Women choosing later life motherhood are hardly big news anymore. Today, the fastest growing population of new mothers is women over 40.
It’s also hard to miss the fact that this trend has stirred up controversy.
Critics of older mothers assert that having a child past the age of 40 is self-a self- centered act. This assumes that women who delay motherhood make a conscious choice. But I believe the issue is more complex.
Fantasy Collides With Reality
As a child of the sixties and seventies, the message drummed into my own wee little head was that I could be “anything” when I grew up. “Follow your dreams”, they said. Don’t depend on a man for happiness or security. Be a career woman and everything else will fall into place.
The trouble is, things don’t always go according to plan. Eventually the myth of superwoman collides with real life. We wake up and find ourselves approaching 30 –with career firmly in place and no prospect of marriage in sight.
Prolonged education also molds our reality. College campuses are ripe with eligible partners, always within arm’s reach. We’re lulled into thinking that finding a match will always be this easy.
My mother did warn me: “You’d better find someone before you graduate. It won’t be so easy once you’re out of school”. But I shrugged off her advice. After all, what did she know about dating? Mom was married at 19, a new mother by 22.
Unhappily married, I might add. (Yet another argument for waiting).
But mom was right: life beyond the ivory tower was a whole new ball game. A girl had to go “looking” for Mr. Right. The pressure was on, and the male gender could smell desperation from a mile away.
Time after time, I hear older moms recount their struggles with finding a suitable partner. While some decide to go ahead and become single moms, most prefer to be married (or at least partnered) first.
Even when they do find a partner, many women remain focused on career until they feel established and financially secure — two more factors later moms may consider essential for good parenting.
Maybe I Don’t Want Kids!
Delaying motherhood in favor of career is a common scenario; less common is the attitude that children might not be such a good idea in the first place. Not now, not later, possibly not ever.
Reasons for foregoing parenthood vary. Some cite economic issues, while others simply favor a child-free lifestyle. In my case leaving home at age 16 brought my childhood to an abrupt end. Delaying adult responsibilities meant I could “play” a little longer. Besides I wasn’t so sure I’d make good parenting material.
Ultimately. I didn’t choose parenthood. It chose ME with a surprise pregnancy at 45. Had I not become pregnant I would never have known for sure whether motherhood was the right choice. Sure, I’d had my yearnings but never the kind of certainty other women had. Of course, I fell in love with my baby boy soon after he arrived. (More accurately, soon after post partum depression ended). Then came regrets that I hadn’t started sooner. Adam was, literally my last “good egg” and hot flashes came fast and furious within a year of his birth.
I’m sure I’m not alone. I know there are other women who have a change of heart later in life and even more who wish they hadn’t waited.
And of course there are “later moms” who find themselves pregnant long after they were told it would be next to impossible to conceive. Do we make the “selfish” choice of keeping the baby or do we think about “what’s best for the child” and terminate our pregnancy?
So are the majority of older moms selfish women who put their own needs ahead of the childs? Admittedly some are. But the vast majority don’t grow up thinking, “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I put off having kids then pop one out at the last minute?” We arrive at later motherhood through a series of choices and circumstances. Like I said, life doesn’t always turn out like you planned. And even the best plans…well, you get the picture.