Innovations in contraceptive devices and the demand for education often put the idea of marriage and children on the back burner – that’s if we even manage to put it on the stove at all. Recently a USA Today investigation declared America is the “most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth,” and it seemed many peoples’ knee-jerk reaction was to delegate blame to a perceived lack of healthcare or cases of malpractice. However, the issue is potentially deeper than just an issue with the status of healthcare. In the recent pregnancy-related mortality report, there was a really important statement we should take a closer look at: “Pregnancy-related mortality ratios increased with maternal age…”³
The risk of dying due to complications during pregnancy increases as we get older. According to Obstetrics & Gynecology, 30.9% of the pregnancy-related deaths during 2010-2013 were women older than 35 years old, even though they only accounted 15% of all births. The biggest overall contributing factors were cardiovascular and other medical conditions, which have been steadily increasing in prevalence as more and more American women have chronic health issues or are obese. Traditionally it was hemorrhage, hypertension, preeclampsia, and blood clots that comprised the largest contributions to Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), but these have been steadily declining.³
Although having a baby at an older age puts a woman at a higher risk of complications, that is just what is happening to the average American Mother: she is aging.
According to the CDC National Vital Statistics System the average age for first-time mother is 26.6 years old – a record high in America4. A New York Times article looking into factors that may be affecting this age increase found that when split into subcategories based on marital status and education, there was a clear distinction that arose: married or college-educated women have their first child around 5-7 years later than their single or degree-less counterparts. These women have chosen to postpone having a child until after they get married or have earned their degree and entered the workforce. But 26 doesn’t seem too old, right? No, it doesn’t. However, the average age isn’t increasing because there are more women having children in their mid- or late-20s, it is actually because the number of women having their first child in their fourth and fifth decades of life has increased.
More and more women are having children later in life. According to the latest CDC birth report (for the year 2016), birthrates for all ages under 30 are decreasing. The rates of children born to women in their early 20s is down 4% since 2015, while late 20s is down 2%. In fact, teen pregnancy rates have dropped by half in the last decade. Simultaneously, for the first time on record, the number of women having babies in the 30-34 age group has surpassed the 25-29 cohort.4 Today we live in a world were becoming a Mother can indeed wait – or so we are led to think.
Society tells us we should wait to have kids, to not worry, that you can have it all – your career AND your family. Simply swallow down your daily dose of hormones and power through your bachelor’s degree and beyond, then when you leave the hallowed halls of academia, go climb the corporate ladder, all without worrying about a pregnancy complicating things. We are told not to concern ourselves with our age; it is just a number, as more and more women are able to have kids late and later in life. While this is true, IVF pregnancies still carry a 1 in 5 chance of miscarriages, and the babies are born earlier and smaller on average. Studies have even shown the burden of IVF miscarriages carries a higher incidence of psychological trauma.1
In waiting, it seems we have consequently put ourselves at higher risk of complications for when we do decide to finally have children, especially if we have compounding risk factors. It is even a potential risk to the baby, as studies have shown infant mortality is linked with gestational time and birth weight, both of which statistically decrease with increased maternal age and IVF treatments.5
Waiting to have children may be the best thing economically and vocationally, but maybe it isn’t necessarily the best choice when it comes to our physical and psychological health after all.
One other point, but this one is a hypothetical query: If a woman is 35 when her first child is born and her child is likewise 35 when they have their first child, based on the average lifespan, she will only get to have about 10 years with her grandchild. How much would she miss seeing? Ballet recitals, Pop Warner football games, the crowning achievements made on their road to adulthood. How much will the child miss not having their grandparents around? Death is inevitable for us all, the only other assured thing in life besides taxes, but if we get to live the average lifespan, how much do we sacrifice by choosing to put our children behind everything else in life? This is not the rumination and introspection of one in their early 20s nowadays, but perhaps we should be so forward thinking when we make a decision that will affect the course of our life.
So we have to ask ourselves this question: is waiting to have kids worth the risk? Is it worth putting off children until we have been settled with our spouse for years and have been in our career for the ‘right amount of time’? Is it worth putting your health on the line, or the health of your future newborn? Is it worth the risk of missing out on the joy of grandchildren and watching them grow up? I believe society is right that we can indeed have it all – we can have our education, we can have our career, and we can have our family. This is 2018! Why do we so often believe that one necessarily has to come at the expense of the other?
In the end, it is a personal choice. It is a choice to make based on what you decide is best for your life and health and that of your baby – not just what society decides is the “proper” pathway. Weigh all the risks, then make your choice.
1Cheung, C., Chan, C., & Ng, E. (2013). Stress and anxiety-depression levels following first-trimester miscarriage: A comparison between women who conceived naturally and women who conceived with assisted reproduction. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology,120(9), 1090-1097. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12251
2Creanga, A. A., Berg, C. J., Syverson, C., Seed, K., Bruce, F. C., & Callaghan, W. M. (2015). Pregnancy-Related Mortality in the United States, 2006–2010. Obstetrics & Gynecology,125(1), 5-12. doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000000564
3Creanga, A. A., Syverson, C., Seed, K., & Callaghan, W. M. (2017). Pregnancy-Related Mortality in the United States, 2011–2013. Obstetrics & Gynecology,130(2), 366-373. doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000002114
4Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Osterman, M. J., Driscoll, A. K., & P. D. (2018). Births: Final Data for 2016. PsycEXTRA Dataset,67(1).
5Mathews, T. J., MacDorman, M. F., & Thoma, M. E. (2007). Infant Mortality Statistics from the 2013 Period Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set. PsycEXTRA Dataset,64(9).