When Monica Babar discovered she was pregnant with her fourth child, she felt like most expectant mothers might – excited and nervous. But being 44 years old when she received her pregnancy news and on track to turn 45 before the baby was born, it’s fair to say Monica’s nerves may have been slightly more justified than those of some of her younger counterparts. With not only her age to think about, Monica was concerned what a later-in-life pregnancy would mean for her, how her three older children would handle the unexpected news and how a new baby would change the family’s dynamic.
What will testing tell?
However, first and foremost in her mind was the health of the new life growing inside of her.
“My main concern was making sure this was a healthy pregnancy,” she said. Having suffered a previous miscarriage not long before, Monica said she was worried about the quality of her eggs and how that might affect her unborn baby.
“I knew there was the possibility of Down’s Syndrome,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, Down’s Syndrome is a “genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of the chromosome 21.” Furthermore, with CDC estimates putting the disease’s occurrence happening in one out of every 691 births in the United States each year, it is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans and older mothers have an increased risk when compared to their younger counterparts. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, “a 35-year-old woman has about a one in 350 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome, and this chance increases gradually to 1 in 100 by age 40. At age 45 the incidence becomes approximately 1 in 30.”
With those frightening statistics in mind and to inform herself as much as possible about the health of the baby she was carrying, Monica underwent genetic testing, blood testing and ultrasounds which could identify certain diseases. Much to her relief, all her tests came back negative. However, she was adamant a positive result would not have affected her desire to carry the baby to term.
“I did those tests to rule (problems) out and to be prepared had there been anything wrong, but there is no way I would have aborted the baby,” Monica emphasised. “This pregnancy was a godsend to me after losing the other one.”
Despite Monica’s insistence to keep the baby no matter what her tests showed, many women don’t make the same choice. Data from the National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register in the United Kingdom shows that from 1989 to 2006 rates of women choosing to terminate pregnancies involving children with Down’s Syndrome remained constant at roughly 92 percent.
But with pregnancy later in life, health issues for baby are not the only concern. According to the Mayo Clinic – a non-profit organisation, medical practice and research centre based in the United States, a woman pregnant in her 40s should take care to pay closer attention to her health compared with women in their 20s and 30s, particularly her blood pressure levels, her risk of developing gestational diabetes and her weight gain.
Monica said she certainly felt the increased effects of this pregnancy. She said her symptoms differed greatly from and were more pronounced than the previous ones she experienced when she was expecting in her 20s and early 30s. She had to be hospitalised once for painful indigestion problems, something that didn’t plague her during her previous pregnancies. She also suffered with swollen hands, joint aches and wheezing at night.
“I never had any of those problems during pregnancy before,” Monica said. “It’s much harder physically and I think it’s just from being older, but my doctor assures me it’s all normal.” Normal or not, she said getting enough sleep has been a priority during this pregnancy.
“It’s just much more exhausting this time around,” Monica said, adding with a laugh, “I’ve been taking a lot of naps.”
When baby arrives
Knowing how demanding, time consuming and exhausting dealing with a newborn can be, Monica said she is somewhat concerned about how she’ll keep up her strength once the baby is born.
“I wonder if I will have enough energy and time, especially if I’m busy running around with the other kids,” she said.
Monica said ensuring her youngest child receives all the attention her older ones did when they were young is important, as well. “I want to make sure there’s lot of museum and playground time.”
Preparing the family
To meet the needs of her baby, her older children and herself, Monica has already begun to talk with her kids about what will be expected of them once their sister, who will be called Sofia Yara, joins the family.
“The kids have been good and they’ve already started picking up a lot more responsibility and they want to help,” she said, adding her children all took the pregnancy news a little differently. “My youngest two (ages 15 and 12) took it well but my oldest (age 17) just marched up the stairs. But within a week or so he came around and he was being more supportive and courteous to me and about my condition.”
With the older kids happily on board and now excited about their new little sister on the way, Monica is confident things will work out, even if it’s hard work adjusting in the beginning.
“I know I’ll have a lot of help at home. I already know if I need someone to watch her I’ve got extra eyes and extra hands to pitch in,” she said.
With health concerns out of the way and expectations spelled out, Monica said she is now in nesting mode and anxiously waiting for the big day.
“After she comes is the fun part,” she said. “I’m looking forward to watching my husband with her and I already know how everybody is going to fall in love with her. This is a new chapter for our family and it’s going to change our lives dramatically but it’s going to be for the good.”
Monica said she in particular feels she’s been given a gift and is blessed to be pregnant because of and not in spite of her age.
Carissa D. Lamkahouan is a career writer and journalist and mum of two children, a son and a daughter. She enjoys fitness, reading, and traveling to Morocco, the homeland of her husband. She has been a Muslim since 2005 and lives in Houston, Texas.