Delayed Motherhood: Between Intuitions and Facts

After 11 months in NYC, I am still not used to seeing older mothers with strollers walking around the city. These mothers make me think about the fact that, not only in this city but also in many other places specially in the developed world, women are getting pregnant, either through IVF or naturally, around their 30s, 40s and even their 50s (1)(7)(8).

As a 24-year old women who is not planning on having children soon but that might want to be a mother someday, I ask myself if to be an older mother is how I expect to see myself in 15 years. My first intuitive answer to this question is “No, I want to be a young healthy mother that has energy to play with her kids. However, I also want to be a mature, educated mother with a stable economic situation and with enough time to spend with my children”. The second part of my answer is what many future mothers are prioritizing nowadays, and that is why young mothers in developed cities like NYC are scarce. Beyond my intuitions of being an energetic young mother, I would not prioritize this first part of my answer, but should women do it? Should they be young mothers, who are generally more full of energy and good health? Or should they postpone motherhood in order to be more educated and financially stable mothers, who might have more time to spend with their children?

To answer these questions I went first to my parents and friends and these were their opinions:

First intuitions were always against older motherhood, because health risks for the mother and the child seem serious; because biological timing for reproduction was a strong argument and because being a young parent was much more fun. However, after I presented some of the arguments that the NY Magazine article (7) describes, their intuitions began to weaken.

My mother, for example, felt like the fact that so many grandparents raise their grandchildren in Colombia is a very strong counter-argument against the idea that older parents are tired and therefore, less capable of being active, energetic parents. The idea that older fathers are not such as controversial topic as older mothers are, made my mother uncomfortable. Nonetheless, after saying that it might not be such a bad idea for women to postpone pregnancy, she finally concluded with: “It was so much fun to have you and your brother being young. It is definitely much more fun ”. Even if she thought arguments were appealing, she was still not totally convinced that it is a good idea to be an older mother.

Second, we discuss the ethical implications of this topic at one of my Bioethics classes and different opinions came out:

Some argued that it was definitely wrong for older women to become mothers, because their children would not only face more health risks, but also the premature lost of their parent. Most of the times, they would not be able to go through college with their parents´ support. In contrast, these young adults would have to take care of their parents. Others thought it was justifiable to take health risks both for the mother and for the child, and the potential emotional pain of loosing the parents being a teenager or a young adult as a trade-off for a more secure lifestyle. These people thought that the fact that older parents could have more time, resources and be more mature to face parenthood would justify older motherhood. Indeed this view is supported by studies like Prof. Brian Powell’s work in Indiana University (1).

The conclusion of this discussion was a matter of priorities and personal ideals. There was no agreement on whether it should be morally permissible to delay motherhood or not. It all seemed to depend on how each one values, for example, an educated mother, an energetic mother or a healthy mother, among other categories, as the main ones in motherhood.

Finally, studies present mix evidence on the question of older motherhood. It has been proven that older women have more pregnancy and delivery problems and higher risks for poorer newborn outcomes. They suffer more chronic and pregnancy-related diseases, higher BMI, more interventions, high risk of prenatal mortality, low birth weight and pre-term birth. Most of these problems increase since the early 30s (3)(6). However, there is no conclusive evidence that shows long term negative effects on children’s behaviors, social/emotional outcomes or schools performance (2). In addition, no negative effects on the well being in early and middle childhood of children with older mothers have been proven (5).

This issue is definitively very complex. More research needs to be done from different points of view to determine the wide range of impact that delayed motherhood has on the child, the family, the community and the mother. As more women choose to delay motherhood, greater is the need to have precise and detailed studies, which approach this topic from a realistic and holistic perspective.

Sources

1. Associated Press. (2004, March 12). More Older Women Revealing in Motherhood. NBC. Retrieved from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6593933/ns/health-womens_health/t/more-older-women-reveling-motherhood/#.

2. Bradbury, Bruce. (2011, January). Young Motherhood and Child Outcomes. Social Policy Research Centre. University of New South Wales. Retrieved from: http://education.arts.unsw.edu.au/media/File/Report1_11_YoungMotherhood.pdf.

3. Campell, Denis. (2009, June 15). Doctors Warn of Risks to Older Mothers. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jun/15/older-mothers-health-risks.

4. Friese Carrie, Gay Becker, Robert D. Nachtigall. (2008). Older Mother and the Changing Life Course in the Era of Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Journal of Aging Studies 22: 65-73.

4. J. Bolvin et al. (2009). Association Between Maternal Older Age, Family Environment and Parent and Child Well-Being in Families Using Assisted Reproductive Techniques to Conceive. Social Science and Medicine 68: 1948-1955.

6. Klemetti R, Gissler M, Hemminki E. (2011) Health Implications of Ageing Motherhood. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Vol 65 suppl. Uppl. Pp.A120-A120. Retrieved from: http://md1.csa.com/partners/viewrecord.php?requester=gs&collection=ENV&recid=15447780&q=&uid=&setcookie=yes.

7. Miller Lisa. (2011, September 25). Parents of a Certain Age: Is There Anything Wrong with Being 53 and Pregnant? New York Magazine. Retrieved from: http://nymag.com/news/features/mothers-over-50-2011-10/

8. MSNBC Services. (2004, November 23). More Older Women Having Babies Study Says. Retrieved from: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6567698/ns/health-womens_health/t/more-older-women-having-babies-study-says/#.TuY8r2BhHzM

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