It’s a cliche but it’s true: time moves fast, and it seems to move faster as we get older. Times have also changed, and continue to change. Whilst our parents may have been married with a mortgage and a few children by their early thirties or even before, that’s not true of many people these days. These days, the average age women and people with uteruses have a child is 31, and half of those born in 1990 were childless at age 30. In contrast, the average age of having a child in 1949 was 22.
The cost of living crisis – alongside financial, housing and ecological uncertainty, as well as people choosing to focus on their studies or career – and the fact that many of us are realising that we want more time to figure out who we are and what we want from life means that people are increasingly waiting longer to ‘settle down’ – if that’s what they choose to do at all.
“It is definitely not unusual to not feel ready for kids at 35 or over; everyone is different and everyone’s life situation is different,” says lifestyle coach and author Sarah Banks. “Some people don’t meet a partner they want to start a family with until they’re older, some people don’t feel that they are in the right situation to start a family until they are more stable (financially, emotionally, practically), some people are sure they don’t want to start a family but then change their mind as they get older and their life and outlook changes. This is all perfectly normal, and choosing if and when to start a family is a very personal decision.”
Thirty five is still pretty young in the grand scheme of things, but the discourse around having children when you’re 35 or older can feel discouraging. Talk of ‘geriatric’ pregnancies and being repeatedly reminded about the rising risk of miscarriage, birth defects and lower egg counts can put a lot of pressure on women and people with uteruses to have kids ‘before it’s too late’. This can make some people feel panicked as they enter their thirties, and some might feel like they ‘have’ to have kids now even if they don’t feel like it’s the right time. So what do you do when you’re 35 or older and you don’t feel ready for kids, or you’re not sure if you want to have them at all?
When or whether you choose to have kids is a very personal choice which no one else can make for you. There is nothing ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ about what you choose to do with your life. It’s your body and your choice.
Is my biological clock running out?
If you do think you might want kids in the future, but you don’t feel ready to have them now, don’t panic. Fertility does typically decline with age, but it’s not like you go from being super fertile at 34 to barely fertile at 35. Everyone is different; some people may struggle with fertility in their early 20s, whilst others may find it easy to get pregnant and have healthy pregnancies in their mid 40s.
“The ‘biological clock’ in fertility is used to describe a woman’s ovarian reserve, and is calculated by measuring a hormone called AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) made by cells in the ovaries,” says Dr. Hana Patel. “We can use the AMH level as an indicator for how likely we are to get pregnant as the result relates to the number of eggs women have left. Our nutrition, how much we exercise and the quality of our sleep are factors we can have control over to help our cycle and hormonal levels. Many women have children over the age of 40, and studies have shown that the conception rate for this age group has more than doubled since 1990. Whilst both men and women have a biological clock, in women, there may be a greater sense of ‘pressure’ in having a baby by a certain time, due to the statistics around conception and fertility rates reducing over the age of 35 years old.”
When you have a uterus and you’re thinking about having children in your thirties or beyond, there are some things to consider. “There is an increased risk of miscarriage and genetic disorders in pregnancies over the age of 35. There is also an increased risk of Downs syndrome,” Sarah Banks explains.
Whilst statistically it may be harder, many people do have successful pregnancies later on in their fertile lives. “I had my first baby at 34, my second at 37 and my last at 43,” says Lucy Baker, creator of the Geriatric Mum blog and Facebook group. “I got pregnant easily each time, which I feel very grateful for, so in that sense it wasn’t hard for me. I feel that having children when I was older was easier, in fact. I felt more in tune with myself as a person, better equipped to ask the right questions, more confident and I cared less about what others thought.”
Some people may be concerned that having a child in your mid-to-late 30s or beyond would be harder than having one earlier as you might not have the time and energy to be the parent you want to be, but some mums who had children later on say the opposite is actually true for them.
