A phenomenological inquiry into the experience of first-time motherhood after age forty

Caren Schlossberg Ruzza, Fordham University


There is a growing trend toward older first-time motherhood in the United States due to greater educational and career opportunities for women, later marriage, wider availability of birth control, and advances in assisted reproductive technology. The purpose of this qualitative study was to gain insight into the experience of first-time motherhood for women over 40 years of age. The psychological, physical, social, and spiritual aspects of this experience were explored in depth through developmental and existential lenses. Participants were 19 Caucasian women from the Northeastern United States who either bore or adopted their first child, age 5 or under at the time of the interview, when they were over 40 years old. An open-ended and flexible semistructured interview protocol was used to allow the interviewer to revise questions in line with emergent themes. Phenomenological data analysis generated 12 primary themes and 18 secondary themes. The primary themes that emerged included: (a) the long journey, (b) overwhelming feelings of love and appreciation for the child, (c) loss, (d) readiness for change, (e) bringing good things to motherhood, (f) motherhood brings good things, (g) feelings of incompetence, (h) changes in relationships, (i) decrease in sex, (j) awareness of the passage of time manifested in concerns about the future, (k) worry, worry, worry, and (l) participants offer younger women advice that differs from their own paths. Many of the participants revealed that their journeys to motherhood enhanced their appreciation for their children, readiness for motherhood, and the positive qualities they brought to motherhood. On the other hand, their losses, worries, and concerns about the future were also magnified by their ages and journeys, and these were significant as evidenced by the final theme, their recommendations to younger women not to follow in their footsteps. In other words, despite the joys they found in later motherhood, most participants would encourage other women, if possible, to have children at an earlier age.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Ruzza, Caren Schlossberg, "A phenomenological inquiry into the experience of first-time motherhood after age forty" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3312055.