In the last decade, the number of New Zealand women having babies over the age of 40 has remained stable but grown considerably since the 1970s, when around one in every 100 births were to mothers aged 40-plus. Last year, it was one in every 25 births. To celebrate Mother’s Day, Carly Gibbs asks five mums from the Bay of Plenty to share their stories of having a baby later in life.
Nikki Prendergast, 50
Nikki Prendergast is a special kind of “late bloomer mum”.
She turns 51 on Monday and is among other things, a woman undergoing cancer treatment, co-owner of 17 New Shoots Childcare Centres, and a person who sees the best in everything.
So, when life didn’t work out how she planned in her younger years with a long-term relationship and trying to conceive, she ploughed on with positiveness.
However, years later, an idea started to form with her decade-long friend Nik Webb-Shephard, who is 10 years younger.
Like her, he was single at the time. They’d travelled the world together, owned a cafe and a house together, and the idea was planted by a friend that they’d also make great parents together.
Initially, they laughed it off, but then when they talked about it and “stress tested” it with others, it started to make sense.
“We were waiting for someone to say, ‘c’mon, guys, this is crazy; Nikki, you’re too old’, or ‘Why would you do it as friends?’.”
Instead, everyone said ‘You guys will be amazing, why wouldn’t you?’.”
“It reignited that want or need to be a mum,” Prendergast says, who after two years of planning fell pregnant at 47 and gave birth via cesarean at 48, in March 2020.
She and Webb-Shephard decided to pursue an egg donor and when they found someone they knew personally, Prendergast fell pregnant on their first cycle of IVF with Repromed New Zealand.
Other than morning sickness, she had a “really good” pregnancy.
“He was a healthy baby boy born into crazy Covid times. It felt like it was meant to be. Everything flowed. It was normal and natural and at no point did it not feel right.”
She and Webb-Shephard operate in a parental “partnership”. There is no formal custody agreement.
Prendergast lives in Pāpāmoa and is still single.
Webb-Shepherd lives in Auckland but is regularly in Pāpāmoa doing work for Prendergast’s New Shoots Childcare Centres and the pair jointly own the business Be You Baby, along with two other friends.
He is now engaged and his partner is “very much involved” in Carter’s life.
“We just do what works for Carter and us. It is very much co-parenting with Carter at the heart. We are both very mindful and lucky to have him.”
The now busy and observant 3-year-old also benefits from two sets of “amazing hands-on” grandparents.
Asked if she’d faced prejudice as an older mum, Prendergast says she was ready for sideways looks “but if it’s out there, I haven’t come across it”.
“I’ve had one or two times where someone said ‘Is this your grandchild?’, but even when you say, ‘Oh, no, that’s my little guy, I’m a late bloomer mum’, I think you normalise it. Don’t make it a big thing, don’t get all weird about it. People don’t mean to be, and are not trying to be, offensive.”
Of course, some will always see women getting pregnant in their 40s as a medical misadventure or “selfish” but Carter has a “village” around him and men are never judged as harshly for having babies in middle age as women, she feels.
“One of the perspectives cancer gives you is that (your end of life) can come at any point.”
Age is not a reason not to try for a baby, she says.
“Yes, there’s a higher risk as you get older but when it’s right, it’s right.”
Her advice to others contemplating a similar journey is to take it a step at a time.
“You have to come at it pragmatically and be ready for it not to work. I was ready to give it one shot, maybe two.”
Life is to be seized in the moment.
Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has since undergone chemotherapy, a mastectomy on one side, and a reconstruction. She is now starting three weeks of radiotherapy and is doing well.
“I have almost ticked off the big jobs on the cancer to-do list, with only maintenance then left for me to manage.
“When I had Carter, I made myself a promise that I would have better boundaries around work and life and it’s very easy to slip back into bad habits. This has been a poignant reminder of how special it is I’ve got Carter, and that at the end of the day, he comes first and adventures are what we love doing.
That’s what this year and beyond is going to be about - living life. Kind of every day will be a bit of a Mother’s Day.”
Lauren Young, 41
Lauren Young gets emotional thinking about what she might tell her son Logan about her fertility journey when he’s older.
“I wanted him so many years ago,” she says, her voice breaking.
“I look at him with so much love. It’s the completion of something. You have a hope or a wish or a dream and it comes true.”
