Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How Long Can You Wait To Have A Baby?

If you asked me, "How long can you wait to have a baby?" before I read this Atlantic article, I would have said, "It gets really dangerous to try having children after around 34."

My answer would have been based on random headlines I've seen or studies I've skimmed. It also would have been rooted in the almighty, "things I've heard lots of people say," source. In other words, it would not have been an educated answer.

If you asked me, "How much anxiety do you have around waiting to have children?" before I read this Atlantic article, I would have said, "SO MUCH ANXIETY."

I want to have biological children. I would ideally like to have more than one. And yes, I know that I am not yet ready to start having those children. I cannot say when I'll be ready. There may come a time when my desire to have kids outweighs my fear of being financially and emotionally ready to have them (people say that happens), but right now, I am not ready. In one month, however, I will be 30. Let's pretend I want two children, spaced two years apart. If my "babies by 34" number were to be the stat to live by, I would need to get pregnant this year or else...

Or else, what?

That is the premise of this very interesting article on some of the real, modern stats behind bearing children at an older age - and by older I mean 35 to 40. Even this article confirms that attempting to have a first child after 40 is risk. But it doesn't say that at 34, you have X percent less eggs than you did at 33. Same for 36 and 37. It doesn't work quite like that. For fear of being just one more writer to misreport the stats, I'll direct you once again to the article and just say that many of the studies we've come to rely on around this issue are out-dated and poorly constructed.

I want to be careful with this topic because there is, of course, a difference between having children at 27 and having children at 36. The percentage increase in birth defects and miscarriages exists, but according to the research in this article, those percentage increases are not nearly what we've been condition to or lead to or convinced ourselves to believe.

For some people, any increased risk is reason enough to organize their life around having children sooner rather than later. Those people are well within their rights. Frankly, any choice around this issue is the right choice because it's what you want and need.

But for those of us who - for whatever reasons (you met your partner later in life, you are interested in establishing your career before having children, you do not have the finances to support a child) - will probably end up getting pregnant in the 33 to 40-year-old range, this more realistic understanding of the risks is a relief.

Does that mean we are all safe to have perfect, healthy biological children well into our late 30s? No. But it means that when we weigh the decision to wait, different understandings and factors are involved.

Jean Twenge - the author of this Atlantic piece - raises an interesting question that isn't answered, probably because it's impossible to answer. Why all the false reporting around such an important issue. Not to put too dramatic a point on it, but the decision around when to have children guides many women's lives in their 20s and 30s.

Why is the medical community happy to rely on old stats? Why isn't there easy access to a test that lets you know the status of your eggs and tubes and other parts? Is it that it's too expensive? Is it that it's too inconclusive? Could the Atlantic write a follow-up article on that? Because it seems to me that the world would go round a lot happier if we all had more of a clue about this incredibly important issue looming in our lives.

What's your take? 


  1. there is an easy test to know the status of your eggs. Its called an FSH test and they sell it in the drugstore now. A more accurate and newer test is AMH. Both basically test hormones levels. With FSH, the higher the number, the harder your body is working to ovulate, the less eggs you have left. The Atlantic article is skewed journalism for failing to point out these basic tests that basically every woman is given when they want to start trying to conceive.

  2. My mother had us at 34, 37, and 42, respectively, and we all turned out relatively decent. I'm the oldest and 27 now, and I will say that my mother is now putting pressure on me to have kids, and I keep reminding her that I'm not ready and neither was she at my age...

  3. Speaking of fertility worries, I'm conducting my psychology dissertation research on worry about future fertility among women 25 to 40 years old, and I launched my survey this week! https://www.facebook.com/FutureFertilitySurvey The survey deals with a lot of the issues brought up in this Atlantic article. Please check it out and consider passing it on to your contacts. Thank you!