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Midlife Moms: More women choosing to have children in late 30s early 40s

"When Suzi Williams, then 42, showed her husband and close friends the pink strip from an in-home pregnancy test, they all incorrectly guessed the mom-to-be.They said, 'Oh my God, didn't you talk to Angie?' she says, referring to her then 16-year-old daughter. I said, 'No, it's me.' They're looking at me like yeah sure, oh poor thing. Even my husband for the longest time didn't believe it. He was like, 'You should have had more talks with Angie.' A few doors away in Williams' Auburn neighborhood lives Krystal Myers, who waited until she was 36 to have her first child, Katy, because she was busy establishing a career as an airline stewardess. Twin girls, Kassi and Kari, soon followed.Watching the neighbor kids, (pregnancy) wasn't pulling on me, Myers says. I don't wish we had had them sooner. I think we had them at the right age for us.Like Myers, many women are hitting the snooze buttons on their biological clocks and waiting until their 30s to have children because of marrying later and devoting their 20s to career, says Dr. Tracy Contant, a gynecologist with Franciscan Health System. And like Williams, some women are getting pregnant when their first children are out of the house or of childbearing age themselves.The big middle-age baby boom occurred in the 1980s, according to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. In the '80s, the birth rate rose 60 percent for women age 35 to 39 and 50 percent for women in their 40s. Between 1990 and 1995, it rose only 8 percent for women age 35 to 39 and 20 percent for women 40 to 44.But older moms still make up a significant percentage of the total number of women giving birth. In 1999, 9 percent of all births were to women older than 35, Contant says.By the time they have their careers going, they're waiting till their 30s and early 40s to have kids, she says. They feel they can manage to do it all. And they're at a financial place where they can afford childcare or afford not to work.But that doesn't mean having children later in life poses no problems. Pregnant women in their 30s and 40s face more health risks than those in their 20s, as do their unborn children. And adjusting to motherhood, when career has been the focus, presents difficulties.Myers, 41, says she needed a nudge from her husband, Bob, to agree to have children. Her mom, who had Myers when she was 19, and dad regularly pestered her by asking, When are the grandchildren coming? But Myers felt no hurry. She was 30 and Bob 35 when they married and for years they were too active with their jobs and hobbies to contemplate children. Her doctor put her on bed rest when she was pregnant with Kassi and Kari because of her age but they still arrived two months early. They suffered from twin to twin transfusion syndrome, in which one twin takes blood away from the other twin in-utero through the placenta. As a result, Kassi arrived anemic.Suddenly, Myers had three diaper-wearing, bottle-feeding babies. She got by with only a few hours of sleep a night and missed the adult conversation and exciting travel that were part of her job. Now, Myers says she can't imagine not having the girls. On a recent afternoon, Kari snuggles in her lap, Katy tugs on her arms and Kassi puts her arms around her mom's shoulders.This is how they usually are - all three on top of me, she says.Myers says she knows it'll be harder to keep up with her energetic daughters when she's in her 40s and recognizes that her husband will reach 60 - the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots - when the girls are still in high school. But she says she doesn't regret her decision to wait. She believes she's a more patient, safety-conscious mother than she would have been if she'd had kids in her 20s. It's not a rush, she says. I'd tell anyone: Enjoy life. ... For me, waiting was the best. I feel like I've done everything I want and need in my life before I had my children.While Myers' pregnancies were planned, Williams, 47, says she was as surprised as anyone when she became pregnant for a third time. She and her husband, Gary, had sought help from a fertility clinic to have their two daughters, Angie, now 21, and Hailey, 19. Williams had hoped to have a third child but doctors doubted she could get pregnant again. So Williams accepted that two children would be it and didn't use birth control. When she missed a period, she believed she was going through menopause without the inconvenience of hot flashes. The pregnancy test revealed the truth. Five years ago, Williams gave birth to Colter, whom she calls a blessing.I was ecstatic, she says. Your whole stomach turns inside out. It's the happiest feeling. OK, I have another little one coming. I'm going to be a mom again. It's like you're on top of a mountain and nobody can hear you: Hello world.Her family and friends responded less positively. Friends told her she was crazy to have another child when her two daughters were almost out of the house. Angie and Hailey expressed disgust their parents were having sex in their 40s. Gary, 53, still has difficulty adjusting to starting at the beginning of childrearing. At his age, he is thinking now's the age to be thinking about early retirement, going on cruises, instead of watching Winnie the Pooh, she says. I won't lie. It's been very stressful.Like Myers, Williams faced a difficult pregnancy in part because of her age. She hemorrhaged twice and had to take medication twice a day to keep Colter in her body long enough for him to fully develop.Williams read pregnancy books like any mom-to-be and was surprised by how many parenting theories had changed since she'd had her daughters.In a way it was kind of like being an old hand at it but it was also starting all over with different ideas, she says.As a 40-something mom, Williams, who works as a flight attendant, says she possesses more confidence, including the knowledge that babies aren't chinadolls that will break at the slightest touch. She also knows when to ignore the baby books based on her personal experience raising Hailey and Angie.The biggest challenge is juggling the demands of a 5-year-old with the needs of her daughters.At first you're talking to an 18-year-old or a 16-year-old offering advice to their level and then you go to the infant, goo-goo, ga-ga, she says. Then you're talking about a serious relationship between your daughter and her boyfriend. 'Just a second, the baby has to go potty.' They're like, 'Potty?' Even with those challenges, Williams says she would have Colter again. But she advises other women with almost-grown children to think long and hard before adding to their families. If I had an option, I probably would tell people to do it when they're younger, she says. It's easier all around on the family. "

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