Mums over 40 – what it’s like having a baby later in life

Prendergast had her son Carter with her close friend Nik Webb-Shephard. Photo / Alex Cairns

In the last decade, the number of New Zealand women having babies over the age of 40 has remained stable but grown considerably since the 1970s, when around one in every 100 births were to mothers aged 40-plus. Last year, it was one in every 25 births. To celebrate Mother’s Day, Carly Gibbs asks five mums from the Bay of Plenty to share their stories of having a baby later in life.

Nikki Prendergast, 50

Nikki Prendergast is a special kind of “late bloomer mum”.

She turns 51 on Monday and is among other things, a woman undergoing cancer treatment, co-owner of 17 New Shoots Childcare Centres, and a person who sees the best in everything.

So, when life didn’t work out how she planned in her younger years with a long-term relationship and trying to conceive, she ploughed on with positiveness.

However, years later, an idea started to form with her decade-long friend Nik Webb-Shephard, who is 10 years younger.

Like her, he was single at the time. They’d travelled the world together, owned a cafe and a house together, and the idea was planted by a friend that they’d also make great parents together.

Initially, they laughed it off, but then when they talked about it and “stress tested” it with others, it started to make sense.

“We were waiting for someone to say, ‘c’mon, guys, this is crazy; Nikki, you’re too old’, or ‘Why would you do it as friends?’.”

Instead, everyone said ‘You guys will be amazing, why wouldn’t you?’.”

“It reignited that want or need to be a mum,” Prendergast says, who after two years of planning fell pregnant at 47 and gave birth via cesarean at 48, in March 2020.

She and Webb-Shephard decided to pursue an egg donor and when they found someone they knew personally, Prendergast fell pregnant on their first cycle of IVF with Repromed New Zealand.

Other than morning sickness, she had a “really good” pregnancy.

“He was a healthy baby boy born into crazy Covid times. It felt like it was meant to be. Everything flowed. It was normal and natural and at no point did it not feel right.”

She and Webb-Shephard operate in a parental “partnership”. There is no formal custody agreement.

Prendergast lives in Pāpāmoa and is still single.

Webb-Shepherd lives in Auckland but is regularly in Pāpāmoa doing work for Prendergast’s New Shoots Childcare Centres and the pair jointly own the business Be You Baby, along with two other friends.

He is now engaged and his partner is “very much involved” in Carter’s life.

“We just do what works for Carter and us. It is very much co-parenting with Carter at the heart. We are both very mindful and lucky to have him.”

The now busy and observant 3-year-old also benefits from two sets of “amazing hands-on” grandparents.

Asked if she’d faced prejudice as an older mum, Prendergast says she was ready for sideways looks “but if it’s out there, I haven’t come across it”.

“I’ve had one or two times where someone said ‘Is this your grandchild?’, but even when you say, ‘Oh, no, that’s my little guy, I’m a late bloomer mum’, I think you normalise it. Don’t make it a big thing, don’t get all weird about it. People don’t mean to be, and are not trying to be, offensive.”

Of course, some will always see women getting pregnant in their 40s as a medical misadventure or “selfish” but Carter has a “village” around him and men are never judged as harshly for having babies in middle age as women, she feels.

“One of the perspectives cancer gives you is that (your end of life) can come at any point.”

Age is not a reason not to try for a baby, she says.

“Yes, there’s a higher risk as you get older but when it’s right, it’s right.”

Her advice to others contemplating a similar journey is to take it a step at a time.

“You have to come at it pragmatically and be ready for it not to work. I was ready to give it one shot, maybe two.”

Life is to be seized in the moment.

Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has since undergone chemotherapy, a mastectomy on one side, and a reconstruction. She is now starting three weeks of radiotherapy and is doing well.

“I have almost ticked off the big jobs on the cancer to-do list, with only maintenance then left for me to manage.

“When I had Carter, I made myself a promise that I would have better boundaries around work and life and it’s very easy to slip back into bad habits. This has been a poignant reminder of how special it is I’ve got Carter, and that at the end of the day, he comes first and adventures are what we love doing.

That’s what this year and beyond is going to be about – living life. Kind of every day will be a bit of a Mother’s Day.”

Read the full  original NZ Herald article online:

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