By Jacqueline J. Holness
I’m not sure of the reason, but the lives of my close circle of female friends tend to reflect cultural trends. To our dismay, the majority of us got married in our mid- to late-30s, which reflects the cultural trend of the age of people getting married for the first time. And now many of my friends are becoming first-time mothers in their late 30s and beyond. One friend gave birth to her son when she was 39 years old. Another gave birth to her first son when she was 41 years old. (Incidentally she is now pregnant with twins, conceived without fertility drugs, who will be here, God willing, by press time.) And a third friend gave birth to her son when she was 44 years old.
Today on Mother’s Day, I want to examine this cultural trend of first-time motherhood occurring later in life.
Older and Wiser
According to a National Center for Health Statistics report published by the Centers for Disease Control in 2016, the mean age of first-time mothers was 24.9 in 2000. It increased to 26.3 by 2014. Also the proportion of first births to mothers age 35 and over jumped by 23 percent, reflecting an increase from 7.4 percent to 9.1 percent.
Cynthia Wilson James told NBC News that she “wanted a husband who shared her spiritual beliefs, and she wanted to have more than one child with him,” but she didn’t get married until she was 40 years old. Since then, James “conceived the old-fashioned way and gave birth at age 42 and 44 to two beautiful, healthy baby girls,” according to her website, inseasonmom.org. In Season Mom was founded for older mothers to “provide support during their season of having a baby if they are over 35 and in their 40s.”
In December 2016, James interviewed Christian actress Karen Abercrombie, who, although she is decades younger, portrayed the 80-year-old prayer warrior Miss Clara in the 2015 hit movie War Room. Abercrombie gave birth to her first child when she was 39 years old. She said that being an older mother made her “wiser and more settled” after “pray[ing] to have a baby for what seemed like forever.”
In a 2015 essay for Christianity Today, “Becoming a First-Time Mom at Age 41,” guest writer Callie Grant discovered that “God used motherhood to deliver on his promise to ‘renew our youth like the eagles’ (Psalm 103:5).” She wrote that it “never occurred to me that the miracle of a child also would be God’s gift to revisit, recast, and yes, renew my own youth. Aren’t children supposed to age you?”
While older motherhood is seemingly a modern phenomenon, the Bible has several examples of women who gave birth to children years past what was perceived as their prime childbearing time. The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel is one example. Hannah, wife of Elkanah, prayed for a child for years, but “the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb” (v. 6). It didn’t help that Elkanah’s other wife taunted Hannah due to her infertility. But she kept praying, and the Lord finally rewarded her for her faithfulness in prayer. According to verse 20, “so in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son,’’ after Eli the priest told her that God had heard her desperate prayers. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
The story of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4 is another miraculous motherhood story. Although her husband was old and they hadn’t had any children, Elisha the prophet told her that about a year from their conversation she would have a son (v. 15). Although she was skeptical at first, “the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her” (v. 17).
Probably the most well-known example of miraculous, mature motherhood in the Bible is the story of Sarah, wife of Abraham. This couple had been childless for many years and when God told Abraham that they would be parents, “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’” (Genesis 17:17). Sarah also laughed (Genesis 18) after hearing the news. However, by Genesis 21, Isaac was born.
In light of these modern-day and biblical accounts of mature moms, I want to wish a heartfelt Happy Mother’s Day to all older mothers who have been blessed by God!
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).