‘Geriatric pregnancy’. A bit of an oxymoron, don’t you think? After all, when you hear the word ‘geriatric’ you automatically think of an elderly person in their 80s or 90s who is receiving special healthcare due to their old age. ‘Pregnancy’ is when a baby is growing and developing in the womb.
See, ‘geriatric’ and ‘pregnancy’ just don’t go together.
Along with ‘geriatric pregnancy’ you may hear ‘elderly primigravida/multigravida’; words that are used without thinking of the effect they have on the person hearing or reading them. Sadly, it’s a label still sometimes used by doctors and the media when a woman is pregnant and, heaven forbid, is over thirty-five! Think Meghan Markle, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and Eva Longoria. Oh, and me!
What the medical professionals are really inferring here is that thirty-five is too old to be pregnant. The term ‘Advanced Maternal Age’ or AMA is used more often now but when is thirty-five considered an ‘advanced age’? I can’t think of any other situation or life event where a woman is advanced in age at thirty-five. It’s shaming and sexist.
Is there a similar term for when a man, over thirty-five, is a first-time expectant father?
Perhaps ‘Geriatric father-to-be’? No, of course there isn’t!
Geriatric pregnancy is a phrase for the history books
When the term ‘geriatric pregnancy’ was first used years ago, the average age for a first-time pregnancy was mid-twenties and it was unusual for women to be pregnant when they were over thirty-five, especially for a first-time Mum.
Decades ago, it was riskier for the mother and her baby; she had a higher chance of having a baby with Downs Syndrome and was more likely to have complications such as a miscarriage, gestational diabetes and/or pre-eclampsia.
Since then, the advances in antenatal/prenatal care have been huge, making it safer than ever for women over thirty-five, in fact well into their forties, to carry a healthy baby to term.
A very valid reason for the label ‘geriatric pregnancy’ to be erased from today’s language is because there is no need for it anymore.
A woman’s age and DOB are listed everywhere – on her notes, on blood and scan results, on her ID if she’s admitted into hospital, and even more surprising, she’s asked her age!
So, a derogatory label on her notes or when talking to her is absolutely not necessary.
More people are having babies into their 40’s it’s not a geriatric pregnancy
And let’s not forget that it’s also more possible for women to get naturally pregnant in their late thirties and forties, or through using fertility treatment either with their own eggs or using eggs from a donor. The number of women getting pregnant for the first time between forty and forty-four more than doubled in the US between 1990 and 2012.
If you, dear reader, are not over thirty-five, you almost definitely know of at least one woman, if not many more, who got pregnant when in their mid to late-thirties.
It took me until I was thirty-nine before I met the man with who I wanted to have children.
We started trying when I was forty-one, and I finally got pregnant at forty-five using a donor egg, but sadly that ended in an early pregnancy loss. I was forty-six when I got pregnant again through egg donation and delivered my daughter a week after my forty-seventh birthday.
Obviously, I have no idea what my pregnancy would’ve been like had I got pregnant in my twenties or early thirties, and as a lapsed midwife, I’ll admit, I was worried that I would have every complication going and would spend most of the nine months on bed rest.
But I didn’t. My blood pressure was fine, no protein in my urine, no nausea, no swollen ankles or fingers, no backache, just a little bit of heartburn and diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles).
My sister and many friends had rough pregnancies when they were younger than thirty-five.
You don’t know what pregnancy you are going to have regardless of your age, and I’m pretty sure that as I had been careful with my diet and took care of my health during the six years of infertility, my body was in pretty good condition when I did get pregnant at forty-six.
So am I going to get questions as an “older mum”
So, although it’s safer nowadays to get pregnant in your late thirties and forties, this reassurance can’t stop other niggling worries.
Such as, what will people think? Will people think I’m the grandma? Will I be able to keep up with an energetic toddler? Yep, I was asked if I was my daughter’s grandma and I was sure to tell them I’d done IVF.
But just as it’s no-one else’s business as to when or if you’re going to start a family, it’s no-one’s business that you’re a Mum for the first time in your forties. Just like the medical profession, society needs to catch up with what’s happening in the 2020’s!
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There are always benefits to everything, even being pregnant when you’re older and according to research:
- You could be more prepared emotionally – in a March 2017 study published in the journal ‘European Journal of Development’*, Dutch researchers found that the children of older mums (in this study, over thirty-one), were better behaved, well socialised and emotionally healthy in their pre-teen years than the children of mums younger than thirty-one.
- It may boost your brain power – a study published in ‘The Journal of American Geriatrics Society’ tested 830 middle-aged women and found that women who had their last child after the age of 35 had sharper cognition and verbal memory.
- You might be more financially stable simply because you’ve had more years to put into developing your career, so you’re more likely to be earning a higher salary (though of course, this isn’t always the case). Studies have shown that children born to older mums stay in education longer, do better on standardised tests and are more likely to go to college than their peers born to young mums.
- You may live longer – one of my worries that having my daughter at 47 would mean that I wouldn’t be around to see her have her own family (if she chose to have one), so I was pleased to read in a 2015 study published in the ‘American Journal of Public Health’** that women who have children after the age of 33 were twice a likely to live to age 95, compared to women who had their last child before age 30.
I am very proud of my “geriatric” body
Even celebrities endorse the positives of becoming a mum in their forties; the American actress Alyssa Milano who became a mum at forty-one explained to US Weekly; “I loved waiting a long time to be a mom. I’d had my ladies’ lunches and my shopping days.” And actress and film producer Salma Hayak, who was also forty-one, said in a WebMD interview in 2009; “I’m a more fulfilled human being now, and I probably wouldn’t have been 10 years ago. She (her daughter) gets a better mother for being born now.”
I will add something that isn’t talked about and I could only find one article on the first page of Google; if you get pregnant in your late thirties or forties, you could be peri-menopausal or on the cusp of menopause when you’ve still got a babe in arms.
I used to joke with my husband that he’d have a toddler going through the terrible twos and a wife going through menopause, at the same time! Only it wasn’t a joke.
Menopause isn’t just about hot flushes, other symptoms*** are irritability, anxiety, depression, lack of focus, forgetfulness, reduced sex drive, fatigue, weight gain particularly around the tummy, breast soreness, tense muscles, poor sleep.
Does this sound like life post-baby regardless of your age? If you’re the only older mum in your group of baby mum friends, perimenopause/menopause isn’t something you’ll be discussing along with poo, weaning and The very hungry caterpillar. Of course, not every older first-time mum is going to experience menopausal symptoms, but the odds are high, and if you have also dealt with infertility and loss, we know having a baby doesn’t take away many similar feelings.
I feel strongly that with the trend of women having children later, the medical professionals, such as health visitors and GPs, should be more open to considering the possibility of menopause with older, new mums, rather than giving out anti-depressants.
And perhaps fertility clinics and counsellors/coaches could also bring this into the conversation with older mums-to-be.
Raising awareness as we know is key, and with both infertility and menopause being taboo subjects, the more people open up the better it will be for the next generation.
Above all else, I’m very proud that my ‘geriatric’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!) body was able to carry a baby safely for nine months. And I openly tell people why I’m an older mum because I’m not ashamed of my journey, and I’m looking forward to celebrating my 60th and my daughter’s 13th.