Investigators argue that much of the language around women who give birth later in life is rooted in ableism and ageism and is out of step with current childbirth trends.
Educational materials and medical guidelines for women who give birth later in life focuses largely on negative outcomes, including health risks to the mother and child or the difficulties of being a new parent at an older-than-optimal age.
In an article published in Health, Risk, and Society, author Francesca Scala, a professor of political science at Concordia University, argued that the language surrounding older motherhood is rooted in ableism and ageism.
“We see a lot of information on government websites about the ideal time for childbearing, from a fertility standpoint, even though studies show that older women are often better prepared to have children,” she said in a statement. “They have the financial resources to take care of their offspring, and they have relationship stability.”
Investigators analyzed 2 dozen English-language government reports, policy documents, and professional guidelines and statements between 1993 and 2020 containing terms including “advanced maternal age,” “delayed childbearing,” “infertility,” and “older mothers.”
“Our goal as social scientists was not to challenge statistics around biomedical risks but to see if older mothers themselves were being problematized in these discussions,” Scala said.
They found 3 principal themes in the research: older mothers were considered risky maternal subjects, were irresponsible reproductive citizens, or were unnatural. The investigators acknowledge biomedical risks that are present in later-in-life pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Older mothers are a designated risk group, as well as their children who could be at an increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities.
“There is this model of intensive mothering ideology that is pervasive in our society, where motherhood is an all-encompassing role for women,” Scala said.
“It rests on the idea that women are the primary caregivers and are solely responsible for the health and well-being of their children,” she said. “Older mothers challenge our idea about the 'good mother,' someone who is youthful, energetic and has the time and resources to fully dedicate themselves to raising children."
Additionally, there are possible negative psychological effects that children may experience when their mothers are older, though there is little said about the repercussions of advanced paternal age, investigators said.
the presumption of delayed childbearing being problematic or a financial burden on the state can affect access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), investigators said.
In some provinces in Canada, insurance coverage will not be provided to women who use IVF past the aged 42 years, because of an increased risk associated with pregnancy and birth and a low success rate of treatment.
“Instead of putting the onus on women to adhere to their ‘biological clock,’ I would like to see more discussion about how broader social and economic forces shape women's path to motherhood. How can we, as a society, support women having children at their ideal time, for example, with accessible daycare, so they are not penalized for having children too early or too late?” Scala said.
Attitudes around older motherhood too often emphasize risk and pregnancy timing. Science Daily. News release. June 22, 2022. Accessed July 13, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/06/220622141844.htm