Moms explore ups and downs of first child after 40

Sunday, May 9, 2004

NEW YORK -- Judith Newman was almost 40 and getting a little nervous. She knew her clock was ticking.

After marrying at 33, she spent seven years and $70,000 trying to get pregnant. The ups and downs of the fertility treatments were frustrating, even maddening at times, she says, and seeing doctors and taking tests was becoming a full-time job.

All she wanted was a baby.

How about "babies"?

Turns out all her efforts paid off -- Newman is now the mother of twins.

"I thought of the technology that got them here. Unnatural? Maybe. But so's the Sistine Chapel and no one's complaining about that," she writes in "You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman."

In the book, Newman approaches fertility treatments, birth and learning the ropes of motherhood at what doctors like to call an "advanced age" with humor.

"I think that there's a part of you that when you go through all these treatments that are so funny and sad and ridiculous and a roller coaster of emotions that you need to go back and revisit that," she said in an interview.

Newman, 43, is not alone in her struggle. Births to women over the age of 40 have doubled in the in the past 30 years, according to Doreen Nagle in her book "But I Don't Feel Too Old to be a Mommy."

This is good news for Newman, who says she likes looking around the playgroup and seeing other faces her age.

She also is reassured by women's willingness to discuss fertility treatments -- often a part of later-in-life motherhood. Newman says that she often gets into very graphic and very personal conversations with women about what doctor they used and how often it took before they conceived.

"It's becoming so common. There was a time when people didn't want to talk about it, when it was covered in secrecy the way plastic surgery was," Newman says. "Women also didn't want to admit to other women that they were going in for these treatments, but I think that is changing."

Nancy Hemenway of Arlington, Va., creator of an infertility-resources Web site, had her first daughter at 45 after several trials with a fertility doctor.

The stigma of being an over-40 mom is being erased by all the over-40 moms out there, says Hemenway. She didn't have to look too far to find another one: Her next-door neighbor.

There are some advantages to waiting to have children, she says, including using life experiences and applying them to raising children. She also feels more financially stable.

"Kids keep you young," she says. "Even when they're complaining about wanting to stay up longer to watch 'Full House.' It's a good problem to have."

However, adding an extra person to the family can affect your marriage, especially one with very established routines, says Lianna Miller of Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Miller and her husband had been married for 20 years before they adopted their daughter Emilie. Having an infant around the house changed just about everything -- and it made Miller realize the importance of spending time alone with her spouse.

"When you have your first child after 40, you've had a lot of time to go on dates and travel or just sit around the house," she says. "But even after the baby arrives you still need to have dinner together alone or get away to just have a conversation."

Newman agrees: "On the one hand everything changes. There are just bombs dropped into the nice life you created for yourself and your husband," she says. "Then again, you've had a lot of time to go to parties. I had many, many years to make witty conversation with strangers about the latest thing in the New York Times Book Review. And I'm not saying it gets old. I'm saying the pleasure now is keener. You savor it."

But as much as Susan Kostas of Rumford, R.I., loves doting on her infant twins Peter and Allison, she misses the working life. One of the biggest adjustments she's had to make is accepting the fact that she's not going into work every day and doesn't have the camaraderie she once knew with her co-workers, says Kostas, who had worked up until two weeks before she delivered her children.

Kostas, 42, does participate in some playgroups but she hasn't really connected with the other -- mostly younger -- mothers.

Having a support network is key to raising children no matter what the mother's age, says parenting author Nagle, but over-40 moms seem to think it's even more important.

Mary Resnick of Dix Hills, N.Y., says that both she and her husband were well established in their careers when they had a baby two years ago. And neither was willing to give up those jobs when they decided to have a child, so they knew that "parenting" would also include a grandmother who would watch their son during the workday.

"I'm happy that I waited," Resnick says. "I don't know if I would have had the mature outlook that I have now. Now I know how to forecast things and how to ask for things that I need. It's almost like having a business plan."

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