Doing the Math: Thoughts on Having a Baby Later in Life

My baby and me.

My baby and me.

Last summer, there was an article about women’s fertility that appeared in the Atlantic called “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” It kind of left me breathless. Though her conclusions are up for debate, Professor Jean Twenge asserted that fertility issues might not be as much tied to age and declining fertility as we have been led to believe. She proposed that if you have fertility issues when you are 38, you might have been just as likely to have them at 28; age might not be the problem in every case. If what she wrote is true, it might take a little bit of psychological weight from some “older” women trying to have a baby and offer hope to women whose biological clock is beginning to thump instead of tick.

I myself can prove Twenge’s point — it took just as much effort for me to conceive my first child at 27 as it did for me to conceive my last child at 37. There was not a smidge of difference in my fertility. However, some in the medical profession might remind us that it’s an immutable fact that at 40, our eggs are considerably older than they were at 27, and that difference alone affects the process. While some aspects of our fertility might not change with age, some inevitably will. Mother Nature has some house rules that can’t be broken.

And though there was no difference in my fertility when I had a baby at age 37, there was a difference related to my age — and I am not talking about the relatively loud crackling sounds emanating from my knees when I try to stand up from sitting on the floor with my toddler daughter. You see, when I had my first child at 27, I did what most parents do: I imagined him growing up. In my mind, I saw his first day of kindergarten, his senior prom, his college graduation, his wedding day. I saw him having a baby of his own. I’m already excited to be a grandmother some far-off (VERY FAR OFF) day, when I can whisk children off to toy stores and ice cream shops and drop them back with their parents just in time for the sugar crash and the overstimulation to hit as I shut the door behind me. I made plans.

From the time my baby girl was born, however, I felt an added urgency to our relationship. When I started imagining things for her, I came to the rude and abrupt reality that I will — in the best case scenario — always have ten less years with her than I will have with my firstborn. I will have the chance to see ten more years of my oldest child’s journey in the world — ten more years of his grand adventure — than I will ever see of hers.

When my firstborn turns 18, I will be turning just 46 years old. That’s not old at all. I’ll only be 50 when he graduates from college. But when my little girl turns 18, I’ll be 55, and I’ll be almost 60 when she graduates from college. If she decides to wait a while to marry or have children, I could be in my 70s when she has them. Though that’s not that old in this day and age, it’s not that young, either… and of course, nothing is guaranteed.

I have tried not to dwell on it because there’s nothing I can do about it, but I can’t help but think about the fact that 37 years separate me from my daughter. My own parents had me when they were about 27 and 28, so I can kind of imagine what it will be like when my oldest is turning 39, like me, and where I might be in my life then by looking at them now. But then I add ten years to the equation, and my heart sinks a little bit. When my daughter is almost 40 like I am now, I’ll be closing in on 80, and I know from experience that she will still need me — a lot. Will she go through a pregnancy without me? Will she go through menopause without me? Whenever I have to leave her and my boys, it will be too soon. I better start taking my vitamins and laying off the Diet Coke.

My greatest fear in life is that I might outlive my children, but my second greatest fear is leaving them here without me and missing out on them — and that fear is certain to come true at some point. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to see as much of their stories as I can. I can’t imagine having to go and not know what happens to them. And I’m not okay with not having control over this. I know that sounds irrational, but welcome to Motherhood. Not much is rational here.

So when I read the Atlantic article, I was thrilled to think that my friends and other women who want or need to wait to have children might have more time than they previously thought. At the same time, I was sobered by the fact that time is merciless and relentless, and there is never enough of it. If there are unknown fertility issues, waiting to have a baby means having less time to work those issues out. Even if there are no fertility issues, though, waiting longer carries a side effect no one can elude: less time on earth with our children.

I believe that it’s worth thinking about in the discussion about fertility and how long you can (or want) to wait to have a baby. Of course, we can’t plan everything. People have to work and build careers, people have to find the right partners, people need the resources in place to raise a child, people just plain have lives that sometimes get in the way of having babies. We can’t always help when we can have a baby. I myself waited almost five years to have my last baby after my third child. I could have taken the plunge sooner, but I didn’t, for various reasons.  Now, I think of that as five less years with her and I try not to second guess them, because when and how I had my babies gave me the specific children I have, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Are there blessings to having a baby when you are older, wiser, and more life experienced? Absolutely. If I didn’t have other children when I was younger, would I even think about the difference? Probably not. And I would never not have a child just because of my age or encourage anyone else not to have a child just because of her age either — children are blessings no matter when they come. However, having a baby this close to 40 changes the way I plan for my future, and it changes the way I treat and consider myself and my body and my time. Suddenly, this aging jalopy of a body is a lot more precious to me — in a more significant way than it was when I was 27 and had my first and felt like a lot more was a given even if it really wasn’t. I always needed this body to run as long as it can, but now there is an added weight to that endeavor.

