Should we have babies by 29?

The Australian Newspaper

On this Mother’s Day weekend, and with a teenage daughter of my own, there’s something I want to canvass opinions on. What’s the latest time in a woman’s life that she should have kids?

The reason I ask is that, as peri-menopause creeps up on me, I find I haven’t got the energy or the patience to manage our mutual hormonal dysfunctions. I anger easily, and often wonder about the decision I made to nurture my career like a mother-hen until it was old enough to walk. Did I leave child-bearing too late?

To my dismay, I’ve started thinking that perhaps 34 wasn’t the time to give birth. It puts the teenage years smack-bang in the middle of a woman’s least tolerant period of her life. Without solid levels of oestrogen to smooth things over, there’s no “love-in” going on in my brain. Our kids deserve to enjoy their rotten, rebellious, hormonal teenager years without competing with a rotten, rebellious, hormonal mother like myself.

A staunch feminist, growing up with Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer as my role models, I’ve always urged young girls to passionately embrace a career. Besides, very few of us have the luxury of single income families nowadays. But many of us dearly want children too, and there’s never a right time to leave a career to have kids. It’s always damaging to take those years off. We do fall behind our peers, no matter what PR spin we put on it.

Given this cold, hard fact, perhaps we might just as well leave work younger. And is there a time when it’s simply too late to have kids?

Mystics consider the 40s and 50s to be the time of the Magi, the Wise Woman. The time of reaping what we’d planted, the golden autumn of life. Many of us have a deep longing to be “selfic” (as in self-centric rather than “selfish”) before it’s too late. Instead, we’re increasingly finding ourselves laden with young children, mortgages, sick or ageing parents, relationship “ishoos” and our patience drying up with the hormones. Biologically, our brains aren’t built to be tilling the soil in our reaping years.

I watched a documentary on photographer Annie Leibovitz, 61, with three little ones around her feet during a Vogue cover shoot; the eldest was born when she was 51. She seemed content and fulfilled; the kids did, too. What’s the secret? A good nanny? A good regime of HRT? Maybe hormone replacement is the answer to this moral dilemma. Or should women simply go back to having bubs by 29? I need your opinions.



, , , ,

71 Responses to Should we have babies by 29?

  1. Rose 24 May 2011 at 1:55 am #

    Such interesting comments from everyone!! Thanks for the support, Pat. Everyone here in Austria seems like the rest of Europe – in full denial. I’ll be dead and buried when the chickens come home to roost on this one. Can I put it another way? How long can the West preserve its high standard of living if it won’t procreate at a replacement rate whilst inviting anyone and everyone from elsewhere in the world to come to “the party”. Not rocket science, I’m afraid. Have your babies whilst you can, and have 2 or 3 so that they belong in a heirarchy which isn’t just “all about me”.

  2. Pat 20 May 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    I’m with you, Andrea. Had my 3 children by the time I was 28. Makes physical sense to have your children young, and be fit and energetic enough to enjoy them – and then your grandchildren whilst still healthy and active. Obviously not everyone has biological control of when they have their children, but to choose to put off a family for a career? What sort of freedom of choice is that, ladies – a career instead of a child. No comparison and very sad. If you career ladies are so efficient, you should be able to organise both – without missing out on anything. #63 Josephine, I know plenty of “crap older mothers” and everyone should take note of #66 Sue’s comments. Hear you loud and clear!

  3. Andrea 20 May 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Everyone’s circumstances are different, however, it is often mother nature who makes the final decision. I have never regretted having my children at ages 25 and 26. I have 3 wonderful grandsons of 10 down to 5. At 62 I wouldn’t have it any other way. Physically I have enjoyed being able to keep up with them, as well as a varied and fulfilling life of my own. But I do caution those who think they are in control of their decisions on when they procreate. For many they discover too late that “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.

