Older moms are becoming increasingly common

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 7:56 p.m.

Claudia Bavaro chuckles when she looks at her Facebook news feed and sees a few peers who are already becoming grandparents. She's just getting started with her own kids.

Bavaro had her first child — Giovanni, 21 months — when she was 39. Almost two months ago, at 41, she gave birth to baby girl Giuliana. She and her husband, Steve, decided to delay starting a family until she earned her doctorate degree in instructional management and leadership from Robert Morris University, and until she'd had several years to focus on her career.

“If I had children, I knew that they would be my life, and they would be everything to me,” says Bavaro, of Hopewell, Beaver County. She works in the consumer health care division at Glaxo Smith Kline. “My kids are my world now.”

Many of Bavaro's peers tell her, “Oh, my goodness. I can't imagine having a child now.” But, she says, the kids keep her young and energetic, and Bavaro has no regrets about her timing.

Many American women, like Bavaro, are choosing to become mothers later in life. According to recent figures from the National Center for Health Statistics, birth rates for women ages 40 to 44 have hit their highest point since 1967, and birth rates for women in their late 30s are rising, too. Meanwhile, younger women, though still more likely to have babies than their older counterparts, are delivering fewer babies: The numbers sank to record lows in 2001 among teens and women in their early 20s.

Women who become pregnant in their late 30s and beyond, still face the same risks and difficulties that previous generations did, like decreased fertility, higher risk of miscarriage and higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the baby, experts say.

Because fertility declines in the 30s and plummets around age 40, many older mothers seek medical help, like in vitro fertilization, to conceive, physicians say. The number of IVF cases among women 41 and older rose by half between 2003 and 2011, according to figures from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies.

However, Dr. Ronald Thomas, director of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine for West Penn Allegheny Health System, says that getting pregnant now at 40 may be less reasonable than it was years ago. A main reason is the obesity rate — about one in three American women is obese — and that places more potential mothers at a higher risk for hypertension and diabetes, both of which can prevent a successful and healthy pregnancy, he says.

A healthy, fit, 40-something woman who doesn't drink or smoke has the best chances of a successful pregnancy, Thomas says.

Darla Petrich, 41, of West Deer, already had three children — Sydney, Max and Jake — when she gave birth to baby Olivia 4 months ago. She and her husband, Matthew, looked into adopting or fostering a child, but decided it wasn't for them and sought another pregnancy. Petrich had Sydney when she was 20, Max when she was 33, and Jake two years later.

With Olivia, Petrich says, she felt more prepared.

“At the older age, I feel like I'm a better parent,” she says. “I'm financially secure and I'm married.”

Many older mothers say their added maturity makes them better parents than they would have been in their 20s.

“For me, I have a lot of patience,” Bavaro says. “I have the financial means to take very good care of them.”

Her only concern is that she may miss out on grandchildren, if her children also put off parenthood.

Janice Zvaleny, 39, of Moon, wishes she would have started a family earlier than she did. She had her daughter — Madelyn, now 19 months —when she was 38. She loves being a mom so much that, had she not waited, she could have had a few more kids. But putting off motherhood wasn't a conscious decision for her.

She and her husband, Tony, weren't particularly interested in parenthood. Then, after she attended a funeral and saw the bond that the deceased had with his grandchildren, Zvaleny decided it was time: She wanted kids.

Zvaleny's doctor supported her quest to get pregnant. Whether it happens again — and Madelyn gets a little brother or sister — is still possible.

“God has a plan for all of us and I'm convinced of that,” says Zvaleny, who will turn 40 in October. “If I had more, I'd be thrilled. But I'm happy either way.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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