by Nicole Loughan
My mother had three children before she was 30. My grandmother had four children before age 25. She started having babies straight out of high school. The math of these births always weighed on me. I couldn’t imagine being a teenager with a child. I vowed never to have kids at a young age. But now my perspective is different and I have one big regret. It’s a regret I had never heard anybody talk about, until recently, it’s that I wish I’d had kids at a younger age.
I was at a birthday party in Doylestown when I admitted this to a table full of mothers. Most of them were like me, past 30 with young children. We all had careers once that we had tossed aside. We all went through the rigors of college, then climbed the corporate ladder then had a baby and jumped off to go down the path of parenting. When I issued my regret to the group I worried that people wouldn’t understand, but to my surprise, everybody nodded in agreement. I didn’t know other people felt that way. Some women shared their stories of why they wished they too had their children younger. One woman said the recovery time was harder on her body because she was older. Another shared that having a baby near her 40s made it hard for her to have the energy to play when her daughter was a baby.
My regret is a touch of both of those, but the major reason I wish I’d had children earlier is family. When I was growing up I had both sets of grandparents and three great-grandparents. I had all of my energetic grandparents with me until I was fully grown. I’m afraid I’ve taken those relationships away from my children. They only have one remaining great-grandparent and I don’t think they will have grandparents into their 30’s like I did unless everybody lives past 100.
On the other hand, my cousin had a child before she could legally drive and she has a daughter with grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. Her baby has a grandmother who is only 40. By the time my cousin is my age her daughter will be in her 20s, while I still have preschoolers. Not saying that route was for me either, my teenage self was not ready, but somewhere in between, there had to have been a good start point for me.
I held off for a while influenced by the many people who shouted for me to “wait, wait, wait.” Then right around 28 that chorus changed to, “Are you EVER going to have children?” Why the sudden turnaround? Did I flip a switch at 28 signaling that my eggs were about to expire?
The most recent data provided by the Centers for Disease control states that the average age of first child is 26.3. In 1970, the average was 21.4. In Bucks County I suspect the average age of first child is even higher, with data showing that live births for women 20-29 is 2,230 and births to women over 30 is 3,318. And only 115 to women 18-19.
Surprisingly, reality TV has been suspected of influencing these trends. The averages for teen pregnancy dropped to historic lows after the airing of the MTV show 16 and Pregnant. On the show teenage girls are followed from pregnancy through the birth of their baby and beyond. The show focuses on the real troubles and challenges facing teen moms. That reality turned a lot of younger women off of the idea of having children young. Watching the show is a guilty pleasure, not that I envy the real problems of teen motherhood, but I love watching moms and babies. I don’t have the challenges many of them face and I wouldn’t want them for anybody. Many of the ladies can’t finish high school, can’t get a college education, they have to struggle for money to buy a home or pay for childcare. Some even struggle to find money for food and diapers. None of the parents I know in my demographic have to face those problems.
I wouldn’t trade in my stable life being married with a nice home, for anything. I also love knowing I have an education, and I can take care of myself, I did it for 15 years, but did I have to do it for so long?
It probably seems a very anti-feminist thing to say that I feel like I worked too long. My work life seems much less important than my current life. To my surprise I love having children more than I ever thought I would. If I would have known how much love and fulfillment parenthood would give me I would have done it sooner.
I’m saying this so there is another voice out there, one that doesn’t just say wait and wait and wait then turns on you when you hit 30 as if you’ve past your prime. My message is if you are stable, happy and ready to be a parent, why not? There are good reasons to have an education and stability, but there is no reason to become a highly paid executive first. You can if that is important to you, but you don’t have to. Feminism is all about choices and I let social pressure make me think my only choice was waiting until I was really successful to have a child, which made it all the harder to do. I had to give up a great job to become a parent, which filled me with guilt. I think I was always meant for the parenting path and I’m glad I eventually found it. I just wish I’d stepped off the career ladder and seen what was waiting for me on that path a little earlier.