Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Having kids "young"

I felt very young when I had my first child. There were times when I felt like a knocked up teenager. Mostly because most of my friends and colleagues didn't have kids yet (there were, in fact, no parents at all amongst all the residents in my program) and seemed to be waiting for some undisclosed time in the future.

In actuality? I was 27 years old. Two years older than the average first time mom in this country. Six years older than the average first time mom in 1970.

More and more, it seems like women are waiting until their thirties or even their late thirties to have children. In medicine, I think it's a function of trying to get difficult training out of the way first, which I can certainly understand. There are times when I question my own decision to have kids so young. But ultimately, I think it was a good decision. I've written here before about how I think that career advancement can always be postponed, but having kids is the one thing that's time sensitive for a woman.

Here's why I'm glad I had kids "young":

--Pregnancy was much easier in my twenties than my thirties. The difference was actually surprising, and my glucose numbers were even worse the second time. I had zero complications in my first pregnancy. And since I was so young, I didn't have to go through any invasive testing like amniocentesis.

--Caring for a newborn was easier in my twenties than my thirties. My body was much more amenable to it when I was younger and I had far fewer aches and pains.

--Presumably I'll continue to have more energy to do stuff with my kids throughout my thirties, compared with parents in their forties. I've heard a lot of older dads complain about this.

--My parents are younger and have more energy to help than they would if I had waited till they were in their late 60s to have kids. And similarly, I'll have a greater chance of being a young grandma, who can help with and appreciate my own grandkids (*fingers crossed*).

--I never had to go through the pain of trying to conceive while all my friends were having babies and posting photos of them on Facebook. If I did have trouble TTC at 27, I would have had more time to work on it.

--Arranging coverage was amazingly less burdensome as a resident than it was as an attending.

--At this point, since I feel "done" with childbearing (IUD willing), I can expand my career and take on new obligations without worrying about another pregnancy and baby interrupting things.

--Kids are awesome

Of course, I'm sure there's a similar list of benefits to having kids at age 40.

36 comments:

  1. I think if you're ready to have kids in your 20s, have a partner who's also ready, and have the money/support to swing it, then go for it. But please DO look into the logistics and cost before you try to conceive so you have some idea of what you're getting into! If you're not ready (I wasn't) you should wait.

    Right now, we have one child, and we love her to death. We'd love to have another because, well, babies are amazing and we love kids, but we're totally on the fence. This is because on one hand I'm 35 and we'd like to be able to have one if we want one. But on the other hand, life is about to get waaaaayyyyyy more complicated and expensive with just the one child. Also, I'd love to be able to spend my 4th year post match enjoying my 2 year old and working out logistics for residency rather than caring for another newborn. So, we've decided to wait and see how things go for now. If we want one when I'm older and can't have one, we've decided that's ok with us.

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    1. The problem, as I see it, is that while some things *can* wait till you're ready, having kids can't wait forever. If you don't feel ready till you're 40, then you may end up never having biological children at all. And for some people, they may be on the fence about it at 25, then realize 10 years later that it's something they desperately want.

      I feel like having kids too early is something you may regret a little, but not having children at all when you really want them is something you may never get over.

      I'm a little more sensitive to this topic than most people, because at a very young age I saw my own mother go through infertility problems at age 40. In a word, it was devastating.

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    2. The problem with that logic, is you can't go through life making decisions based on something you *might* want later, but currently don't, or currently can't handle. Sure, it's probably better to have them younger from a biological standpoint, but if you're not ready when you're 25, you're not ready. It also helps if you're somewhat flexible about what you want your family to look like, and how you're willing to get there, whether it be via adoption, foster children, IVF, or not having kids at all.

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    3. I think that it all depends on how much you want it. If having biological kids is the most important thing to you, then waiting till you're ready could be dangerous. If you don't mind either way or are not sure you want kids, then it makes sense to wait.

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  2. I wonder how many female medical students have children during school. I know someone who did it during her fourth year, and it worked out great. That's interesting it's easier to find coverage as a resident than an attending, because I don't think most people would intuitively think that.

    Along similar lines of having kids young equates to having more energy for them, it also usually means you get more time with your kids! Since parents usually die before their kids, having kids younger means more years of enjoying your kids.

    And, if subscribe to certain Asian mentalities, more years of your kids taking care of you when you're older :-)

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    1. If you think about it logically: in residency, you have a whole program to share coverage. That's rarer when you're an attending, but I suppose in that case, a locum can be hired to pitch in help. But I think it's more common for the other attendings to just pick up extra work.

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  3. NOt just medicine. Had first at 27, second at 31. Trust me Baby #1 was a lot easier that #2. Might be because I was scrambling after #1, but I think age did have something to do w/ it.

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    1. I was surprised how different it was with a similar age difference.

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  4. I've said it before, I love that I had my child so young. I was only 20 then. And hopefully more will follow soon. Life is so incredibly flexible in these younger years. Yes kids cost a lot, mostly diapers and daycare, but so much cost really isn't necessary.

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    1. I'm going to guess that either a) you weren't in medicine when you were 20, or b) you have extensive free help. If you don't have help and want to work also, then having a kid is expensive. Sorry.

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    2. No wasn't in medicine then, but I am now in med school. And no, no extensive free help. Just my husband. I live thousands of miles away from any other family. I pay $900 a month for daycare, yes it's not small change but doable for a middle class family with appropriate sacrifices of other costs, and whatever an extra load of laundry a week is. Food is negligible considering the amount that a small child eats.

