The 30th Birthday

It has been one year since I began the American Baby Plan in London. The idea of this blog was to get my life sorted and become pregnant by my 30th birthday. The choosing of this particular birthday was not arbitrary: I knew I wanted to have children, and finding myself in the ideal situation of being happily married and in a good financial position, I decided to use my  biology to my advantage and start my family now.  But because I am an educated woman from middle class background with a successful career this decision has come as a shock to some. You are so young! They have said. Are you sure you want to jeopardise your career? They have said. Don’t you want to see a bit more of the world and have fun before you settle down? They have said.
The truth is that women in my demographic are waiting much later to have children. The saying goes: the more degrees you hold, the older you will be when you become a mother. The number of children born to mothers under the age of 25 fell from 369,000 in 1971 to 180,000 in 2008. Clearly there is a trend for having children later in life. But why? Is it because women are putting career before children? Is it because women are taking longer to find a suitable partner and are delaying marriage as well as kids? Is it because women see having a child as the end of their ‘life’ as an independent and carefree woman? I am not sure I buy any of that, honestly. I think it has more to do with our own perception that we have all the time in the world to get all these things accomplished. So why rush?
Not many women are aware of this, but a woman’s fertility halves by the time she is 35 years old. 35! The problem is that although women are of course aware our biological clocks are ticking, few have a clue as to how quickly that clock is actually ticking. This means that after the age of 35 it will be twice as hard for you to become pregnant. Anyone who knows someone with fertility issues will tell you of the strain and stress it can cause to them, their mental health, and their relationships. Even with the cutting edge baby making technologies at our disposal (which enable women to delay motherhood well into their 40’s) there is no guarantee that it will work for you. Indeed, it is not just my 30th birthday this year. It also happens to be the 30th birthday of Louise Brown, the world’s first IVF baby. Thirty years of IVF have brought joy to couples who could not get pregnant any other way. But we cannot naively think that we have all the time in the world just because these technologies exist.
So if there is no biological advantage to putting off having children, why then are so many women doing it? I believe it all comes down to the sexual revolution. The swinging sixties saw a generation of liberated women take control of their bodies and their sexuality. They were the first generation to decide when they wanted to get pregnant and make sure it suited them and their life goals. Contraception allowed married and unmarried women to choose when to have a child. Today you can even get the morning after pill over the counter in the UK. This all happened as a result of earlier works by the feminist movement, which fought to give women choice over their lives and eventually equal rights to men. Women could choose to work, go to university, or be a housewife. It was their choice.
The impact of women in the workplace was huge. The 1980’s saw a decade of aspiration and wealth because for the first time there were significant numbers of dual income households. Women were working and loving it. But balancing home and work life became and increasing challenge for families with two working parents. Ultimately, the women were now responsible not only for running a home, raising the children, and looking after a husband - but also a nine to five. The phrase ‘Supermom’ came to represent women who had it all, or at least tried to. There was immense pressure on women not to crack under the pressure and achieve all these things with grace and nonchalance.
These were all amazing things and the result of the hard work and dedication of the feminist movement, to which all modern women are indebted. But there would be some unforeseen side-effects. The first thing to happen was the rise in divorce rates. Women could now support themselves and did not need to stay in unhappy marriages. They moved out and got a place of their own. It also had an effect on the number of married people: in 2008 the number of marriages (143,000) fell by nearly half in the UK, compared to 340,000 in 1971. By the 1990’s 2.2 million children were born into single parent households.
Because there were more divorced couples, unmarried couples, and single people then ever before, this had an effect on the housing supply. In 2009 on average 2.4 people live in a single home, compared with 2.9 people in 1971. Families that would have occupied one large house now needed 2 smaller homes. This put a strain on the housing supply, which could not adapt as quickly as our society was changing.
Additionally, as these things often do, the luxury of having two incomes quickly became necessary in order to live. Our living costs grew to meet our newfound spending power and the rise of consumer goods quickly matched our two person incomes. When I think back to my grandparents’ generation when the husband was the bread winner and the wife a homemaker, I am flabbergasted to consider that they could make ends meet with only 1 person working. Try supporting a family these days with just one income, it is almost impossible! In 2008 the biggest household expenses had become housing, fuel and water - compared with food and drink back in 1971.
There have been a lot of factors that have allowed for the social shift in having children later in life – from feminism, to contraception, to women working, to IVF and fertility treatments. And although I am grateful for these advances and appreciate the important role they have played in our social history, my personal choice to have my first child at 30 was made based on unalterable biological constraints, not social ones. Simply put the longer you wait to have a child the harder it is. Society may allow us to delay motherhood but that does not change the simple physiology of our human bodies.
And to address the questions posed to me in the beginning of this post:
1.       I am not too young, I am the perfect age in terms of my biology
2.       I am perfectly capable of working and climbing the corporate ladder with or without children (would we ever say to a man who is a father that his career is at risk?)
3.       and I have every intention of exploring the world and sharing all its amazing adventures with my children
So as I celebrate my 30th birthday I will be anticipating the greatest gift of all – the birth of my son in no less than 9 short weeks!

p.s. - please do not read this post thinking that I am preaching that all women should do as I have. I recognise that everyone's life is different and we all must make the choices that are right for us. I am simply stating the reasons why I have mede the decisions that I have. I realise that I am exceptionally lucky in a number of ways: not only have I been born at a time when I can choose what to do with my life, I live in a country where women have rights to exercise those choices.



Leila Lacrosse


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