The fertility rate is now higher among over-40s than under-20s for first time since 1947. But what’s it like to have your first child at this age?
New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the fertility rate of women aged 40 and above has surpassed that of women aged under 20 for the first time since 1947.
The fertility rate of those in their fifth decade and over has now more than trebled since 1981.
So what is it like to have a child later? We spoke to a selection of women who had their first child in their 40s. Here are their stories.
Julia Knight, 41, Devon: You’ve got to think positively, and luckily it worked out for me
I had my first baby six months ago. My pregnancy came after I moved from London to Devon to focus on my life rather than a career. I had worked in costume for TV, theatre and film for 15 years in the capital.
I always thought I would have children, although there was a phase in my mid-30s when I wasn’t sure, but I think I was kidding myself a bit – also I wasn’t in the right relationship at the time. When I met the person I am with now, I knew I wanted to start a family. It was timing and getting my head together that meant my daughter Poppy came at the right time.
I was trying for just over a year before it happened. I had questioned my fertility but that’s always a worry, no matter what your age. I read an article about a woman in her 50s who had a baby and she talked about biological age and chronological age and said that if you look younger, you feel younger. So that really helped me because I have always felt younger. You’ve got to think positively and luckily it worked out for me.
I wasn’t worried about having a child later – some of my friends have done it and no one around me saw it negatively.
The only difference really was that I had to see a consultant because I was over 40, but doctors weren’t overly concerned. In fact, my midwife played the age aspect down and it was only afterwards that I heard the medical term for someone who gives birth over 35 is “geriatric mother”. The only time my age came into it really was when I gave birth. I had to be induced because I was 16 days overdue, but in the end I had an emergency caesarean, and one of the determining factors was my age.
The birth was an incredibly positive experience. There is lots of fear around giving birth, which can affect how you feel about it. But I practised hypnobirthing – an education programme that teaches you to relax. I also chose to focus on my own experience, and not be affected by other people’s stories.
Having a child has completely changed me. My whole world revolves around Poppy at the moment. I feel empowered more than anything. I feel more comfortable in myself and happier with my body.
Louise Chidgey, 45, West Dorset: They used to shout ‘geriatric mother!’ across the clinic, which highlighted my age
I was just 40 when I got pregnant through in vitro fertilisation (IVF), but I needed that because I have endometriosis. Lots of people asked whether I had a child later because of my career, and while I did have a high-pressured job it wasn’t really that. It just happened that at 39 I met the right person. I had no problems getting pregnant and it happened after my first round of IVF.
I never got the feeling from friends or colleagues that I was too old. I was a trend forecaster in interiors and fashion at the time, and worked with a lot of young people, who were all supportive. The only place I felt conscious of my age really was at hospital – I was called a geriatric mother, or some term like that. They used to shout it across the clinic.
The doctors do put fear into you, and my biggest worry was that my child might have Down’s syndrome because the risks of that are so much greater when you’re older. Also, I wanted a natural birth and I was told that wouldn’t be possible. The birth included three days of labour and ended with a forceps delivery. I am not sure if it was my age or just that Jesse was a really big baby, at nine pounds, that made it so hard.
When my friends started having kids when I was younger I was still single and jetting around. They always thought my life was really glamorous, but secretly I wanted to be at home with a baby. However, now I look back I am glad I had that time. When I was in my 30s I still wanted to be at the best parties and openings, and I don’t know if I was ready for a baby. Now I am older I am much more grounded. I can enjoy spending time with my son more. Your career opportunities do happen in your 20s and 30s, really, and I am glad I didn’t miss out on that.
Miranda Maguire, 43, Essex: I am conscious of certain things as an older mum
When you’re older there’s a higher risk of something going wrong so doctors monitor you constantly. When I gave birth, being older, I also felt conspicuous in mother-and-baby groups, and couldn’t always relate to what people were talking about as they were much younger. That’s why I set up my own group, for older mums, where I live. We could talk about issues that matter to us, such as IVF or experiencing miscarriages, which happen more when you’re over 40. Also if you have a child later you don’t always have your parents around and so you have less of a support network.
My decision to have a child later was partly due to a medical condition. I had fibroids that I had to get removed through a controversial operation at the time. When I had IVF some doctors said I wouldn’t be able to conceive. We started trying at age 33, and at 38 doctors recommended us for IVF. I eventually gave up because it wasn’t working, and that’s when I got pregnant naturally. It was brilliant and a massive shock. At that point I had planned for a life without children.
I am conscious of certain things as an older mum, for example I worry I won’t see my own grandchildren growing up. At 49 my husband also worries about being physically fit so he can kick a ball around with our son.
I was in hospital for five days when I gave birth. I was set to be induced, which is fairly standard for older mums. I also ended up having to have an emergency cesarean. Going through the whole labour and induction was tiring, it’s terrifying when you give birth – and made worse by doctors telling you you are too old to have a child in the first place.
Most of my friends had kids younger – I would say the oldest was 35 when they had their youngest. This is good in one sense as it means you can ask your friends lots of questions and you also get lots of hand-me-downs. However, it was hard when friends starting falling pregnant and I was struggling to conceive. I had one friend who had two children during that time, she seemed so fertile and I couldn’t see her as much as I found it too hard. Now, when I look back, I think I should have been a much better friend.
These days I embrace spending time with my friends and their kids, as I now have a better understanding of their experiences and am less selfish about my own.
Monika Kupper, 46, London: There were two years when I was either pregnant or had just had a miscarriage
I didn’t meet my husband until I was 30, and a year into relationship I had an ectopic pregnancy and a messy miscarriage. It was a horrendous experience, with a lasting effect: it shocked both of us at the time. We couldn’t think about trying to have a children for ages after that.However, at 39 it hit me that I need to get a move on. Due to the ectopic pregnancy I was missing a tube, and I’d also found out that I have a blood-clotting disorder that increases my chances of having a miscarriage.
I talked to my doctor and was given medical advice about getting pregnant in these circumstances. I got pregnant really quickly after trying but sadly had a miscarriage . But then I got pregnant again with my daughter and had a really normal and healthy pregnancy. I was induced at 42 weeks, which is pretty standard for any woman having a baby on the NHS.
After I had my eldest daughter I started trying again but suffered several miscarriages. I had all manner of tests, including a laparoscopy. The verdict was that there was nothing wrong with me, it was most likely that my age meant that my egg quality was poor. My issue wasn’t getting pregnant, but staying pregnant.
After numerous attempts, I finally fell pregnant again on my 43rd birthday. I had a consultant midwife who specialises in looking after women with medical issues, and she was amazing. Because of my age, I was induced again, but this time on my due date. Sadly the hospital was very busy that day, so the experience wasn’t that great. I just had gas and air and squeezed out my nine pound daughter all by myself. I know I am extremely lucky to have two healthy children.
There were two years when I was either pregnant or had just had a miscarriage and I had to learn to compartmentalise. I remember a midwife saying to me, “At your age it’s not impossible to get pregnant, but it comes with heartache.” You have to be strong, and I am really lucky my girls are healthy. I always wanted a large family but there’s no way I can have loads more kids. I adore my kids and having a experienced a lot of life before motherhood. I’ve never felt I’ve missed out since they’ve been born. But given my time again, I’d definitely start earlier.