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.



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71 Responses to Should we have babies by 29?

  1. Jane Wing 10 May 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    Great to read this piece – it very much matches my thinking (and has nothing to do with freedom to choose by the way – choice and advice/ information are different things). My mother had me at 46 (not by plan), and I had my daughter at 33. I have observed many mothers across all ages and I am absolutely convinced that younger motherhood benefits all – and has few repercussions on a woman’s ultimate career or opportunities.

    Those of my friends who started families around 26 seem to have faired best: any earlier and they struggle as they are barely adults themselves. At this age they are mature but full of energy. Now, they are in their mid 40s, their children are reaching adulthood, and the parent-child dichotomy almost invariably seems to work. The young adults are thrilled their parents are still young enough to have active, independent lives, and the “empty nest” is not so scary for the parents.

    My 13 year old is definitely receiving the message from me that she has a myriad of choices, but that having children in her mid to late 20s is a very valid (and possibly very wise) one!

    I see absolutely nothing whatsoever anti-feminist in this position: I regard myself as a rabid, single parent, feisty, self-employed, university educated Feminist with a capital “F”!

  2. Sue Nunn 10 May 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    As a healthy, active and fit 42 year old working mum with two daughters aged 5 and 9, I have often thought many of the questions you raised in your article Ruth.

    Sometimes I joke to my husband that he will have to move out of our home for his own sanity when there are three females experiencing ‘hormonal issues’, simultaneously. Humour will be essential for all of our survival in the coming years…

    Life BC (before children) I would have described myself as a firm feminist too, although motherhood has forced me to dig deeper and question some of these principles. Almost a decade into this crazy ride of being a mum, I am more relaxed and not as rigid about so many ideals. With hindsight (not regret), I can now clearly see that experiencing pregnancy, sleep deprivation more demands on time and would have been definitely easier if I had started younger.

    Does feminism theory clash with nature/biology of when our bodies are at their reproductive prime? Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for having choices. I have no easy answer either, BUT I am telling my daughters to think very carefully about how they manage their time and adult life after the school years. Already, I am planting seeds in their pre pubescent brains to not buy into the myth that I did of ‘having it all’ and you can leave it until the last minute to start a family. Essentially I want my daughters to be much more mindful of time passing and that there really is a biological clock which ticks, even if the society and culture around them try to silence that.

  3. Laraine 10 May 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I guess there are exceptions to the rule,BUT,our daughter didnt get married until she was 35,had her son at 36 then a daughter at 40.She always was unbearable pre menstrual,vile temper,mood swings,destructive at times,nothing has changed if anything it has got worse.Whilst she is a good mother in many aspects,the children play sport,have swimming lessons,dancing being one of the few non working Mums in her area,always has a yard full of kids,her mood swings are now frightening,her husband agrees with us she needs medical help, but says she has to be the one to instigate any treatment.I had her at 69 we are both retired and have had the pleasure of travel(when we still had the money)had the choice to go back to a part time position at 42,when I was 45 our daughter was 24 and her brother 21,having a 9 and 5 year old at 45 is wearing,discipline,manners and any routine is non existent,its just too easy to give in.We live in different States otherwise I would be there to give her a break,Im frightened she will snap one day and fear for my Grandchildren.PS they are very secure finacially!

  4. Kathleen 10 May 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Dear Ruth , I love your column, and have written to you many times over the years. Having had 4 boys from the first at 29 to the last at 39 and now I have a 21 ,19.15 and an 11 year old while I am nearly 50. I love them all dearly and as Paul Kelly would say sometimes more then others. I feel the eldest 2 got the worst of me in a world where society expects so much of us or we do of it I am not sure? But those years when I had to keep the house garden life perfect were mad years that I do not look back at myself fondly. The years we have now and I will not say they are easy but I dont think life would ever be, but the boys are getting the best of their parents now. We are more comfortable in our skins and do not worry to much ,our boys are normal boys doing normal things and as my husband says at least they havent a needle in their arm! I am hormonal tho I will not admit it and I get tired more, but I am alive and life is good. I do not relate to the other younger mothers now and I am glad that I dont because really they are a weird bunch. I am far from perfect but my children will never be either, that they will learn, but if they dont see the real me they will never know the real them. There was a 20 year age gap between my parents and after losing a child at 13 they went on to have their 8th baby. My mother was 40 and my father 60. Many people said cruel comments but years later we celebrated her 21st and my fathers 80th a day apart, she brought sunshine back into their life when they least expected it. I suppose what I am saying is there is no right or wrong and I am sure it is easier when you are younger but I am so glad I waited till I was mature enough to handle things better. Also throw a girl into the mix and it may have been altogether different.? Life throws us all a different ball it is up to us how we catch it…cheers

