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Old Wives’ Tales: Having Babies After 35

Carrie Underwood came under criticism in 2018 for remarks she made during an interview with Redbook. When asked if she wanted a large family, Carrie responded: “I’m 35, so we may have missed our chance to have a big family.”

Her response sparked an internet storm of emotional comments from fans and followers, all of whom had opinions about how much “time” someone at Underwood’s age really had to grow a large family. You know what they say about opinions? … everyone has one.

Here’s the thing, whether you think that someone who is 35 has ample time to create a large family or not, it’s really not up to YOU: the choice is hers.

In essence, it’s a very personal decision. To demonstrate just how personal our choices in having children and parenting really are, it’s important to know the rest of Underwood’s story, which she shared a few days after her statements caused such a stir.

Underwood revealed in a subsequent interview that she suffered three miscarriages in the past two years, a devastating experience for any women or couple and clearly a major contributing factor to her perspective. Underwood perhaps wasn’t so much limiting her expectations of family size based on her age, but rather, commenting on the basic facts of the matter; that she may not end up with as many children as she had originally set out to have.

The lesson here is to give grace to others when motives and circumstances are unknown to you, which is basically all of the time.

Trust me.

I have rarely regretted giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

On the discussion of motherhood and age, it’s true that some older mothers delay having children in order to pursue an education, then a career, and finally add a baby as a capstone to their personal and professional lives. Still, other women may end up having children in later years due to infertility, miscarriage, or uncontrollable circumstances of life (medical issues, loss of spouse or significant other, etc).

I consider myself a hybrid of the two options. I delayed getting married because I was pursuing my career and not ready to settle down. When I did meet and marry my husband, the military stepped in and prevented us from even considering children for the first 18 months. (A combat deployment to Afghanistan will do that to a couple).

Once we were reunited, we were so disconnected from our year-and-a-half apart that launching into children was not an option we felt wise. Add in an overseas relocation for 3 years, and we suddenly found ourselves at a decision point of starting children in our mid-thirties.

Could we have had children sooner? Sure.

Did we as a couple decide that was the best emotional and relational decision for us? No, not at that time.

I don’t beg pity on myself, but instead, I want to highlight that no one can EVER truly know the motive for couples having children at any time, unless you climb into their relationship and dig around (again, it’s highly personal).

I gave birth to my first baby just 4 weeks before I turned 35, a relief for my vanity, as I avoided hitting that dreaded medical benchmark of being pregnant at or over the age of 35. The medical profession uses flattering and encouraging terms to designate pregnancies at age 35 and beyond, such as: Advanced Maternal Age, Geriatric Pregnancy, (I can hardly stomach this one – geriatric, really??) elderly primigravida, (if it’s your first baby) or elderly multigravida (if you’ve previously given birth).

Growing a human baby is difficult enough on a woman without the added stress of terms such as “elderly” or “geriatric.”

I get it, the words are only medical verbiage, but at the root of my insecurity with these terms is my previous vulnerability about waiting to have children well beyond what was my “original life plan.”

Parenting has been a wonderful and exhausting process of self discovery and acceptance of my identity as a person/mother/women. In the nearly two years since I became a parent, this arduous process has helped me come to terms with the fact that I’m an “older” mom, and it has also opened my mind to truly embrace this fact.

With hopes of adding another child to our family one day, now at age 36, I can no longer avoid the medial monikers I so scorned before.

As an eventual “geriatric” mother who has spent countless hours wasted on worrying about my age, there are a few points I’d like to share about my growth in this department.

1. I Am Not Alone – This Is a Cultural Shift

For better or worse, the norm in the United States is trending toward couples waiting longer to marry, women postponing children until after they’ve establish their careers, and women having children later in their lives. According to a recent Pew Study, the age at which women are becoming mothers has risen across all ethnic groups.

In fact, over the past several decades, there have been more first births to older women in the United States, countered by fewer births to mothers under age 20. According to data tracked by the National Center For Health Statistics, the national mean age of mothers has been steadily on the rise for over a decade.

Having a first baby over the age of 30 is no longer uncommon; and beyond age 35, there is a growing community of new moms.

All of these stats simply convey the reassuring news that we (moms over 35) are not alone.

2. Older Moms Need Friends, Too

Everything about motherhood is a very personal experience, but conversely, everything about motherhood also begs for a strong support network. We all need friends to share in this season of life and mentors to show the way forward when all seems too overwhelming.

Wisdom in parenting is not limited to just those with the most years on this earth.

Surprisingly enough, I found that much of my “experience” and reasoning as a career professional only got in the way of the very intuitive nature of parenting.

Put simply: I thought too much about too much.

I had a false sense of knowledge based on my skill set in other abilities, which left me totally baffled at why some of the most basic parenting tasks (like getting a newborn to nap) could unravel me to my core when it didn’t go as planned.

Mom friends are essential to me for more reasons than I can list, and I don’t discriminate based on age. Frankly, I don’t have the luxury of sticking only to moms of my similar age, and I’m thankful that I don’t.

In our library story time group, I easily eclipse many of the moms by eight to 10 years in age. My need for a parenting peer group far outweighs my desire to stick to my own age group. Since opening my heart to moms of all ages, I have grown a cadre of fabulous mom friends whom I found through lots of effort, activities, and prayers. I love them as family, and they challenge me in ways only other moms could. Did I mention that we are all different ages? I still need and cherish my friends in other seasons of life, but for my mom support, I am so thankful I didn’t just try to stick with moms my same age!

3. The Challenges Are Different, But Just As Hard

I spent my twenties cutting out my career, chasing my dreams, and living out some bucket list items. I can’t imagine adding a child or several children into that season of my life, and I am awed by the women who launch into parenthood in their young adult years. The challenges in that season could look like: trying to establish a career, building financial security during lean times, and strengthening a marriage that is just a few years old (or less).

For someone on the opposite end of the age spectrum, the struggles are different, but equally emotional and trying.

Moms starting later in life are contending with struggles such as: when to jump back into an established career after having a baby (how soon is too soon), daycare options and who will spend most of each day caring for your child, constantly trying to remain relevant and connected with friends who are past the baby stage or who remained childless, worrying that you may not be alive one day to meet future grandchildren or be a meaningful participant in your adult child’s life due to advanced age.

It’s all heavy stuff … very real stuff.

This isn’t meant to be a pity contest of which mom has it worse. Instead it’s an awareness building exercise that ALL parenting is hard and that even if on the surface it appears that one situation is more desirable than another, it is completely dependent on that individual.

All moms have things they battle with and areas where they need reassurance.

The clear message is that all children need steady love, support, and encouragement and parents of ANY age are equipped to provide that. Parents also need that same love and support to keep stepping up to the “parenting plate” each day and hoping not to strike out or suffer too much physical damage. As adults, we can make the parenting process a far more enjoyable and memorable experience by simply encouraging and recognizing each other in our daily efforts as moms and dads.

Parenthood is one long series of difficult decisions, interspersed with joys, laughter and LOTS of memories!

So to you young moms, you have my utmost respect! To you older moms, I’m in the trenches with you! To moms everywhere, keep rising every day to the challenge of nourishing growing minds, keeping your sense of self ever present (it will disappear if you don’t) and if possible, writing some of your special memories down when you can.

One day I’m sure I’ll regret having a mental blank spanning roughly 18-years, but I’m too tired to start journalling. Now excuse me, but I must go. It’s getting close to 8:00 p.m., and I believe it’s my bedtime.

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