Motherhood in my 40s: Starting a family at 42

By Hoe I Yune, Dec 20, 2019

Part one of our Motherhood in my 40s series told the story of Pearline and how she is equal parts mum, wife, and businesswoman. Here’s the link in case you missed it:

Today we hear from Dawn, a 42-year-old advertising director who married her best friend at 38. Although she once thought she would get married in her 20s, over time, she learned that you can’t plan everything in life. For her, to settle down with the right person and when the timing felt right were more important than forcing milestones to happen based on societal expectations.

She recently gave birth to a baby boy at the age of 42 and as a first time parent, she’s embarking on a journey raising a newborn. 

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Turning 40 scared me for it sounds really old. Mentally, I don’t feel like I’m in my 40s at all, and I think it’s partly because one of my two sets of friends consists of people in their early 30s. Hanging out with them makes me feel younger in age.

That’s not to say that I never feel like I’m 42. At work, my colleagues are millennials and I’m probably the oldest on the team. Given our age gap, we generally like different things. For instance, I’m less interested in going out for drinks now, and as much as I like memes, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I’m asked to think of something funny. 

Among the younger generation, there’s more of a conscientious focus on having a life outside of work. My younger colleagues would rather not talk about work during lunch time, which is different from when I was in my 20s and 30s. Back then we found it hard to compartmentalise the timings — we just came up with ideas wherever and whenever; often working quite late. 

I think it’s much better now that there is a balanced approach to work and life.

Looking back, life wasn’t all that different from my 20s to 30s because it revolved around work and hanging out with friends. I didn’t have anyone dependent on me and was free to live as I wished. 

As serious as I was about doing my job well, my approach to life was always rather carefree. I took things as they came and was not afraid to do the things that I wanted to do such as going on holidays and staying out late.

There was a moment in my 20s when I wanted to get married, however it was a matter of finding the right person at the right time and I didn’t want to rush into marriage. N — who’s now my husband — and I first met at work. He was a client of one of the ad agencies I used to work for. We had just started dating when I was 28 so naturally, we didn’t feel ready for something as serious as marriage.

Even so, we got along really well and continued dating. We were best friends first and shortly after we became a couple, he asked me to move in with him. I am all for cohabitation before committing to someone for a lifetime, since it allows you to learn a lot about each other’s habits and characteristics.

N and I were so comfortable with each other’s presence that living together for so many years didn’t feel long at all. Setting down and having a family crossed my mind from time to time, but to do all that at a younger age became increasingly unimportant. I believe that the decision to get married should happen naturally and not feel forced. Since my boyfriend and I were comfortable sticking to the dating stage, why not continue with that?

Our parents are pretty modern so there was no pressure from them to get married either.

N and I dated for 10 years. As we did more and more things together, we were both increasingly sure that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. That’s when we started talking marriage for real and tied the knot in 2015. 

We complement and balance each other  — I am his source of zenness when life gets a little crazy, and he spoils me with clothes, shoes and bags, even when I don’t need any. (Is there any girl who doesn’t like attention from her partner?) 

If he didn’t like dogs and cats, it would have been a deal breaker for me but not only does he love animals, he’s also smart and generous. I think what keeps our relationship strong is our ability to constantly look at the bright side of things. He’s North American and his sense of humour isn’t very local, but I like his jokes, and we laugh a lot together. 

The older that I get, the more I believe the cliche that laughter is the best medicine. 

We got married in a small beach side wedding in Bali with family and close friends as witnesses. From picking the venue to choosing my wedding dress, we did everything together.

N has a great fashion sense and was the one who pointed out that my Missoni x Converse shoes would look great with my wedding dress.

N has a great fashion sense and was the one who pointed out that my Missoni x Converse shoes would look great with my wedding dress.

I think the biggest changes for me kicked in only after I got married, starting from when I adopted my first pet. 

I grew up in a family that loves dogs and cats. So much so that my family home in Kuala Lumpur has three dogs, nine cats, and a few turtles right now. On top of that, we feed the neighbourhood cats. To adopt a dog of my own is something I always knew I wanted someday. N and I just needed to know that we could manage our work and a dog. 

