The “right time” to have a baby is different for each woman, and that’s okay
Women are waiting much longer to have kids than at any other time in history, but with that comes a plethora of questions about when is the right time. We want a number — a magic age at which we’ll be financially sound enough, mature yet youthful enough, healthy enough, and stable enough to be a positive role model for a child. The truth is, there may not be a perfect age, but that hasn’t stopped women from arguing about it anyway.
This week, an Australian news site made the case for why women should start having kids at a younger age. For their story, they interviewed a woman named Anne, who gave birth to her first and only child at age 19. Anne is now 41, and her child is grown, but that hasn’t stopped her from holding some ridiculously stringent opinions on when is the “right” time for a woman to have kids.
“I think women are making a big mistake by having babies later,” Anne says. “When you have children younger, you have time to career build afterwards instead of being halfway through your career and needing six months or even a whole year off. And that time off is for your first child, what if you have two or three?”
Anne says in middle age she’s surrounded by stressed out new moms who, in her opinion, waited way too long to start their families. She “pities” these moms who are “trapped financially, physically, and emotionally.” Says Anne, “I feel sorry for anyone 33 plus with babies or toddlers… I don’t envy middle-aged mothers at all.”
A mere 30 years ago, “middle-aged mothers” were few and far between, but their numbers have been steadily increasing over the past three decades. In 1980, the CDC reports the average woman had her first child at 22. By 2000, the average age was up to 24.9. Currently, the average is around 26, and eleven out of every 1,000 new moms has their first baby between the ages of 35 and 39.
As those numbers go up, it’s natural that women would start to question when is the “right” time to try for a baby, and possibly even develop strong opinions on the matter, based on their own life circumstances. But it’s important that we not turn “young” moms versus “older” moms into some twisted new kind of mommy war.
I had my first child at 23, and it was anything but easy. She was unplanned, and I was fresh out of college, still hadn’t figured out exactly where I wanted to go in life, and had no savings or financial security — it was a struggle. Five years later, I have two kids and I’m on much firmer ground in terms of finances and my career, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes if those years would’ve been easier had I been more established when I became a mom. Similarly, I know women in their thirties and forties who think motherhood might be easier if they were younger like me.
Unfortunately, there will always be questions, no matter what age you are when you decide to have babies. There’s no concrete way of knowing if it’s better to start early or to wait, and there’s certainly no reason to make judgments about other women. We have more options and more freedom to decide what’s right for us than ever before. Whether a woman has kids at 19, 27, 33, 48, or not at all, the fact that we have a choice is something to be celebrated.
What’s right for one mom may not be right for another, and that’s a good thing.