Ondrea Gallivan kissed her sleeping newborn on the head at Maine Medical Center on Friday, exhausted and serene after becoming a mom for the first time at age 41.
“I always knew I wanted children, but it was never the right time. I never met the right frog,” Gallivan said, smiling and referring to her husband, Sean. She is part of a national trend of women having children later in life.
In Maine, the rate of women ages 35 to 39 giving birth for the first time increased by 35.3 percent from 2000 to 2012, to about nine births per 1,000 women in that age range, more than the national increase of 23.6 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average age for first-time moms nationally rose from about 21 in 1970 to 26 in 2012, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and Maine saw a similar change.
Women delay childbirth for a number of reasons, but often cite a desire to establish a career and be more stable in their personal lives and finances before having children. Plus, many are marrying later.
The shift toward older parents has its pros and cons, experts say, but for Maine it is yet another factor that will make it difficult to reverse the state’s aging population trend.
Ultimately, having children is a personal choice, and the Gallivans said they’re happy with how it turned out. Aaron Thomas Gallivan was born Wednesday, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces and with a tuft of jet black hair, a stark contrast to his mom’s red hair. Ondrea Gallivan was still recovering at Maine Med on Friday, but the couple expected to be home taking care of their newborn by Mother’s Day.
“It was a long journey, but we’re here,” she said.
The Gallivans married in 2010, when they were well into their 30s, resulting in the typical questions about children.
“The moment after we said, ‘I do,’ people were asking about when we were having children,” she said.
“I said if we’re fortunate enough to have children, we will have children,” he said.
The couple lived in Singapore for three years, moving back to Maine in 2011, where Sean is an engineer and Ondrea works part time in retail. They then tried fertility treatments, but Ondrea Gallivan became pregnant during a time when they had paused the treatments.
“It just happened,” she said. “It was one of those little miracles.”
She figures she is less stressed out about the upcoming lifestyle change than she might have been at 25.
“It’s going to be different,” she said, “but we’re going to tackle it.”
OLDER PARENTS OFTEN MORE SETTLED
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, 54, a vice president at the University of New England and a former director of the Maine public health department, had her two children when she was 39 and 42. She traveled the world during her 20s and 30s and married at age 37.
Mills said there’s no right or wrong age to have a child, but biologically, it’s more difficult after age 35. Women are more likely to miscarry, the risks of Down syndrome and other genetic disorders increase, and the mother may be more likely to experience health problems during the pregnancy. Older moms also are more likely to give birth via cesarean section.
Mills said she had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant for the first time and miscarried three times.
But, Mills said, older parents tend to be more mature, settled in life and ready to have children.
“There are many benefits for the children when the parents are older and desire to have children, and when the pregnancy is intended,” Mills said.
Parenting a 12- and 15-year-old is keeping her young and active.
“I’m right there with them hiking and biking and skiing,” Mills said. “I never think, ‘Oh, I’m too old.’”
But the trend could spell trouble demographically, as Maine struggles to maintain its population as it ages. Maine’s median age was 43.5 in 2012, the oldest in the nation. As women age, they have more difficulty conceiving.
So more women waiting to have children is yet another headwind against Maine reversing negative population trends, said Prashant Mittal, a statistician and research analyst at the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy at the University of Southern Maine.
Mittal said Maine would likely need an infusion of immigrants or people relocating from other states to avoid losing significant population in upcoming years. Maine’s demographic profile includes few minorities, and white women tend to have fewer children than Hispanic or black women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. “Maine needs more people, not less,” Mittal said. “All these trends right now are going against the state.”
GOOD REASONS FOR WAITING
But Maine women interviewed by the Sunday Telegram said they enjoy the perspective of being older and wiser moms.
Dr. Nicole Nalchajian said she had two good reasons for waiting until her 30s to have children.
The 39-year-old from Falmouth wanted to finish her medical training and she wanted to live with her husband, who had been studying to be a dentist in another state.
Once that happened, she said, “we got to work.”
Amber Snide, 28, said she always thought she would wait as long as possible to have kids.
“Then life happened,” she said, playing in the sand on the East End Beach in Portland with her 3-year-old son, Rex.
Although she has no regrets, Snide said, becoming a mother may have been easier if she had waited a few years until her own life was more settled.
“Maybe I could have bought a house first,” she said.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: