Late pregnancy: why decide to have a child after 40?
Given the cultural change and the greater desire for self-sufficiency, the result of modern emancipation, having children after 35-40 years of age is a decision that must be made freely by the woman, after careful reflection on herself and her own possibilities, without be based on prejudice or social pressure.
In recent years there has been a radical change in the female figure and in the relationship with motherhood, no longer tied exclusively to the desire to become a mother. More and more women choose to have children after 35-40 years of age and the creation of a family is no longer defined as a gender evolutionary need, but more as an option for the realization of the mature couple, allowing the woman to to be able to make an active choice in this regard. This decision-making process is now possible thanks to the spread of contraceptives since the 1960s, to treatments for fertility, in vitro fertilization and the legalization of abortion for unwanted pregnancies (Christoffersen and Lausten, 2009).
So is there a real biological clock? And what are the bio-psycho-social implications in choosing to have children after 35?
Many women choose to have children later also in relation to their stability as a couple, more reassured by the willingness of both partners to take care of the child, so that neither of them has to face the choice to sacrifice work for the family or vice versa (Mills et al., 2011). The perception of a disparity in the distribution of domestic work and in caring for the child makes this aspect very relevant during the decision-making process in whether or not to undertake the path of parenting (Hook, 2010).
Full-time work does not take into account the commitment that necessarily requires childcare; with the setting of 8 working hours, a couple who decides to have a child must consider part-time work and nursery schools or babysitters which in any case entail costs and times to be respected. Further complicating the decision-making process is the woman’s difficulty in recovering her job once replaced for maternity leave, as very often happens due to the precariousness of the position. To date, unfortunately, women’s achievements for equality at work are still not enough to ensure compatibility with the choice of being a young mother. The opportunity to pursue a career, after university, however, it falls within a life range of 30 to 40 years, a period in which it is biologically predisposed to conception. Consistently, deciding to have a career child already underway, and not before graduation or while studying, ensures greater economic autonomy in maintaining and a higher salary. The study paths after higher education are long and avoiding pregnancy in this formative period is the result of the perception of “not being able to afford it” (Miller, 2010).
Deciding to have a child over the years certainly involves a greater awareness of one’s personal, cognitive and emotional resources, in knowing how to correctly understand and interpret the needs of the child, structuring a coherent system of rules within the home environment. Studies confirm that the maternal age over 27-30 years is predictive of greater self-sufficiency of the child in adulthood, associated with better school and psychosocial outcomes (Fergusson, 1999).
Motherhood includes an inevitable transformation of identity connected to the definitive abandonment of the status of “daughter” for that of “mother” which includes a redefinition of one’s mental structure, facing pregnancy and childbirth (which would imply in part the anguish of death) , an annulment of oneself (of one’s time and space) according to the care of the child and the abandonment of many individualistic aspects, such as the physical aspect (Schirone, 2013). All this would create feelings of ambivalence strictly connected to the perception of one’s biological clock, in defense of the survival of the species, against the psychological one, in defense of identity aspirations. In addition, western culture to date places much emphasis on youth and the physical beauty associated with success, denying biological aging and promoting the perception that there may be something absolute and unrecoverable in embracing the maternal identity. Choosing to have a child later may be understandable in light of the desire to be able to express yourself better when you are younger and to have experiences that otherwise childcare during its early years would not allow (travel, job opportunities, moving to another city) (Chodorow, 2003).
The most known risks of a “late” pregnancy are those of a biological and medical nature, but many studies have shown that maternity in old age could also have psychological and social effects.
Addressing a pregnancy in old age could lead to three negative outcomes: spontaneous abortion, ectopic pregnancy (i.e. with the implantation of the embryo in places other than the uterine cavity; for example: intrauterine pregnancy and extrauterine pregnancy) or death fetal between twentieth and twenty-eighth week of pregnancy. The hypotheses regarding antepartum deaths can be linked to chromosomal anomalies of the fetuses, gestational diabetes of the mother and preclampsia (EPH), a syndrome characterized by the presence, single or in association, of hypertension, edema and proteinuria. In addition, other complications due to the age of the mother can be: twin pregnancies (probably also due to the use of in vitro fertilization in older women), which may involve greater difficulties both during gestation and during childbirth; the genetic malformations of the child, among which Down Syndrome seems to be more related to the advanced age of the mother (Steine Susser, 2000).
There is an increasing number of studies in the literature linking late motherhood to the risk of depression after childbirth (Carlson, 2011; Aasheim et al., 2012; Muraca and Joseph, 2014). The increase in this risk may be due to the fact that older mothers have faced more difficulties, both during their life and, specifically, during pregnancy (for the reasons discussed in the previous paragraph); moreover, due to the concept of motherhood that has changed, and is changing, over time they may suffer from a lack of social support and above all from the peer group (Muraca and Joseph, 2014).
Other studies have instead linked motherhood in old age to an increase in anxiety, attributable to the fear of losing your baby, but also to the concern about their future social adequacy and their identity as a mother. This last point can be connected to the fact that, often, these mothers are victims of prejudices from both the community (fueled by media propaganda) and from their friends and relatives. The more specific anxieties that are reported by these mothers are: the concern of being considered selfish by others for wanting to have a child in spite of the age, the decrease in physical and mental energy levels and the fear of not being able to to face and resolve situations. Finally,
Given the cultural change and the greater desire for self-sufficiency, the result of modern emancipation, having children after 35-40 years is therefore a decision that must be made freely by the woman, following a careful reflection on herself and her possibility of offering an adequate future to your child, without relying on social prejudices or pressures. Therefore, also deciding not to have them should not be considered an impediment to personal fulfillment nor much less the result of guilt feelings linked to the lack of generativity.