Older, Wiser and Rocking the Cradle
Austinite Sharon Munroe shares her later-in-life road to motherhood through the Advanced Maternal Age Project.
By Malia Bradshaw
If you’ve noticed that more and more women are having children later in life, you’d be spot on. In fact, the proportion of women becoming moms for the first time at age 35 years and older has increased nearly eight times from 1970 to 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Based on this fact, as well as her own experience, Austin mother Sharon Munroe founded the Advanced Maternal Age Project, a blog of collected stories by women who decided at age 35 or older to start a family. The blog allows women to share their unique stories, which Munroe hopes will provide support and motivation to women who are contemplating this choice or are considering waiting until they are ready for motherhood and the commitment it requires.
Working full time in marketing for more than 20 years, Munroe was a busy and driven career woman with no specific timeline for starting a family. It wasn’t until she was 39 that Munroe finally found herself ready to start down the path of motherhood. She was confident, financially stable and had recently married a supportive man. So at age 40, she gave birth to her first son. She later became a foster parent to a baby girl (eventually adopting her) and gave birth to another son just before her 44th birthday.
The stories of the Advanced Maternal Age Project “are meant to be inspiration for other women who have contemplated balancing family and professional life and are not sure how to do that,” Munroe explains. “Or they’ve just waited until they were in the right situation, the right relationship, the right financial means to start that family.”
Munroe finds that much of the current blogging and media surrounding motherhood is negative and filled with criticism. She references the “mommy wars” and the recent breastfeeding dilemmas.
“In general, I think women need to be accepting of each other. There’s been so much coverage in the news, especially in the past year, of women criticizing one another about the decisions they make,” Munroe says. “I’d say that breastfeeding is not hard because it wasn’t hard for me. But it’s very hard for some women. I’m not going to criticize you if you can’t do it. But there are a lot of women, a lot of ‘mommy bloggers’ with a lot of negativity about those who do and those who don’t.”
One goal of the Advanced Maternal Age Project is to veer away from mother-to-mother negativity and toward acceptance and inspiration. “I don’t want to pass judgment,” she says. “I want to inspire women to choose their own path, because you should. Your background, your circumstances, your goals are different from mine. Even if you’re on a similar path, your experience is going to be different.”
Munroe’s website also includes supportive resources with information regarding pregnancy and conception, postpartum support, fostering, adoption and articles by doctors, psychologists and social workers. She believes it’s important to provide resources to have a healthy pregnancy and baby for women who are being labeled high risk due to their older age (and thus get the Advanced Maternal Age Label by their obstetrician).
As phase two of the project, Munroe has teamed up with University of Texas student Kathryn Sisler and professors in the School of Nursing to conduct sociological research. The project will include a survey and in-depth interviews of women about the barriers they faced and the resources that gave them great health and strength during first-time pregnancy and childbirth after age 35. For more information on how to share your story or participate in research, visit advancedmaternalage.org.