What it’s like to have a baby in your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Anne Corrigan has spent most of her life surrounded by babies; both her own and other peoples.

She has worked as a midwife in the Rotunda for 30 years, bringing screaming babes hurtling into the world, and easing parents into their new sleepless lifestyles (if there is one thing all new parents excel at, it’s being permanently knackered).

Anne is also mother to eight children James (31), Sile (29), Daniel (27), Lizzie (25), Hannah (24), Anne (18), Ben (17), Dennis (15).

She became pregnant with her first child when she was 26 and studying midwifery in Beaumont. Her second was on the way when she sat her final exams.

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“The first child will always be the hardest, the second takes a little tweaking and getting used to, but after that you’re flying,” she said. 

She is in the unique position of having children in her 20s, 30s, and 40s, and is aware of the pros and cons each decade has to offer.

In Ireland the age women are having children has been incrementally increasing year on year.

We have the oldest first time mothers in the EU, with a quarter of women in maternity hospitals over the age of 35 – medically deemed geriatric pregnancies.

It’s not rocket science to figure out why people are having kids later.

We’re more informed about contraception and women have more options in terms of their careers.

On top of that delaying having kids means you can do heaps of fun stuff like travel, sow some wild oats, have a decent night’s sleep, be spontaneous, pee without someone watching you, etc etc.

Of course there are more practical reasons people chose to stall – exorbitant childcare costs, and lack of support in the workplace to name a few.

According to Anne, there are good reasons to start a family in your twenties – but not necessarily for the reasons that you think.

Physiology aside, she believes in our twenties we are more psychologically resilient, and can easily adapt to having our lives turned upside down and inside out.

“There are pluses and minuses at whatever age you decide to have children. But in your twenties you are so resilient. Having a baby doesn’t take a feather out of you,” she said.

“You just get on with it… and fly around like a butterfly. You’re able to adapt so easily. You’re more open to change and embrace it.”

READ MORE: The closing gap between motherhood and menopause

On the downside, limited life experience means you may be caught out when it comes to organising the practicalities of everyday life.

“Like organising schools and childcare,” she said. “You may not be on top of the planning side of things.” 

When she reached her 30s, Anne found her approach to pregnancy and parenting had become slightly less malleable.

“I think you are a bit more settled in your life, you know where you are fixed and some people tend to be less open minded.

“But you are also more mature and assertive, and if you already have children you are bringing all that experience and knowledge with you,” she said.

More and more Irish mothers are having children in their 40s.

Last year, new statistics showed that the over-40s were the only age group with a rising conception rate — the gap between the perinatal and perimenopausal periods is gradually becoming smaller.

Obviously getting pregnant becomes more of a challenge, and according to Anne more life experience can sometimes be both a help, and a hindrance.

“You have lived life and seen things go wrong – that brings some anxiety and worry. It must be daunting if it is your first time becoming a mother in your 40s because you will be aware of [complications].”

The main benefit of having children later in life is the rejuvenating impact they have on their parents, she said.

READ MORE: ‘We’re terrified for the future – it’s not fair to bring a child into that’ – Meet the Irish woman in the BirthStrike movement

“I’m 57 and am still quite active and agile. People say I am youthful for my age and I think my kids keep my young. They help entire families stay young. My husband is out taking them to matches and you’re down the school gates.

“They are teaching me all the time about my 24 banking and the new phones. They keep you connected and engaged with modern life. Even getting used to how the educations system has changed keeps you connected – I only learnt about the Dolch words with my youngest son. It keeps your body and mind active.”

While she says there are benefits to having children at any age, Anne says she is concerned about our tendency to delay.

“These days people ponder on things and plan their lives down to a T… I sometimes think you can plan your life too much.

“People have career plans, and you hear about companies encouraging women to freeze their eggs, it seems very calculated.

“I had children in my 20s, 30s, and 40s. And if you have found someone and you can have them early I think having them in your 20s is great.

“You’re able to run around after them, you are fitter and have more energy, and you’re also more open minded and receptive to change.

“I say to any women to try and start having children in your 20s… I know there are a lot of [variables] …but if you have a situation where you can start in your 20s and you do want children then I definitely think you should try and do it.”

“There will always be a reason why you should wait. It’ll never be the perfect time. I hear people say they want to get the sitting room done first but just go for it.”

READ MORE: The 4 things you can control to give your children the best chances of long and healthy life

Ann has worked in the busy Rotunda hospital for three decades and currently appears on RTE’s The Rotunda.

Over the years, she has witnessed plenty of change when it comes to attitudes towards birth, family planning, and fertility.

“Babies still come the same way but Mums are a lot more well read and informed, they do hypnobirthing, and Pilates. They come in with music and find what empowers them.”

Fathers also have a much more active role in births nowadays. Most men are delighted to help their partners through the experience but occasionally they lack some sensitivity.

“One time during the summer a dad unplugged a fan that I had brought in for his wife so he could charge his phone. Another time, a dad fell asleep and was snoring in a chair in the room while his wife was about to deliver. I thought he was taking liberties so I had a quick word.”

The Rotunda airs on RTE 2 Thursdays at 9:30pm


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