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February 9, 2011

What's the Best Age to Have a Baby?

mom legs with baby

Photo Credit: Altrendo Images

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Leslie Yazel, 40, newspaper editor
Children: 4-month-old girl
Best age to have a baby? 40

When I announced that I was pregnant at age 39, my Facebook wall blew up. A friend from my hometown in Iowa typed, "My kids are in high school, and you're going to have a newborn!!!"

I always had this vague idea that I would be a mom in my early 30s, but I had a passion for writing and spent my 20s and 30s traveling the world for work, so motherhood fell to the wayside. At 22, I moved from Iowa to London to San Francisco, covering the tech industry as a business reporter. By 26, I was living in Manhattan, writing for various magazines, and then took time off to trek through Bosnia and Croatia on travel-writing assignments. Finally at 34, I became one of the youngest editors on the Style desk at The Washington Post, editing Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.

To say that motherhood wasn't a priority was an understatement. When I was 33, I started dating Jeremy, my perfect match—a man who could be happy with or without children. When I was 36, we got married, and there was an instant expectation that we'd start churning out kids. "Will you start trying after the honeymoon or wait a year?" asked well-meaning but nosy relatives. "We probably won't have them," I'd answer firmly, thinking that if I sounded confident, people would leave me alone.

There's a pivotal scene in the movie Sex and the City 2 where Carrie and Big decide to remain childless. "It's me and you, just us two," says Carrie. Jeremy and I adopted that sentiment, growing comfortable in our fabulous lifestyle. With Jeremy working at The New York Times, we were commuting back and forth between New York and Washington, D.C. every weekend, and the time apart felt exciting and romantic.

But soon, coming home to an empty house every night and cooking dinner for one felt lonely. Work seemed less exciting. We decided I'd move to New York, get off birth control, and see what happened.

Three years later, I still wasn't pregnant. I was kicking myself for not having babies earlier, but I couldn't even consider IVF. I figured if I can't get pregnant on my own, I should listen to my body and accept the fact that motherhood wasn't in the cards for me. I didn't want to fight Mother Nature or shell out thousands for scientific methods. We tried to stay positive in the face of the increased risks — autism, Down syndrome, miscarriage. Yet my doctor assured me I was healthy, and I felt the possible rewards outweighed the risks. Finally, at 39, I got pregnant.

In my 20s and 30s the notion of kids triggered a mini panic attack: Will I ruin my body? Will I ever get promoted? How can we afford it? But I knew I was ready to be a mom at 40 because the thought of kids made me feel calm. And because both Jeremy and I were successful, we didn't have too many financial worries.

I look at my friends in their early 30s who don't have time to read a book for an hour because they're chasing after a toddler. But I've had a few decades to be totally selfish, so I'm OK with the fact that I don't have time to myself. We can't suddenly jet off to Hawaii, but what we have now is so much better.

When I was younger, having to leave the office at 5 p.m. to relieve a nanny would have irritated me. Now I don't feel guilty because my baby has given me a greater purpose. And being a mom helps me manage my time at work better, so leaving early isn't stressful. And when I get home, I switch right into being a mom. I couldn't have done this as seamlessly in my 30s.

I can't pretend it's easy all the time. It bothers me that my daughter won't have her grandparents around for a very long time. And because my metabolism isn't as fast as it used to be, I have to work extra hard at keeping off the baby weight. My body just isn't that elastic anymore — I couldn't have accepted this when I was younger. And I can't retire. I'll be 58 when my daughter finishes high school, and I'll be facing tuition bills while my friends plan to stop working. It's a good thing I really love my job!

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