I recently shared this Marie Claire (UK) article about women waiting longer to give birth and it sparked a few questions that got me to thinking even more.
‘The rising numbers of women conceiving for the first time in their 30s or 40s follows a trend we have seen over the past decade, although the number conceiving over 40 is still relatively small,’ says Elizabeth Duff, a senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust.
ONS [Office of National Statistics] figures show that in 1990, 229,400 pregnancies occurred in women over 30, with 12,000 of those conceived by women in their 40s. By 2009, this figure had risen by 55% to 356,300 births, with the number among women over 40 more than doubling.
While the article is based on findings from the UK-based ONS, I’m pretty sure that the same trend applies to the United States too.
I’ll be 30 later on this year and I don’t have any children. I don’t plan on having any in the next four years if my birth control has anything to say about it. The piece cites education and career goals, the costs of raising a family, and waiting for the right partner as the main reasons why women are waiting. Add in the advances to modern medicine – longer life-spans for both men and women, fertility treatments, and prenatal care – and that biological clock doesn’t seem to be ticking by at double-time so much these days1. Of course the societal, if not medical, pressure to parent sooner than later is still very strong. I think there are some cultural expectations to take into consideration here, but as a young (still under 30!) Black woman, the messages have felt very mixed as of late.
You might not know it just by reading the statistics about teen pregnancy in the Black community2, but growing up, it was repeatedly stressed that neither I nor my girls were to get pregnant. At home, in school, in sports and other extra-curricular activities, the message was the same – if you get pregnant you’ll ruin your life. If you get pregnant you’re on your own. If you get pregnant you won’t get out of this small, upstate NY town. If you get pregnant you’ll be on welfare. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Now I can tell you for sure that while we heard all of those warnings, we didn’t all heed them. I have plenty of friends and classmates who got pregnant in middle and high school and to be honest, many of them are doing just fine. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find one of them who wishes she didn’t wait.
So for almost as long as I can remember, I was told to put my education first, make sure I could always take care of myself, and don’t get pregnant. As an adult, however, the messages have started to change and people now look at you with suspicion because you don’t push a stroller or schedule play-dates. Amid all of this “Black women can’t find a man” and “no wedding, no womb” hullabaloo as of late, it’s almost as though not having a child is evidence of how you’ve somehow failed to come down off of your high horse to meet a man and procreate. So what’s a woman to do?
While I definitely plan to wait, some recent developments have caused me to think about my age and childbearing. It has come to my attention that all of the women on my mother’s side of the family (my mom, her two sisters, and my grandmother) have all had partial or full hysterectomies due to cancer or fibroids in their late 40s and early 50s. This information has given me cause to reconsider whether I’ll be able to have kids at all should I continue to wait but I certainly don’t think it’s right for me to rush into pregnancy as a result. Instead, I’ll consult with my health care provider and together we’ll monitor the situation, making decisions as we go along. Certainly not all women would take the same approach.
I can’t speak for everyone but as for myself, I’ll be riding this IUD right into 2015 unless certain circumstances in my life begin to reflect the kind of environment in which I wish to become a parent. This means I’ll finish up this 2nd post-graduate degree, I’ll establish myself in a career of my choosing that’s both fulfilling and allows me to live comfortably, and I will travel to places I’ve wanted to visit since I could spin a globe. Why? Because those are the things my family has always wanted for me – without the burden (no disrespect to parents and children) of all the responsibilities that come with being a mom. They’re what I want for myself as well. I understand that there’s never really a “right time” to start a family but there are better, more appropriate and opportune times.
Are you 30-plus and waiting to become a mother? Is it by choice or for some other reason? As you get older, are you feeling pressure to parent?
1 – This is not to say that delaying birth is without its risks. See: CNN – More hurdles as women delay birth.
2 - Black women have the highest teen pregnancy rates - 126 per 1,000 women aged 15–19.