updated 18 Jan 2011, 08:45
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Tue, Jan 18, 2011
New Straits Times
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Midlife mums
by Meera Murugesan

CELEBRITY mums seem to breeze through it. Pregnancy and motherhood in the 40s hasn’t slowed down or cramped the style of jet-setting famous women like Halle Berry, Madonna and Nicole Kidman.

But for the average Jane, is late motherhood really the icing on the cake?

While women are constantly pressured to settle down and have children early, it’s a fact that more women today, either by choice or fate, are only beginning to start their families at an age when their mothers would already have completed theirs.

Women becoming first-time mums in their mid-30s or 40s is an increasingly common phenomenon, helped in part by late marriages.

But what are the challenges, if any, for women who have babies well after the 20s? Do they cope better being mature women who are more in control of their lives or are they anxious, stressed out parents given that age is always staring them in the face?

Wong Mei Leng, who had her first child at 34, says late motherhood is simply a different experience and not necessarily a drawback.

Wong married in her 20s but decided to wait 10 years before having her first child.

She says it was a well thought out decision as she wanted to pursue her career and she and her husband wanted to be financially stable so one of them could stay at home and provide full-time care for the baby.

A former editor of a top fashion magazine, Wong now works from home as the editor of a parenting website called that provides information to mothers and mother-to-be and allows them to share experiences.

Wong says that for older mothers, the challenge comes in having to give up their independence and their own space and time, things they have become used to over the years.

For many of them, their sense of self also comes from their careers so giving it up for motherhood can be daunting.

“In my case, even though it was my choice to become a full-time mother, it was still difficult. When my husband decided to go back to work after my son was born, I was shocked that he was going to leave me alone with this baby. I remember thinking, ‘what am I supposed to do?’” she says with a smile.

Wong adds that the other drawback to being an older mother is that your energy levels are not what they were in your 20s and caring for a baby does take its toll physically, even on much younger women. But in Wong’s case, not having to rush to work in the mornings has made a world of difference.

And unlike some young mothers who may feel tied down or stifled once the baby arrives, Wong did the things she wanted to do career-wise and the arrival of her son four years ago brought much happiness.

For her, like many older mums, every aspect of parenting, no matter how trivial, brings joy.

Wong says even those things which some young mothers find a chore appeals to her and she enjoys being completely hands-on with her children, Jake and Rebecca Bloemendal.

“Older mums know the years they have to bear children are shorter. That means fewer children but it’s more important for them to do things right with their kids.”

She adds that older mums also tend to have more resources, they know where to go for information on parenting, what books to get and have more options within their social circle to share and pick up information.

Murina Pawanteh, who had her daughter Hannah Lokman when she was 41, says older parents generally have to plan and invest more carefully for their children’s future, especially their financial and educational needs.

Unlike young parents who are more likely to “go with the flow” when it comes to planning for the future, older parents don’t have the luxury of time on their side, she says.

“But the plus side is that you’re more patient as a parent and more motivated to take care of yourself and keep yourself healthy because you want to be there for your child as she grows.”

In Murina’s case, having a late pregnancy was not something she planned. Her first pregnancy, when she was 34, ended tragically with a stillborn baby girl.

It took Murina a good two years to get over the trauma of losing her first child and she reached a point where she almost gave up hope of ever becoming a mother when she discovered she was pregnant with Hannah.

“Throughout my pregnancy there was much happiness but also much anxiety given my past experience. I was afraid of losing the baby and that she might not be healthy. All I did was pray really hard,” she says.

Hannah’s birth has been a blessing to her parents in many ways. The adorable, bubbly four-year-old has coloured their world with joy and given them a new perspective on many things in life.

Murina says it was certainly an adjustment after having lived so many years as just a couple. Everything, from social outings to being house-proud, took a back seat as their lives started to revolve around Hannah and her needs.

“In my 40s, I now have to appreciate cartoons, storybooks and picnics. That took some getting used to,” says a smiling Murina.

Like Mei Leng, Murina too is a hands-on mum and enjoys the fact that she can be involved in every aspect of Hannah’s life.

A lecturer, Murina took time off from work during her pregnancy and only returned to work when Hannah was two.

She admits that at her age, it can be tiring running after an active four-year-old but at the same time, she’s very motivated to do things with Hannah and somehow, the energy just comes.

Although Hannah has plenty of friends her age, perhaps given the fact that she’s mostly surrounded by adults, she’s mature for her age and very articulate.

Given her age, people do expect Murina’s child to be older. Her sister, who is a year older, has a 19-year-old attending college and some of her friends have children who are already married. Hannah was even the flower girl at some of these weddings.

But because she tends to mingle with younger parents who have children the same age as Hannah, Murina doesn’t feel that age is catching up.

“Of course, there are always things you don’t want to do but now can’t avoid either. You do it and tell yourself you’re doing it for her.”

For Mageswary Suppiah, the birth of her son Saktikana Ravikumaran, when she was 42, was nothing short of a miracle.
Every day since has been an exciting and joyous journey in motherhood.

Married at 38, she sought treatment from various doctors to help her conceive before finally opting for In Vitro Fertilisation.

Despite being told her chances of conceiving were still slim, she got pregnant on her first attempt.

“Even with all the obstacles standing in my way, deep down in my heart I had this conviction that God would not let me down and I would have a child,” says the part-time English teacher, who’s now a single mother.

Mageswary says her son, who’s now 15, has enriched her life in many ways and given purpose and meaning to her existence.

When Saktikana was a child, despite working full-time and being in her early 40s, she did all the things that other parents generally do with young children and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Age was never a factor as having a young child makes one feel young, she points out. And although her friends already have children who are either in college, working or are to wed soon, Mageswary has never felt “left behind”.

In fact, her friends have frequently pointed out that she’s lucky to have a child who still needs her and is with her all the time.

Unlike many women her age, she’s not struggling to cope with the empty nest syndrome and that is something she views positively.

She’s also thankful that unlike young mothers, who are always in a mad rush to juggle work and family, she has the luxury of being able to work part-time and be there for her son.

“Motherhood is the toughest job but it’s also the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says.

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