  5. Mary 10 May 2011 at 10:31 am #

    I just read your column Ruth, yes in the loo in between doing the washing, setting up for my painting today, and cycling to the gym. Yes we should, if possible, consider having our children earlier than 34. I had my first at gasp, 20 (just 2 months till my 21) and my fourth by 26. Yep the first year of the fourth’s life was mad, bad and in hindsight such a learning curve. The upside; I am 38 nearly 39, my eldest is 18 youngest 12 and I am now in the middle of my art training. Without the years of growing up with my kids and raising them, and dealing with the things that motherhood, and marriage and work and fincances…. throw up, I would not be the person I am. I love my kids, they are all still living at home, the eldest are moving into teritiary training, work, and are fabulous people. We’ve struggled financially because I did not complete either of the two degrees that I started, because of surprise! pregnancies, but I would not change the choices to have the kids. I would in hindsight complete my degree during the first few years, when the kids are little, but I had very little family support. So I am full of evenergy, years from menapause and only about 5 or 6 years from all the kids being finished school and into their work/tertiary education. I am excited not exhausted. I did have to re-learn a couple of years ago to devote more time to me, at my husband, friends and doctors behest, hence the Gym, and the art not the return to science study. It’s worked for us. Not everyone can find a partner so early, not that I was looking mind. I do thoroughly caution to get into the child bearing early though, it is easier, and remember the risks of many genetic disorders increase ten fold if you have your babies after you turn 36. Our eldest will turn 20 when I am still 40 (by those 2 months) that will make for a few laughs.
    Mind you, what we all need to do is make the best of what we have, and the choices we make!

  6. Paula 9 May 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Interestingly I suddenly felt the need to have children at 28. Now at 43 I have gone back to work full time and can, if I want to , have 20 odd years to reignite my career. I think women today should not neglect their naturing side ie having a life partner , families and having balance in their life.
    On the other hand I also think that maybe we need to stop trying to plan our lives too much and accept that there are many paths. If you are an older mother identify the positives – also see that your daughter is getting all that extra wisdom that you have, even if you deliver it impatiently.

  7. Gaye 9 May 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    I had children in my early twenties and late thirties. Eight in all. I therefore am a little aware of how it is in both age groups. However, my own children are going for the preference of having their first child in their late twenties and early thirties. In bygone days girls as young as 13 were married with children. I often wonder if it can be connected to life expectancy. If you are good and loving mother does it matter?

  8. Cath 9 May 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Hi Ruth,

    I’m about to turn 43, and have two wonderful young adult children about to turn 18 and 20. I was indoctrinated at school to believe we could have it all – children and a career, and neither would suffer if we chose both. I believed it then but I don’t now.

    I see some women do it and they seem quite happy, but I personally just couldn’t reconcile someone else raising my babies and witnessing their milestones while I was working.

    I gave birth to my first child 10 months after completing my university degree, and never ended up working in that field. It just struck me really early on that I had been fed a bit of a lie. If I wanted to raise my children myself (and that was the highest priority of both myself and my husband) then I wasn’t going to be able to work fulltime.

    Now, we have 6 months to go until our youngest flits the nest, and we are preparing to travel the world. We will be doing it on the smell of an oily rag, but we know we’ll have a lot of fun along the way. The important thing for us is that we’ll be young enough to do the fun things.

    I totally feel the ‘selfic’ thing happening. My whole being is saying “ahh, I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well, and now it’s time for me to go off and have some adventures of my own.”

    We’ll be buying a mobile home so that we don’t have to maintain a house, yet we’ll have something to call home in between our adventures. I can’t wait, it’s just so exciting!

    If I’d built a career and had children at 30, I would have had a real dilemma, because I wouldn’t have wanted to give up that career, yet I would have wanted to be with my children. And I can’t even imagine having a baby now.

    I donated eggs to a couple and have a delightful 7 year old goddaughter to show for it. That experience and my own have resulted in me encouraging young women to absolutely think about having babies when they’re young.

  9. Janet 9 May 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    I didn’t have a choice. Married at 21 and chucked out of the Public Service on marriage, I had my first child at 22 and my fourth at 30. However, when my fourth child left High School I was able to return to University and get a degree which began my second and much more satisfying career. All my kids were adults by the time menopause and in retrospect I wouldn’t do it differently.

