Late to the Game: Older Mothers Outnumber Teen Moms in the U.S.
More women over age 35 gave birth than teenagers in 2008—a dramatic switch from 1990, when teenage mothers outnumbered older moms. These findings were released by Pew Research Center this month in its “The New Demography of American Motherhood” study.
Those of us who had babies at an “advanced maternal age” in 2008 accounted for 14% of all births, versus the 10% of births to teenage mothers, according to the study. (In 1990, it was 9% older moms and 13% teens.)
What accounts for this uptick in moms over 35?
First, many states changed their laws regarding insurance policies as they relate to infertility since 1989. (A full survey of these changes and the dates they occurred can be found here.) So it became easier for some women who postponed motherhood to access the technologies that are sometimes required to make the dream a reality.
Second, its part of a larger phenomenon in our society.
Dr. Charles Lockwood, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital, says that although IVF using donor eggs is more utilized and accepted, he doesnt think the trend is related to a major advance in the field of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Rather, he believes it reflects a secular trend.
Women are increasingly seeking graduate degrees and professional careers prior to motherhood, he explains, which, as I learned myself, can take large chunks of reproductive years out of play.
Women like me are simply showing up late to the game, hoping to play “house” in the last few years of our fertility. It may not be the ideal moment to reproduce, but were heading to bat anyway.
Who else, I wondered, is part of this burgeoning group of older mothers? And what has been their experience? I learned that, as a group, we are worn out, but feel lucky about our success.
- Next Page: Who needs sleep? [ pagebreak ]
- Who needs sleep? Older parents!
- I polled families around the United States with toddlers who were born to mothers over the age of 35, and everyone made the same observation as one North Caroline father: “WERE ALWAYS TIRED.”
Fatigue seems to be a major downside of having children later in life. These babies are wearing us out in ways they might not have had they been born to the younger parents listed in the Pew Research poll. (Seventy-five percent of mothers of newborns in 2008 were a youthful 20 to 34.)
“I never feel refreshed and charged,” one Bay Area mother of two told me. “I feel like my body might have been more forgiving if I had a little more elasticity under my belt.”
My husband and I agree. Even with three children who sleep through the night, the long days of playing, cleaning, wiping tears, and pushing swings are wearing us down. Now that these babies born in 2008 are outgrowing their naps, we older parents are craving naps for ourselves.
Increased risks: infertility and chromosomal disorders
Though many women over 35 and even 40 are capable of having safe, healthy pregnancies, age does play a factor.
Not surprisingly, a common theme among the older mothers was infertility. We put off having kids for so long—we were either waiting for Mr. Right to come along or until we were financially solvent—that once we began to try, we found we couldnt.
I had two awful miscarriages before my 2008 baby was born—a phenomenon my ob-gyn attributes to the chromosomal misfirings of older eggs. And I wasnt alone. Many of my peers either needed to employ ART or withstood miscarriages before those live births of 2008.
Pregnant women over 35 are more at risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and placental problems than their younger counterparts. They also have a greater chance of having children with chromosomal birth defects, like Down syndrome.
Once weve finally succeeded in reproducing and settled into our roles as older mothers, the question of siblings comes up. Knowing there is a “fertility deadline” looming, we must either try to get pregnant again right away or content ourselves with an only-child scenario, which can be an adjustment for women from larger families.
One Bay Area mom who used IVF to conceive her daughter says, “I would love to fulfill my childhood dream of having three children, but Im not sure it is in the cards for us.”
This sentiment was echoed by a Pittsburgh mom who says, “Now I wish I would have started a little bit earlier, as I would have probably had another.”
But I think that even though these 2008 babies lack siblings and spry parents (not to mention younger grandparents), they have more established parents whose company they can enjoy.
The parents I surveyed felt universally that they exhibited more patience, had better financial resources, and stable relationships with their partners. In the words of one mother who gave birth at 42, “I really have no ‘I wish I had done that before I had kids.”
So we have struck a balance, taking risks by waiting to have our kids, and now we struggle to stay awake while our two-year-olds ask for “one more story.”
And every one of us feels lucky to have made the game, albeit in the nick of time.