According to the Office for National Statistics the average age at which women gave birth in 2019 rose to 31 years, yet many Northern Ireland mothers now have their first child in their 40s. Linda Stewart asks two more mature first-time mums about their experiences.
'There was fear and excitement, joy and delight'
Journalist Sonia Butterworth (51), from Belfast, who broadcasts on U105, is married to comedian Keith Law and has two children, Liam (11) and Kate (9). She had Liam when she was 40.
The couple met 18 years ago this week when Sonia was asked to cast for the iconic Just For Laughs show.
"The producers asked Keith to audition and we met in front of the City Hall where the audition took place. We went on to make several series of Just For Laughs," Sonia says.
She admits she hadn't really thought much about children.
"I married at 38 and really, to be honest, we naively thought that this boat had probably passed," she says.
"A few friends had had difficulties when they were younger and we did think it's probably not going to happen.
"But I didn't give that much thought to it.
"A few people got married slightly younger and they all started to have children, and quite a few said 'you'd better get on with it'. They said 'Don't be waiting!'."
Sonia had lost her mum in her 20s, but she says the turning point for children came when she lost her dad not long after her wedding.
"Even though I was 39, I really did feel 'so, I'm an orphan'," she reflects. "I suppose that's when I went 'Oh my gosh, I've got to have children'. It did take over.
"My dad had died and a few months later I found I was feeling very strange.
"It was the hunger, I was so starving and then I found out that we were expecting which was just such a shock.
"It was shock and fear and excitement, joy and delight.
"It was never a big thing in my head, but when it became a big thing, we started trying and we were very lucky."
Sonia says she knew a few people who had children younger and the births seemed to take place quite quickly, but when she went into labour with Liam it took three days.
"My waters broke at 4am on Monday and he wasn't born until Wednesday," she says.
"Obviously you do think, I guess I'm going to be the oldest mum in town, but I couldn't believe there were so many mums my age and older. Before the children go to school, you're in your bubble bringing them up and you think you are going to be the oldest parents at the school - but you get there and you're not. That was a pleasant surprise.
"I feel if you have them when you are young, you have more energy - but there is a delight at having them at a later stage because you feel there is no want to go out and party any more.
"It's that old cliche - it's a great excuse to just stay in. I loved the fact that you had a reason not to go out."
Sonia had Kate about 20 months after Liam's birth.
"We had two under the age of two," she says. "It was very full on - it's more than double the work of one. It's intense," she says.
"When you go into the twos you think, yes it would have been a better idea to have been 10 years younger, for the energy levels. It's the sleep deprivation that really is tough but there's lots of joy too - lots of joy but not much sleep.
"I would love to have gone on and had more but it's definitely a factor of age that you think... if I had been younger I would have tried for more. That's one difference I would see in myself.
"But I think it's a really good age to have children because again the balance is there - they're pre-teens now and in the next few years they're going to be teens, and your age and experience gives you an advantage. You want to be with them and give them as much wisdom for their future before the teens go off.
"It's fun now - there's no sleep deprivation and you really realise how important a role it is, that you are shaping the children's values because you have this much life experience. You're not a granny but you have a lot of years of experience.
"But really I think (being an older mum) is the norm. My mum encouraged me to have children when I was a bit older - she told me to leave it a bit. It will be interesting and I wonder if, as my daughter goes through her life, will I advise her 'maybe a few years younger'?"
'Age gives you wisdom and I feel more resilient'
PR consultant Gayle Hunter (53), from east Belfast, has two daughters, Sequoia Hope (11) and Acacia Faith (9), who lost their dad Adrian to cancer earlier this year. She had Sequoia Hope when she was 43.
Gayle says that when she was younger she had never thought about children because she was so absorbed in her career.
"When I did become pregnant, I was sick for about five months before I knew I was pregnant - I was so sick, morning, noon and night," she says. "I was so, so busy that I'd never even thought of it being anything else. I remember the hairdresser talking about it and asking if I could be pregnant.
"Morning sickness was such a misnomer, because it was morning, noon and night and through the night. Up until the ninth month I couldn't even get out of bed. I was better in the last three weeks and I remember coming downstairs and having a bowl of chicken soup and feeling normal again."
On the plus side, the labour was "very dignified", Gayle says.
"I was 10 days over the time and I went in and asked if I could come in the evening. The next morning I had a pain when I was in the toilet cubicle and said 'I think this is my time'," she recalls.
"Within an hour and 10 minutes the baby had come out and that was amazing - from having these nine months of horrendous illness to having a very, very smooth delivery. Afterwards the fire alarm went off and everybody had to go out and they didn't move me!
"I remember coming out of the hospital and doing a £250 shop at Asda and thinking 'this is no bother' - but then I was so tired.
"One of the things about being older - and this is a strength - was that I just got on with it.
"I think age does give a bit of wisdom - you're not afraid of things that you would have been in your 20s and 30s. I feel more resilient."
Acacia Faith arrived two years and three months after her older sister and Gayle says it was a completely different labour as the baby was lying to the back.
"I found the general labour was harder, giving birth to her, and it wasn't horrendous but the pain was worse," she says.
"I breastfed both and ended up feeling like an agricultural dairy farm. I breastfed for two and a half years for each child. I remember going in for my second and I was still breastfeeding the first. If I had anything I was concerned about, it was having to feed both children at the same time.
"I definitely felt more my age with the second than I did with my first. It was harder.
"I'm not sure if it was anything to do with age or just having two young children, but your attitude helps you through it.
"My second cried more and was up more in the night - your sleep pattern was just gone."
Gayle says she did feel conscious of being an older mum when the children started school.
"In the school playground, you're waiting for the children when you observe that the people you thought were older sisters of the other children were the mums," she says.
"The thing I have found about the second child is that they learn so much more by observing other children.
"I remember mine asking me 'Mum, why are you so much older?' and she mentioned some of her friends. Because it's funny you just laugh. But my own reality was the most shocking, the revelation of being old enough to be one of the other mums' mums."
The other time that reality set in was while she was still pregnant and was told she needed an amniocentesis test, which is used to determine if the baby has a genetic or chromosomal condition.
"There was this huge needle coming into my tummy and that was so overwhelming," she says. "But I remember it was because of my age that I was doing this."
Gayle is proud of her girls and describes them as really kind and compassionate.
"They see people who are homeless and they constantly want to help," she says.
"They are very strong-minded and very capable. I taught them to be independent at a young age."