  10. Karen 9 May 2011 at 10:05 am #

    My opinion is there is no “right” time and tension between mothers and daughters is part of our mutual transition.
    I am similar to you in having my daughter at 37 and she will soon be 16. Had I not had her later I would not have been able to take the time to spend with her and small details like needing to meet her father first come into play. I also cringe if I am not the “un human saintly type mother” and give vent to my own humanness. Had I had her at 27 I would have been more so caught up with career plans and still would not have been the ideal mother at all times – probably worse! Mums at any age are human. Our relationship is on a solid foundation from that early input and we manage to come out with a hug and apology.

    From a career point of view I think having her earlier would be better as now, having taken time out in my thirties and forties I am in a career no- woman’s land. For me salient issues have been lack of after school care in my rural location and the lack of part-time work options in professional fields. Work still revolves around full time work that does not balance well with other life demands.

    Had I made different choices at different junctions I suspect I would still have some sense of wonder at what might have been.

  11. Ian Robertson 9 May 2011 at 10:01 am #

    Ruth, I’ve always enjoyed your articles, but this one struck a chord. Obstetricians and paediatricians (I’m one of the latter) have expressed concern for some time about the aging of our mothers, who really are a vital resource in our society. We have no doubt that 25-30 year olds (give or take a couple of years) cope best with the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, childbirth and mothering. It’s not impossible to combine a career with that part of your life, but it is difficult to give your children the best start to life if you’re not there for them all the time. There is certainly plenty of time for younger mothers to make a successful and satisfying career post kids, as my wife (and so many of her generation ) has shown after brilliantly raising four children.
    You are right – it’s an interesting debate, and one which needs to be heard by our younger generation while they are thinking about their life strategies. Your frustrations with your situation are all too common, but believe me, you would have been regarded as a young mother (at 34) in today’s society, where first babies at 38-40 are almost commonplace even with the inherent need for IVF , operative delivery and higher risk of abnormality. These mothers do struggle with the physical task of mothering, tend to place their children in care early so they can get back to work, are overwhelmed by their teenagers, and (saddest of all) have no energy to enjoy their grandchildren ,if they survive long enough to see them.
    So, I’m glad my three daughters don’t see Germaine Greer or Annie Leibovitz as any sort of desirable role models. I think there is an emerging trend back to more sensible child bearing/rearing, and I think that you and your peers are ideally placed to encourage that trend. Thank you for expressing your thoughts so succinctly, and keep spreading the word!


  12. Terry Townsend 9 May 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Ok, I can only speak from my experiences, I had all of my 3 daughters by the time I was 23, which is very young, and not planned, but that’s another story.
    I’m 56 and ‘care’ for 3 generations, my mum, daughters and grandchildren. Ruth you are only dealing with 2.
    I had plenty of energy and very little help other than from my husband. We were very independent.
    Both my husband and I were in our mid 30s/early 40s when our children were going through their teens, and we coped really well.
    Even when we became grandparents at 41, we still breezed through it.
    We are now both 56, have aging parents who need our help, adult children with their own children and need our help and we are definitely not breezing through it.
    We are both fit and healthy, love playing with the grandkids. Would we have the energy to do what we do if we were ten years older, but in 10 years time we most probably won’t have our parents any longer?
    The truth is I think you do what you do and what is right for some is wrong for others and enjoy what you have. I hope you had a happy mothers day, I did.

  13. Ruth Ostrow 8 May 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    This is such an interesting debate. It’s good to know I’m not alone with my feelings, and especially great to hear from Dads. I had a lovely Mother’s Day, walked along the beach for 2 hours with my daughter and talked, something teenagers don’t like to do nowadays. She usually says to me “Mum just text me about it” Thank goodness we weren’t walking along the promenade both texting each other in short-form English. I must be doing something right.

  14. Ruth Ostrow 8 May 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    You remind me of myself all those years ago. I just went with what felt right at the time, and it all did work out in the end even if I am a little tired these days. I wrote to someone yesterday that i didn’t meet my partner till I was in my early 30s so it wouldn’t have made much difference if I had wanted kids earlier any way. I think we can only ever make decisions based on what is in front of us, and you will know when the time is right.

  15. Ruth Ostrow 8 May 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    You are lovely Frank, I wish you were my neighbour, I’d be over for tea and sympathy and a good dose of common sense.

