I had my first baby when I was 25 years old. I was living in Texas with my then-husband, and the baby was a shock. I had been told that I was unable to have children. I didn’t think much about it: Kids were far from my thoughts. I was never one of those girls who loved their baby dolls and couldn’t wait to have a baby of their own. As a 25-year-old boho free-spirit, I was planning a big life filled with travel, cool experiences, and big career success. So when the stick turned pink, it was a massive shock. I was totally unprepared for a baby, but as soon as I knew she was there, growing inside me, I wanted her more than anything. In the winter of 1997, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Flash-forward 18 years to 2014. I had divorced my first husband and remarried, but since I was 42 years old, babies were (once again) definitely not on my mind. I was shocked once more when the stick turned pink, but was considerably more sanguine about it because I had the resources and knowledge that I just didn’t have in the first blush of adulthood.
My baby is now 5 months old, and I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the two very different pregnancies. Here are six reasons why having a baby in your 40s beats having one in your 20s:
1. Healthcare is cheaper. When I had my first baby, I lived in the United States. My then-husband worked out a deal with the hospital to pay a cash sum up front that would include everything. I think that was $5,000. It didn’t include doctor visits and ultrasounds. Now I live in England, and with the NHS, I paid nothing out of pocket. My girlfriends in the United States now have Obamacare, which dictates that all insurance must cover maternity services, so they pay less out of pocket for maternity care.
2. Your life is better set up for a baby. Even if the wee one is a surprise, you’re probably making much more money than you were in your 20s, which opens up all kinds of doors. You probably have more and better friends, who can be relied on to laugh themselves silly at you for getting knocked up in middle age, and you possibly have a house instead of a tiny shared apartment. All these things make for an easier transition into being a parent.
3. You have the power to demand accommodation. By the time you’re in your 40s, you probably have some leverage you can use for extra maternity leave. This one is controversial because America can’t seem to get its collective shit together about maternity leave. Since I am a writer and work from home, it wasn’t an issue for me, but it was for my husband. He wanted to stay at home for six weeks to be with the new baby, and though his company only allowed two weeks paternity leave, he was able to get what he wanted by throwing down the seniority card. He has been a lawyer with the same firm for 19 years, and he knows where the bodies are buried. They gave him the paternity leave and didn’t blink an eye. If you’ve been with the same company, or even in the same industry, for any length of time, you can probably finagle something similar. In your 20s, you’re still building your reputation, and it is much more difficult to demand anything at all.
4. You’re smarter about your body during your pregnancy. Basically, this means you know not to gain a tremendous amount of weight because losing excess baby weight in your 20s is a breeze compared to your 40s. With my first, I weighed 102 pounds on the day I found out I was pregnant and 186 on the day I gave birth. Being pregnant was a revelation: I could eat anything I wanted! For the first time in my life, that meant I did not have to say no to dessert. But pregnant with baby No. 2, I no longer had a younger woman’s metabolism so I had to be much more careful. For my second pregnancy, I tried hard to stay within the weight-gain guidelines. I ate well (and not much, thanks to first and third trimester nausea). I also did yoga and barre workouts until that became unfeasible in my third trimester. Then I just walked every day. For baby No. 2, I gained 25 pounds
5. Your body doesn’t bounce back as fast, but you care less. I took my body for granted when I was 25. I was in extremely good shape back then, and after I had my baby, it bounced right back to where it was before. After I had my second baby, it did not bounce anywhere. It sort of dragged. The only positive thing I can say is that I didn’t get stretch marks with my second baby. I still felt droopy after baby No. 2 was born, though. Even so, I had better things to do than stare at myself in the mirror, drearily judging my thighs or my belly or any other part of me. Being over 40, I was wise enough to be gentle with myself—it takes time for the body to recover after pregnancy and birth. Plus I had the baby to look after and an overall richer life. The slightly less perky boobs were just the price I paid for having my new munchkin. No biggie.
6. You feel more capable. When I delivered baby No. 1, I was just starting out in my career and my life. I had no idea what I was good at, what I hated, or what I needed. Now that I’m over 40, I feel much more capable of everything in my life, including parenting a newborn. It still isn’t easy, but I know I got this. The benefit of that confidence is that there is more time to spend loving my baby and my husband, and just enjoying the view from where I am now.
There is one thing that was better about having a baby in my 20s: my naiveté. I was still so fresh-eyed, so inexperienced, that my baby’s birth brought about a kaleidoscopic change in my life. The moment she was put in my arms, my heart blew open like a canyon, let the whole world in, and made the second baby possible.