Through the Ages
Pregnancy and motherhood at 20 30 & 40
Women in their 30s tend to have a stronger sense of self than younger women, which helps them accept pregnancy and indulge in its transient moments more fully. These women typically are also more inclined to involve their husbands in their pregnancy experiences. “They would find ways for their husband to be a part of the pregnancy, growing frustrated if he wasn’t engaged,” Gottesman says of the women in her study.
Kirsten Larson, a 33-year-old who is pregnant with her second child, describes having children in her 30s as ideal. “I wasn’t fresh out of college,” says the San Diego County social-work counselor. “I had been working for 12 years, and we had bought a house. But I did want to be finished having children by 35, when the risks go up.”
Just past her first trimester, Larson’s blood was measured for alpha-fetoprotein, an early indicator of chromosomal and other abnormalities in the fetus. When the results came in at low levels, her obstetrician ordered amniocentesis. To Larson’s relief, the test results indicated that the baby was normal but that Larson’s hormones were haywire. “They say there’s still a 40 percent chance of the placenta breaking down, which could cause preterm delivery,” says Larson, adding that this period of her pregnancy was filled with feelings of dread and anxiety. Despite the early scare, Larson, who had her first child at 31 and is 32 weeks pregnant now, feels relaxed about the pregnancy.
“As women grow older — a group I like to refer to as chronologically advantaged — there is a greater respect for the process of pregnancy and an awareness of the potential danger,” says Raul Artal, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at State University of New York at Syracuse. There also are great rewards.
While women in their 40s might be at a slight physical disadvantage when it comes to bearing children, they are at their prime psychologically. Women in their 40s often have well-established careers and have waited so long for motherhood that they feel time spent with their baby is their right. “These women were thrilled to be pregnant,” Gottesman says of the women in her study. “They spent a lot of time thinking about what the baby might look like and imagining themselves pushing the stroller.”
Women in their 40s also had a greater repertoire of soothing behaviors with their infants, had less financial and marital stress, and were more likely to breastfeed, according to Mercer’s research.
Perhaps the most interesting advantage to bearing children in the 40s is that doing so may prolong a woman’s life, granted that she conceives without medical intervention. Research conducted at Harvard Medical School found that the genes that allow a woman to bear children in her 40s also may be responsible for longevity. The study compared 132 women born in 1896, 78 of whom lived at least 100 years, and 54 of whom died at age 73. The researchers report that the centenarians were four times as likely to have had children in their 40s than those who survived only to 73.