Not long ago, it wasn’t unusual for young women attending college to say they were going to get an M.R.S. degree, better known as the “Mrs.” degree.
Christine Pierson, now 32, was not one of those women. When she attended college in California, she said, many people in her circle of friends weren’t looking for future husbands and wives and were not engaged until about five years after college.
Having a career first and getting married at age 28 meant Pierson had her first child, Emilie, when she was 30.
According to 2002 birth statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the average age for women to have their first child was 25.1 years in 2002. This is the highest-ever average age in the United States.
Dr. Elizabeth Barlet works at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Missouri Health Care and said this statistic holds true in Columbia. She said she has seen an increase in pregnant women in their mid-20s and 30s, and also between 35 and 40.
But DeeDee Farris-Folkerts, a certified doula, or labor assistant, with Inner Rhythms Birth Services , said she has seen the opposite.
“I’m seeing a shift for women to have babies when they feel younger and stronger,” said Farris-Folkerts. Career women who choose to have children later in life often have their lifestyles altered significantly.
Priorities shift from work to family
Since having Emilie, Pierson said her priorities and work values have changed. At her last job, she worked 12- to 15-hour days, seven days a week, at a public relations firm that worked with technology companies. She has since traded that in to be a stay-at-home mom, participating in children’s programs at the public library and watching Elmo videos.
“This is a calmer, more tranquil life,” Pierson said.
Jolene Kington, 35, had a similar experience when she had her daughter, Sophie, almost two years ago. Before her daughter’s birth, Kington worked at 3M in Minnesota as a clinical researcher and said she and her husband, Scott, commonly spent $100 to $200 a week hanging out with friends. Since Sophie’s birth, the Kingtons can no longer do this.
Some of the things that have become less important include a clean house, entertaining and having nice things, such as stainless steel appliances, Kington said. Her friends told her she wouldn’t be able to have a stainless steel refrigerator because it would be covered with Sophie’s handprints.
Having recently moved back to California, Pierson said she will need to work to support her family. As she considers her future, Pierson knows she will not work as many hours as she did before having Emilie.
“Now I refuse to do that,” Pierson said. “My personal life is far more important than my career now.”
Completing his last year of clinical work as a veterinary doctor, Pierson’s husband, Patrick, is also making his family a priority. He has decided not to take jobs that would require working emergency hours or weekends.
Molly Remer, a 24-year-old stay-at-home mom, said she wrote in her journal that, “My life isn’t about me anymore,” after she had her son, Lann, more than four months ago. “My ear is always perked up,” Remer said. “I have an awareness of the baby all the time.”
Weighing advantages, managing risks
Barlet said there are advantages to waiting until later in life to have children. Parents are often more financially stable, she said, as well as more mature and better prepared to raise a child.
However, older women sometimes face health concerns that are less common with younger women.
Kington said she was afraid to tell her friends that she was pregnant until after the first trimester.
“I was paranoid because of my age since there is a statistic that older women have miscarriages more often,” Kington said.
Barlet said the risk of miscarriage is slightly higher for older women, but mentioned that MU Health Care screens all pregnant women for pregnancy-related diabetes and regularly monitors their blood pressure.
If the mother is older than 35, the hospital offers genetic counseling, as there are a higher number of genetic abnormalities in babies born to mothers near this age. The most common of these abnormalities is Down syndrome. MU Health Care also uses ultrasound to examine fetal well-being, heart rate, amniotic fluid and fetal movements during the later part of pregnancy.
Pierson, Kington and Remer said their pregnancies were without complications.
For three to four months during the pregnancy, Kington experienced morning sickness and said she lived on Cheerios, soy nuts, carrot sticks and sugar snap pea pods. She remembers working at 3M on a research project where they were using cots. If nauseous, she would take a nap during her lunch break.
Parents shape family values
Some new parents were influenced by their own parents, especially when it came to marriage and having children. Remer knew her husband, Mark, for five years before they had their first child.
“I look at them as my models,” Remer said. “They were married for five years. It was also important they were both done with school.”
Although Remer knew her husband for more than five years before having Lann, it was important to develop their relationship as husband and wife before they had a child.
“We have had a life before the kids,” Remer said. “After they go, we’ll have something to pick back up.”