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Motherhood often does feel like a blessing — except when stomach viruses or potty training or cranky teenagers are involved. But does new motherhood over the age of 40 or 50 look different than it does in a woman's 20s? Yes, say the women who have lived it. Here are six things that women who had children for the first time later in life say they wish they had known before they began their grand adventures in childrearing:
1. Believe it or not, it will make you feel young.
Despite the sleep deprivation, the constant worrying, and the creaky knee issues, yes, miraculously, becoming a parent in your 40s can make you feel younger than you are. "I am always around younger women with kids my child's age, and they remind me how to have fun and see life through a different lens," said Jena McWha, 42, of Pennington, New Jersey, mom to Liam, 5, and Callum, 1.
On the other hand, feeling younger isn't always a good thing. Michele Neuendorf, 43, of Chicago, Illinois, said that having Thomas, 3, and Cecelia, 1, has made her feel younger too... as in, like an adolescent in the throes of puberty. "I did not expect to feel like a hormonal middle schooler again," she told TODAY Parents. "This started in pregnancy with the back-acne, and then when I brought the baby home and cried non-stop at the drop of the hat? I had thought those days were behind me."
2. ...That is, until it makes you feel old.
At the young age of 40, women aren't accustomed to being called "geriatric" — that is, unless they try to have a baby. It might be the first time in life a woman doesn't want to be known as "advanced."
"I expected to have a hard time getting pregnant and I didn't. I was so relieved," said Neuendorf. "So I really didn't expect to leave my first doctor appointment post-pregnancy crying. The doctor went on and on about the risk of birth defects at my age and the warnings about all the risks to my own health. I also didn't expect to see 'geriatric pregnancy' and 'advanced maternal age' all over my summary of visit papers each visit."
Moms in their 40s also face the occupational hazard of being mistaken for their children's grandmothers. "It was disconcerting the first couple of times that I was asked whether they were my children or my grandchildren," said Margery Mott, now 60, of Hopewell, New Jersey, and mom to Abigail, 18, and twins Susie and Alex, 16. She's (begrudgingly) used to it now, she said.
And you can't really blame people when they are a little confused. "I'll be the only 64-year-old at back to school night," bemoaned author Anna Whiston Donaldson, who was surprised by baby Andrew at the age of 46 earlier this year. "I think about the fact that when my daughter starts her period, I will have been in menopause for ten years," said Jennifer Wharton, 49, of Los Angeles, California.
3. You'll be the beneficiary of all your friends' hard-earned wisdom (and their awesome hand-me-downs).
But there are definite upsides to older motherhood. "Honestly, I think the best part of being an older mom is that so many of your friends have been through it relatively recently — as opposed to my mom, who had been through it 40 years ago — that you get a wealth of really, really, really good advice," said Neuendorf. "Oh, and hand-me-downs. You get really good hand-me-downs."
And all that advice comes in handy when trying to understand some of the more annoying "blessings" that come along with giving birth. Amy McConnell said that having three sisters who had lots of children came in handy when she had her own. "I just wish that they had warned me about the hair loss, the hair growth in mysterious places, and not being able to hold my bladder when I sneeze. When does that end?" she said.
4. You'll appreciate your health.
Being an older mother gives you a deeper appreciation for your body, as well as a deeper desire to preserve it. Lori Karg, a mother of four in Wyckoff, New Jersey, said she wishes she would have known how important her health would become to her after giving birth as an older mom. "I would have been healthier during my pregnancies, knowing how hard it was to get back in shape at this age. Also, I've got some joint and back issues, and getting up is a little creakier these days! I feel like I am becoming more cognizant now because I can't take my health for granted, which will help me when I'm older."
And older mothers don't wish time away like they might if they had more of it. "I have found myself thinking about the future, and I think that is the hardest part," said Kimberly Grimm of Maitland, Florida, who had her youngest daughter, Hailey, at 40. "I think about the whole 'Will I get to be a grandmother to her children?' question, and along with that, the frantic need to remind myself to schedule all the appointments for my own check-ups, because I now need to live forever for her."
5. People will ask you very personal questions about your fertility (or infertility), and then they might not believe your answers, which is fun.
Never underestimate a stranger's willingness to ask you exactly how you made your baby, the over-40 moms said. Carla O'Connor, a mother of three in New York City, said she didn't expect how often she would be asked if hers was a "natural" pregnancy, or how often she would field questions about how long it took her to conceive at an "advanced maternal age" or if she had used fertility treatments — from "both medical professionals and strangers in the Walgreens checkout," she told TODAY Parents.
It wasn't the nature of the questions themselves that bothered her, she explained. "I am a huge proponent of reproduction help. It was the fact that because I was on the older side of my procreation years, it was assumed that I could not get pregnant, as someone once put it, 'the old-fashioned way,' or that women who are of a certain age are not able to conceive without help. I found the incorrect assumption that I struggled to be more of a knock on the value that is placed on women as they become older — as if, on our 35th birthdays, our ovaries shrivel up and die."
And often, older moms reported that people didn't believe them when they said they had their babies "the usual way." "Even my OB said, 'How did THAT happen?!' And still seemed uncertain about whether to believe me," said Pamela Montgomery of Scarsdale, New York, who had her second daughter after a surprise pregnancy at 47.
6. You'll be a great parent. (Really.)
All mothers worry; it comes with the job. But if she had known then what she knows now, "I would have not freaked out about having babies in my 40s," said Karg. "We spent so much time worrying. I have four beautiful children who came at the time God planned for me, although they may not have come as early in life as I would have liked them. I met my husband later in life after a pretty full young adult like with friends, travel, and a career I loved as a teacher, which has helped me as a parent. And although one of my greatest fears was realized when I gave birth to a Down syndrome child this year, I have realized that he is the greatest gift to my life and my family and that I had nothing to fear at all," she said.
Older moms do have the gift of life experience and perspective. "I do NOT have the energy that younger moms do to play with their kids, run around, play pretend," said Neuendorf. "On the good side, I think I'm more chill than I would have been as a younger mom. Because I have less energy, I try not to sweat the less important stuff and focus on the stuff that matters — or the stuff that I really enjoy, like baths and bedtime stories and weekend adventures."
And though parenting has its challenges no matter how young or old you are, it will all be worth it. "I still often feel pulled in far too many directions, frequently saying, 'I used to be a really good attorney, but now I feel pretty mediocre at everything, including being a mom," said Nikki Edwards, 47, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who had her son Sam just before her 40th birthday. Still, she said, "Parenting in my forties has truly been the most rewarding experience I've had."
This article was originally published on Sept. 30, 2016 on TODAY.com, and updated on Feb. 21, 2017.