Kiwis wait longer to begin motherhood

LOVING MUM: Catherine Swift and her son David, 2. Swift is expecting her second baby in September.
LOVING MUM: Catherine Swift and her son David, 2. Swift is expecting her second baby in September.

Catherine Swift's two tiny dachshunds cuddle up to her neatly-rounded belly as her two-year-old son carefully clambers into the pile, clutching a book.

It's a scene of domestic bliss, with a twist.

Swift is 42 and part of a growing number of Kiwi women starting a family in their 40s.

Swift had her first child David when she was 40 and is expecting her second in September, when she will be 43.

Speaking from her Christchurch home, Swift said she imagined having a family in her twenties but life simply did not pan out that way.

"When I was younger I wanted to be married at 25 and have a baby by 28. I imagined celebrating the millennium with my children but instead I was out clubbing with my [future] husband, who I met about 11 months before."

Swift was 28 when she met husband Glen Swift , now 40, in Britain where the pair were born.

They married in 2005 and emigrated to New Zealand late 2008, where chef Glen owns the Blue Duck Cafe in Motukarara and Swift works part time in an oncology clinic.

Starting a family was a decision made by her biological clock.

"Age is in the back of your mind," she said.

"But it's a strange notion of choosing to have a family. Choice is so dependent on circumstances. You may plan what you want to happen, but life does not stay still for 20 years with no changes."

Swift conceived her babies naturally but many women over 35 struggle with declining fertility.

The chances of falling pregnant after 40 are slimmer than in the 20s and 30s because the quality of the eggs released from the ovaries each month diminishes with age, and eggs become more likely to have chromosome abnormalities.

Those abnormalities increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects, which are more common in older pregnant women.

Being classified as an "older" mum is a strange notion to Swift.

She said mothers who had a second or third child in their 40s were thought of as "normal" whereas first time mums over 40 were "old".

"Suddenly we are put in this older box. I feel like I'm in my early twenties, I don't think you ever really feel your age."

According to Statistics New Zealand figures, in 1996 just over 1000 babies were born to mothers aged between 40 and 44. Last year that shot up to more than 2500, including 261 in Canterbury.

While she concedes she is older than most first-time mums, Swift does not regret having her babies later on.

"I lived, I travelled, I partied. I was ready to have my life made more complex.

"I guess, in a way, I was bored just looking after myself. I had my time and I was ready for the next challenge.

"Perhaps mums who had babies very young might regret not being able to do those things."

Being an older parent means potentially missing out on milestones like becoming a grandparent but Swift takes it in her stride.

"Who knows what the future holds?"

While she still works two days a week, Swift says her job now is her children and she loves being a mother.

"It is wonderful, hard but wonderful.

"There are moments of incredible joy and moments where I just want to bang my head against a wall but I think all mothers feel that way, no matter their age."



Last year 61,178 babies were born in New Zealand. (Statistics New Zealand.)

3786 were born to mothers aged under 20.

11,301 were born to mothers aged between 20 and 24.

2523 were born to mothers aged over 40 and 44.

113 were born to mothers aged over 45.

The Press