Baby Time

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When is the best time for a woman to have a baby? I had all four of my children by the time I was 28 (I started at 22). I don’t regret having them, but if I’d waited a few years I could have gotten my education out of the way and possibly forged a career for myself. Then when their father and I divorced I wouldn’t have been so vulnerable economically.

I did finally get a fairly good job at the Post Office, which enabled me to support my children without having to have a husband. Before that, though, I had remarried, largely because I was afraid that I couldn’t raise my children by myself. Because of the job, I didn’t have to stay married when the marriage didn’t work out and I didn’t have to go back and live with my parents, as I’d done after my first divorce.

But the job wasn’t ideal. I had to work nights for several years and a lot of overtime. My children were on their own in the mornings and while I slept during the day. I routinely stayed up 24 hours straight twice a week, which turned me into a zombie mom. It seemed like anytime I had a chance to spend time with my children at home, I fell asleep.

I’m not saying that I would have found a perfect job if I hadn’t had children right away. There are very few perfect jobs for mothers, anywhere. But I would have had more options if I’d finished my education at an earlier age. As it is, I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was 53, long after it would have helped me to raise my children.

But then again, my children were all out of high school by the time I was 46. I’ve had a lot of time to myself at this end of my life and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. Would I want to still have teens (or younger) at home at my advanced age of 57? I don’t think so, but I might be feeling this way because I had to give up so much when I was younger. I feel like it’s time for me now.

And yet I miss the opportunity I could have had to relive the promise of new life that a later-in-life baby brings. I’ve now lived as long with grown children as I lived with them while they were growing up. And even though I’m still a mother, it’s not the same as when your children are small. They need you less for one thing (which can be a good thing, no doubt, but also a somewhat lonely thing).

But what difference does it make in the end? If I’d waited to have children, would I have been more ready, more sure of myself? I somehow doubt that a woman is ever ready to have children. But I do think there’s something to be said for having had more experience as a full-grown adult.

I wasn’t that young when I had my children. At least I’d finished high school. Thanks to her mother’s high profile, Bristol Palin is the poster child (and yes, she’s still a child) of teen-age, unwed motherhood. Recently she had an interview on television with Greta Van Susteren where she said that she wished that her motherhood had happened ten years later. (For an article about that interview as well as the interview itself, go here.) She insisted that having the baby was her choice but that doesn’t erase the fact that she’s very, very young. She’s fortunate to have a large, supportive family. But the more she relies on them the longer her own childhood will last.

I don’t think it matters that much when you have children, but it would at least be nice if you’re out of childhood yourself.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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