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The media is often referred to as ‘a circus’ and tends to live up to its reputation when motherhood after 40 is dragged beneath the heated spotlight.
When was the last time you read an article or watched a TV program that outlined the benefits of having a child after 40?
Nobody needs to stand there and ask: “Where are the clowns?” That’s because they’re already here.
If there’s a problem with pregnancy, birth or parenting it’s invariably attributed to our age with the repetitive predictability of a metronome, along with daring feats of reason and hyperbolic silliness to ‘prove’ the case.
For a little light relief, I turned to 51-year-old Jan Andersen—author and owner of the UK-based website Mothers Over 40 (http://www NULL.mothersover40 NULL.com/)—for the ‘skinny’ on midlife motherhood.
Having been married twice, she is ‘sandwiched’ between two generations of children—three now grown up from her first marriage and, from her second, a daughter named Lauren she had at 40, and who is now 10.
You could say she has twice the maternal enlightenment of your average mother—both the hindsight and foresight of parenting young or old—and she’s got an arsenal of reality-based wisdom to punch through stereotypical assumptions.
“I think that society places enormous pressure on women to have children by a certain age,” says Andersen.
“Older women wishing to become pregnant are bombarded with exaggerated statistics about declining fertility and the risks involved in having a baby after the age of 40.”
And she is only too ready to criticize the finger-pointing media for continuing to court negative public perceptions of later life motherhood.
“Pregnancy is a risk at any age and complications can occur at any age. However, when an older woman has problems conceiving or has a difficult pregnancy, she is automatically told that it is because of her age.”
She also emphasizes the risks of assuming that, when it comes to motherhood, ‘younger is better,’ observing that many younger mothers still feel they have a lot of unfinished business in their own lives.
“When I had my first son at the age of 22, I still wanted to have an active social life and was also still trying to decide what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up,’” she recalls.
“Age alone does not pre-determine your ability to be a great parent.”
“However, some young mothers are more focused on their own needs than those of their children and don’t seem to have much patience. I often hear that hackneyed line, ‘Because I said so.’”
Jan Andersen says she is often made distinctly uncomfortable by young parents who smoke around their children, “shovel them full of junk or fast food, and allow them to sit for hours in front of the TV or computer games.”
Conversely, the benefits of later life motherhood, she argues, are abundant.
“As an older mother, I am far more in tune with my daughter’s needs than I was with my other three children in my 20s,” says Andersen.
“When I gave birth to Lauren at the age of 40, I was better prepared in every aspect and was in a stable relationship.”
Unlike her other children, whom she only breastfed for up to a year, Jan points out that she nursed Lauren until well past 3 years because she had the time and patience for it in her 40s.
“Older mothers (and fathers) have inevitably had the benefit of many more years of life experience and knowledge,” she continues.
“They are better equipped to handle the challenges that they face as parents and are also in a better position to educate their children.”
“Many have also built careers and laid strong foundations on which to raise happy, secure children.”
Andersen also suggests that over-40 parents are likely to be more realistic and cautious about exposing their children to risks and tells a story that supports her belief.
“Even though she is now 10-years-old, I have never allowed Lauren to be outside where I cannot see her if I look out the front door,” she says.
A few weeks ago, she learned that a man had been exposing himself to girls in the local park and trying to lure them back to his house.
Whether it’s due to career, not finding the ‘right’ partner, second marriages or fertility issues, Jan Andersen insists that our understanding of later life motherhood needs to be realistic.
“Critics have to understand all the reasons why some women choose to embark on motherhood after the age of 40 and also focus on the many benefits of midlife parenting, rather than writing women off based purely on age.”
“Attitudes certainly need to change. Midlife parenting is not a circus and older mothers are not a curiosity,” she insists.
“The most important factor is that a child is loved and wanted, not that they should be regarded as some sort of social accessory brought into this world because the experts say that the woman might be infertile later on.“
Notes for this blog:
Jan Andersen is a freelance writer and author based in the UK and the founder and owner of the pioneering website Mothers Over 40 at: http://www.mothersover40.com/ (http://www NULL.mothersover40 NULL.com/)
She is the author of Chasing Death—Losing a Child to Suicide. For more info, go to: http://www.chasingdeath.com/ (http://www NULL.chasingdeath NULL.com/). You can also read the FPM blog on Jan’s story of loss at: https://achildafter40.com/wordpress/?p=406.
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