Expert Voice Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW

                                    Choices and Tips for Starting a Family After Age 35

 

The number of women who are choosing to have a child after age 35 has been steadily growing for the last 30 years. The Center for Disease Control reported that as of 2006 there were 600,000 babies born to women over the age of 35 in the United States. There are many reasons for this trend:  women want to complete their education, establish their careers, find the right partner, and need to have geographic stability before becoming mothers.  The advances in assisted reproductive technology have also contributed to this trend.

How do you know when you are physically and emotionally ready to begin to build your family? What questions should you ask yourself?  What can you do to prepare yourself for this life-changing journey? Each woman should examine her own reasons for considering becoming a mother after age 35.   

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why is now the right time for me to foster, adopt or birth a child?
  • What is my lifestyle and how will having a child impact it?
  • Do you want a biological link to your child or am I comfortable using a donor, surrogate, or adopting?
  • Do I have a stable relationship with a partner or do I feel comfortable about being a single parent?
  • What are my career goals and time demands and how will they fit in with my new role as a mother?
  •  Do I think I will have regrets in the future about not having an opportunity to become a parent?
  • What sacrifices am I willing to make to become a mother?  When I think about this does it raise any doubts or conflicts?

Pregnant by Choice

Choosing to become a parent is different than having an unplanned pregnancy.  When you plan to try to get pregnant, especially over age 35, you should be more assertive about having good prenatal habits.  Many women start taking folic acid 3 months prior to conceiving and continue through the first 3 months of pregnancy. Consult a trusted physician to get information on good prenatal practices and get a complete medical workup.  It is advisable to learn about any potential medical concerns that might affect you or your partner’s success in having a healthy baby.  You might want to consider seeing a reproductive endocrinologist.  They have specialized training combining obstetrics and gynecology with training in hormonal functioning and in treating infertility.  Women over age 35 may experience new health issues like diabetes or hypertension at higher rates than younger women so ongoing prenatal care is important to your ongoing health and the health of your baby.

You want to work with a physician who shares your beliefs about it being all right to become a mother late in life.  I have heard stories from many men and women who felt they were being negatively judged by their medical team for making this choice. Put together a birthing plan with your partner if you have one and discuss it with your physician ahead of time. (Sharon talks about  her challenges around this in her recent post.)

  • It should include your wishes regarding whether or not to have a caesarean section.
  • Do you want to have medications during your labor and delivery?
  • Where do you want to have your baby, at home , a birthing center or a hospital?
  • Do you want to use a doula?
  • Ask your doctor if there are any risks associated with the choices you are making and what his/her philosophy is about pregnancy, labor, and delivery for women over age 35.

Some Fostering and Adoption Choices

The trends for those who are 35 or older and want to adopt are similar. There is an increase in the number of people choosing to adopt (or foster to adopt) who are in this age bracket.  Those parents who are placing their kids up for foster care and adoption are looking for adoptive parents who are more financially stable, in stable relationships, and have the emotional maturity to be good parents. Age may or may not be a factor in selecting adoptive families.

If you are considering an international adoption, be aware that different countries have different policies about the age of their prospective adoptive parents.  For example, countries like Korea, India, China, Africa, and some Latin American countries have been open to allowing parents over the age of 35 to adopt. These policies are subject to change. Consult established adoption agencies that have the latest information on regulations for countries you might be interested in investigating for potential adoption. If you want to do a domestic adoption, you also have options.  You can try to find an adoption agency in your community that works with older parents. If you have trouble finding a program, there are online adoption support sites (see below) that can offer this information.  Remember, that you have the option of adopting from other states. Clarify their agency requirements in terms of whom and how your home study is done.

Some Considerations

Whether you become a new parent later in life through adoption, foster care, pregnancy with or without infertility treatment, there are things to keep in mind: 

  • Do whatever you can to maintain your physical well-being. Healthy diet and lifestyle choices are important.  You want to be a parent and perhaps grandparent for as long as you can.
  • Get as much sleep as possible. Use your child’s naptime for you to take a nap too.
  • Becoming a parent after age 35 requires a lot of energy.  Find creative ways to allow your child to play safely, expend energy, while you participate in a more
    low key way.  Do play dates to give yourself a break.  Find enclosed play areas and classes that the kids can participate in while you watch.
  • Women that become mom’s later in life have greater world experience, have better problem-solving skills.
  • The emotional maturity associated with older age makes you better equipped to handle unexpected problems that may arise.
  • Women that are older generally have a stronger more established network of family and friends.  Use trusted members of your support community
    to offer physical and emotional support as you engage in parenting.
  • Consider joining groups with other families that have been created in similar ways. For example, if you adopted a child from China, find a local group that
    has other families who have adopted kids from China.  I joined a parenting after infertility group with other families who conceived their kids through egg donors.  It helped me feel less isolated and normalized how our kids came into our families which helps us as parents and provides our kids peers with similar backgrounds offering support as they grow up.

Partial List of Resources

National programs like RESOLVE can offer information on local adoption and infertility support programs. You can find your local chapter by going to http://www.resolve.org/about/helpline.html. Another good resource that offers a variety of information on adoption on a national level is http://www.adopt.org/assembled/values.html. (This website is seeking to provide valuable resources of all types to women seeking to be mothers.)

Choosing to become a parent over the age of 35 offers a unique combination of challenges and advantages for each individual.  It will take patience, determination, physical, emotional, and financial sacrifices to find the best route to make your family building dreams a reality.  Identifying local agencies, resources, family, friends and staff that share your vision will make the journey go more smoothly.  Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, display your confidence, and be actively involved in the process.  This will help others have confidence in you and your decision to parent.                                                                                                                                                                    

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

Read Iris’ previous post:  The Experience of Being a Mother of Advanced Maternal Age (MAMA)

“Pregnant Woman” and “Happy Mother and Daughter” images courtesy of Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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