At last, I feel vindicated in my life choices. A fertility expert and professor has come out and said that women waiting until they’re older to have children is not a bad thing.
I have waited a long time for this moment.
Robert Winston, an IVF pioneer and broadcaster, told the Cheltenham Science Festival: “Women are leaving childbirth till later and I think it is really a good thing. They are able to gain skills and education and contribute more to society by delaying starting a family.”
I totally agree. Women do get to finish their education, climb the career ladder, and contribute to society by working if they wait to have babies until later.
Winston went on to say that waiting to have kids means that mothers “are more secure. They know what partner they want, [and] they know they have a partnership which will stick.”
Well yes, and also no.
Yes, because obviously the longer we spend with someone before we have kids with them, the better we know them. The more we have survived things that test relationships, like job loss, financial stress, illness, house moves, bereavement, the stronger our bond becomes.
But it should also be mentioned that having kids is like throwing a hand grenade into your marriage, so whether being together longer really helps this, I don’t know. I’m sure having a stable, rock-solid foundation is beneficial, but also, life happens. We never know what’s around the corner, so I’m not sure the professor has me convinced on that one.
He added, “I am very unhappy about doctors pontificating about when the right time is to have a child. We should accept that society is changing and we should do more to support women who want to have children when they are older by making childcare more available to them.”
Amen to that, professor.
So why did I choose to have kids later in life?
Well for a start, I didn’t meet my husband until I was 28. He was a youthful 24, but I had already spent six years in the dating wilderness. He proposed to me when I was 30, and we married a year later when I was 31.
I wanted to spend some time just the two of us before we started having kids and often thought that if I had been able to take some test that showed I could have kids later in life, I would have delayed having my first child ’til even later in my thirties. But I was always wary that I might not conceive easily, so a year after we wed, we began trying for a baby. Thankfully, we got pregnant immediately and my son was born when I was 33.
So why did I wait four years to have my second child?
It was both a financial decision and also one for my sanity. I simply couldn’t afford to have two kids at nursery school on my paltry salary, so I knew if I had another child, I’d have to give up work. I’d just changed careers after a year of trying to do so, so the last thing I wanted to do was walk away from a job I loved. Plus in truth, I was scared to be home alone with two young children. I need conversation and adult interaction, and I found motherhood desperately lonely.
So I waited until my son was a year away from starting full-time school before we began trying to have a second child. I had acupuncture, used ovulation sticks, and voila — I became pregnant again a month before my 37th birthday.
And I’m not alone in this. Around half of all babies are now born to women aged 30 and over, and the number of children born to women aged 40+ has tripled in the last 20 years.
I figured when my daughter started nursery school last year at the age of 3 that I’d be the big old dinosaur at the school gate, but the majority of moms were only a year or two younger than me. Almost all were hurtling towards the big FOUR ZERO, meaning that the majority of them had had their second child after they were 35. I have three close friends who recently gave birth after their 40th birthdays. In one case, it was even her first child.
So why are we waiting longer? If you think about it, there’s a lot for women to squeeze in before they turn 30.
By the time women graduate college, they’re normally 21 or 22. Then maybe they want to have a gap year and go see the world before they settle down. (That’s what I did: I didn’t start my career until I was almost 24.) They then want to pay back their student loans and perhaps look into owning property. Plus, they have to meet someone they actually want to procreate with.
I genuinely waited until I could afford to have both my kids. If I was going to be a responsible parent, I wanted to be able to provide for them — regardless of what my husband earned, which meant waiting until I had a stable career. (I am still working on that one, I’ll confess!)
Women face difficult decisions today in deciding when to have children. Wait until your solvent? Wait for Mr. Right? Wait ’til you own your own home? Wait ’til you’re living in the right area? Yet all the while, we’re bombarded with articles declaring that we all face infertility after 35 hits.
The whole “ticking clock” just adds stress on us that we don’t need. Nothing is ever completely right. No life is perfect. We all have children when (and if) we can, and often the circumstances are far from ideal. Not everyone can have babies with Mr. Right at 25; not everyone wants to.
As Professor Winston says, “We should accept that society is changing and we should do more to support women who want to have children when they are older.”
I couldn’t agree more.