More and more women have discovered that the 30s are the best time to have children. The delay gives them time to build their careers and bond with their spouses. It’s medically safe too. No wonder, when motherhood finally arrives, they embrace it eagerly.
"Your great grandmother began producing them by 13-14. Your grandmother started at 16 and was finished by 19. Your mother rebelled, but though she did get some leeway, the latest she could begin was around the age of 23-24. No later."
And that was the norm till about 10 years ago. The norm for the age to have babies, that is. A norm that ensured that, as soon as you finished college, you got married and almost instantly after the wedding, you did your duty as the continuer and nurturer of your family line to the virtual exclusion of almost everything else.
Today, according to Dr Anuradha Kapoor, gynaecologist with Max Hospital, “Fifty per cent of women have their first child when they are between 28 and 32. Then they either have a second baby immediately or don’t have any more at all.” This, in spite of that long held belief that having a baby late is not a good idea, either for the health of the mother or for the health of the child. And also in spite of that even longer held belief that the primary role of a woman is to be a mother – as soon as she’s able.
So what has brought about this change? You could put it down to the need to have a career. Or you could go all the way back to the roots of feminism and put it down to the realisation that there’s more to a woman than her biology. That she’s a person who has a life as well. Either way, for many women these days, having a baby is no longer an either / or situation in terms of motherhood and own life. Provided the baby is postponed, life can be an and/and situation.
That’s what motivated Isheeta Ganguly, a management consultant in healthcare and Rabindra-sangeet crossover singer, to decide exactly when she wanted to be a mother. <b2>
“I was working with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Pfizer in the US and my career was going great guns,” she says. “And in any case, marriage was never the priority. I was in Manhattan and loved being single and independent. I was economically self-sufficient and socially empowered. So I decided that, if I had a child, it would be after 30.”
A career and all it stands for – economic independence, a sense of self-worth, and a sense of achievement – is the primary motive for women who postpone their motherhood, says Dr Anuradha Kapoor. “These days, a girl’s first priority after college is to establish herself in her career,” she says. “And since it takes at least three or four years for a person to settle into and get comfortable in her field, there’s no thought of having a child till then. Even after that, it usually takes a couple of years before a baby is on its way, so the woman is usually 30 plus by the time she actually becomes a mother.”
The age matters, because babies are seen as life-changing these days when women have many, many things to do as well as raise children. As every new mother realises once the bundle of joy arrives in this world, life will never be the same again. After all, for the first few years of its life, a child needs its mother around all the time. And even later, when the child is old enough for school and the mother has a reasonably guilt-free existence that allows her to return to work, there’s no denying that the child always comes first in her life. Which is why it’s so vital to plan a baby if life, post-baby, is to continue the way a woman wants it to.
“I was 31 plus when I had my daughter, Ruhi, and I’d planned it that way,” says public relations professional Priyanka Grover Sharma. “I took two years off work to be with her while she needed me full time, which meant that, in terms of work, I was five years behind my contemporaries when I returned to it. But it is better to take a break later in your career than when you are 25 or 26 and have just started your professional life. It gets very difficult to return to work when you left it so early.”
Ideally, says Isheeta Ganguly, no professional should quit work between the ages of 28 and 32. “Those are crucial years because that’s when you cross over from middle management to top brass,” she says. “If I had taken a break then, I would have lost everything I had achieved.” So Isheeta had her son Adarsh when she was 33. And it worked for her. “Once you reach a certain level and establish your credentials, it’s easier to return after your maternity break,” she says.
While a career is the prime motivating factor in baby postponement, there is a softer side to the story as well, says Charu Dev, a volunteer with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Charu married at 25, had a daughter, Chhavie, when she was 36, and believes that the 10 years she had with her husband as part of a young, carefree couple, did wonders to strengthen their relationship.
“We had fun as a couple and also as individuals and we partied and had the greatest time before Chhavie was born,” says Charu. “So when she was born and we couldn’t go out on a whim the way we had earlier, I never regretted it, because we’d already been there and done that. I was able to fully enjoy every stage of my life – being single, being married and carefree and also being a mother. Whereas my friends who had children had to be involved with them 26/7 and they did resent that at times.”
That’s precisely why actress and TV host Archana Puran Singh never regrets having her son when she was in her thirties rather than in her twenties. After a four-year live-in relationship with actor Parmeet Sethi, Archana married him and had her first child when she was 31 plus.
“A baby changes a couple’s life. And as the child grows, the responsibilities increase. You are never free again,” says Archana. “But before I became a mother, I lived a fulfilled life. So I didn’t miss anything when my babies arrived. I was a chilled out mom, experienced in the ways of the world.”
That’s the way it should be, says psychologist Dr Samir Parikh. “There should be no pressure on anyone to have kids. They should have their children whenever they want to, provided of course, that the biological clock still has time, and that both partners in the relationship agree on when to have a child,” he says. He’s had cases, he adds, where young couples have had a baby too soon into their married life, before they have established an understanding, and that had led to problems.
That’s something freelance filmmaker Karina de Souza, who married at 26 but waited four years to have her first child, can claim to have avoided. The four-year gap between marriage and motherhood gave her ample time to settle in with her husband. “If I had had a baby immediately after I got married, I would have had loads of issues. I wouldn’t have resented it perhaps, but I do think things might have been difficult,” she says. “This way, I had time to be there for my husband. And we had our share of selfish ‘us’ time.”
