What's the perfect time to have a baby? When the urge strikes? After painstaking and meticulous planning? When -- surprise! -- Mother Nature says so?
These questions elicit different answers, depending on whom you ask. We got the real scoop from five mothers who had children at different phases of their lives.
The reasons for their timing vary, but the common thread is that they're all happy with the choice they've made -- and they're embracing the joys and challenges of raising kids with equal enthusiasm.
Became a mom at 21
- Children: Life, 2 1/2; Zinan, 11 months
- Why the time was right: My husband and I had been together since a year after high school, and we both wanted kids right after getting married. We like that we're young enough to remember our own childhoods as our kids are going through theirs, and it'll be great to still be youthful and energetic when our children are teenagers. Besides, I think pregnancy is easier on your body when you're younger, and you're less likely to have complications. I don't have a career to worry about at this point. I work as a waitress four nights a week; my husband, who manages a burglar-alarm company, watches the kids when I'm at the restaurant. But I'm also going to school part-time and hope to work as a teacher when my kids are in school so we can all be on the same schedule.
- Maternity Benefits: At my age, I have tons of energy, so all the demands of babies and toddlers aren't really overwhelming.
- Drawbacks: Money is an issue: We haven't been able to save a lot, and whatever extra we have goes to the kids. Also, most of our friends are still childless, and we don't have much in common with them anymore.
Became a mom at 30
- Children: Brittany, 4; Amber, 20 months; third child due in April
- Why the time was right: I didn't meet my husband, Victor, until after I'd graduated from college, and we weren't married until I was 27. I was working as a teacher at the time; he's a carpenter. We had actually planned on having children right away, but it took me two years to become pregnant -- which made me glad I didn't wait any longer. I always knew that I wanted to stay home full-time with my children, and by the time I became a mom, I was completely ready to make that kind of commitment. Being a good mother requires making a lot of sacrifices for the sake of your children, and I'm not sure I was prepared to do that when I was in my 20s.
- Maternity Benefits: I feel lucky, because I was able to enjoy the freedom of being single for a while before settling down. At the same time, I knew I wanted to have more than one child, so I'm glad I didn't postpone pregnancy for too long.
- Drawbacks: I suppose it might have been easier on my body if I'd been younger. I've gained 30 pounds as a result of my pregnancies. But I'm okay with my saggy breasts and bigger thighs; I'm not as obsessed with being thin as I might have been in the past.
Montclair, New Jersey
Became a mom at 35
- Child: Davin, 18 months
- Why the time was right: Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I was very focused on building my career in corporate finance and on seeing the world. Also, my husband and I had plenty of time alone together, traveling and pursuing our interests. Having a baby in my mid-30s was best for me because it allowed me to feel settled in my marriage and my career before starting a family. I think it can be difficult for women to do these things once they have kids. Besides, I'm a lot more mature and sure of myself now, and I felt it was the right time to get pregnant.
- Maternity Benefits: My husband and I are emotionally and financially secure enough to take care of a child. Plus, our daughter motivates us to take good care of ourselves. We want to stay healthy and have enough energy to keep up with her.
- Drawbacks: I realize the risk of complications in pregnancy increases after 35, but I was fortunate. I didn't have any problems. I also know there's a greater chance of genetic defects -- especially Down syndrome -- when the mom is older. Because of my age, my doctor recommended amniocentesis. The test was nerve-racking, but everything turned out okay.
New York, New York
Became a mom at 44
- Child: Olivia, 10 months
- Why the time was right: I thought I'd pretty much settled into being a single New York City woman. I had a career on Wall Street and a lot of friends, and was happy with my life. But I ended up meeting a great guy and getting married at 40. My husband was certain he wanted to have a baby; I was a little less sure. I worried, "Am I too old? Am I too set in my ways?" We decided to try, and we conceived right away. Luckily, my pregnancy was easy, and I felt great the whole time. (Of course, because of my age, I was advised to undergo all sorts of prenatal testing.) I delivered by C-section three weeks early because of some complications, but Olivia is perfectly healthy.
- Maternity Benefits: We are in a financial position where I could make the choice to stay home, which I wanted to do. I also think I'm a much better mom than I would have been when I was younger. I'm more even-keeled, and I don't get thrown by little things the way I used to. I'm satisfied taking each day as it comes.
- Drawbacks: We aren't going to have a second child -- mostly because of my age. We feel that might be pushing it. I'm also a bit out of sync with other moms I meet. Most of them are a lot younger than I am.
Became a mom at 51
- Child: Auriel, 2 1/2
- Why the time was right: I didn't have any children during my first marriage, which ended when I was 39. When I got married for the second time, at 44, I knew I wanted to have a baby and was running out of time. I got pregnant right away but had a miscarriage. After that, I thought it was too late to conceive naturally, and we decided against any kind of fertility treatments. But six years later, this pregnancy just happened -- and it came as a total surprise. We both were thrilled!
- Maternity Benefits: I feel this is the greatest time in my life to have a child. I have more self-knowledge, patience, and wisdom than I had even in my 40s. I'm motivated to take good care of myself, and -- fortunately -- I'm blessed with a high energy level.
- Drawbacks: Obviously, it's not easy for most women to conceive so late in life without fertility treatments. Another issue: Auriel's grandparents have all died, so she won't have them in her life. And there's a big generation gap in our family. One of my sisters-in-law has a granddaughter who's Auriel's age and a grandson who's 5. One more thing: People are always asking me whether I'm my daughter's grandma!
Copyright?: 2004 Nancy Colasurdo. Reprinted with permission of Parents magazine March 2004 issue.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.