our stories have been featured nationally, including on BlogHer Moms this week.

Now what to REALLY Expect for the upcoming months…

You may or may not be surprised to know that the range of pregnancy experience is broad among women with no significant reproductive issues nor chronic, pre-existing health conditions. Age is not the best standard by which to judge who will have a “Text Book Pregnancy” and who will face barriers with fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and post partum.

Each of us will have a different set of experiences during each pregnancy.

A DISCLAIMER I need to share, like the one I include on all written of my materials: You should not rely on the information mentioned tonight as an alternative to obtaining specific medical advice from your own doctor or healthcare provider. Any information we share is NOT intended to be used for any medical diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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