“There is a perception that when you reach the age of 35, it’s going to be hard to conceive and that you may struggle with energy,” says Juliet Owen-Nuttall, who got pregnant at 45. “The truth is that anyone who becomes a first-time mum will find it challenging as life will never be the same again. What’s important is how you approach motherhood and the steps you take to care for yourself through the pre-conception, pregnancy and the birth. As a first-time mum at 45, I have more energy than I did when I was in my thirties because I look after myself better and know that I need to carve time for myself so that I don’t get lost in motherhood.
“I really love being a mum in my 40s because I am not trying to prove anything, I have done all the crazy stuff like living abroad and travelling. I have laid the foundation of my career so I am not juggling the two. I know myself, so the struggle to maintain that identity is not there so I can focus 100% on being the nurturer that I am. I am able to have more courage to parent the way I want to, instead of needing to check if I am doing things right. That confidence comes with age.”
“I started to champion older mums and celebrate us because is it that much of a big deal?” says Lucy Baker. “Woman has baby at 43 – is it that much of a shocking headline? I don’t think it is. Yes, I will be 47 when my son starts school next year. Yes I will be 53 on his 10th birthday, and yes I actually think I am a better mum because of it. I am more confident, I am not wasting hours worrying about the wrong things, I have got my full-on partying days out of the way and I am loving being a mum to a little one again.”
What options do I have if I’m not ready for kids but I might want them later?
If you’re not ready for children now and you’re worried that you might not be able to have them if you want them later on, remember that there are options. It might be a good idea to visit a fertility clinic, even if you’re not thinking about having kids in the near future, to see how things are for you and whether there are any other options you might want to consider.
Freezing your eggs gives you the opportunity to preserve younger and potentially more viable eggs and have them available if you decide to have children later on. It’s not a guarantee, but some people find that it makes them feel more secure. Whilst egg freezing isn’t exactly affordable, there are ‘freeze and share’ schemes available in the U.K, where you can agree to some of your eggs being potentially used to help people who can’t have their own biological children still conceive a baby. These schemes are often more affordable, and they allow you to potentially help other people have children as well. You can contact clinics in your area to discuss this further if you feel it’s something you might be interested in.
Some medical conditions, such as PCOS and endometriosis can make it harder to conceive and it may take longer, so if you want children in your future and you have one of these conditions it could be worth talking to your doctor about your options or looking into egg freezing if it feels like the right option for you.
Whilst you can’t turn back the clock, there are also lifestyle factors which can help with fertility if you are looking to get pregnant. These include keeping to a healthy weight, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (chlamydia and gonnorhea are a leading cause of infertility for women and people with uteruses), getting enough sleep, avoiding smoking and tobacco products (smoking can age your ovaries and deplete your eggs prematurely), limit alcohol intake and avoid intense, vigorous exercise as this can inhibit ovulation.
Is it normal to not want kids?
So far we’ve focused a lot on having children later in life if you might not be ready for them now but might want them in the future, but what if you just don’t ever want to have kids?
There is no ‘normal’ when it comes to your own choices about what you want to do with your body and your life. Some people want kids, some don’t. Some people don’t think they want kids and change their minds when they get older, whilst others might think they want kids when they’re younger and decide not to have them later on. There are many reasons why someone might not want children. Having kids does change your life forever, and that can be a wonderful thing, but some people don’t want their lives to be changed forever in that way.
Some people want the freedom to travel or make decisions without that additional responsibility. For some people, not having kids is an ethical issue around the environment and overpopulation. Others may prefer to adopt, foster or be the cool aunt/uncle to their siblings and/or friends’ kids. Still others may not want to be around children much or at all. Every option is valid for the person choosing it. No one else can decide or dictate what is or isn’t right for you and your life. If someone tells you you will be ‘missing out’ on life if you don’t have kids, remember that is them saying they feel like they would be missing out. They don’t know what’s true for you.
Whether you’re planning on having kids now or in the future, if you want to help prevent unplanned pregnancy then it’s a good idea to think about your contraceptive choices. Hana® is a progestogen-only contraceptive pill available to buy over the pharmacy counter or online.