The Tauranga IT specialist spent 11 years battling infertility, resulting in three broken relationships.
Her “miracle pregnancy” happened at age 39 without IVF, and she gave birth via cesarean in late-2021, age 40.
Her journey to motherhood first began at 28, when she and her then-partner returned from travelling around Europe and started trying for a baby, but it was unsuccessful.
“Sometimes, when you can’t have kids, you break up.”
In her early-30s, she settled down with another partner.
They visited Fertility Associates and were told everything looked fine. Still, they’d give her a script for the fertility drug Clomifene.
However, she never filled the prescription as she and her partner split.
As she moved to her mid-30s, she met another man and the relationship was going well. They had been on an IVF waiting list for 14 months and were nearing the top of the list when his sister was killed in an accident and he changed his mind about having children.
“We broke up, and I moved out, focusing on work and doing some short-term travel in Japan and the United States.”
She came back to New Zealand, and when the 2020 pandemic hit, left her home of Auckland to live with her parents in Morrinsville for three months, and then moved to Tauranga.
During the Covid-19 level 3 lockdown, she started dating again, and within three weeks of seeing a man, whom she told she was infertile, she’d fallen pregnant.
The irony was that it happened immediately after years of trying acupuncture; a hysterosalpingogram (x-ray dye test); abdominal massage; taking iodine for endometriosis, for which she’d also had an operation; three rounds of parasite cleansing; and an investigation into her thyroid.
The only thing she can put it down to is staying home during the pandemic and having a healthier lifestyle. “I don’t know what else I can contribute it to.”
She found out she was pregnant on Christmas Eve after a missed period.
“I didn’t believe it was true. I was in shock.” It was also emotional given the uncertainty of the new relationship, which did not work out.
Her pregnancy was, however, an “amazing experience” and it’s surreal to be a mum when for years she avoided prams in the street and baby showers because it hurt.
Her advice to women struggling to conceive is to investigate early. Get blood tests, know where you are with your egg levels and hormones, and eat well. Quit the stressful job for an average job, and sleep well, she says.
She also wants every woman in her 40s to know: “Don’t think you’re past it or are too old.
“Sometimes there’s still hope.”
Erika Harvey turns 43 on Mother’s Day
Erika Harvey would sing the Kasey Musgraves cover Fix You to her son when he was in her womb.
The lyrics begin: “When you try your best but you don’t succeed. When you get what you want but not what you need. When you feel so tired that you can’t sleep. Stuck in reverse.”
The irony of the message can’t be lost on a mother who fought so hard to have children.
It’s been 12 years since she first gave birth and she never dreamt it would happen again.
Tomorrow she turns 43, and on Thursday, May 4 gave birth via cesarean, to her second child, a son named Ziggy, weighing 7lbs 10z at Tauranga Hospital of which she says was “the perfect birthday and Mother’s Day gift”.
His birth is the result of a long journey.
The former country music singer from Nashville, Tennessee, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her late-20s.
A thyroidectomy and the removal of 54 lymph nodes down her neck meant that not only did her voice change, but doctors believed she would struggle to conceive naturally.
However, she and her husband Dan proved them wrong when they naturally fell pregnant with daughter Piper, now aged 12, who has autism.
For eight years they tried for baby number two before giving up four years ago.
Then nine months ago she did a walkthrough of her daughter’s new high school and started to feel lightheaded.
She grabbed a pregnancy test from the supermarket and took it home.
“It came back positive so fast. I started screaming in shock.”
She and Dan were so afraid they’d miscarry, something they had experienced before, that they didn’t tell anyone until it was time to return to Tennessee for Christmas.
They told Piper at the airport before everyone else and filmed her happy reaction.
Everything about this pregnancy has been different from her first.
Piper came early when her waters broke at 37 weeks, and although a previous ultrasound had her estimated to be over 7lbs, she weighed in at 3lb 10z.
“Due to her size, the entire pregnancy was a different experience. Her movements were much more subtle and I experienced bleeding early on in the pregnancy.”
The birth was traumatic, starting naturally and then progressing to an emergency cesarean.
Piper sustained a head injury during the traumatic delivery.
This pregnancy, despite winding up in the ER with a suspected degenerative fibroid, was “pretty amazing”, including lots of movement.
Some people have questioned her children’s age gap, but most are excited for her, she says.