  4. susan cross 20 May 2011 at 10:22 am #

    How, I’ve stewed about this question! Being at the stage in life where I have to cover the grey hair, I thought I had learnt most lessons. However, this particular topic causes much angst. Recently, a close friend while going through a macerating divorce spent hours on the phone asking advice or ‘venting’. Now, she is in a great relationship but I saw her making ALL the same mistakes, the mistakes she vowed she wouldn’t make, yet again. Do I as a friend talk to her about it? Well, I penned (electronically!) a very gentle letter, saying I was concerned for her. She phoned to say she wasn’t happy with the email, but understood that it came from love for her. However, the truth is, I’ve FINALLY learnt the lesson. Never EVER EVER give advice unless you are point blank asked for it. Even if you feel you are ‘not being a good friend’ in keeping quiet It’s a shame but true. I certainly don’t think one should ‘comment’ on other peoples children, pets, spouses, family and their taste in art. Just keep it to yourself or talk to the flowers!

  5. Gerda 15 May 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Hallo, thinking about kids
    Would you have liked an old mother. What do children feel when their
    classmates call out ” Look your grany is picking you up !!
    I feel sorry for these kids thei get bullied too

  6. Grace B 15 May 2011 at 11:33 am #

    For years I toiled with the misapprehension that I would find an Australian male with whom I would fall in love, marry, and have a family. I dated a string of men who were consumed with the idea that marriage was the last thing on their minds, and that pretty young women like me were to be used and discarded. That didn’t suit me.
    If I weren’t so well endowed, I would have been happy to burn my bra, because the status quo in the 60s when Aussie men considered women as an object, was completely unacceptable. Clearly the only path for anyone with a modicum of intelligence was to put oneself into a position where one had a choice. Therefore a career became a necessity.
    When I hear of men who find “true love” with a woman from a culture where females are subservient, and are critical of women from first world cultures, it tells me who they are.
    Power to the women who can do it all – motherhood, career, and whatever else she wants to do.
    This is an open discussion, and if having and expressing an opinion is feminist …. ROFLOL!!!

  7. Sue 14 May 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    More great comments since I’ve submitted mine. I would like to note that non-Western immigrants into western countries are having children at many more times the rate of their western counterparts. (I’m living in Austria and I see Western European young couples walking around with dogs and immigrants with lots and lots of kids). This will have huge implications for the future, and I don’t think I have to spell this out. It think it is definitely something to think about, but I daresay nobody is going to procreate for the good of the country. Just be aware that the ‘country’ as we would know it won’t remain what we know it to be for very long. Already Austrians are lamenting that their new arrivals are not interested at all in conventional sports and they fear they won’t have an olympic winter sports contingent in future generations. Who’d have thought….?

  8. Traci Brown 14 May 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Dear Ruth,

    Your question is such a necessary one. I have been discussing this with several family members and we all agreed that young is better. Unfortunately for women it is realistically not possible to have it all so choices must be made about career and children as both consume enormous amounts of energy and time. It is a debate that will continue to be of great importance but at the end of the day it comes down to personal choice.

  9. Essy 14 May 2011 at 4:00 am #

    Dear Ruth,
    So glad I have found the blog online debate.
    Have children when it feels right to you.
    Menopause is like many other women’s things – women are there own worst enemies. Whether it’s survivng birth, PMT, breast feeding, child rearing et al. Women set themselves up. ‘I sailed through this’ so therefore there are no problems whatsoever. Being upfront seems to be badly thought of. Acknowledge women are hormonal, emotional and all different.
    Tips for surviving menopause – give HRT a go, get some herbal things like a liver tonic & vitex, have plenty of tea, bikkies and a nice drop of rose or choose all three like me.

  10. Josephine 13 May 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Hello Ruth,
    I enjoyed this piece in the weekend papers as it’s something I think about a lot. My mother was only 16 when she fell pregnant with me and I was raised with her frustrations over all the things she never managed to achieve in her life because motherhood came first. As a consequence, I put off having children but fell pregnant at 40 to the most beautiful child in the world 🙂 I’m 46 now and would love a sibling for her but I am not in favour of IVF for myself and it doesn’t look as if it’s likely to happen. For that reason alone, I would always urge younger women not to pull of having children as I’d love to have had siblings for my daughter and also you hopefully can expect a longer life span to enjoy the grandchildren.
    I think every case is different – I know plenty of crap younger mothers – but it is difficult to cope with the broken sleep the most when your hormones are in a very premenopausal state.
    On the plus side, I”m far more patient than I would have been younger and was ready to give up my day-job to spend more time with my daughter (despite the big financial strain that put upon us) because I appreciated the fact that this was my only chance to see her magical development. I don’t think motherhood is an easy job no matter whether you are 16 or 40 but if you want to have siblings for your children then I think it’s a game better left to the younger ones. Really enjoyed the comments on this topic. It’s definitely a complex subject and an important one for this time in our society. Good luck with your daughter. I can’t imagine the teenage hormone years as our six year old is already challenging enough. xx

