Just because you can give birth in your forties doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily an easy process. Mentally and physically, it’s much harder for older women to go through labor and raise children while likely juggling pre-menopause symptoms and/or caring for aging parents. To put the struggles into perspective, I spoke with Nancy London, M.S.W., author of Hot Flashes, Warm Bottles: First-time Mothers Over 40. This best-selling author of Our Bodies, Ourselves gave birth to her daughter at age forty-four. A former runner who now takes daily dance classes, Nancy thought she was prepared for motherhood. She wasn’t prepared for the sheer exhaustion; hormonal fluctuations; and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of support for older moms.
“I was having trouble finding information and support about giving birth at forty-four. To be unidentified [in the media] with no information and no support was quite strange.” Nancy grew up nursing on the women’s movement and figured if she got pregnant later in life, surely others had too.
With that thought in mind, she set out to start support groups in Sante Fe, New Mexico by visiting her local radio station for interviews and putting up flyers in health food stores. Soon, she had a support group and now conducts several and concludes that support, whether from a formal group, or just with friends and neighbors, is critical when a first-time, older mom.
“Nine out of ten women in my support groups say at one point: ‘I don’t want to complain, but I’m completely exhausted. This is hard. What’s wrong with me?’ We are a very youth-oriented culture. Having a child later in life—whether adopted or by birth—affects our bodies differently,” she says.
In her book, Nancy outlines various ways forty+ moms can maximize time with their children, without trying to compete with the twenty-something moms.
One strategy is to have the younger moms of your child’s friends host the more active play-dates and then reciprocate by hosting low-key ones, such as sleepovers where you’re in charge of movies and hot chocolate.
“My daughter and I devised all kinds of ways to spend yummy time together. We would go to movies, museums—a lot of things that didn’t require me putting on rollerblades and go tearing down the street with her. I can’t pretend I’m twenty-five years old and put on spandex and break a hip,” Nancy says with a laugh.
While it is important to set limitations, Nancy also emphasizes staying in shape and working out. This is especially important as many children of older parents begin to realize how much older their parents are compared to their friend’s parents.
“There was a time when my daughter was young that I was sick with the flu. She actually told her friend that I was dying. I was shocked. For my book, I interviewed children of older mothers and their responses were both hilarious and serious—it’s a big issue,” she says.
For that reason, Nancy advises older moms to explain to their children that yes, they may die earlier than their friend’s parents, but it won’t likely happen any time soon and they are taking good care of themselves. She also says that when starting back into an exercise regime, to not tackle it like you would in your thirties.
“Adjust how you take care of yourself. I love to dance, as I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I don’t run anymore, but I dance. I find ways to get my heart rate up,” she says.
Exercise not only keeps you in better physical shape, but better mental shape as well. This is even more important for women who may be entering pre-menopause. It’s hard enough to tackle perimenopause symptoms, but combine it with the fluctuating hormones from giving birth and the exhaustion of little sleep, and you get a glimpse into the first weeks of a new, older mom.
Nancy says that after giving birth, so many of the women she’s talked with complain of having bursts of anger and then just losing it and weeping. “When you combine the hormonal imbalance of giving birth with the hormonal imbalance of entering perimenapause, it’s not surprising. Often women are just prescribed anti-depressants by generalists.” That’s why she stresses the importance of finding a specialist who will test your hormones.
The Sandwich Generation Finally, many older women must split time between caring for an aging parent and the non-stop demands of a baby or toddler. In those cases, Nancy suggests giving room for error.
“Understand that you are doing the best that you can. Good enough is good enough. Forgive yourself for what you can’t do. Honor yourself for what you’re striving to do,” she says.
The social worker and author recalled a time when she had to take her young, “precocious” daughter to a Florida hospital when her mother was ill: “My daughter was six and full of energy. She was running up and down the halls of the hospital. It was a nightmare; a hard time for me.”
This is when support groups really help. Women going through the same things can suggest ways to help or just listen when times are harder than others. Part of being older is being wiser—and that means knowing when to accept help.