Getting an advanced degree. Pursuing a career. Traveling the world. Solidifying a relationship. Buying a home. These are just a few of the reasons American women are postponing motherhood in record numbers. An estimated 20% of them now delay pregnancy until after the age of 35.
While motherhood at an older age has its advantages, including increased financial and emotional readiness, it also presents increased risks, says Women’s Care physician Dr. Doug Austin, MD. He notes that the quality of a woman’s eggs declines with age, and that eggs die off every minute of every day. “As a woman approaches 40 and does many commendable things to stay healthy, feel fit and look youthful, she can’t stave off the onset of menopause. Her eggs are still 40 years old. How a woman looks on the outside doesn’t represent her on the inside.”
As a result of declining egg quality, women over age 35 face more pregnancy-related risks than their younger counterparts, including the following:
- Difficulty conceiving
- Multiple births
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Higher rate of miscarriages
- Obstetrical complications (high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, Cesarean deliveries).
Dr. Austin encourages women to consider their attitudes and desires toward parenting when creating a life plan. “Women have been led to believe they can have it all, including school, career, marriage and parenting,” he says. “And although those things are important, and the standards of attainment women are trying to achieve are valuable, the sad fact is that they sometimes can’t have it all.” He says a woman’s considerations for motherhood should be worked into her life plan beginning at age 30, and by the age of 35, a concrete plan should be in place.
“Women must consider whether they want children, and if they do, if they’ll have an intimate partner or be a single parent or a co-parent,” he explains. Sometimes a compromise is necessary, he says. A woman who hasn’t found an intimate life partner may want to consider adoption, donor insemination, or co-parenting with someone she likes and respects. “There are many creative arrangements available to women, although the solutions may not be the solutions our parents had,” Dr. Austin says.
In conclusion, says Dr. Austin, fertility is a finite possibility. “If they delay, many fertile women will become infertile and require significant levels of care. While they may be successful, being thoughtful and deliberate upfront will alleviate their risk.”