  11. Sue 12 May 2011 at 1:23 pm #


    A great debate. I too had a very strong reaction to the ‘should we have babies by 29?’ ..not unlike Tanya’s, in fact, so it is a shame that you did to her what you patronised her for – but not to be put off… I am reacting to a perceived recent trend to in the media to encourage young women to stay at home and have children. The idea is suggested subtly -a question by you on the back of an apparently negative article of having teenage children during the menopause. Several recent news items on the ‘new’ scientific evidence that the pill is drastically bad for our health or that having children later in life is more likely to cause neurological impairment in children because sperm and eggs are less viable. (No I am not into conspiracy theories but yes I am a ‘little’ cynical and I question the sudden bias of information given!). I also take issue with Michael #30 and sincerely hope he doesn’t inflict himself on a woman from any culture. Not least because he appears to be happy to tell us of his travels to discover the world and himself , while espousing that young women stay at home and have children, all the while ranting against ‘bra burning feminists’ and the career/child bearing debate. Never once does he mention that many women would not need to face this dilemma if their partners stayed at home to raise the children (yes fathers do make an equally good job of parenting if they are raised in a community where it is valued). Or is that a debate for another day?
    I grew up in the same era as you Ruth – where suddenly women could do anything/ everything and were encouraged to do so. Of course with time and experience I have come to realise that this was an impossible standard – trying to be the perfect mother while being a highly successful top executive(or whatever career pinnacle you wish to climb) in a competitive work place is a hard ask and left so many of my friends and peers exhausted and feeling like they have done neither job as well as they would have wished. Education and a range of information is all we can hope for people hoping to be parents so that they can make the choice that is right for them. So thanks to my bra burning sisters of yester year who have ensured that we have a choice and who render this debate not a moot point!

  12. lupa 12 May 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Hi Ruth . The reason Annie Lebovitz has three small children at 61 is that the eldest is an IVF baby (and a very lucky happenstance at 51) and the twins are via a surrogate, which is a whole new set of moral dilemmas.
    There’s no such thing as the right time to have a child. And no way a parent can build a picket fence round normal family (human) tensions, with kids or others. All one can do is go with it and know that too will pass.Good luck.

  13. Sue 12 May 2011 at 1:39 am #

    Very interesting comments/discussion. My daughter is 28 and has no boyfriend on the horizon and I worry about her “use-by date”. She has burned the candle at both ends and I think this is why she is without a decent man in her life. There are many who could say that too, I’ll bet. I had all my 4 children by 33 and then went to university, completed 3 degrees, started piano and went to 8th grade and then entered a career as a teacher. Full time work started when my daughter (the youngest) was 14. I am proud of my achievements and my 4 wonderful children. Scoop: I have little appetite for grandparenthood and my husband and I are living in Vienna for a year indulging my passion for classical music and his for travel and the Austrian Alps. I don’t want to return to Australia!! Parenting has made me selfish for the good life, so the answer to your question is, “yes, it’s too late after about 34 for a meaningful life after parenting where you still have the energy for retirement and new adventures. But, best of luck to everyone anyway.

  14. Ruth Ostrow 11 May 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    Hello all, just a quick check in to answer some of your replies and thank you for this rigorous debate. It has been very eye opening for me, especially to be reminded that many of us don’t have a choice. Financial difficulties, biological issues, and no partner can delay child bearing regardless of what our bodies minds and souls want. There really are no free choices in life, rather dealing with the cards we are dealt the best we can. But one issue that does continue to disturb me…what about babies at 7o like they are now doing in india with the trend to IVF having really taken off????