When I was in the midst of changing jobs, it seemed like the right time to seek a role that gives more flexibility to work from home. I began to look for opportunities beyond working for a big name company and getting high pay. That led me to my current role.

It has been four years since I changed workplaces and adopted Yohji from SOSD Singapore. No regrets!

It has been four years since I changed workplaces and adopted Yohji from SOSD Singapore. No regrets!

The moment I got Yohji, I wanted to give him the best of everything. My husband would joke that I’m obsessed with the dog and he’s probably right. It is strange and silly but I think this dog was meant to come home with us. 

As soon as we got him, spending time with him outranked career in terms of my list of priorities. At some point, it even crossed my mind to work for an NGO or to start my own business. That way I could stay home more, not just to look after a dog but to start a family.

In a way, once I got married, I picked family and things that I love and want to do for myself over a career in advertising. 

My industry started to feel inconsequential and I wanted to find something more meaningful to do. N supported me on leaving my job and said he would take care of me if I wanted a break but I knew I’d be bored by the second week or so. Instead, I started work in a new place which was a smaller set up that came with less office politics and allowed me the flexibility I wanted.

My day-to-day priorities also naturally shifted. When I adopted Yohji, I cut back on the number of nights out I’d spend drinking. Instead, I’d rush home to feed him. Twice a day, I’d take him on 4 to 5km walks. He gives my life a different kind of purpose. I also fostered puppies until they got adopted. The joy it brings when they get adopted is amazing. 

I don’t think the dynamic between my husband and I changed much since we got married because we had already been living together for so long. However, about two years into marriage, we got talking about what the next stage would be. 

As friends had their second child, I started to question myself — now that I’m married, what’s next?

I was quite happy just being a dog mum, but having a child felt like the natural next stage after marriage and as people around me raised their children, it crossed my mind that I wanted one of my own too. My husband and I talked about it and we knew that age was catching up on us so if we wanted a child, we needed to try immediately.

I think I was very lucky that I was okay health-wise so it was just a matter of continuous trying. Upon the gynaecologist’s advice, I cut back on alcohol and stopped drinking caffeine. I generally eat pretty decently and am quite active so I think that helped. I believe that it’s not what you do in the gym but everything else like not lying down right after a heavy meal. 

I questioned my fertility but that’s always a worry, no matter what your age is. Friends would tell me that they know people who have babies in their 40s and encouraged me to keep trying. You’ve got to think positive.

After over a year of trying, I was pregnant. My mum was visiting from KL and accompanied me to the doctor’s to get tested while my husband was at work. I missed my period and had a feeling that this was it. The doctor confirmed my suspicions and I felt a mix of happiness and excitement. It was like, “Oh my God, what now”.

I was a little more mindful about what I ate and did to my body. I incorporated more protein into my diet — eating salmon every week, and didn’t colour my hair. I was extremely cautious, wanting to take as little chance as possible to harm the baby.

Close friends and family aside, I waited until at least the end of my second trimester before I told anyone that I was pregnant. I wanted it to be a surprise. My husband on the other hand was super excited and told his friends and colleagues since the beginning of the second trimester. 

While trying for a baby, my husband and I spent a lot of time chilling out at home. This homebody routine continued when I got pregnant. The reality is, I didn’t want to be hanging out at a bar with my friends if it meant I could only drink orange juice. For the first few months, I felt like I was missing out by staying in but eventually I grew to be at peace with it. My friends also understood that I needed the rest. 

By my third trimester, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything anymore, and actually enjoyed staying at home. I filled my time making our small loft fit for a newborn. 

We live in a small loft and it wasn’t the most baby-friendly so I reconfigured how we laid out our furniture to make room for a baby cot.

We live in a small loft and it wasn’t the most baby-friendly so I reconfigured how we laid out our furniture to make room for a baby cot.

Being pregnant at 42, I realised that I needed to be a lot more careful carrying a baby. It also seemed as if everyone had something to say about what I should or should not do. At the end of the day, I would listen and not disregard any advice but I only did what made sense to me. 

