It used to be a taboo subject, but new research from the Office for National Statistics shows that in 2009, more than 1,000 women aged 45 and over had babies in the UK – with another 16,318 women aged 40-44 also giving birth.
With celebrities like Mariah Carey, Nicole Kidman and Marcia Cross making motherhood in their 40s look easy, it's never seemed more normal to have a baby later in life.
But what's it really like to fall pregnant, give birth and mother a toddler when you're twenty years older than many other new mums?
Natalie Blenford spoke to new-mum Candy Upton, 50, to find out what it's like having a toddler when you're in your sixth decade.
When you're young, falling pregnant can be the easiest part of the motherhood process. But things were different for Candy second time around.
"Falling pregnant at 46 was not as easy as it was at 24," she explains. "I had my first child, Kezzie, in 1986, but my relationship with her father didn't last. I was happy being a single mum of one, but when I met Mark in 1997, I fell in love."
"In 2002 we started trying for a baby. He's five years younger than me so at that point we were 41 and 36 respectively – we didn't think it would be impossible. But despite all the will in the world, nothing happened."
Eventually, Candy and Mark sought the advice of specialist doctors. "I spent £1,000 on minor fertility treatments," she says, "but after a year I realised they weren't going to work. As I was over 40 by this time, I wasn't allowed to apply for IVF on the NHS, so I found a private doctor and discussed IVF with him."
Suddenly, Candy and Mark were thrust into a new world of clinics, fertility charts and personal questions from friends and family.
"The doctor was really supportive," she says, "and although we were nervous, I felt at ease going through the process. But I got frustrated when people would ask me ‘why are you only trying now?'. They thought it was odd for me to be trying for a baby so late, but what they didn't realise is that we'd already been trying for five years."
Despite her desire for another baby, Candy was adamant she didn't want to get sucked into an endless cycle of IVF treatments.
"IVF can place an enormous stress on a relationship and the cost is huge. Each cycle costs about £5,000-£7,000 with medication – I know one couple who spent 60k on IVF. There was no way we could afford that so we limited ourselves to one go."
There are also health-risks to consider. IVF can cause Ovarian Hyperstimulation Sydrome – a condition where women over-respond to the fertility drugs and develop fluid retention and abdominal swelling. In 1% of cases, it can be severe and may require hospital treatment. There's also a risk of ectopic pregnancies, multiple pregnancies and a slightly increased risk of health problems for children conceived by IVF.
Much to Candy's relief and amazement, the IVF worked first time and she fell pregnant.
"When I told Kezzie her mum was going to have another baby she was really pleased. She was 20 by then and she has friends whose parents are much older than them, so she took it all in her stride, but I was relieved she was as excited as I was".
In December 2007, Candy gave birth by cesarean to baby Nancy: a fair-haired, feisty little girl who has grown into a happy and healthy three-and-a-half year old.
Being a mum again at 50
"Nancy was small when she was born but she's growing fast," says Candy. "She never stops talking and she's bossy! She loves singing and dancing and telling jokes – she has a really lovely nature."
Daily life now requires 7am starts and being on-call 24 hours a day. "Most days Nancy goes to sleep at 7.30pm," says Candy. "I stay up with Mark until about 10.30pm but if she needs me in the night, I'm up.
"Things are hugely different second time around. When I had Kezzie I was in my twenties and I wanted to go out to parties all the time. Now, I'm 50 and my daughter is 3, and I want to be at home with the baby. I'm much more patient and I think I'm a better mother than I was before."
Candy has the added bonus of having her mum and mother and father-in-law nearby to help her. "I live by the sea and we often all go to the beach as a big extended family."
If Candy has one regret about the experience of becoming a mum at 46, it's the criticism she sometimes gets from strangers.
"Younger mothers can give me a bit of attitude," she says. "It's rare, but very sad when another woman tries to make you feel bad about being an older mum. I don't think there should be a rule that says a woman shouldn't fall pregnant after a certain age. Obviously, if a woman really wants to have a baby at 55 but she dies 15 years later leaving the child without a mother, that's incredibly sad."
"But I've got a young face and a young spirit and I've thrown myself into motherhood," she adds. "My relationship with Kezzie has gone from strength to strength too. We have lots of shared interests and she loves being an older sister to Nancy. Overall, I think Nancy is benefiting from having a happy mum and dad, and I'm loving the new lease of life she's given me."
Dr Cynthia McVey, health psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University has these confidence boosting tips for new older-mums. “Women in their 40s and 50s have life experience that young mums lack,” she says. “They might look stylish and happy at the school gates but it could just be a brave face. Be compassionate to yourself if you’re an older mother. You’re more likely to become tired, but you have the wisdom to handle your new role. "
However Dr McVey has a word of warning for anyone thinking of rushing into late-motherhood: "sixteen years down the line, your child will be a teenager and you’ll be concerned with his or her personal safety, love-life and lifestyle. Having a teenager on your hands at 70 will not be easy, so try and think about the future before committing to the idea of becoming a parent so late."
What do you think of women having babies in their late 40s? Should there be a law that says babies over a certain age are banned, or should women be free to have children whenever they want – and can? Let us know below.
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