“They’ve seen my journey with Piper and the challenges we’ve faced after her diagnosis of autism. For us, she’s 12 but she’s 5 in certain aspects. She loves (children’s TV show) Peppa Pig and doesn’t have good friendships like other kids her age have.
“For her, having a little brother is like having a new best friend. She’s so excited. She’d kiss my tummy and talk to him about what they’re going to do and read him books.”
Being pregnant in her 40s has brought many blessings.
“I was 29 when I got pregnant with Piper and I now know how fast it goes.
“I feel more prepared, relaxed, and excited to enjoy a lot of the things that I was nervous about the first time, even the late-night feeds. I want to appreciate every little moment that much more. And my husband is the same. I think it’s going to keep us younger, longer.
“A lot of my friends are becoming grandparents and I’m becoming a new mum with a breast pump on my bedside table.
But she wouldn’t dream it any other way.
“I felt like it was something that would never happen to us and we are very excited to meet him.
Her advice to other women struggling with fertility?
“You have to keep moving forward with life and being positive.
“Sometimes life is crazy and you do get everything you ever wanted when you least expect it.”
Michele Hall, 46
With two primary-aged children, Michele Hall thought she was done having kids, but life had other plans.
At 44 she found herself pregnant with baby Alfie, whom she delivered at 45.
“I honestly thought our journey was over at that time of life, but Alfie had other ideas and was not planned but he’s certainly very wanted,” she says.
Alfie, who is 17 months old was born with Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis (PFIC) type 2, which is a rare genetic liver disease that neither Michele nor her husband Ashley, 49, knew that they were carriers of.
Alife is believed to be one of, if not the only, active case in New Zealand.
His diagnosis means there is a mutation of the ABCB11 gene or a deficiency in the bile salt export pump (BSEP) protein, meaning that bile can’t pump out of the liver leading to cirrhosis of the liver.
A symptom is also intense itching called pruritus. And he is at higher risk of liver cancer.
Hall, a qualified early childhood teacher, has been documenting his journey on a Facebook page called Alfie’s Journey - finding our way with pfic2.
“He will be looking at a transplant somewhere along the line we just don’t know when yet.
“At the moment, he’s healthy and doing everything that he should be doing, but that’s something you can’t plan for whether you’re a mum of 20 or a mum of 40.”
The couple’s other children William, 11, and Eira, 7, will do genetic testing when they are of childbearing age.
Despite the shock diagnosis, she had a smooth pregnancy other than gestational diabetes, which she also had with her daughter.
Having a big gap between Alfie and her eldest children means it’s almost like “having your first all over again”, she says.
“The bigger kids are at school, so you’ve got that time with Alfie,” she says, who she describes as “a happy boy with a side order of cheeky”.
They did have to buy a bigger house, as their eldest couldn’t share a room with a baby, and buy some new baby gear, but it’s all been worth it for their “beautiful little boy”.
Marion Kleinsmith, 44
The good thing about having kids in your 40s is you’re likely to be more financially stable, settled, and comfortable pushing pause on your career, says Marion Kleinsmith.
The former marketing executive, who’s worked in New Zealand, the UK, and Europe in the wine and events industries, was separated without children, before meeting her new partner and Parisian, Baptiste Hirigoyen in London.
They moved back to New Zealand in 2016, bought a house, and started trying for a family soon after.
She fell pregnant with a daughter Lucie, now 5, right away, and chose to have more of a gap with her son Jacques, 1.
Both her pregnancies were fairly straightforward other than frequent blood noses, and pre-eclampsia with Lucie, which resulted in high blood pressure.
Of her original antenatal group of 10, there were four mums-to-be who were “geriatric”, which is what medics call pregnancies over age 35.
As someone who was never definite about having children when she was younger, she now wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I always wanted a family but didn’t want the getting-to-it part,” she says, of what she anticipated to be a long time stuck in the trenches with pregnancy and a newborn.
“Now, being older, having your own little team that you can share experiences together and teach things. Seeing someone grow and learn, that’s been amazing,” she says, explaining that she learned French as an adult but her daughter has learned it as her first language.
“She’s learning words and structures that I don’t use because I haven’t got it quite in my head. I use the more simple way of saying things whereas she’s taken things from her dad’s side.”
Being a mum has brought pride, and incalculable, all-consuming love.