When to Get Pregnant and Have Children: Before or After Age 30?

When it comes to having kids, women have a tough decision to make. At what age should they know?

During dinner the other night, my friend — who is like me, on the precipice of 30 (but childless) — told me she recently read that a woman must decide if she wants kids by the age of 30. Otherwise, according to this mysterious, all-knowing source, it won’t happen. Though she explained this with appropriate incredulity, she seemed genuinely concerned about it. “I mean, if I had a gun to my head right now and had to choose, I would choose to have them,” she posited. “I think.” Talk about a romantic notion. I’ve had similar conversations with my other single, childless friends in their late 20s and early 30s. Now, this isn’t going to devolve into a rant about how us modern-day women are still under societal pressure to pop out babies and be Donna Reed. But it’s a little unfair that indecision regarding motherhood is seen as a character flaw, or worse — as the death knell of future fertility.

The average age of first-time mothers in the United States is 27 (in 1970 it was 21). Given that statistic, I’m surprised that I actually know more women who had their first babies around 40 than I do women who had babies at my age (according to CBS, the number of first-time moms over the age of 35 has increased 64 percent in the last 20 years). From where I sit — that is, having had a baby at 27 — I totally get why a woman would wait to have kids. I’m generalizing here as everyone’s circumstances are different, but there seem to be some serious benefits to waiting until your 30s (as well as serious risks): more time for career/relationship development, to travel, to act impulsively, to grow up (some would argue you should be totally grown up by 27, but it would seem that these days it is the exception, not the rule). It’s hard to build a career as a new mom, or to nurture a still-relatively-new romantic partnership. Of course, there are benefits to having kids before 30 too, chief among them a faster “recovery” from pregnancy and the fact that when your kids enter their teen years, you’ll still be a spring chicken.

I guess I’m just curious. Do you think there’s any truth to the whole deciding-by-30 thing? If you didn’t have your first baby until your mid-30s (or later), was it due to careful planning, or a simple twist of fate? If you had your first in your 20s, do you wish you waited?

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