Most women I know threw this book out the window, furious at this punishing message--when starting later was in fact an act of personal and economic empowerment meant to give their children better lives. Hewlett's conservative message was not only a glass-half-empty point of view, and ignored the progressive and triumphant side of this choice, but it discounted the reasons for the statistical direction in which our society is moving.
Any modern woman knows that when it comes to having children, there is no simple answer, which is why I was so delighted to see that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now publishes the first-ever magazine devoted to pregnancy over 35. Its name is Plum, which means "something especially prized." "The number of women over 35 having babies today--whether it's a first, second, or fifth child--is now the largest in over three decades," writes Dr. Michael T. Mennuti, the President of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "We, as ob-gyns, realize that, as reproductive age increases for many women, the concept of health care requires new definitions, new roles and an expanded scope."
While flipping through the fall issue of Plum, the most striking thing I notice is how similar it is to other pregnancy magazines--a sign of just how commonplace starting motherhood later has become. There are your typical stories about prenatal yoga, maintaining a good diet during pregnancy, decorating your baby's room, and traveling safely while pregnant. These article are informative, but their design is a bit clichéd, and the font looks too much like a medical advertisement.
There are also articles that focus on the 35-plus mother. The editor in chief, Mary Jane Horton, says that when she was pregnant at 35, she was referred to as an "elderly primagravida." "I didn't look elderly, didn't feel elderly," she writes. "The strange term was completely at odds with my new reality." New reality is the key phrase. Today, according to an article about the new art and science of making babies called "The New Fertility Gods," the number of mothers over 35 has doubled in the past twenty years. "In 1980, the number of women over 40 having children was so low, it was statistically insignificant. Now they account for seven percent of all live births in America. All told, more than 450,000 babies were born to women between the ages of 35 and 40."
Another article says "A generation ago, a 40-year-old woman's pregnancy would likely have been labeled an accident. Today, older moms are typically celebrated for their intelligent childbearing decisions, praised for their courage, and cheered into the parenting club." Recently a friend who had her first baby in her 20s joked to me that she had to wait until she passed 30 to have her second, "or else people are going to start making trailer-park jokes," she said. While off-color, her joke is true. Today, older mothers are associated with career success and wisdom, and it's more likely that a younger mother, especially on the East and West coasts, would have her pregnancy labeled as an accident.
What I like most about Plum is its balanced and realistic perspective. It celebrates older moms with a fashion spread of maternity clothes designed by Zac Posen that accentuate the curves of older pregnancy, making them into something downright sexy. The editors also acknowledge that there is a continuum of risk that increases throughout a woman's reproductive life, but unlike in Hewlett's "Creating A Life," there is no message of doom, simply because there is no reason to feel doomed. According to one ob-gyn quoted, most women over 35 have problem-free pregnancies. While some risks increase, like that of premature births, the problems that usually arise are not because of a woman's age, but because of her levels of stress. After all, most women postpone pregnancies because they have high-powered, stressful careers. And the problems that are associated with age--such as infertility-- are being solved by cutting-edge technologies that are becoming better and better each year.
The editors of this magazine empower women with the tools to make their later pregnancy and motherhood less stressful, which will not only benefit their children, but the companies they run and the products they produce. This is the real message older moms need and deserve.