Mar 102011
 

Think your maternal clock has ticked past its prime? These questions will help you know if you’re too old to get pregnant and have a baby.

If you’re over 40 and considering having a child, you know you have special things to think about. These tips will help you through that process.

“The problem is we always thought we could do it all: We could become president of Chase Manhattan bank and then have our five children. It doesn’t work that way … because, unfortunately, this time clock is real.” ~ Mary Jane Minkin, Yale University School of Medicine professor, author of A Woman’s Guide to Menopause and Perimenopause.

It will surprise no one that more people now seek to have children later in life. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say women in their 20s still account for most births, the birth rate for women age 40-44 rose 5 percent just in the year from 2002 to 2003. In the 22 years from 1981 to 2003, that demographic group’s birth rate doubled, the CDC reported.

If you’re one of the many people wondering if you’re too old to have a baby, you may find it helpful to read books about increasing your fertility in healthy ways, such as Plan to Get Pregnant: 10 Steps to Maximum Fertility.

And, here are several questions to ask yourself and discuss with your partner…





Are You Too Old to Have a Baby? 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

How’s your physical and emotional health?

Can you keep up with a baby or toddler? Can you manage late night feedings and sleepless nights? I was 47, my wife 45, when our last child was born. Things weren’t as easy as when we were 25, but we found we were up to the task. Don’t assume that you’re young and healthy enough or too old to have a baby. Instead, give it some serious thought and discussion — and consider all the different aspects of getting pregnant and having a child carefully.

What will you do if you have a special needs child?

The risk of genetic disorders increases with the age of either parent. According to the March of Dimes Foundation, the risk for having a child with Downs Syndrome rises from 1 in 1,250 for a 25-year-old mother to 1 in 30 for a 45-year-old and 1 in 10 for a 49-year-old. The risks associated with older fathers include a host of possibilities, ranging from dwarfism to schizophrenia. We passed up amniocentesis since that can cause a miscarriage, and we would not have terminated the pregnancy regardless. As it turned out, our daughter had a very rare chromosomal disorder.

How will your age affect your child growing up?

Nancy, a colleague of mine, joined her family through adoption when her parents were 47 years old. “So they were like 1,000 years old compared to my friends’ parents!” she says. “They never liked to get out and do stuff that you do with a kid, like amusement parks and vacations that involved a lot of rides.” When you’re deciding if it’s a good time for you to get pregnant, you need to consider your future baby’s needs and lifestyle.

How will your life stages mesh with your child’s?

Melanie of Ottawa, Canada, says being the youngest of seven to parents over 40 was tough. “My parents were ready to retire by the time I hit the age where I really could have used them,” she says. “They were more like grandparents to me then anything else.” Maybe you’re not too old to have a baby…maybe your baby is too young for you!

How will your child connect with the rest of the family?

Melanie had several older brothers in their 20s who helped raise her. Our 21-year-old son has been essential in taking care of our special-needs daughter. The experience helped make him the amazingly responsible young man that he is–but it definitely changed his own teen experience, and I feel conflicted about that. A sign that it’s a good time to get pregnant is if your other children are willing and able to welcome a new addition to the family.

Can you ensure your child is taken care of if something happens?

It’s not that you’ll die any minute just because you’re over 40! Still, it’s depressing how many of my friends from high school have already died. All parents need to have a plan in place, although LegalZoom.com reported nearly 75% of parents with children under 18 had no will or other estate documents.

“The only people who always, without a doubt, need a will are parents of minor kids,” says personal-finance writer Liz Pulliam Weston. “Your children could wind up the center of an ugly court battle, be foisted on a relative who doesn’t want them or be stranded in the foster-care system if nobody steps up in time.”

You may not be too old to have a baby…but can you take care of your child should something happen to you?

None of this means that you should not have a child, or that it’s not a good time to get pregnant. But in answering these questions (and many others) you will shape your thinking about your decision. We have no regrets about choosing to have our daughter when we did, partly because we considered these questions ahead of time so we were ready for whatever followed.

For more tips on the “how old is too old” debate, read Getting Pregnant in Your 40s – or 50s.

What about you? Do you have any concerns about having children when you’re a little older? I welcome your comments below…

Written by Donn King, a writer and college professor from Knoxville, Tennessee. Learn more about him at donnellking.com or follow him on Twitter (and maybe learn more about his special needs daughter at TrisomyKidsAreSpecial.com).

Donn also wrote Miscarriage Support – 7 Tips for Coping With a Miscarriage, here on Quips & Tips for Couples Coping With Infertility.

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