41-year-old Peta Cooper was about to start the arduous and emotional journey with IVF when she found out she was four months pregnant.
“My husband Justin and I returned from a holiday in Bali ready to start the hormone injections stockpiled in the fridge. I had been feeling a bit sick, but put it down to a touch of ‘Bali-belly’ and as my periods had been erratic for months, I was convinced I was peri-menopausal.
“After a conversation with a friend who asked if I might be pregnant, I thought I should at least rule it out. The pregnancy test came back positive and when the GP confirmed I was actually four months gone, Justin and I were overjoyed!”
After a relatively straightforward pregnancy and birth, Rosie was born at 11pm on 7 May 2012, at Newcastle Private Hospital.
“I didn’t enjoy the latter stages of pregnancy as I was enormous and uncomfortable, so it was a huge relief and a beautiful moment when she finally came out. Rosie was a wonderful baby, but I found those first few weeks and months incredibly tough.
“As an older mum, there was an assumption by many health professionals, that ‘Oh you’ll be right, just use your common sense’, but I had never had a baby before! Breastfeeding was difficult and the boredom of being at home was awful – I had enjoyed working in a challenging managerial job before going on maternity leave. I returned to work when Rosie was six-months-old, and Justin took on more parenting responsibility at home.
While Peta always felt like an ‘older’ mum and was used to this role in her mothers' group, it wasn’t until she experienced an uncomfortable moment at a playgroup, that she realised people were confused about her relationship with Rosie.
“I took our 25-year-old nanny along to a playgroup when Rosie was 18-months-old and I sensed that the carers and other mums, who were mostly in their twenties, were having trouble working out ‘who was who’. I was obviously ‘in-charge’ and closest to Rosie but I was definitely much older than they were. No one said anything but to me, it felt awkward.”
The first ‘grandma’ judgement call came a few weeks later at the local outdoor swimming pool.
“I bumped into some friends who were there with grandma and grandad in tow. The grandma obviously thought I was a fellow granny and asked if I was having fun with my granddaughter. I corrected her error quickly but I was mortified and embarrassed. I knew I looked like an ‘older mum’, but grandma felt next-level hurtful.”
Since that first time, Peta says it has happened more times than she could recall. Most recently by some kids at Rosie’s school and then by one of the teachers.
“I know that people aren’t trying to be mean, but it still hurts. At first, I would simply correct people, but after a few years of having my self-esteem eroded I began adding, ‘No I’m actually her mum, but thanks for the boost to my confidence!’ It made me feel slightly better but no doubt made the questioner feel worse. It’s was just hard to know how to handle it to be honest.”
Peta spoke to friends in Sydney where she lived and worked for many years, who also had their children later in life. After hearing their shock, she surmised that there is a lot more diversity in the big city.
“At 47 I am older than the average kindy mum where I currently live in Lambton, NSW, and that does affect the frequency with which I am assumed, slightly hurtfully, to be Rosie’s granny.
“One of the benefits of being older, however, is that I have learnt, not to sweat the small stuff. I have lived a full life and I see the younger mums worrying about things I stopped worrying about years ago and I think, ‘thank God that’s not me!’”
While the insensitive comments have upset Peta in the past, she now feels less strongly about making people feel bad for saying anything and more committed to supporting other mums in the same situation.
“I might have more lines than some, but my lined face and those of other older mums, represent a portion of what mothers can and sometimes do look like all over Australia. So instead of being offended, I am trying to take heart that I’m helping others learn that motherhood is a not a one-size-fits-all look.”
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