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Every relationship and set of circumstances are different – and that’s why it can be so tricky, even among the closest of couples, to decide the time is right to start their family. With more and more women choosing to pursue a fulfilling career before they have kids, families in general getting smaller, and massive advances in fertility treatment science, the “right” time has become even more elusive. Here we look at some of the factors that come into play when making this life-changing decision.
What biology has to say:
It’s commonly quoted that female fertility starts to decline rapidly and dramatically after the age of 35 – but it turns out that the scientific data behind this statement is actually pretty thin, not to mention very outdated. More recent studies find very little difference in the fertility of women in the 27–34 and the 35–39 age range. What we do know, however, is that after the age of 45, over 50% of women will fail to have a successful pregnancy – so while there might not be as big a rush as is commonly believed, age is still the most important factor in whether a woman will be able to conceive naturally. This is ultimate because a woman is born with all the eggs she is ever going to produce, and once the supply is exhausted, so to speak, she enters menopause and can no longer get pregnant.
For men, who continue to produce new sperm throughout their lifetime, age is less of a factor – although it is still important. Sperm quality and motility tend to decrease as a man ages, and there appears to be a greater chance of miscarriage, birth defects and other abnormalities associated with more advanced paternal age.
Another big factor in the decision is how many children a couple eventually wants to have. If you’ve always wanted a large family, then you would need to start thinking about having your first a lot sooner than you might have anticipated, given the trends above.
Considering your lifestyle
Age, of course, is just one of the many factors that need to be considered when deciding if you’re ready for your first child. Many couples have only ever known each other as two adults with the freedom to travel, go out whenever they wish, and with just two mouths to feed. It’s very important to realize that the arrival of a baby means both parties are going to have to make sacrifices in the lifestyle department. And while starting a family is a whole new and very exciting chapter of your lives, it does mean the loss of a certain amount of freedom – and not just in how you spend your time.
Not only is having a child (or several children) in itself expensive, the impact on one or both partner’s careers and their ability to earn money to support the family also needs to be considered. If you are already battling to make ends meet with both partners working and focused on their careers fulltime, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to support a child even if both partners continue to work.
While starting a family feels like a highly emotional and instinctive thing, knowing you are in a stable enough situation financially to raise your child in the manner you would like to mean thinking rationally. If the plan is for one parent to stay home with the child, it might be a good idea to practice not having that extra income around, diverting it into savings instead – which will no doubt come in very handy when the time comes!
Exploring other options
So, what can you do if you know for a fact you’ve always wanted a family, but just aren’t in a stable enough situation financially or in your relationship yet? One option which is becoming more popular, especially with women who are still committed to their careers, is egg freezing. Clinics such as Wijnland Fertility offer this service as a way for women to enjoy all the rewards of a professional career without having to give up their ability to become mothers. Whether this is the right solution for you is yet another highly personal decision but may give women who feel like their chance to have a baby is slipping away from the option to put their minds more at ease.
The right time for you
Every situation is unique, and every couple will have their own set of challenges and factors to consider. The more you can learn about where you and your partner stand, however, the better informed your decision will be.