Carol Vaghar had a typical new-mom experience when she gave birth to her first child 15 years ago at age 28. “During my pregnancy, I’d met a crowd of other first-time mothers,” says the Newton, Mass., real-estate agent. “We got together weekly after our children were born. We formed a baby-sitting circle and also got together socially with our husbands.”
But when Vaghar’s second child arrived 10 years later, she no longer felt so at home in the world of new mothers. “At 38, most of the other women I met were a lot younger,” she says. “I remember going to a new-moms’ group and feeling very old. It was isolating being at home with a new baby at that age.” At the same time, Vaghar believes she was a wiser, more tolerant and more relaxed parent at 38 than she was at 28.
In fact, there is no one best age for motherhood. A young woman may have lots of physical energy but lack financial resources. Older mothers are worldlier, but their pregnancies can be riskier. Whether you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s, pregnancy, delivery and motherhood will have age-related pluses and minuses. Here’s a look at some key lifestyle changes as well as important facts about your and your baby’s health.
In your 20s} Are you ready to give up your freedom? “Some people need to sow their wild oats, to go to Europe, to stay out late dancing—and that’s not terribly compatible with morning sickness and fatigue,” says Ann Douglas, a mother of four and author of several books on parenting, including The Mother of All Pregnancy Books (Hungry Minds, 2002).
In your 30s} “You may decide that this cocooning thing is not such a bad idea after all, and it might be nice to sit on the couch with a baby,” Douglas says.
In your 40s} You’re older and wiser and know what’s important. “Your own life has been set in motion already, so the likelihood of resenting a child is considerably less,” says Lois Nachamie, director of two parenting programs in New York and author of So Glad We Waited!: A Hand-Holding Guide for Over-35 Parents (Three Rivers Press, 2000).
On the other hand, older parents are more aware of the dangers of the world. “The 20-year-olds seem less fearful,” says Adrienne B. Lieberman, a former Lamaze educator and author of Nine Months and a Day (Harvard Common Press, 2000). “They don’t have as many friends who’ve had babies and told them scary stories.”
In your 20s} You’re just starting out, and if you’re hoping to climb the corporate ladder, this may not be the best time to take a leave of absence. Still, you may decide to try for children first and focus on building your career when they’re older. “My so-called master plan was to have my kids first and my career second,” Douglas says. “It was nice in my early 20s to just enjoy having the kids and not feel like I was going to lose out on some promotion.”