  16. susan 8 May 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Dear Ruth
    For me personnally the problems I faced when raising my boys in my 20’s was a lack of being valued. I suffered with depression and anxiety. Consequently I had very little patience and understanding of the importance of the task I had undertaken. Now at 45 and with a teenage daughter, and having trained in a career Iam happy with (but will always be second to my children) my abilities to parent are at their best. Iam confident and calmer and know that when I say no I mean no, my child may object but I won’t buckle. In this way Iam teaching her no means no. So from my personal experience, when a women is empowered she will be a mother that she is proud to be no matter her age.

  17. Michael 8 May 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    Tanya, I have friends who went & are going through the same tunnel. Your right to buy into this debate is totally valid & the poor attempt at being shutdown with contempt for your ‘opinion’ only makes me feel less inclined to validate this career-happy blogger’s angst, to whom we’re attempting to engage in some modicum of reason. Well said girl!

  18. Frank 8 May 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Dear Ruth,

    Just read your lovely article. I fear you are trying to take some blame here. No Ruth, it doesn’t matter at what age you have teenage children. They still fall out of love with you. Having been through the ordeal myself 3 times at various life stages, I know it is so hurtful after all the years of love and unappreciated sacrifice. A neighbour of mine has a daughter that uses the foulest language in verbally abusing her Mother something awful. (even on Mothers ‘day )If I get the opportunity, I will say to that girl. “Guess what? Your Mum is dying! No, not today or even next year, but she is dying as sure as light will follow day. When she does die, you will torture yourself for every cruel word you said until the day when you yourself will pass on. It will hurt you more than anything else and there is no way out of the daily self torture. It’s a lifetime sentence. So beware of what you say adn do because the omly crime your Mum committed was to love you beyond words”
    I loved my old Mum and wrote her a letter every single week for 34 years but there were a couple of things I said when I was a teenager that I would do anything to take back.
    Bless you Ruth, Let it go. they come back later with their tail between their legs. It’s not you, it’s them.

    With kindest regards


  19. kate 8 May 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    I’m throwing this in from a diffrent point of view. I’m a 27 year old woman, who is due to be married in 4 months. The debate of the “when is the rite time’ often is played over in my head, and between the HTB and i and as yet, we still have come to no conclusion. At the mentionion of our engagment the obligatory question of “when will you have kids?” flowed free, and i found myslef shrugging off answers because i felt awkward to give an answer. if i say soon, i hear “but what about your career?” if i say later i hear “what if its too late by then?” I too have studied hard, hold down a full time mining job in a remote location while my fiancee works the same on
    another remote site. i love my job. i love my fiancee and would love a family, but the huge debate over when seems so immense. Reading article like yours only further confuse me. i don’t expect anyone to tell me the answer but i also want to feel confident in my decision as to when is the rite time. In a way i have to agree with Michael, i would hate to have to have motherhood something that i “fit in” and comments like Libbys give me comfort, possibly because its something i want to hear? The debate within continues…

  20. Michael 8 May 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    Well said.

  21. Ian de Mol 8 May 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    when you look back on your own life, the best time to raise kids would be when your in your 20’s and 30’s,

    besides the aspects your talking about being a parent earlier would also give you a lot of personal growth earlier,

    and when your in your 50’s you really want to re-invent yourself (before it’s too late as you say it)

    please dont print my surname

  22. Michael 8 May 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    For years I toiled with the preoccupations such as those you mentioned in your column in the May 7 issue of The Weekend Australian Magazine. However as a male, I passively battling this concern vicariously as I dated a string of Australian women who were similarly consumed with the career vs. childbirth ‘dilemma’. I found your words a virtual diatribe against those ‘other’ women who chose childrearing over a career. It saddens me to think that you and your peers, of whom you ‘fear falling behind’ can be so self-righteous. To me you appear captive to the fervour of the bra-burning sisterhood of yesteryear – and thanks to their efforts Australian women’s rights are now among the best in the world. However your rung-climbing values aren’t every woman’s and doling out copies of the Female Eunuch to young girls might make YOU feel bitter (sorry, better) but it can also belittle and bewilder those young women who have a right to choose another path.

    It was this egocentric attitude that eventually confounded me so much that I found myself travelling through other countries where those ‘dilemmas’ were absent to such a degree that I began to open my mind to a future with a women from another culture. A culture that places family first. A love and respect of motherhood, not something that a women ‘fits in’ or feels retarded by as she highheels her way through a career bucket list. I think you as a writer have responsibility to put the per-menopausal jitters (karmic consequences of your choices?) aside and be a little more open minded as far as presenting a column with a thinly disguised feminist agenda. I do like the way you write & I found the article interesting but as I alluded to, on Mother’s Day it just seemed inappropriately demeaning to those who chose differently.

