Whether by choice or circumstance, the reality is, many of us are starting our pregnancy and parenting journey later in life. So what does it really look like to start your family in your 40s?
Adeline Ma is the mother to two very active kids aged 9 and 3 years old. What makes her story unique though, is that she didn’t start on her fertility journey until her 40s, finally conceiving her son aged 48, at a time when many other women are heading towards peri and menopause. Now, she’s using the lessons she’s learned along the way to help other couples navigate the assisted reproductive technology options in Hong Kong.
Can you share a little about your journey to motherhood?
I was always the type who knew that I wanted to become a mother even as a teenager. I just expected that it would happen at some point. But by the time I was 30 and without a life partner, I started to panic a bit.
“The realisation of missing motherhood was a constant fear for me throughout my 30s.”
I met my husband when I was 41. He was 46 and we both knew we wanted to try to have kids right away. At that time we knew if that we didn’t conceive within a couple of months we should go straight to trying assisted fertility.
It’s a horrible label, but how was your “geriatric pregnancy”?
When I was pregnant with my daughter at age 41, I really didn’t feel singled out by the medical staff as a geriatric mum. Even at that time, it was common to see first-time mothers in their late 30s or early 40s. But for both pregnancies, my doctor had me monitored for potential gestational diabetes and tested early for Down Syndrome.
Studies show that women over 35 have a much higher risk of developing gestational diabetes and the chance of having a child affected by Down Syndrome increases from about 1 in 1,250 for a woman who conceives at age 25, to about 1 in 100 for a woman who conceives at age 40.
Did you notice any differences in pregnancy or birth the second time around?
As with anything, once you have some experience, then you know what to expect so the second time around.
“But, my second pregnancy was during the year that I turned 48 and my energy levels were significantly reduced.”
In addition, I had to parent our older child so every day during the second pregnancy left me completely exhausted.
Did you find your existing friendships change during pregnancy and those early years? Were your friends at the same stage of life as you?
Most of my friends are those that I’ve had a long history with. Even when I became a mother, I don’t think it impacted our relationships much. Of course, I’m not able to socialise the way I used to, but I make an effort to meet or connect with friends often. Having full-time live-in domestic help makes it so easy for parents to keep up a social life.
Since becoming parents, my husband and I tend to invite friends to our home for meals regularly. On a typical Saturday evening, we would have a mix of friends at our home for a BBQ
The friends are not necessarily all at the same life stage as us. Some of them have young kids, some don’t have kids and others have grown kids.
How was it making new friends?
Actually many of my friends with kids similar in age to ours were already in our social group before we had kids. With many of these friends, we became closer and met up often with each others’ families.
“I originally feared that I would be a much older mum with young children but actually, the other mums are mostly only five to eight years younger than me.”
I believe that living in Hong Kong, we don’t encounter many parents who started their families in their 20s or early 30s. It seems to be the norm for first-time parents to be in their late 30s to early 40s now.
What are some of the advantages of being an older mum?
Having more secure finances, an established career or business and hopefully more patience and wisdom. You’re also better able to draw from the experiences of your peer group who started their families earlier and can provide some useful insights and advice.
What about some of the disadvantages?
The major issue is our energy levels. Both my husband and I have to be disciplined in keeping fit and staying healthy. Also, our kids’ grandparents are older, in their 70s and 80s and unable to play such an active role in our children’s lives.
I know that many parents who have children later in life feel some stigma about being older but fortunately many say that both my husband and I don’t look our age — we often pass for 10 years younger!
What advice would you give to other mums starting their parenting journey in their 40s?
Really make it a priority to stay fit and healthy.
Get the best medical advice if you want to use assisted fertility treatments such as IVF. These procedures involve time, money and can affect your physical and emotional well-being. For women in their 40s, I wouldn’t waste time and would just explore IVF options right away.
I suggest to those in their 20s and 30s who feel they may want children someday but aren’t ready or don’t have a partner to consider that they may need fertility treatments in the future. It’s never too early to position yourself financially or professionally to accommodate IVF if needed.
Where to get IVF support…
Since the birth of her second child, Adeline has been helping other couples navigate the assisted fertility processes. Explore her fertility treatment coaching and advisory services.