Mothers' Nature

What is it like to be a mother in your 20's, 30's, or 40's.


Experts agree that the best time for a woman to become pregnant is when she's physically and emotionally ready, whether at 20, 30 or 40. But what is it like to be a mother at these different ages?

For costume designer Shelley Promisel-Ryan, who divides her time between New York and Los Angeles and is expecting her first child at 43, the opportunity to spend time with her baby is hard-earned. "I gave my career a good 21 years," she says, adding that once the baby is born, she hopes to work two to three weeks a month. "I'm not having this baby to throw it in somebody else's arms."

Financial issues also can drive career moves for mothers. Firmly established in her job at 33 and pregnant with her second child, Kirsten Larson feels secure that tabling her career to stay home won't jeopardize her ability to return later. "It just doesn't make sense for me to continue working," says the San Diego County social-work counselor. "Once you calculate in the taxes and child-care costs, it wouldn't pay to work. I plan to stay home until both my kids are in school."

While older women might choose to pursue a career before starting a family, for younger women, children often come first — at least chronologically — with education and career to follow. "I put my education on hold," says 27-year-old Heather Brown, who had her first child at 20 and now lives in Venice, Calif., with her husband and two children. "I have been going to night school since my first child was born. I will be finishing my master's and starting a career at 35 when he is 15. At the time, I thought it was a mistake. But I wouldn't do anything different."

When it comes to having the energy to raise children, women report that the deciding factor is less about age and more about lifestyle and health. Yvonne Fried, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist in Ashland, Ore., says that once women have children, they have fewer opportunities to exercise. To keep up with the children, though, it's important to make the effort. "If mothers do weight-bearing exercise, they improve their health, strength and energy level," she says.

While age may not make a difference physically when it comes to motherhood, are there emotional ramifications? Kelly Scott, 43, says there are inevitable, but passing, moments of awkwardness. When the Los Angeles newspaper editor was pregnant at age 42 with her second child, she did some volunteering at her 2-year-old's preschool. "Several of the moms were also having babies," Scott says. "I was by far the oldest of the group. I sort of feel like one of the moms could be my daughter. It wasn't debilitating, though. It was more the source of jokes."

The physical challenges of motherhood are the great equalizer, regardless of a mother's age. Neither the youthful 20s nor the wisdom refined from 40 years of life changes the rules: Regardless of the joy that children bring, all mothers are tired and physically worn. — K.K.

Through the Ages