I had well-intentioned people telling me not to walk my dog 10km a day. How I saw it was that I’d keep going if I felt up for it, but on the days when I was more tired, I walked less.

My long walks didn’t stop until a few days before giving birth. Funnily enough, our baby now cries if I sit down and try to rock him, but not if I do it while pacing around. We wonder if how much I walked during my pregnancy has something to do with it.

I was very lucky and didn’t suffer from morning sickness. Interestingly enough, I developed a bit of a sweet tooth. Normally I don’t like desserts yet I ate more desserts during the eighth month of my pregnancy than I did in my entire life. I suspect it’s because my husband has a sweet tooth. I think he had fun because for a change, I’d share cake and ice-cream with him.

My husband has been nothing but supportive — he made sure I ate well, got enough rest, and generally ensured my well being as I went through my pregnancy journey. We spent a lot more time together at home and he bore with my nesting stage, closing one eye when I moved furniture and other things around the house. 

He’s my best friend and luckily for me, we seldom fight despite the occasional disagreements. I think our ability to laugh together more than fight kept me sane during my pregnancy. 

I recall telling him that he better be patient and tell me jokes so that labour would be less painful.

I recall telling him that he better be patient and tell me jokes so that labour would be less painful.

I gave birth a week earlier than the estimated due date. Given my age, I was advised to undergo a C-section. It’s safer and best not to pass the 40th week of pregnancy or else the risk of stillbirth becomes a lot higher.

During my 36-hour labour, we watched Netflix and ate snacks to help me stay calm. Only when the doctor came into the room after 10pm did I start to feel nervous again. He said I could have the C-section that night and have the baby within 45 minutes or wait a few more hours. It was a no brainer — why wait? We went ahead and true enough, I was carrying our baby at 11.52pm on November 21, 2019. 

Due to my long time in labour, we joked that our baby must have been too “shy” to come out. We decided to name him Shia because of that. 

When the doctor first carried him up to me, I was so amazed how this little guy came out of me that I cried.

I might not have been really sure about becoming a mum up until recently, but I'm so excited to see him grow up.

My mum’s visiting from KL to help out during my postpartum recovery period. It’s only normal that I am not as energetic as I was 10 years ago, but I’m also tired and slow right now because I am recovering from the C-section surgery. Once I am about 80 per cent healed and walking properly again, I believe the late night feeds won’t affect me so much. Due to my age, I don’t think I will have more than one child but if I do, I don't want it to be through C-section because of the lengthy recovery period.

My husband and I still need to plan further how we want to balance work and caregiving for Shia after my maternity leave, but it’s a good thing that a lot can be done from home as long as you have a computer and the Internet. We’ll probably need to discuss finances again as well. While I have my savings, I haven’t been thinking about my full-on retirement plan yet.

N and I agreed that we need to stay healthy so that we can keep up with him. We can’t turn back the clock but we can make the best of now. 

We are like-minded in how we want to raise our child to be respectful, kind, and a good person overall, yet still be cool parents. We don’t plan to coddle Shia because we want him to learn from experiences. We feel it will toughen him up as he grows in this big, unpredictable world. We are also young at heart so we will be more open-minded when we bring him up. I’d like to think my parents brought me up well, and want the same upbringing for my own kid. My parents gave my sister and I the room to grow and learn — to fall and get back up ourselves. They taught us manners but didn’t spoon feed us. We also spent a lot of time with my grandparents, aunts and uncles so the importance of family and filial piety is ingrained in us. 

It’s still early days but as a new mum, I’m already learning to give more without expecting anything in return. 

Being a mum in itself naturally forces you to grow as a person. What’s changed most about my life is having less freedom to do what I want when I want. I wish someone would have told me to travel more years ago, because it gets harder when you are older and have a baby. But when I pause and reflect on where I am in life — well into my 40s — I think life is okay. I’m taking each day as it comes. There’s no point worrying unnecessarily about being an “older mum”. All mums want the best for their children regardless of how old they became a mum. 

Photos provided by Dawn. 

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