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February 9, 2011

What's the Best Age to Have a Baby?

mom with baby over shoulder

Photo Credit: Karan Kapoor/Stone

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Shannon Sweeney, 40, lawyer
Children: 6½ Months pregnant with a girl
Best time to have a baby? early 30s

I was married for only four months when my husband suddenly left me. About a year after the split, I was 38 and childless and felt like I was racing against the clock, so I started considering IVF. I was open to the idea of dating, but I was also ready to have kids right away — not ideal. I decided to see a fertility expert, who said I was a good candidate for the procedure.

I visited a sperm bank that specialized in donors with Ph.D.s — wanted a really smart kid! The search for a donor is not unlike dating: You're on the hunt for a cute, smart, healthy guy. I chose the father of my future baby on my 40th birthday. The clinic let me listen to his voice on tape and read essays he had written, which put me at ease.

It took three rounds of IVF and $50,000 of savings, but when I finally got pregnant, I experienced both bliss and fear. My whole life changed in an instant. Because I'm pregnant and dating, it's awkward. My body is changing, and I'm gaining weight, which is not so fun for a woman. You always hear men say how beautiful pregnant women are, but they say that because they're married to them! I'm pregnant with another man's baby — that has to be a weird turn-off. Are guys thinking about that in bed?

It would be wonderful if I met someone who could enhance my daughter's life. The problem is, it takes a long time to get to know someone, and there won't be time to do that before my daughter is born. And I wouldn't want to expose her to a relationship that's not serious.

For the most part, people support my decision to have a baby alone, but I have no doubt that there are critics out there. Some people feel I'm brave, while others judge. My doctor says he wishes women would come to him at 30 rather than 40. I'm torn on that because I'm happy I'll be a mom right now. I feel more at peace with my life than ever before — yet he may be right.

Raising a child alone will be difficult since I'll be the breadwinner and the caretaker. There will be no one with whom to celebrate the milestones, like her first words, and I won't have the benefit of my partner's perspective on weighty matters, not to mention the love and affection of a man. And I'd love for my daughter to have a male role model. But I will be honest with her when she realizes that everyone else has a daddy except her.

Hopefully I'll meet a guy I'll want to have kids with. But if not, I have more eggs and sperm on reserve. I never say never.

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