Older Northern Ireland mums: ‘Someone asked me if my baby son was my grandson’

Model Naomi Campbell recently became a mother to a baby girl at the age of 50. HELEN MCGURK talks to women about the pros and cons of having a baby later in life

Saturday, 29th May 2021, 7:00 am
Alisa Rose who was 39 when she had her son Phoenix

Supermodel Naomi Campbell created a social media storm recently by posting a picture of her hand cradling a small baby’s feet with the caption: “A beautiful little blessing has chosen me to be her mother.”

While thousands congratulated Campbell, 50, on her newfound motherhood, many others raised censorious voices, commenting on her age. Since Campbell remained coy about whether she gave birth, adopted the baby, or commissioned a surrogate’s services, there was also widespread conjecture about how the baby was conceived, carried and delivered.

Despite the hysteria that often surrounds older mothers, it is nothing new. Women have been having babies in their 40s and 50s since time immemorial. Over the age of 35 a woman’s fertility begins to decline rapidly, but many do go on to have happy, healthy children after this.

Ruth Hunter with her children

Women also know that having a baby later in life is not without risks, either for the mother or the child (see panel right).

I had my second baby at 39 and was mortified when the midwife informed me I’d be a ‘geriatric mother’. I was fit as a fiddle. I wasn’t grey-haired or doddery, but the term made me imagine myself trying to push a Zimmerframe with one hand and a pram with the other. The less unflattering term now used for a pregnant woman over the age of 35 is ‘advanced maternal age’, but the ‘geriatric’ word is still common parlance.

Alisa Rose, 49, a publicist from Belfast was only a couple of months off 40 when she had her son Phoenix.

“I had lost a son a year before Phoenix was born and I wanted another baby. Everybody said don’t do it, because of my age, or it’s too soon. I got a lot of negativity from people. In fact I don’t think there was even one person who encouraged me it was a good idea. But I got pregnant very quickly and I am glad I did, because I started the menopause in my early 40s, so if I had waited I don’t think it would have happened.”

Naomi Campbell has had a baby at 50

The number of women giving birth in Northern Ireland over the age of 45 has almost doubled in the past decade, according to figures published in 2018.

Alisa believes there are positives and negatives to having a baby later in life, but she believes she is a “better mother” now that she’s older.

“I had my older children in my early 20s and it’s certainly physically easier when you are younger. My pregnancies were healthier and the babies were healthier. In my last two pregnancies, I had issues in the pregnancy and the babies also had issues.

“But I think when you are younger, for me anyway, I wasn’t really ready to have kids. I had no idea who I was as a person and what I really wanted out of my life. I was very preoccupied with building my career and sorting out my own life. My oldest ones were with a childminder more than they were with me and I really do regret that now because they are all grown up.”

Alisa added: “I think in your 30s is a good time to have a baby, but I think unless you’ve got to that point where you really do feel you are secure, you’re settled and you know yourself, then I don’t think you should have a child, because ultimately it does affect them.”

Now nearly 50 and with a 10-year-old son, Alisa is glad her boy isn’t athletic.

“He likes making Youtube videos and he likes researching stuff and we have the same kind of interests, but if he was a very outgoing, I think I would really struggle at the age I am now to keep up with him.”

From a moral perspective, Alisa believes having a child after 45 may not be the best decision.

“My son is autistic, he can’t even dress himself or brush his hair and I do worry about what is going to happen, because as we get older we never know how much longer we have. If a child is four or five and their mother is in her mid-50s, how active are they going to be to go playgrounds and run around - those basic things mothers are expected to be able to do?

“When Naomi Campbell’s child is 10, she’ll be 60. I do think it’s a little bit selfish to have a child when you are that age.”

Ruth Hunter from Lisburn had her third child, George, last year when she was 42. Her other children are Emily,7, and Sophie, 4.

“I was classed as a geriatric mum even with my first one because I was 36.”

Physically, Ruth notices a difference being a mum in her 40s.

“I am not as agile as I used to be. I have quite a few aches and pains now - getting down onto the floor to play is not a problem, but it is quite hysterical seeing me get back up off the floor.

“There was one time someone said to me ‘is this your little grandchild?’ and I thought I must be having a bad hair day!”

Ruth said one of the biggest differences she found was when she was actually pregnant.

“I really felt my age then. I remember at one of my antenatal appointments catching a glimpse of my birth date - 1978 - whilst most of the other mums were born in the 1990s.

In terms of Naomi Campbell becoming a mum at 50, Ruth said; “I think it’s fabulous, she is very lucky.”

“My husband will be 50 at the end of the year, so George won’t even be two and it does cross mind that there is a big age gap. But it’s certainly not something that is obvious now.”

And she added: “I think if I thought my body was up to it. I would love a fourth child. Being 43 or 44, wouldn’t stop me thinking I was too old for it.”

Stephanie Patterson, 49, from Dromore had her daughter Rose when she was 43. She also has a nine-year-old son, Charlie.

A nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Stephanie said her antenatal care was very different for both pregnancies.

“I was 39 when I was pregnant with Charlie. I went privately and wasn’t referred to as a geriatric mother. Because I was over 40 when I got pregnant with Rose, I automatically got consultant care, which I didn’t have to pay for.

“With Rose I was asked about was amniocentesis testing (used to detect chromosomal abnormalities) on a number of different visits to the hospital, but I didn’t have the test.

“I had a horrible pregnancy with Rose, I was really sick. I had to take time off work with sickness. With Charlie I was sick every day, but I still worked full-time.”

Stephanie thinks someone having a baby at 50 is ‘madness’ and it’s not something she would personally contemplate, but in years gone by believes no one thought much about women have babies in later life.

“There’s lots of women have their ‘fertile forties’, so I believe if it’s for you it won’t go by you.”

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