  23. cathy 8 May 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Dear Ruth,

    As a mother who had her first child at 25 and I am now pregnant with my last child at 43, I can tell you all about the differences in pregnancies. The advantages of having a young body when pregnant and how it recovers compared to an older body and its’ rapid demise. The energy levels of an athlete compared to no energy what so ever, even sometimes needing to be checked for a heart beat. No financial security compared to a very comfortable position. Nervous inexperience compared to calm experience in parenting. There are so many pros and cons for either age. The one question I did ask myself was why would I want to wait years to experience the joy, happiness and unconditional love I have had the pleasure of for the last eighteen years from my first child? So being a younger mum does have one huge advantage, I get to enjoy motherhood longer.

  24. Richard 8 May 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks for your article and the interesting discussion it has generated. Happy Mothers Day! This is a topic dear to my heart. Several years ago I became a sperm donor at a local fertility clinic and became aware of a population of women, in their late 30’s and early 40’s keen but unable to conceive. For whatever reason, these articulate, educated and successful women, who would make terrific mothers, were childless. Career, travel, stable relationships, mortgages, what else, all these pressures are causing women in western societies to delay, limit or terminate their offspring.
    This is not just about an individual’s choice in our post-feminist age, it’s also causing a demographic shift in our society. So, for a number of reasons, I’m in favour of women having their children at a younger age. When I tell my nieces of 25 and 22 this, they laugh at me, the uncool uncle. They’re having a great time partying, studying and travelling. Their various boyfriends also seem to be commitment phobic, but that is a topic for another day.

  25. Brian Hollins 8 May 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Dear Ruth

    I’m uncertain about the value you will place on a contribution from a current but “old” Mr Mum. Nonetheless, for what its worth, there should not be an age limit on when you have a child, providing:

    1) You and your teenage daughter share The Princess Bride as your all time favourite movie and as such, know that an MLT is the definition of “true love”.

    2) Your daughter learns not to scream blue murder when you tell her to “Get Over It’.

    3) You and you alone learn to say “sorry” first.

    4) You have a male friend with five daughters and a desire that for just one month in his lifetime the Sun, the Moon and the Earth were all aligned.

    5) You and your daughter can do a road trip to Sydney, singing at the top of your voices Cold Chisel’s “Forever Now”.

    6) For Mother’s Day your daughter gives you the butts of five raffle tickets and tells you that she really did try to get you a present.

    7) You can show your daughter where you would eventually like your ashes scattered and she can burst into tears thinking you have a terminal illness.

    8) Your regrets never outnumber your dreams.

    Keep smiling


  26. Mandy 8 May 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I too have been thinking about this issue recently as I teach senior students health and as part of a sexuality unit we discuss the pros and cons of early and later parenthood. personally I was blessed with all going ‘to plan’. I had a teaching career and was entitled to parenting leave and job security once we decided to have kids- at 29 and 32. I know not all people have that opportunity. It meant living on one income for some years, something that seems more difficult these days, but I do treasure my children much more than a nice car or kitchen renovation.

  27. A.A.ALLISON 8 May 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Dear Ruth.
    My wife had the first of our eight children at age 24 and the last at 38. she was a teacher prior to, and during these years. She taught casually through this period but managed to be at home most of the time for the kids. I had a good job but it didn’t pay heaps. we always missed out on any Govt. handouts and yet survived, thankfully we didn’t have to pay for child care. Our youngest has just turned 21 and between them all we have a public prosecutor, a deep sea diver, a solicitor, a club manager, a student in law and journalism, a bar manager,a solicitor running the assets dept. of a local council and a student at uni.doing advertising and media communications. My wife went back to full time work some time ago and is now a teacher librarian in charge of a library in a new large catholic high school. We had the kids young and are now still young enough to enjoy life as older people. I must admit I could not endure screaming kids now as I used to. So, Is there a moral to this story ? It’s not for all, but for mine , have your kids early and enjoy a career later in life if you wish, and there need not be any breaks in that career.
    Tony Allison.

