By Megan Neville, Educational Services Assistant for Humanities and Budget Officer for NSF & GCAT Grants at Juniata College.
Tick, tick, tick. Can you hear that? What is that? It grows louder and louder as my pulse increases. Oh yes, the perpetual biological clock; constantly ticking away. Growing louder in my ears, especially now as I recently hit the 40 mark. Do I feel 40 years old? No, no. That doesn’t seem possible. 27 was just a few years ago. Oh wait.
Let’s face reality: I am 40. I put my career first before a family; just as several of my fellow female colleagues did as well. I thought that was the right thing to do at the time. I had so much to do, to see. I set goals for myself that I wished to accomplish. Now I wonder… Did I make the right decision? Will I pay the consequences for being an older wife or mother should that opportunity arise? These are just a small sample of the millions of questions that float through my head throughout the day. I now have quickly have come to recognize the “look” from my mother, my older friends and acquaintances that wonder why I’m not married and don’t have children yet.
So, what gives? Why are women delaying their opportunity to have children until later? Could it be that women as a whole, myself included, are opting to choose career over family? Or is the family option still ever-present, just placed on the back-burner? “There are so many factors involved. First off, more young people are using effective contraceptives…that weren’t used in younger women initially. More importantly, women are obtaining higher degrees and taking more time to achieve career goals, which means they are putting off having their first child until later,” (Kelly, 2016).
Women are finding that if they do wait to start a family, they potentially increase their own working class status through drive and diligence; working up the corporate ladder. Which in return, theoretically increases their economic situation for, not only themselves, but also in planning for their future. Furthermore, by carving the path for others to follow, women who wait to begin their families are often in a higher position in which they may create “or set policies that they and their female employees would benefit from, like offering paid maternity and paternity leave or allowing flexible work schedules,” (Kincaid, 2015). “Women want to accomplish specific goals, to have certain experiences, to be in a relationship with the right partner, to be financially and emotionally stable, or any combination of these factors,” (Gregory, 2007).
Looking back at my life, I’ve been very fortunate to have had incredible experiences where I’ve traveled all over the United States, traveled internationally, grown within the field of higher education by helping students and administrators, obtained an advanced degree (still weighing the options of pursuing my doctorate degree) and have made countless connections and friends all over the world that work within education. I would never trade any of these experiences as they all have brought me to where I am now. Yet, I question, am I missing out on the family factor? A majority of my friends have had children and they are balancing being brilliant, working mothers. They seem to have it together. Would I as an older potential wife or mother be able to balance as easily as someone who might be younger?
As Gregory (2007) explains, women that begin families at a later age have several benefits; “There is a stronger family focus, as women greatly appreciate their children and the opportunity to have a family. It is a desired factor. Self-confidence is present as a result of accomplishments and self-confident women can be especially able advocates and models for kids. Studies continue to show that older mothers could potentially have fewer health issues and add life longevity. In addition, older mothers are often much more stable financially than their younger counterparts, which therefore reduces stress levels in both parenting as well as marriage.”
There are disadvantages that must be examined as well. The most obvious reduced fertility rates. It is a proven fact that women’s fertility rates begin to fall at the age of 32. It decreases again between the ages of 35 to 37 and falls again sharply after the ages of 40 to 44. However, fertility is not impossible. In addition, alternative options such as adoption and in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be possible. Kincaid (2015) writes, “Miscarriages and a number of complications due to pregnancy, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure are more common for women over the age of 35.” However, multiple doctors have stated that with monitored, frequent check-ups, healthy pregnancies may be achieved. Gregory (2007) goes on to say that another disadvantage of being an older parent is having smaller families. Due to the fact that women start later, they are limited in the number of children to which they may give birth. Many couples often stop with just one. Finally, there is another obvious factor that “older mothers could have lower energy levels. However, many new parents respond by working harder to stay fit,” (Gregory, 2007).
We can clearly see there are pros and cons to both sides of the story. Either way, women, as a whole, are having children at a later age. This is largely due to the fact that career paths are chosen first and personal and professional goals are set to be accomplished. Is this a bad thing? In my humble opinion, not in the least. Women are becoming more independent and self-sufficient, finding that they can live a fulfilled and successful life as a single. However, for others, family life continues to be desired. So, the pinnacle, personal question comes into play: Would I be ready to be a wife or mother? After conducting the research for this blog and with careful debate, I definitely would consider, with the right partner. Keeping true to my stance since I was a young girl, I never give up hope and I never let anyone tell me that my dreams or goals cannot be achieved. We shall see…
Gregory, Elizabeth, 2007, Ready: Why Women Are Embracing The New Later Motherhood, Basic Books, Pgs. 8-10, 12-26.
Kelly, Johnna, 2016, American women waiting longer to have kids, http://www.ahchealthenews.com/2016/01/20/american-women-waiting-longer-to-have-kids/, accessed 1/27/17.
Kincaid, Ellie, 2015, Business Insider: Why having kids later is a really big deal, http://www.businessinsider.com/why-delaying-parenthood-and-having-kids-later-is-a-big-deal-2015-6. Accessed 1/27/17.