  15. Ruth Ostrow 11 May 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    Thank you Kathleen so lovely to hear from a regular reader. I love your comment at the end, life throws us all different balls and its how we catch them that counts. i am struck here by the fact so many women don’t have a choice, no partner, struggling financially, or just biological difficulties getting pregnant. Just want to acknowledge that. Its not always up to us.

  16. Ruth Ostrow 11 May 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Thanks Ian, yes I was rather aghast at the trend in India to have kids at 70! And its really common, a growing trend for women who have felt isolated by society because of childlessness now IVF allowing social integration. Also because they dearly want children of course. But India does have such a communal way of life one never has to do it alone. I don’t want to judge. But it feels like it is going against the laws of Nature. Then again, not everyone is lucky. I was blessed to meet my then partner at 30 and be pregnant by 33. It doesn’t happen for every woman, and it is also often impossible to stop working if you don’t have the money to support a family. Lots of good ideas here though.

  17. Queale 11 May 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    I have just stopped HRT which helped for a while. and I did plan to have my babies at 29 so that I could have my 50th at Machu Picchu. none of this really helped my feelings of anxiety or worthlessness related to menopause. In my opinion you can’t control life events and you are going to have to deal with teens anyway. Also the symptoms can hit anywhere from 40 – 50+ so it’s all a bit of a raffle and it can take 5-10 years to start and sort of finish. it boils down to the old issue of not reacting but contemplating, before responding (which I think you already know).
    hope this helps, all the best of luck,

  18. David 11 May 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    Only She can know the answer to this question!

    The right & apropriate answer lies in her ability to reconcile her own hopes, dreams & values with her prevailing circumstances.

    My wife and I had 3 children by the time she was 22 & I was 24.

    We are now Grandparents to 2 and enjoying all that comes with being a part of the reality of the wheel of life.

    Sure we didnt conform to the norms of the last 25 years, however we are making the journey together and giving it our best shot.

    After all, no matter how we do it, our children will put us into a pine box and send us off missing us as is predestined to be.

    Dont we just spend our lives collecting things for our children to throw out when we are gone!

    Dont fret over the age question, be glad that you had the opportunity to experience all that being a parent is.

  19. Lu 11 May 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    I was fortunate enough to find my wonderful life partner when I was only 19. We both wanted to have children while still young.

    We married when I was 20 (he was 22) and had our daughter just after my 21st.
    I was in my third year of university and it was the best thing for my grades! No more late night partying and I knew I had to study when I could. Breast feeding, cloth nappies and second hand goods made it affordable.

    I had my two boys within my first three years of working and found that part time work was the ideal blend of time with my children and still keeping in touch career-wise. I had three children by the time I turned 25 and now they are all teenagers. My babies did not disrupt my career, more helped me ease into it. I have now achieved success and a position in my chosen field I am very happy with. My husband and I have great relationships with our children and each other and we do lots together as a family (we even moved overseas for a year, just for the experience), and we wouldn’t have done it any other way.

    I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll be a non-decrepit grandmother!

  20. Jack 11 May 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Ruth, your column really shot home to me. I am married to a wonderful and very driven highly successful career woman who sits in a very senior management role. Having her first baby at 39 was a true gift and the second at 42 was even lovelier. Now that the girls are 6 and 9 and mum is 49, she is (as you have described) much quicker to anger and not particularly patient with a pre-teen. Like many of her friends who have delayed motherhood they are highly successful and with that invariably comes high level commitment jobs. I sometimes wish we had started our family at 32.

  21. Glenys 11 May 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    My mother had her 3rd child at age 40 and always said he was the hardest to bring up because she had run out of patience. I had my 2 children in my 20s because my husband said he did not want to be dealing with teenagers in his 50s. Just as well, as I developed a debilitating cancer at age 48 and could never have coped with the treatment and looked after young children. Now I watch my daughter and daughter-in-law cope with pregnancy and young children in their late 30s and worry about the toll it is taking on them. My advice to young women is complete your education, get some work experience and money together and have your children. You still have time for a career when they are at school. Don’t base your choices on the experiences of certain celebrities who have more money than most of us and can afford nannies and other support. Ordinary folk have to do it themselves.

Leave a Reply