A guest blog by Erika McLaughlin, a strategic communications consultant, community advocate, and mom to Andrew, six months.
There are certain realities a woman faces when she has a baby in her late 30s. While as a society we have come a long way in recognizing that women are having babies later in life, this is not nearly as widespread as we would like to believe. The latest data on the average age of women having their first child indicates age 26.3. Not exactly over the hill. I had my son, Andrew, 6 months ago when I was 38.
What comes with having a baby close to 40 are challenges and opportunities that differ in the experiences of a woman having her first child at 26, or in her 20s in general. Besides being referred to as old…or as they call it AMA (advanced maternal age) at every prenatal appointment, we are further along in our careers. Most of us have a more solid financial situation than in our younger years, tend to be more educated, and have often focused on careers, education, volunteerism, or other family obligations before making the decision to have a child.
So when we have children a bit later in life, what happens to the lives we led before baby came along?
In addition to a fulfilling career, travel, friends and family, much of my adult life has been about volunteerism. After graduating from college, I began volunteering and found great joy in it. Volunteering led me to change my early career path. It led me to join things, get involved, meet new people, say yes more than I was saying no. I joined boards, participated in committees of all shapes and sizes. I got involved in my neighborhood, organized fundraisers, volunteered with rescue dogs, flipped pancakes, collected silent auction items, sold raffle tickets. If you had a cause, I was there to help, and was happy to do it. This commitment to volunteering and being involved in many organizations became a part of who I was. There was something exhilarating about running from work to planning meetings, or volunteering on a Saturday morning, or getting dressed up for the benefit I had worked on for months. And, I had the time to do it.
Well, times have changed. And it has been really hard for me to admit it. Shortly before Andrew was born, my pregnancy became complicated. I had to stop volunteering on Saturday mornings at a local hospice that I am passionate about. I had to conference call in to meetings of a board I was leading. Once our son was born, the thought of getting up on a Saturday morning to volunteer felt off – like it was part of a different life. Making those after work meetings became a challenge, and I felt some shame in admitting that it may not be realistic at this point in my life. I felt like the independent, fierce feminist inside of me was yelling at me to stick it out, balance it all, do it all. But the tired, worn out, new mom inside of me was yelling “Mercy!”
Realizing that, perhaps, something had to give was one of the most difficult realizations I made since becoming a mom. I knew that balancing work and home would be challenging. I knew that becoming a mom later in life would mean significant changes to our social lives. I was ready for those shifts. But I didn’t fully appreciate how much being involved in the community had become a part of my identity.
About a month ago I spent the morning volunteering at that local hospice. It was wonderful to be back and to give back, even if I can’t be there every Saturday. I am evaluating my board obligations, and I have scaled back on my committee work in the community. Volunteerism and service will always be a part of who I am, and will continue to be as I grow and evolve as a mom, as a professional, and as a community volunteer. It is okay to say no sometimes, and not feel guilty or less than an independent woman. It is okay to be thoughtful about where your time is spent. It is okay to reprioritize which volunteer activities fulfill you the most. Most of all it is okay to admit that we are not the same as we were before our children were born. I am still working on that one.