Delayed motherhood : exploring expectations, anxieties and emotional impact of the transition to motherhood at mid-life (37+ years)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology


School of Psychology and Social Science


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


A qualitative study was conducted to explore the expectations, anxieties and emotional impact of eight women having their first child after the age of 37 years. The design used semi-structured interviews to collect data in two phases. The first were conducled when participants were in their third trimester of pregnancy (26+ wecks). The second phase was conducted four to six months post-birth. The rationale for the study was that despite the continuing trend for delayed motherhood (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002), research on the experience of'late' motherhood is extremely limited. Women are choosing to delay motherhood for many reasons, including the need to feel emotionally prepared, finding the right partner, or after years of career success and having achieved financial stability. However, the 'biological clock' may compel women to have a child simply because timc is running out. Rapid advanccs in fertility treatment and improved levels of obstetric care have extended the opportunities for childbearing, to the extent that women are having babies up to the time of menopause, which commonly begins in the late forties (Sowers, 2000). Risks associated with 'late' babies include hypertension (Mirowsky); anxiety (Windridge & Benyman, 1999), and foetal abnormality (Benke, Carver, & Donahue, 1995). In addition, women may feel unprepared for motherhood or may experience ambivalence about their decision after many years of career development and settled lifestyle (Heckhausen, Wrosh, & Fleeson, 200I). 'Elderly primigravidae,' as they are referred to, are deemed 'high risk' by the medical profession (Mirowsky, 2002) therefore women may be expos cd to a 'culture of anxiety' surrounding their choice to have a child at what is thc beginning of the midlife phase.

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