  28. Gary Wilson 8 May 2011 at 8:53 am #

    Hi Ruth,
    I honestly believe that it is totally dependant on the individuals involved. Biologically speaking, a woman having a child much past 50 is not kosher, BUT, with the right woman, and the right balance between career and family, and the right backup,either family and/or friends, it is entirely possible and full-filling.
    Men, of course, can father a child well into their 70’s, BUT, I fancy for the majority of men, this would not be as successful an enterprise as for a woman. I think, ingenerlas, women make better mothers, than men do fathers.

  29. Marie Radford 8 May 2011 at 8:47 am #

    As a 67 year old grandmother of 40 year olds who have very young children, there is no way I would want to be a parent at my age, and that is what will happen to my kids. Teenagers and twenty plus year olds when you are in your 60’s – yuck.! I was able to have my kids in my twenties, stay home while they were little, resume paid employment when they were at school and then build a career in my 40’s. I did not have to compete with women on maternity leave, as there was none. I enjoy being a “pick up from school grandmother” while my kids work. However, if the trend of late babies continues, grandparents won’t be capable of being a presence in the lives of their grandchildren . I agree with your premise that being a “late” mother has difficulties.

  30. Ruth Ostrow 7 May 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    Thank you Libby, an unusual story because usually having kids young stands in the way of the brilliant career, how wonderful you are sharing with us a different way of doing it. And yes its all contingent on being lucky in love. My daughter’s dad didn’t come along till my early 30s, so I couldn’t have done it differently even if I had wanted to. Often Fate has a hand in these things. N’ight all, I will moderate again tomorrow.

  31. Helen 7 May 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    Young motherhood makes sense. I envy you young mothers and grandmothers who made wiser decisions than I did. A couple of centuries ago teenage pregnancy was the norm. And so were arranged marriages. We shun such a notion today; sociologically we are nowhere near ready but biologically, mother nature says we are ready at about 14. How young is too young today? I think the perfect age is 25. I tell my daughter, with hindsight, that I should have started a family younger and she could have had those younger sisters she wants, without going into the illogical details that she wouldn’t have been born at all, if that was the case, and that we also wouldn’t have so many beautiful pets, and that deciding on the right life partner was far more challenging for me, than deciding to have children.

    Young’s the way to go, if you are fortunate enough to have found the right partner and have the maturity to know this.

  32. Libby 7 May 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi Ruth, I get asked this question a lot. I had my first child at 23, with husband aged 21. We were both university students. I finished my second degree with a 2 year old and by age 30, had an established professional career and a second child. Now I have 2 grandchildren aged 3 and 2 years and continue to have ‘that career’ that I worked so hard for, and am 51 years old. There is no doubt in my mind that having children ‘young’ was wise. Yes, one has more energy, is less grumpy, and less cynical as a young parent but importantly there is still enough reserve and stamina to enter the next phase of life -grand parenthood- even more fun than being a parent. My children have peers with elderly parents and they have never stopped thanking me for having them whilst young. The grandchildren are lucky to have two healthy vibrant, mountain climbing and pilates-loving great grandmothers. At my age, I would rather have grandchildren than to have children of my own for the first time. It takes courage and sacrifice to have your children at a young age when your future is unclear and you are dirt poor. However, if you are lucky to be in love – and you want children, no reason in the world should stop you from having them young.

  33. Belinda 7 May 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    it is such a personal decision based on where you are at emotionally, there is no perfect age, well there is but you have to be ready in yourself, we all do things differently, we are on our own path which has all the lessons for us to learn, the way your question can be answered is unrealistic because who we are now we weren’t when we were 23…sure if I could put my emotional intelligence on my 23 year head I would of had a completely different life than the one I have had and I would of had children earlier and more of them and married that lawyer… starting to have children at 36 for me was when I was ready and what I mean by ready was I had started on my journey of knowing myself so I was aware enough to know the right way to express myself in front of my children (not always catch myself, but quickly realise I am acting insane)…because those children see and feel every vibration of emotion in my voice and learn it all from my actions…being secure in myself and my relationship is so important and that would not of happened when I was younger…glad they did not have to see me growing up

  34. Glenda 7 May 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I observe my sister, 2 years older than me at 64. She started her family at 21. Her body was lithe and strong and having 3 children 18 months apart hardly had any physical impact. She and her husband were still young enough then to live and work and travel overseas for 6 years once their children were independent young adults. She now revels in her grandchildren and is still young and fit enough to effortlessly lift and carry the toddlers up and down stairs. I lift weights to maintain muscle – she doesn’t need to! She has her tribe and is a vibrant and wise matriarch. I, on the other hand, maintained I didn’t particularly want children, endeavoured to build my career, married late and from the age of 37 had a number of miscarriages. I am now childless, not particularly regretting that or mourning over lost babies, but in hindsight I believe the ideal would be to have babies at 18 or 20, lean on my mother who, if she’d had me when she was 18 or 20, would be young and fit and happy to care for my babies when needed, and then pursue some fulfilling occupation, uninterrupted by that damn biological clock.

