The Experience of Being a Mother of Advanced Maternal Age (MAMA)
Sharon Munroe, one of the founding mothers of The Advanced Maternal Age Project, asked that I write on my observations of women over the age of 35 who become moms. I should tell you that my writing comes from a blend of personal experience becoming a mother at age 45 through an egg donor and my professional work as a licensed clinical social worker for the last 30 years.
The technological gains in infertility treatment have increased success rates and parenting options like surrogacy, foster care, and adoption, offer more opportunities for women over 35 to become parents for the first time. Many women are getting divorced, starting to have 2nd families, or choosing to become single mothers.
Becoming a first time over age 35 mom offers several advantages. Many people have more financial stability at an older age. People often have had the chance to fulfill their career goals later in life and may feel less of a pull between career and parenting at this stage of their lives. In my experience as a social worker, women that enter parenthood at a later age are more certain about their choice to become parents and this may result in a stronger commitment to the parenting experience.
I believe that we have more to offer our children as an older parent because we bring our life experiences, knowledge, coping skills, and life lessons to our new role as parents. All of us must face life challenges as we grow into adulthood. The obstacles you encounter during your parenting journey may feel less like a crisis when you bring this experience, organizational and problem solving skills, and wisdom. Many people I have known have expressed stronger feelings of self confidence and greater patience as they grow older. These are important skills in a parenting toolkit.
Another advantage to having a child later in life that many people overlook is that you may have a more established community network of friends and family that are an important of your life. This additional support when you become a new parent is invaluable and offers a lot of comfort. In my experience working with older parents I know they often have made many sacrifices to become parents. As a result of this they are especially committed to giving time and attention to their children.
One issue that frequently arises with older moms is an increased awareness of your mortality. Many times parents that start later in life can end up having one child. I hear these parents express fear about becoming ill or disabled as they grow older. They are fearful about being a burden to their children. There are no guarantees about the onset of an illness or an accident regardless of your age. One thing MAMA’s can do is become proactive about health and lifestyle choices. Eat well and exercise. Schedule appropriate medical visits and preventative tests like mammograms and pap smears. Take an active part in taking care of yourself because this ultimately helps you take care of your child.
Older parents often express a concern about their physical ability to keep up with their children. As you age you may find that your energy level does diminish. The lack of sleep that goes in conjunction with being a new parent contributes to stamina concerns. Mothers with young children need to use the nap time as a time to help you rest and recharge. Women often use this time as a time to rush around and do chores. Find ways to play with your child that gives them a chance to run around and get tired. Make play dates to give yourself a break. Find places that may be more confined where your child can play and you can safely watch like a fenced in playground. We had a wonderful place that was indoors and was like a “fantasy kingdom” with dress up areas and places for imaginary play. My daughter loved it. She would run and play changing costumes, going into castles, and I could sit closely by and watch her.
One tough challenge for older moms is to find other older moms. When I initially had my daughter I was desperate to find other women around my age to talk with. I initially felt I was the only mother in the world who was going through menopause and had a child going through the terrible two’s simultaneously. I contacted my local RESOLVE chapter. RESOLVE is a national organization devoted to supporting people experiencing infertility. They referred me to a woman who had started a parenting after infertility group who lived 2 blocks away. That group had women in it who were all MAMA’s. They have become dear friends. We still get together over 10 years later. Having a trusted peer group where members speak the same language, openly talk about questions like disclosure, or what to do with frozen embryos, has brought me comfort, friendships, resources, and a sense that I am not alone. Another aspect of this group is the kids in it have become a part of their families due to infertility treatment or adoption. They are growing up with other kids that were conceived or brought into families in similar ways. This normalizes their experience and they will have friends they can talk to as they grow older and may struggle with questions about their biological origins. Websites like the Advanced Maternal Age Project may be a place to find others geographically close to you to link up with.
We have all heard the expressions “you are only as old as you feel” or “age is just a number.” Remember to view yourself as a parent and not attach an age to it. The best any parent can do regardless of age is to be an active participant in your child’s life offering comfort, stability and guidance as you all grow together. Parenting is one of the most satisfying and challenging jobs anyone can take on. It is on the job training regardless of your age. Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Good luck on your parenting journey.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility and authored the award-winning book Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire.