Deciding when to start a family is a tough question without a simple answer.
"Is anybody really ready to have a kid?" laughed Dr. Anthony DeSalvo, an obstetrician practicing in Warren. "I don't think so."
"There is not a broad, across-the-board 'best' time to start a family. There far is too much variety of individual circumstance involved in the decision to prescribe an ideal time for starting a family," said Rebecca Soldan, 31, of Austintown.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Jennifer Shima
Shannon Gibson, 34, of Warren, is shown with her daughter, Abby, 16 months. Gibson said she was glad she waited until she was 33 to have Abby because she got to experience a lot of things, like having a career and traveling, before having a child.
"My husband and I are both non-traditional college students, and I intend to wait until I at least obtain my bachelor's degree before we have children," Soldan continued. "When I tell my mother that I'm not quite ready, she informs me that no one is ever ready to have a baby and then shows me the mobile she bought for me on eBay."
Like Soldan, more women than ever before are choosing to pursue careers and education before starting a family. In 1970, the average age of new mothers was 21.4; that increased to 25 in 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
"Basically what has happened is that women are more educated now in terms of percentage of college graduates and there are more women entering the work force and as a result, a lot of women are delaying childbearing until after completion of college and getting on in their careers," said DeSalvo.
"I was 33 when I had Abby," said Shannon Gibson of Warren. "Part of what I like about having her older was that I got to experience a lot of things in my life. I had a career, I moved to different places, I saw a lot of things, did a lot of things. Plus, now we're more financially set and as a person, I'm more mature now than I was in my 20s."
From 1970 to 2006, the number of babies born to mothers who were 35 years or older increased eight times, and the percentage of children born to mothers who were 20 years old or younger decreased by 15 percent, according the National Center for Health Statistics.
There's no doubt that women are waiting to start families, but the benefits of wisdom and age can come a price.
"The unfortunate reality is that as humans, when we're sociologically and financially ready for children, our bodies may not be," said Dr. DeSalvo. "Every year a woman delays pregnancy and childbirth after age 35 the greater the possibly for increased chance of fertility problems, pregnancy complications, miscarriage, and for the baby to be born with the wrong number of chromosomes. So yes, she may be in a more stable relationship, she may be more financially stable, but her body was ready 10 years ago. It's a mixed bag."
"There's never a good time," said Alexa Blackann of Boardman. "We did not plan to have children. You can call it divine intervention, that someone else picked the right time, but I'm convinced that if we hadn't had Owen when we did, we'd still be looking at each other going, 'I don't know, what do you think?'"
"I watch these people who wait for the right time," Blackann said. "Wait to get their house paid off, wait to get the college educations for their imaginary children together, but that moment will never happen."
"I think the ideal first-time mom is somebody who is in a committed relationship and has the time available to devote the energy to the child that it really takes," DeSalvo said. "Whether that patient is 25 or 40, I don't think it really matters. She needs to be in good physical condition and of a mindset that's ready to deal with pregnancy and child-raising. It's clearly a life-changing event."
"I feel that it is an important part of the human experience to create and nurture life, and to contribute whatever wisdom I have gained to the next generation. There is also something primal about the urge to mother a child," said Soldan. "It didn't really hit me until I turned 30, but suddenly I very much want to feel and experience motherhood."
"I don't begrudge women for having children early in their lives, I don't begrudge women for delaying it and having children later in their lives," DeSalvo said. "That's what makes the world go round; there's not one solution for everyone."
"When you've figured out who you are, and you're ready to teach someone else how to figure out who they are, that's the right time," said Gibson.