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Best Age to Have a Baby: A) Before 26? B) After 26? C) Never?

5 years ago
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What's a gal (who wants kids) to do?
If we choose to have children when we're young, pregnancy, in this country, makes us poorer, less employable, and diminishes our lifetime earning potential. If we wait, as so many of us are wont to do, we're likelier to shell out big bucks for fertility interventions, or miss our window. If we're body conscious, we might as well not get pregnant at all, at least according to Jillian Michaels, celebrity trainer on the "Biggest Loser," who's gone on record with her own fear of what "doing that" (becoming pregnant) will do to her admirably taut body. She might as well have said "Kids make you fat." That's what I'm looking for in a trainer --- a woman who finds child-bearing abhorrent.
So let me recap: Poor. Ugly. Under-employed. Let me add: and everyone's business. There's nothing like the sight of a pregnant woman to get random strangers going with random advice. Try traveling alone while visibly pregnant. I recommend it. (My favorite comment? "Do you know who the father is?")
So when's a good time to have kids? Intellectually? Emotionally? Physically? Never.
But let me take it one step at a time. A new study out of the University of Maryland and University of California Los Angeles found that women who had kids young (under 26) were, on average, cheating themselves out of income and economic ability over the course of their working lifetimes. Researchers found that decisions women made about bearing kids had a huge impact on their employment options over the course of their lives. Of 2,200 women surveyed, those who had given birth "early" – before 26 – were slammed with what researchers called the "motherhood penalty." Those who waited until after 26 – "late" by this surveys standards – stood to do as well, economically, as childless women.
The study looked at women born between 1944 and 1954. So granted, one might hope that things have shifted for women born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But even though all of my friends (and me!) have fallen into that "late" category, things haven't gotten easier. Women are still expected to be the ones to step off, or to the sides, of the career path to birth (and then stumble for years on the way back on); women are still juggling how to manage to get home in time to relieve the sitter, still juggling when to breastfeed, and how to still finish the assignment. "Waiting" to bear kids might be, over the course of one's life, relatively easier financially, but it hasn't gotten any easier emotionally, practically, or physically. And I'd quibble on the financial front, as I tally up my weekly babysitting hours. Babymaking doesn't come cheap. Better to have a woman like Sarah Silverman, as Frances Tobin notes, who doesn't want to give birth, but would like to adopt. And yet still:
Men aren't asked about their birthing plans. No one cares if they parent or don't, but women of a certain age are always asked about kids.
That said, women in the States seem to have taken the message to heart. These days most babies are born to 30-somethings. And, in real numbers, childbearing is falling in every demographic except for women over 40, where the number of women having babies is creeping up. Problem is that delaying pregnancy until the last ten minutes of our biological capabilities comes with its own host of problems. We're told that every minute waited to bear a child after 35 comes with ever greater risk. Forget 35, after 30! Working on a story for New York magazine on egg freezing, hawked to single gals as the key to controlling biological clocks, every doctor I interviewed implored me "not to wait" if I already had a partner. "What are you waiting for?" one asked, and when I said, well . . . career, etc. I was scoffed at. "Don't become one of my patients," said one doctor at NYU's fertility clinic. I was 29 at the time.
Why is it that in Europe, where the birth rate is dropping in some countries, pregnant women, and women toting babies, are seen as sexy, voluptuous, gorgeous, and here we're battling against our on-screen deities (hello Jillian!) who say we'll just get gross?
But before I get too jealous of my European counterparts (In Germany, women are entitled to up to three years of unpaid leave) there are some signs that women who don't choose to use all their leave are actually, socially, penalized for not staying home. So alas. At least when I was lugging a kid around in Europe, people still thought motherhood was cute.
So let me recap: Don't have a baby before 26 -- you'll screw up your career. But don't wait till your mid-30s because you'll miss out on babies. Or, at the very least, you'll be a total wreck trying to juggle your career and those babies. Or maybe don't do it at all, if you want to keep your tight abdominals. Have I missed anything?
We've come along way, baby.
Filed Under: Woman Up

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