Cash and Carry
Here’s a little paradox when it comes to women, careers and babies. Women now have babies when they’re in their thirties, which, in cool-speak, makes the thirties the new twenties. <b3>
Yet, a good solid reason why many women postpone motherhood to their thirties is that they feel they’re too young, in their twenties, to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.
You often hear your parents say, “I didn’t know when you kids grew up.” That’s because our parents, however wonderful they were and are, didn’t see parenthood the way we see it. Yes, being a mother or a father was a full time activity with its responsibilities but it was never taken that seriously. Kids grew, and that was that.
Today’s young couples, however, see parenting as an enormous responsibility that requires their attention 24/7, because children should not just grow. They should grow in a certain way, with the best of everything around them, in line with their parents’ ambitions. To set up such an environment requires planning – and it requires time.
That’s why Barkha Khaddi and her husband, both journalists, decided not to have a baby till they felt more than secure in terms of their finances. If their baby was to have the best of everything in terms of possessions, education and opportunities, then their baby would have to wait till they were in a position to give it the best of everything.
“I got married when I was 27 and though my parents and in-laws were keen that I conceive immediately, we had our first child when I was 31,” says Barkha. “The four-year wait was worth it. By that time, both of us had enough money to bring up a child with what we thought were the best facilities.”
All grown up
It isn’t only finances that trouble parents-to-be when they think of having a child. It’s also the realisation that, however cool they plan to be once they’re mum and dad, they will be mum and dad and that will, whether they like it or not, change the way they live.
Maturity, therefore, is required, and many young couples believe that maturity is what they lack. Psychologists believe that older parents are not necessarily wiser parents, but parents themselves believe otherwise. “You may become a mother at 25 and bring up your child very well, but the fact is, when you’re older, you’re able to plan better,” says Priyanka Grover.
“For instance, the first thing my husband and I gave each other when we learned I was pregnant was a book on pregnancy. Then we planned the environment in which our child would be brought up. When you are in your twenties, struggling with a new-ish career, a new-ish relationship as a married person, a new house and also a baby, you don’t have the time to plan.”
And it helps, she adds, that when you’re in your thirties, your own parents and in-laws tend not to interfere with how you bring up your child, because they know that new mum and new dad are mature and self-sufficient.
For many parents-to-be, there are also personal inadequacies to be sorted out before they can even think of having a baby. A feeling that, before taking on the responsibility for another life, their own lives should be in order.
That was how it was for Isheeta Ganguly, at any rate, who shudders at the thought of the kind of mother she would have made had she been a mother at 25. “I would have been a disaster! I wouldn’t have had the patience and commitment that I have now,” says Isheeta. “I was quite footloose and wanted to be on the move all the time. I wouldn’t have taken well to being a mother then.”
Mothers in their thirties also have a sense of restraint and proportion that younger mothers might lack, believes Charu Dev who became a mother at 36. “When you are young, you are so full of aggression that you tend to lose your cool easily, which might even lead you to hit your child,” she says. “But at this age, I find, I don’t lose my temper fast. I’m able to sit with my daughter and explain what I don’t like about her behaviour.”
That’s an observation that Dr Swati Kashyap, senior consultant behaviorial physician with Fortis La Femme, Delhi, agrees with. “Young mothers can be very stressed because they are new at handling so many things,” says Dr Kashyap. “There’s the career, the married life and the new life that the baby ushers in. But older mothers are less aggressive and also wiser. They are content to be parents and can sacrifice a lot of other things in life.”
How late is late?
At thirty, Reena Yadav was doing well as a journalist. In fact, she’d just got a promotion. So it was natural that she wanted to give her career another year before she had a child. Her husband agreed, but her extended family didn’t.
“You cannot conceive after 30. It will take you years,” said her mother-in-law. Reena’s mother also told her that when women have babies after 30, the children are born with deformities. Her friends told her she would be too tired to take care of her child and would not be able to have a second child if she waited any longer.
A stressed out Reena immediately went off her contraception pills. But because she was so worried, it took her a year to conceive. That is not surprising, say doctors, because stress directly affects ovulation and fertility in women. The truth is that Reena’s family and friends made her go through hell for nothing because it is perfectly safe for women to have their first babies in their early thirties.
“Medically, a woman can conceive and have healthy children very normally in her early thirties. It may take her a little longer to conceive than a woman in her twenties, but that’s the only difference,” says Dr Jyoti Sharma, gynaecologist, Umkal Healthcare, Delhi.
Actress Archana Puran Singh, who had her first child at 31 plus and her second three years later, says she had no complications during either of her pregnancies or deliveries.
Though doctors say the chances of having pregnancy-induced hypertension and diabetes increase with age, women can still bear children in their early thirties because there is only a marginal increase in those chances every year till they turn 35.
However, once women cross 35, the chances of having complications increase manifold, says Dr Hrishikesh Pai, consultant gynaecologist, Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai. “Before 35, chances that the baby will be born with Down’s Syndrome is 1 in 2,000 cases.
But post 35, the chances increase to 1 in 40 cases.”
A dramatic jump. Dr Duru Shah of Gynaec World in Mumbai agrees that women have problems conceiving once they cross 35. “That is when women need help to conceive. Chances of miscarriage also increase,” she says.