Birth Bias Series: Age

The term ‘young parent’ in the UK means anyone aged 25 or younger, whereas when we’re talking about anyone aged 35 and older, the term ‘geriatric parent’ is used. An average a cisgender woman will start their period at the age of 12, and will start menopause at the age of 51. So despite being technically ‘of childbearing age’ for 39 years, you’ll only escape these labels for 8 of those.

We can’t deny that there are extra risks to being particularly younger or older. But teenage pregnancies do happen, as do pregnancies when a woman is in her 40s, and age shouldn’t affect the way a person is treated during their pregnancy or childbirth. I have learned that there is a stark difference between those who have received gentle risk management, and those who have experienced prejudice due to age.

Thankfully, a lot of parents who fall either end of the age spectrum have had a lot of positive things to say. There are good and bad in every walk of life, but we must not let our own personal opinions prevent a woman from recieving high quality care.

Mia, aged 26, had her first child at the age of 16.

I felt like attitudes changed towards me as soon as they saw my age. I remember being at college, 20 weeks pregnant, and hearing people whispering about me and my pregnancy; I ultimately felt I had to hide it due to the judgement. I started wearing thick coats and oversized clothes just to escape the stares and whispers.

At 32 weeks pregnant, I had an appointment with my midwife who said “they are the reddest, angriest, ugliest stretch marks that I have seen on somebody your age”. I left the surgery with my confidence in tatters. My health visitor also told me that I’d likely need social services input due to my age, I felt like I was being set up to fail! I hadn’t even been given a chance to be a mother and they were already doubting my ability, it was crushing.

In labour a midwife told my mum to “control your child” and “this is why children shouldn’t have children” I just felt so small. My birth was ultimately really traumatic, ending with a 4th degree tear, which again they put down to my age – my body was too young to cope with the birth.

I never did need any social services input, and by the time I had my second child at 19 attitudes had vastly improved. Suddenly I was the perfect age to have a child, as I was so ‘young and spritely’. It’s crazy what those three years did to change people’s perceptions of me, and I was far more prepared to deal with anyone who wanted to judge me.

Mia now has 3 children, who are all happy and healthy. She’ll never forget the awful things that were said during her first pregnancy, even almost 10 years later she still remembers how those words hurt.

Grace, aged 53, is a mother of five children. She experienced three pregnancies as a ‘geriatric parent’

Of course there are positives and negatives, I definitely felt more relaxed and confident with age. I felt that I was cherishing each moment more, after seeing how fast my eldest two grew up!

One thing I found very difficult was when my 4th child was premature and needed care in the NICU. I felt they were less attentive to me as he was my 4th child. My age and experience as a mum was irrelevant at this point, I’d never had a baby requiring special care before and I was still afraid and worried! But the assumption was made and I felt I navigated a lot of that without the level of support younger mums were recieving.

As I got older, my pregnancies were definitely more physically demanding, and the risks of complications grew the older I became. Lack of sleep once the baby was born definitely had a greater impact than when I was younger!

I found that others perceptions seemed less positive due to my age, especially at schools. I remember going shopping with my eldest child, who was 18 at the time, and my youngest child, who was a newborn, and people not being able to work out who the baby belonged to! It’s been lovely for my grandchildren to have such young aunties and uncles though, and I am a very well prepared grandmother due to still having younger children.

While most know that the average maternal age for first child is increasing, what is usually missed is that having a child later in life was also incredibly normal. With the average size of a family in the 1800s comprising of 8 children, older motherhood was both normal and to be expected.

A mother is a mother, no matter what age that happens. While we must remain risk conscious, we must also remember that every mother deserves holistic and non-judgemental treatment.

Thank you to all of the wonderful people who have contributed so far! Coming up next time, I am talking to women who identify as having a long term condition or disability.

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