Pass the sunscreen and the green smoothie, please.



Comments

  1. My fertility was completely different from my first baby(late(?) at 34) to my last(at 41). My view on time to have a baby changed after experiencing two easy to conceive babies and then nearly five years of pain, loss and hopelessness before our miracle. While never planning to have a baby at 41, I’m so grateful for her that I never think about how old I’ll be when she graduates or marries or whether I’ll be here or not. I just cherish our todays. Well I guess I did think about it for a moment last week when she asked if she will still be small enough to sit on my lap when she’s 65 years old and I laughed as I told her quite honestly that mommy will most likely be dead. Yes, I’ll be dead by the time I’m 106 most probably. xo

    • Allison Slater Tate says:

      Yes, and let me be clear — I’m thrilled to have my baby and I wouldn’t do anything differently because then I might not have her! But — I think it’s that I am so grateful to have her that makes me panic a little about the less time I will have with her, if that makes sense. Maybe it’s because I am turning 40 and feeling my age acutely in this moment. I don’t know.

  2. I’m right there with you. My youngest is 16 months and I am 38. I panic a lot about how she is getting older so fast. Now you’ve reminded me – I’m getting older too! AHHHHH!

  3. Ella Jackson says:

    You leave out a critical factor – the father! Most couples aren’t waiting 10 years to have children, women are taking longer to find men to settle down with and have children. There was no option for me to have a child at 26, as I certainly at that stage in life and career could not have done it without a partner. I now (age 38) have an amazing husband, who will be a fantastic dad, as soon as we have a baby….

    • Allison Slater Tate says:

      I actually didn’t leave that out — I mentioned that it takes time to find the right partner! LOL. I know that it does, in fact, take two people to make a baby. I was lucky to find my partner early on, but some of my best friends had longer journeys. You can’t control everything. But I didn’t mean you should — I just meant that it does affect things, the passage of time. We only have so much. That’s all I meant by that. I wish you the best of luck making that baby — I hope you are blessed exactly when you hope to be. :)

  4. My four grandparents were between 36 – 50 when my parents were born, and they lived long lives, helping my parents on the farm until I was in high school. My mother had the 4 of us from age 18 – 23. She was killed at age 58 (I was 36) by a drunk driver. Life is sorely unpredictable. I had my daughter at 41 and had a textbook pregnancy and natural delivery. It was the perfect time for me to have a baby. I don’t find myself worrying about age. I know that I have been a calmer, happier, more appreciative parent this time, than when I raised my stepkids in my 20s & 30s. I may have one more day with her, or I could live to see her grandchildren. What ifs are a waste of time.

    • Allison Slater Tate says:

      Sue, you are right — life is incredibly, painfully, frustratingly unpredictable. I don’t spend tons of time thinking about this, but I can’t claim it doesn’t sit in the corner of my head. I don’t think I waste time thinking about it. I think it just informs how I live my life. I think that’s okay, as long as I don’t let it hold me back or make me miserable.

  5. This is so timely for me. We’ve been thinking a lot about having a third and I’ve been OBSESSING over what that would mean (esp. since my husband is older). On the other hand, my dad died when I was in my 20s so it’s not like you ever know what will happen. And as painful as it was for me to lose my dad so young, we were so, so close and obviously I am glad that I had him for whatever time I could have him. But that’s a little different than going into it knowing you might be consigning your kids to the same fate… But then my youngest is 5, is it that much difference? In a lifetime? Should that be the deciding factor?

    • Allison Slater Tate says:

      No, it’s not the deciding factor, and it shouldn’t be. And 5 is not that much difference. :) Children are gifts no matter when they come — and I feel like if you think you might want a third, you should GO FOR IT. But it does affect the way you feel about time. It does — maybe for the better! I hope you keep me posted on this.

  6. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.

  7. I never dreamed I would become a mother at 24, but when I did, I distinctly remember realizing that I would have so much of my life with this amazing little girl child. Now I’m having another at 28 and I’m concurrently juggling a writing career plus growing a small business, both of which come after my daughter, my daughter-to-be and their brother (my stepson) too. Yes, I can understand why women wait. My ambitions, though intense and encompassing, are not all-encompassing. My career does not come first. And though I struggle with this some days, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like you said “I want to see as much of their stories as I can.”

