A study shows that older mothers are stigmatized by official texts

MONTREAL – With more and more Canadian women choosing to have children later in life, a recent study suggests that pregnant women aged 35 or older tend to be stigmatized by medical recommendations and public policies.

“There is a huge focus on biomedical risks,” says Francesca Scala, a professor of political science at Concordia University.

It is true that some risk factors increase with age. Public Health Canada (PHAC) cites “premature delivery, low birth weight, miscarriage, placenta previa, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery” as issues that become more frequent later.

While she acknowledges that “these are valid concerns” and that expectant mothers should be well informed about them before making decisions, Scala notes that such a focus on potential dangers often portrays older mothers as “vulnerable”, “abnormal” or over-the-counter. They are “irresponsible reproductive citizens”.

For example, PHAC described in a 2008 document the tendency to delay the moment of conception as “a major clinical and public health concern,” as she recalls.

In Quebec, since November 2021, IVF costs are covered only for women under 42 due to the success rate that drops rapidly at this age.

Moreover, even if various organizations are “very careful not to make any moral judgment of any kind on the value of a disabled person’s life (…), there is a lot of focus on the possibility that an older mother will give birth to a child with a disability,” explains the professor. and the role of women as reproductive citizens to reduce these risks.”

perfect mother

According to Brie Scala, the idea that a mother should be perfectly young, healthy and vibrant with energy.

“There is an idea that women are solely responsible for children (…) that the world of motherhood includes and consumes their whole lives,” she explains, and that to live up to these expectations, she must have the energy of youth.

“A woman who looks older and has gray hair (…), is not necessarily what we consider an ideal mother.”

It cites one of the documents studied, Recommendations on In Vitro Fertilization published by the Canadian Medical Association in 2015. Although the text argues that denying women access to these services would be unethical, it adds that “older women are more at risk.” Experience complications that could endanger the safety of offspring, in addition to the psychological or social discomfort that a child can experience when giving birth to a mother old enough to be a grandmother.

The professor argues, “I think ageism plays a role.”

According to her, “there are many benefits to having children later.” Previous research has indicated that older mothers are often more willing to raise a child, have better financial security and greater relationship stability. “Recent studies also indicate that older childbearing is associated with long-term benefits for children, such as better language skills and better academic performance,” the article states.

Even without ill intentions, she said, personal and motherhood aspirations are often presented as opposing. For example, in a guide published by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada in 2011, it was made clear that with the misconception that assisted reproduction works every time, “unfortunately, it can give women misguided optimism that they can delay their pregnancy while they pursue their education and career.” This guide has since been withdrawn by the company.

“On the one hand, women are encouraged to get a job, be self-sufficient and have a stable relationship, but on the other hand, they are warned that their biological clock is progressing,” the professor notes.

The study, titled “The Problematic of Older Motherhood in Canada: Age Discrimination, Risk Taking, and the Subject of Risky Mothers,” was published last March in the scientific journal Health, Risk & Society. About two dozen medical and government publications dating from 1993 to 2021 were studied.

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