“I have never been an adult without being a mum”: how women decide when to have children
Written by Lauren Crosby Medlicott
Hear from women who had babies at different ages about what they have sacrificed, why they chose to have children at that age, any judgment they received from others, and what some of the joys (and challenges) of having children at different ages have been.
I gave birth to my first child when I was 25, and by 30, I had three little boys running circles around me each hour of the day.
Checking out after food shops, I remember cashiers looking at my overflowing trolley and three rambunctious boys, and asking if they all belonged to me. “Yep, all mine,” I would say with a smile.
I have no regrets about having my children young, but it has put any chance of a career on hold. Now, at 34, I’m finding my feet; all my kids are now in full-time schools, while I’m pursuing a new career and finding hobbies I never knew I would have.
“There is no ‘best’ time to become a mother,” said Catherine Hallissey, a chartered psychologist. “More women are taking longer to form long-term partnerships because they’re spending longer in education and focusing on establishing their careers, and medical advances like IVF are making it possible to have babies later in life. Many people are also put off having babies until they are financially stable due to the costs of raising children, particularly the costs of childcare.”
New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the average age of mothers in England and Wales has now reached 31 years, with the number of women giving birth over the age of 40 now double that of those giving birth as teenagers.
There is a wide range of reasons why women are having their children later in life. And, as Hallissey says, there is no best time to become a mother, but I can’t overlook the advantages of having children at different times in life.
“Physiologically, it’s easier to get pregnant in your 20s and early 30s, as fertility rates decline over time,” she said. “Younger parents may feel they have more energy than older parents.”
Uta Boellingeris a nutritionist in Brighton who became pregnant with her son at the age of 18. Even though the pregnancy wasn’t planned, it wasn’t an accident either. “I remember really wanting a baby,” the now 37-year-old said. “But I didn’t think it made sense rationally.”
Giving birth at 19, Uta felt she had lots of energy that the demands of motherhood required. As her son aged, she has been able to stay active with him and relate well given the relatively small age gap.
As her son grew, Uta said motherhood made her “goal-oriented” and gave her the drive to build a career. By her early 30s, she’d completed a nutrition course and set up her own business.
“The obvious challenge was the lack of financial security,” she said, reflecting on those early years of motherhood. “The first few years were so tough, and we were always struggling to pay the bills and afford the basics. That was hard and stressful, and it placed a lot of stress on our relationship [with her son’s father].”
Uta’s son recently turned 18, and Uta has been reflecting on how young she was when she had him. “I can see now he is just a child,” she said. “When I had him, I thought I was a grown-up, but looking back I realise that I was just a child myself. I have never been an adult without being a mum. In a way, this means that I’ve never known any different. Being a mum is such a big part of my identity that I have no idea who I would be without having had him at 19.”
Even though Uta has no regrets about having her son as a teenager, she wouldn’t necessarily recommend others do the same.
“I think if I’d waited just a couple of years things would have been easier financially, and I would have enjoyed it more,” she said. “However, having a child so young motivated me to really make the most of things and gave me focus and drive. I do believe it’s one of the key things that led me to success.”
While there may be physiological advantages to having babies earlier, there may be other reasons to hold off until a bit later.
“Older parents tend to have more accumulated wisdom and greater levels of patience because they are under less financial pressure,” said Hallissey. “They may have more time to dedicate to childbearing as their careers are likely already established and are also likely to have greater emotional maturity than younger parents.”
Lucy Baker, a 47-year-old blogger, confidence coach and mum of three living in Lincolnshire, didn’t once consider having children in her 20s. She had finished her university degree, was working in London, travelling and having lots of fun. “I had partied, worked, enjoyed London and travelled the world – I feel so grateful that I was able to do all of this before I had my family,” she said. “I just wasn’t ready [to have kids]. I had no self-confidence in my 20s and 30s, and because of this, I wasn’t in tune with myself as a person. Looking back, I think motherhood would have been a big struggle for me and really was the very last thing on my list. I am pleased I waited until I was a little bit older to have my children.”
At 33, she became pregnant with her first of three children, and after giving birth, she remembered it taking a long time to get her head around the fact she was a mother. Even now after having all her children, she misses the freedom of being childfree.
“Life with three children is about appointments, washing, homework, cooking, shopping, child admin, and so on – it’s a lot,” she says. “I’m a mother and personal assistant, and I live by my online calendar. That is without my own work being factored in. But I don’t think it is being an older mum that altered my identity, I think general motherhood did that.”
When she became pregnant with her last baby at 42, she remembered feeling judged by people around her. “My midwife gasped when I told her my date of birth at my booking appointment,” Lucy recalled. “One school mum reminded me I was going to be 47 when the baby started school, and others asked if my baby was a mistake.”
Aside from the judgment, Lucy has had a positive experience of being what is officially classed as a geriatric mum. “I enjoyed pregnancy so much,” she said. “I am more confident in my 40s and feel my increased life experience is an asset. I am calmer, more content, and this gives me more parenting skills because I listen to my gut and go with what I believe to be right no matter what others think.”
Even when she was surviving on just a few hours’ sleep in her 40s, she said she still felt and good and was proud of being his mother. “I have no regrets,” she said. “I’ve never one moment felt like it was the wrong thing to do.”
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