  35. Linda Butschle 7 May 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    I personally would have had my children in my early 20s. I am almost 50 now and I don’t have the energy and inclination to “put up” with teenagers.

  36. Ruth Ostrow 7 May 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Dearest Tanya
    I so dislike letters like yours. You try to silence any public debate on anything because you don’t like the topic. I empathise with your inability to have children, every parent reading this does. But you can’t shut the rest of us up from having a debate. As for my deciding what society should think, I thought I asked a question and opened it up for you all to discuss rather than giving any strong opinion. We need to hear voices of women on IVF, we want our sisters talking and sharing their experiences. We just don’t need to be the subject of anger.

  37. Ruth Ostrow 7 May 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Thanks Karen, yes good advice. Myself I have started HRT though I swore I wouldn’t. OMG I can sleep at night without ten hot flushes a night, which is making me far less cranky. And the small things don’t worry me as much. So funny isn’t it. I am losing my hormones as my teenager is gaining hers! She has too many I have too few 🙂

  38. Ruth Ostrow 7 May 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    Thank you for your honesty, Helen. I did want another one, especially for my daughter’s sake, but by the time I’d gotten around to it with a toddler and back to full time work it just seemed too hard. We tried for a while then gave up. Then my marriage unravelled. And in a way I am not unhappy about not being a single parent without too many kids around. Of course I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be the mother of more children, but I like the freedom one child gives me, and am still an avid career girl. And yes we have the zoo too. And true to cliche it was my daughter who was going to feed them all….every parent knows the con of that one!!!

  39. Helen 7 May 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Mum was 42 and Dad was 45 when I was accidentally created. With older parents, I was more aware of the imminence of them dying, than my friends with younger parents were. This made me feel more vulnerable. But life doesn’t operate logically like we try to. My father lived to 91, while other fathers died tragically young. My Mum died way too soon, but then there’s never a good time for that one.

    My parents were more attentive than my friends with younger parents, who still wanted to live their own lives, kid free. I didn’t sense any of Mum’s hormones at work even when I was behaving like a miserable teenage twat.

    As a kid I believed I would have kids younger. As a young adult I wasn’t interested in that idea at all. At 30 I was a nervous wreck and desperately on the lookout for a biological mate. And found one!

    My kids were born in my mid to late thirties, after several early miscarriages. My daughter who is 11, desperately wants younger sisters. It doesn’t matter how old I am or that I have separated from her father. Any man can do the job, she believes and yes she’s heard at school that some mothers are much older than me and have babies. Since she was five I have had to placate her year after year with a kitty, a doggy, a bunny, a canary, a guinea pig. Between my ex and me she has four cats and one dog, and fond memories of a a couple of guinea pigs and a canary.

    But no younger sister. And it’s not because I don’t want one. I’m just too old. And totally grateful for the beautiful kids I am blessed to have.

  40. Tanya 7 May 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    Questions like “or should women simply go back to having bubs by 29?” increase the pressure on women to conform to society’s expectations of when the ideal time is have children. For many women a planned pregnancy does not occur. My husband and I are in our late 30s, childless and going through IVF treatment. And no, it wasn’t because I “embraced a career” at the expense of motherhood. Making the assumption that you can “leave child-bearing too late” because of “hormonal dysfunctions” trivialises the anguish that many couples go through when coping with infertility. The next time you moan about being “laden with young children”, I suggest you address your complaints yourself, instead of deciding on society’s behalf when the ideal time is to have children.

  41. Justine McCarthy 7 May 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Hi Ruth,
    Freedom to choose, but I think we should try and educate young women and men of the issues. I didn’t realise that the excitement of career advancement and travel in by 20s and early 30s would lose it’s gloss with time, and that child bearing would become more appealing with time. I had my first miscarriage at 37 and am now having IVF at 40, and with a diminishing chance of this being successful, and I do wish I’d been wise enough to start a family earlier. Working in a career focussed environment, I can’t recall anyone saying anything positive about child rearing until my mid-30s (maybe that was what I wanted to hear!). I was frequently advised to work hard, get a career, travel, and get financially established.

