Photo: Yahoo Parenting
When I got pregnant with my first baby at 28, I didn’t think much about my age. We had no trouble getting pregnant and at that point, we’d been married for three years. However, I was at least five years younger than just about every other new mother in our hometown of Boston. Even among my friends, I was one of the first to have a baby.
My first years of motherhood were lonely and isolating. But then, my friends started having children. By the time I had my third child eight years later, all my friends were mothers and the experience was something else entirely. I had friends to borrow maternity clothes from and to commiserate with over weight gain and morning sickness. I also had people who understood how tired I was and told me they’d been there, too.
However, having a baby at 36 was far more taxing. I didn’t have any problems conceiving but it took a year to lose all the baby weight (the first two times, I was at my pre-pregnancy weight after four months), and everything from the birth recovery to the postpartum hemorrhoids were horrible. Being an older mom clearly had major disadvantages.
We all know the gloomy statistics about pregnancy: Our chances to conceive drop significantly with age. “As we get closer to 40, the ticking of the biological clock becomes louder and by 45, it can be deafening,” Sheryl Ross, M.D., OB/GYN and Women’s Health Specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Fertility decreases by as much as 95 percent in women between the ages of 40 and 45. And women older than 45 have a less than 1 percent chance of becoming pregnant each month.”
And yet, women are having children later than ever. In 1970, the average age for a first time mom was 21.4. By 2006, it was 25. And an “average age” is also relative — it can vary widely depending on the state.
“The idea of a one-size-fits-all perfect age to have kids is like saying there’s a ‘perfect meal’ or ‘perfect job’ for everyone,” Mackenzie Dawson, a parenting columnist for the New York Post, told Yahoo Parenting. “It all boils down to individual circumstances and where you are in life. “
Dawson had her son at 35, which, according to her, was ideal. “I never wonder about the things I could have done or the places I could have traveled, because I did everything,” she says.
Melissa Bender, a mother-of-one from Lousiana, agrees. “Many days I wish I had the stamina I did 10 years ago,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “But considering my emotional and financial state and my career and relationships, waiting was the best choice.”
Still, it’s hard to argue with biology. “We know that fertility declines progressively with age, peaking between the ages of 20 to 24,” says Ross. “So ideally, the best time to have a baby is in your early 20’s.”
Of course, try telling that to the many women who are in college then and are thinking less about marriage and babies and more about landing their first job and apartment.
Still, some manage just fine. Jaclynn Linnane of Massachusetts was 24 when she had her first daughter. She told Yahoo Parenting that even with the isolation of being the “first” mom, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “My husband and I were all alone in it,” she says. “None of our friends were married or mothers or were interested in hearing my birthing experience. That made it more private and special but also horrifying and unique.”
April Hussar, a mother-of-one from New Jersey, was 26 when she had her daughter. “It’s great being a young-ish mom,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “There’s a lot to be said for being spry as a parent.”
And for women who don’t have the luxury of choosing when to conceive, well, that’s the beauty of modern medicine. “We are fortunate to have high tech procedures that allow some women to get pregnant at almost any age,” says Ross, although she adds that, in general, those who want to have children should start an early conversation with their doctors.
Having been on both sides myself, one thing is abundantly clear: Each age has its perks and difficulties. Regardless, almost every mom agrees on one thing: Their perfect, unique child arrived just on time.