Meet the women who delayed motherhood until later in life – and have no regrets

If you feel parenting is not for you in your twenties, thirties or even forties, you may have more support than you realise

More women are prioritising their education, careers and partner compatibility before taking the plunge into motherhood, says photographer Khushboo Soni, who specialises in pregnancy photo shoots. Courtesy Mother of Reinvention Photography
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Naomi Campbell recently became a mother aged 50. Posting a heartfelt message on Instagram, where she has more than 10 million followers, the British supermodel, now 51, wrote: “A beautiful little blessing has chosen me to be her mother."

The announcement provoked reaction across the globe, with many people commenting on Campbell’s choice to become a mother at her age.

While some expressed delight, others thought 50 was not quite the right age to leap into parenthood.

Late pregnancies becoming the norm

Data published in 2018 by the Office for National Statistics in the UK revealed that the number of births by women who are 50-plus have quadrupled over the past two decades.

However, despite the ubiquity of 40- and 50-plus mothers, it seems women cannot make reproductive choices without intense societal scrutiny. Many judge them for delaying parenthood, dubbing late pregnancies as a sign of a modern woman’s “selfishness” to want it all.

Only once I was mentally and financially secure did we take the plunge to marry and then become parents
Kirti Patel, 43, marketing professional and new mum

Men, however, escape such criticism. Few questioned Hollywood actor George Clooney when he became a father at 56. Or Eddie Murphy, Hugh Grant, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, all of whom became fathers in their fifties.

Despite the naysayers, older mothers are no longer a rarity. More and more women are choosing to have children later in life, whether naturally or via surrogacy. Pop singer Janet Jackson gave birth at the age of 50, while Egyptian-American broadcaster Hoda Kotb became a mum at 52.

In India, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty welcomed a baby girl at 46 through surrogacy, while actor Kareena Kapoor Khan, 40, delivered her second child earlier this year.

Lifestyle choices take precedence

The winds of change, then, are sweeping even in more conservative countries, where women are increasingly opting to push back motherhood.

Rati Nanda, 39, a teacher who lives in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and who recently gave birth to her second child, says age is no longer a bar for motherhood these days, at least among her peers.

My doctor's advice was that if I ate healthily, was physically fit and had a supportive family, things would work our fine
Rati Nanda, 39, teacher and mum of two

“I always wanted two kids,” says Nanda. “While my firstborn arrived when I was 29, I needed time to settle down [before having] the second one, as well as be more financially secure. Even though some relatives pointed out that there will be a ‘huge gap’ between my 11-year-old and the newborn, I chose what worked best for me.”

Nanda’s riposte to the naysayers was that a woman’s fertility journey is her own, and others shouldn’t sit judge her reproductive choices.

“I feel if more women become resolute on deciding the age they want to embrace motherhood without [external] pressures, society will ultimately get the message [not to] meddle in our private affairs,” she says.

Nanda does admit she was “jittery” about the impact her age might have on the newborn. However, her gynaecologist’s reassurance – that women were even having healthy babies at 45 – helped her make a choice.

“Her advice was that if I ate healthy, was physically fit and had a supportive family, things will work out fine,” says Nanda.

And they did. Nanda’s family, she says, are “thrilled” with the new arrival, and her elder daughter can’t stop fussing over her little sister. “The house is filled with baby squeals once again,” says the new mum.

A lot of this change is the result of shifting family dynamics – from nuclear families to double-income couples – and personal aspirations, as women strive to educate themselves and establish their careers before having children.

A study conducted by economist Caitlin Myers notes: "Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without – and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.”

In the past, parents would freak out if their daughter or daughter-in-law wanted to become a mum in her 40s, they are now more supportive of their choices
Khushboo Soni, photographer

Couples are also pushing back parenthood to consolidate their relationship, prioritise career goals and ensure they have financial security. Kirti Patel, 43, a marketing professional who gave birth to her first child last month, says her unconventional choices – marriage at 39 and a peripatetic lifestyle thanks to a travelling job – delayed her pregnancy.

“I was in and out of several relationships, so until my late thirties marriage wasn’t even on my radar. Even when I met my now-husband, we chose to live [together] for a year to test our compatibility. Only once I was mentally and financially secure did we take the plunge to marry and then become parents.”

Make health a priority

While personal choice is increasingly triumphing over societal pressure, many women, like Nanda, are undeniably worried about the safety of a late pregnancy and the risks involved.

Despite childbirth having undergone a revolution thanks to modern technology, doctors warn there’s still a risk to the mother and child's health, and the danger of a complicated pregnancy if the woman is older than 35.

“A woman’s fertility usually peaks around that age. From thereon, there’s a slight decline in the fertility rate with an increase in chromosomal abnormalities,” explains Dr Smita Kakkar, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at Max Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi. “There’s also an augmented risk of miscarriage and abnormalities. Paternal age, too, plays an important role in ensuring a healthy child and successful childbirth.”

However, Kakkar acknowledges that while it is ideal to have children before 35, state-of-the-art childbirth technology, good nutrition and increasing health consciousness among couples make late motherhood relatively safe.

“If you have no medical history, are fit and healthy, and have the doctor’s approval, pregnancy and childbirth can be joyous and fulfilling [no matter your age].”

Celebrating mothers of all ages

As someone who documents growing families, photographer Khushboo Soni notes women are increasingly celebrating their pregnancies and their fertility journeys. Many of her clients, says Soni, have benefitted from the slow but steady societal changes that are making it easier for couples who want to embrace parenthood later in life.

“While in the past, parents would freak out if their daughter or daughter-in-law wanted to become a mum in her forties, they are now more supportive of their choices and feel it is 'their call'. This takes a lot of pressure off the parents-to-be.”

Soni has also noticed that more women are “being body-positive and coming forward to document changes in their bodies for posterity through pregnancy shoots”.

These often involve the expectant mother as well as the husband and any prior children, who all come together joyously to record this important event, no matter the mum-to-be’s age.

Updated: July 15, 2021, 3:07 AM