In the good old days having children was a pretty straightforward matter. You either did or you didn’t, and most women who did had them early on. The CDC tells me that in 1910 a woman’s median age at first birth was 21.1 years. In 1935 that median age was 20.8 years, and in 1960 the median age rose to 22.7 years (NHCS Data Brief, No. 68, August 2011).
In the decades since women, on average, have been having first babies later in life than ever before.
Medical advancements (yay, science!) have given those of us lovingly referred to as breeders much more flexibility when it comes to the possibility of having babies. Just the illusion of choice when it comes to timing pregnancies reveals some interesting philosophies, ones that are usually defended vehemently amongst those living in Mommyhood. (It can be a strange place sometimes.)
I’ve met women who had their children early (and by that I mean at 19, 20, or 21 years old). They each insisted that it was important to them that they were young while their kids were young, and there’s definitely logic in the argument. Kids have the volatile energy of a Tasmanian Devil, so being a youthful parent would most certainly help. Plus we’re just now swinging toward the tween years in our home while their kids are driving or getting ready for college…
Back when we were trying to start a family, lots of people seemed to be aiming for their 20s. We began trying ourselves when I was 29 years old. I guess by that decade people figure you’ve survived college and whatever wild single years might have followed (not for us, but whatever) so you should be responsible enough to bring a life into the world. That was pretty much my theory, anyway. I didn’t realize until T-man and Bear arrived how flawed this theory was (for me, that is).
T-man showed up when I was 34 years old. Some might think that automatically means I’d be singing the praises of child-rearing in your thirties but y’all…I look at that number and think I was halfway to being 40 when these babies started showing up! They were exhausting. Every day was like clawing my way up a mountain until BrightSide walked through the door, and most nights I’d go to bed wondering how I’d make it through another day.
But. Even though raising babies in my thirties was draining and nerve-wracking and often grueling, I’m certain I was a far better mother at 30+ than I would have been in my twenties. My energy level might not have been quite as high, but there was a huge difference in my capacity for patience (nowhere near infinite, but definitely improved) between those two decades. And since kids pretty much live to try your patience, that ability to endure is crucial to survival.
Now I’m in my 40s and I’ve made huge strides in my attitude and general outlook on life. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m all zen but I’m trying, and it’s been life changing for me. So I sort of get it when I see these celebrities having babies in their 40s…they’ve had twenty years or so to affect change in the world, and now they’re ready to bring a child into that dynamic. Except I can’t stop crunching the numbers. Have a baby at 42? Toddler tantrums sure sound like a fun addition to perimenopause. You’ll be teaching them to drive in your late 50s. You’ll be sixty when that kid finally leaves for college, which means you’ll spend the first few years of that decade sweating out tuition and living expenses. And all of that’s assuming you only have the one kid.
Given my confusion over starting motherhood in your forties, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that (yes, I’ll say it) having a baby in your 50s or 60s sounds just plain nuts. I’m not talking about the wonderful women who step up into tragedy and take in a child. I’m confused by this woman who pursued IVF to have a baby at 56. Also perplexing? This American who traveled all the way to South Africa to get pregnant at 59 with twins when U.S. doctors refused to perform IVF due to her age. Then there’s the 65-year-old German grandmother who gave birth to quadruplets in May.
People, I am all about the power of choice. For reasons surpassing understanding, biology allows men to produce babies into their 70s and 80s, a glitch I’d totally be willing to ask about when I get to the hereafter. Hey, God, what’s the deal with those geezers knocking up trophy wives? Was that part of some master plan? Frankly, no, there was a glitch in development that left a loophole. Sorry about that.
I’m not saying women shouldn’t have babies in their 50s and 60s because it’s wrong. I’m just saying I find it…incomprehensible. Diapers, potty training, and preschool in your early sixties. Middle school, puberty, and teenagers in your early seventies. And who on earth has the fortitude to deal with an 18-year-old’s drama when they’re approaching 80?!
So medical advances (yay!) have given women a lot more choices than they used to have, and options are good. As for me? T-man and Bear came along at just the right point in my life – I wasn’t so old that I couldn’t keep up with them, but I’d gained enough life experience to make me a much better mother.
Teens to seventies: that’s a pretty broad baby-making range, but to each their own…