    • Allison Slater Tate says:

      Definitely, Lucy. I just think of everything as stories. It will kill me not to know the end of theirs — even though I certainly wouldn’t want the alternative. Like I said, not rational.

  8. It is depressing to think about, but all we can do is make the most of the time we have with them now.

  9. My husband’s parents had him, an only, late in life – she was 43, and that was 45 years ago! – and we regrettably had our only child late as well – I was 37. I do worry about not having enough time with our daughter, just as you. But now we also have the added stress of caring for his elderly parents while trying to enjoy our daughter’s childhood. Trust me when I say that this is not ideal. We are the so-called sandwich generation. A nice green salad would be much preferred.

    • Allison Slater Tate says:

      LOL on the green salad, Elizabeth. My parents are taking care of my grandparents, so I kind of see this happening. I feel like I am in the middle — the beginning of the middle, but the middle. I agree, it’s not comfortable.

  10. I 100% understand where you’re coming from since I had my first at 27 and my fourth at 35. And hopefully others get that you’re not saying there’s better and worse. Only different, and that’s so true.

  11. I always enjoy reading your posts, and though I’m not yet a mother, I always find great life lessons in them.
    I wanted to comment on this post, because it’s a recurring thought and theme in my life. I’m 32 and trying for my first baby. We’ve been trying for about ten months, and we are certain that the right time will come along. On the other side of this, we want at least two children, and in my heart – I’d like to have three. My husband and I didn’t meet until 30 (got married within four months), so we’ve gotten started on trying for our family quickly in our relationship, but … I’m 32 and just getting going on this and it’s taking awhile to become pregnant (again, I’m at peace about this).
    My mother had me at 40. My father was 55. He passed away when I was in my teens, and my mom turns 73 this month. Despite having an older sister, I’m the great hope for grandchildren for our mom. It breaks my heart that she is already at this stage of life and doesn’t have her beloved grand-babies. I can’t realistically expect her to baby-sit throughout the whole work-week either. No matter how quickly I get pregnant, then we’ve got months of growing the thing and I just see my mom getting older and that makes me sad. I always had parents who were older than everyone else’s. And here I am, potentially repeating the cycle for my own children. I have a soft goal to cram all my child-bearing years in my 30s, so once this party gets rolling, it’s going to be busy!

    Still… my husband was worth the wait. And he’s six years younger than I am, so he will keep me young too. I wouldn’t and couldn’t do anything differently. My mom is funny and child-like, full of creativity and love, and maybe she needs more rest on shopping days, and maybe she can’t quite roll around on the floor with babies, but she will give it everything she has… no missed smiles or hugs. No missed relationships.

    And on the other side of this life, I hope that I’m able to glimpse what my children are doing, and show them that I’m interceding for their lives. The day will come again when we all get to share our stories face to face. <3

  12. Allison, I’m right there with ya!

  13. I do the math all the time and it sucks! I was the same age as you when I had baby #4. I so wanted one more- but I couldn’t make the MATH work, especially with my husband, who is 4 years older and did not want to attend his child’s high school graduation in his 60s! Can’t say I blame him. It also resonates with me, because neither on of my parents lived long enough to reach their 60s.

  14. I had my first child when I was 29 and my second at 32. People ask us ALL the time if we are going to have a third. I would love another baby, but I constantly do the math. More importantly, I constantly do the math of my parent’s age. It does take a village to raise these little bundles and it is hard to grasp the idea that my parents are not going to be around forever to help. I know you have mention in a couple of past post about aging parents. It is by far a very weird phase to be entering and I would do anything to stop it!

  15. For what it’s worth, they you love her, all of you, it seems to pack more time into each minute.
    xo

  16. Great post! I’m 36, have two young kids, and just had a miscarriage. We are debating whether we should try again. I say it’s now or never!

  17. Hi there from suburbia. I love the article. I had my first baby at 24, then was a single parent for over ten years, doubted I would ever meet someone amazing then met my hubby at 31 (go Tigers as well!). We were told we would never have children without serious fertility treatments and even then it would be a stretch, gave up and then ended up pregnant spontaneously at 38. We were overjoyed and thought that was it! Here I am pregnant at 41 and the Math sometimes makes me nervous too.
    My mom had me at 36, back then that was “really old” and she died when I was 19. My mom’s mom, had her last two at 43 and 45. She lived to be 100, so you never know how it will work out. Still, I treasure these last two pregnancies in a way I did not at 24. I was arrogant about fertility, and assumed all was possible before me. I know these last 2 are gifts from God, and I am humbled and grateful everyday. I wish I was younger, but I will have different gifts to share with them!

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