  42. Karen 7 May 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Hello Ruth,
    I think the answer to the question “when to have children” is ” when it seems like the right time for the people or person who will be doing the parenting, so this may be at any time. Although having had my children later in life, I too have now found myself menopausal and angry, and dealing with two jobs, a fourteen son and a twelve daughter and the occaisional relationship “ishoo”. I am finding “St John’s Wort” fantastic. I am taking Blackmores brand and started with three tablets per day for about three weeks and have now reduced to two tablets per day. It doesn’t work straight away but needs about a month to become effective and needs to be taken under medical supervision if any other medications are being taken. Seems to take away the cloud of negativity and impatience that sometimes develops with menopause. I don’t think it has changed my personality at all, I still become annoyed with things and make my opinions known, but overall I feel more resilient.

  43. Erin 7 May 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Hi Ruth – when I got pregnant with my first son at 27 I was devastated – I never thought I would have children younger than 35 – I had so much to do. Now that I am 48 and my youngest is 16 I am so glad I had my children when I did. I was full of energy and have so far survived the hormonally tough teenage years with out to many problems. When is the right time? Who really knows? Guess its all about choice and support but for me something that I was totally gutted about has turned out well.

  44. Grace B 7 May 2011 at 10:49 am #

    The unnatural element is that young women are expected to do it alone. Extended families, living in close contact, meant that the birther had support from older females who took over many of the roles. Today young mothers are expected to “do it all” – and even hold down a job as well.
    Now in the later half of my sixties, I have so much to offer to the raising of a child. Not by birthing it, but by giving it my time, wisdom, patience, experience, perspective and unconditional love. Of all of these, patience and unconditional love are the most important, not easy for a mum with so much on her plate.
    Perhaps Annie Leibovitz has hired help for the drudgery, and can lavish these on her kids, but she will only be around actively for 20 or so years of their life. And that’s too young to lose your mum.

  45. Kym 7 May 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Ruth your column really struck a chord with me. We wanted a big family and wanted it young so that they would all be grown and independent by the time we were 50-ish. It took 20 years to finally carry a baby to term and our son was born just after my 40th birthday. Sometimes I feel like he really lucked out. His Dad (my husband) died when he was 6 and I am now menopausal and at times monstrously impatient and prone to unreasonable and irrational surges of rage that sometimes he is on the end of. Utterly unfair to him and I am sure that at times he feel very alone, which no 9 year old should EVER have to. However I do not think that there is one age that women should aim to have their family by. Life throws too many curve balls and we have no way of knowing what lies ahead. I think rather that as a society and as individuals we need to offer support where it is needed so that when we are confronted by our particular situations we do not feel so isolated and alone.

  46. Stew 7 May 2011 at 2:58 am #

    Ummm ladies, are we invisible here? What’s the story with fathers? Don’t we count? Is there a time when it’s too late to become a Dad. My late father had me in his 50s, and our time together was too short.

  47. Ruth Ostrow 7 May 2011 at 2:52 am #

    Yes but Rita in the West the sad truth is we don’t have that communal tribal support any more. If we did it would be different. I have always supported women’s right to choose, but we have to choose wisely. And the wisest thing we can do is not be too afraid or too politically correct to pose the hard questions. At least then we get some debate and some insight to guide us all. I know lots and lots of older mums who have too much on their hands and its weighing them down. The expectations on us are heavy, indeed. As for women having kids in their 70s – it is unnatural. And anything that goes against the laws of Nature will not end well.

  48. Rita 7 May 2011 at 2:44 am #

    Meredith I watched an extraordinary documentary on the BBC a couple of nights ago, women in India having babies in their 70s through IVF. They coped really well, especially with a strong supportive community around them. The kids were doted on and spoiled. Women do get tired as we get older, but in the old days there were strong communities around us. I think the question isn’t whether we are ever too old to have kids, rather what sort of an environment we are bringing these kids into.

  49. Meredith 7 May 2011 at 2:41 am #

    Just read your story on line. I am relieved someone has finally asked this question. I agree with Rita, women have the right to choose whatever lifestyle they wish, but I worry about my own two teenagers. I worked till my 30s and now have to deal with my own lack of energy and enthusiasm due to changes in hormones. I would not have been able to afford to do it any differently, but I think women who do have the choice should think about it. My kids probably deserve more.

  50. Rita 7 May 2011 at 2:38 am #

    God Ruth I usually agree with you but this time i have to ask what century are you from? A staunch feminist? I think not. Our greatest achievement as women is the freedom to choose.

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