Is 40 Too Old To Be a First-Time Mom?

I can’t think of one friend who willingly had kids in their twenties. They say the average age of a first-time mom is 26. Take a look around an OB’s waiting room and you’ll see why: the two prime demographics are either unwed mothers in their late teens/early 20s, or women nearing 40. Caught in the middle, my Gen-X/millennial crossover crowd is busy hearing their biological clocks tick. While we’re happy we didn’t dive into parenthood right after college, we don’t want to make the mistake of pushing babies off until they’re a near-impossibility either.

The fear of waiting too long to have children bears more consequence than the potential stresses of IVF. According to “Katrina Alcorn, author of the bestselling Maxed out: American Moms on the brink, … women who delayed having kids ‘to try to get a foothold in their careers or to get some financial stability’ are being pushed beyond their limits as they struggle with work-life balance and the the additional burdens that mid-life brings.”

When my mother had me at nearly 37 she was considered an anomaly. Today, she’d be 9 times more likely to be the norm. While they didn’t have to wrestle with the stresses of simultaneously caring for elderly parents and children the way Gen-X does today, my parents did face their challenges. Cultivating the energy to keep up with a young child is a task that gets harder with age. While it was nice to have a 12 -year break between college tuitions, they also had to raise the equivalent of two “only children” instead of siblings closer in age who could keep each other busy. The challenges of late-in-life parenting also have longterm consequences. Today’s 40-something crowd will, like my parents, wait nearly 20 years longer than most to become grandparents. If they’re still around.

The grand irony in the decision to wait until near 40 to have a child is in the finances, or lack thereof. Most couples, whether they are careerists or simply budget conscious, held off on having children because of the expense. Now, thanks to the Grand Recession, the burden of elder care, and the cost of childcare outpacing salary increments, all their hard work saving has pretty much been for naught. Like most in our generation whose early careers were greatly impacted by the economic crash in ’08, my husband and I had endless conversations about how we were going to manage to afford kids, let alone the stay-at-home lifestyle I wanted in order to raise them. In the end we always came to the same conclusion: We could easily scare ourselves out of having kids. What was better, pragmatism or pessimism? Fear or fearlessness?

40 isn’t too old to be a first-time parent. But why wait that long?