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  5. Unlike you, Fizzy, I actually was very young when I had my kids. I had my first at age 20 (during undergraduate) and my second at age 24 (in medical school.) I'm currently expecting my third (at age 30 - in residency). I would say it's definitely be hard. I had to figure out how to balancedaycare and school/family activities with studying while many of my classmates didn't. It's been exhausting, hard, and expensive. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love my kids. I get asked often if I regret having my kids, especially with the timing. But I don't. Funny how no one ever asks the opposite question - do I regret medicine? I'm finally at the point where I think I can say no. Maybe.

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  6. I too am glad I had my kids young. Not to say it was easy, but it has its advantages. I was significantly younger than you, though. It was while trying to conceive our second that we discovered my fertility issues, so it's a good thing we had our kids when we did. It would likely have gotten exponentially harder as the years passed, and it wasn't at all easy at age 22 and required specialist intervention.

    It's also given me a lot of perspective. I'm just returning to school now, and frankly my 'mom skills' are coming in handy for school. A lot. I think I'm going to do far better as a mom and student than I would have as just a student.

    Plus, I have *years* of experience operating in a constant state of sleep deprivation, half-sleeping so I can be awoken when needed, and dropping off for a quick recharge nap in seconds, all of which I consider practice for residency.

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    1. Yeah, I think having kids first would have better prepared me for sleep deprivation.

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  7. My daughter was born when I was almost 39, and is 3 years old now. Not that I planned to wait that long - we were trying from when I was 33 (after getting married at age 30).
    Disadvantages: I always thought I'd like 2 kids, but after my fertility struggles for the first I'm not going through that again (particularly not after age 40). I think I'm just more tired now than I would be if I were 25 or 30 with a 3 year old. I look at things differently than a lot of the parents I see with kids my daughter's age so often I feel out-of-place. My BP started to be a concern later in the pregnancy (more common at age 39 than if I had been younger).
    Advantages: We're much more financially secure than if I was a lot younger. I'm much more established and confident in my career as a FP that it was easier to change jobs to find something that best fit our situation, and to assert myself re: time of mat leave and working a day less per week afterwards. My husband and I have gone through our rough times already (re: fertility struggles and resulting stress on the relationship) such that we're much closer and feel that any parenting challenge will be doable given what we've been through together. I look at things differently than a lot of the younger parents I see, particularly regarding parenting styles (ie. I've learned not to sweat the small stuff, what's truly important in life, etc etc from much more life experience).

    I remember running into a high school classmate a number of years ago when I was struggling with fertility issues - she was gushing about how lucky I was to have gone to university and have a good career etc because she had instead got married and got pregnant in her early 20's, and so was just then (mid-to-late 30's) looking at going back to school now that her kids were older. At the time, I wasn't at all thinking how lucky I was, I was thinking how lucky she was that she had kids. So, I think there are advantages and disadvantages of both ways (kids younger or kids when older).

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  8. I don't know what it's like in the US but here in Australia there are certain programs in which it is easier to have babies than others. For those in a competitive, high-flying field (like surgery or some of the IM specialties) there is no doubt that having a baby early adversely affects career prospects, so most women wait till they are attendings (early 30s). For a medical woman who wants to have a family, the choices are either to wait, or outsource kid-raising to a nanny, or to sacrifice some choices of specialty (although arguably it is just a 'choice' rather than a 'sacrifice', if the benefits are worth the losses!).

    I am 27 and expecting my first baby in 2013, and I have deliberately chosen EM which in Australia allows part-time training. I know someone who was training in rheum and changed to geriatrics because it allowed part-time training. The way I see it, we all have to choose what we invest our time in. We all have 365 days in a year, and can only do so much. It is just a fact of life that every hour we spend at work cannot be spent at home looking after kids, and vice versa. If someone does not have kids, of course they can dedicate more to work, that is just logical (cos sometimes I am tempted to think, if I didn't want kids I could have done x or x specialty). In the end it's about making choices on how to allocate our time in life, based on our desires and priorities. And time is limited, so there's always give-and-take - but hopefully if a decision is made wisely, the outcome will be worth it!

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  9. We organized a fantastic panel for our Women in Medicine and Science program with women who represented the range of options (except child-free because we failed to recruit anyone): med school, residency/post-grad, attending; teens/twenties and 30s/40s; one child, two kids, many kids. The major take home: it all works and it all doesn't work, so do what works for you. And don't tell other people what will work for them.

    Personally, I waited and I'm happy. My daughter was born when I was almost 38. I didn't have any problems getting pregnant or being pregnant, although I spent plenty of time worrying about it. We chose to stop at one because it felt right for our family. An advantage of advanced age was that we had plenty of resources, so we could hire a lot of help and spend free time being with our daughter. I think there is something to being a different parent when you are older (less energy etc) but that hasn't made for a less great relationship with our daughter (and we were very fit 38 year olds).

    In the end, you can have anything you want, but you can't have everything you want. So you have to make choices. And you have no idea what will really happen, so you make them blind and there is always plenty of opportunity to imagine you made the wrong choice. Instead, I think we should each be grateful for however our life is put together and enjoy it as much as we can.

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  10. There is no right time to have kids. Even after you become attending-level physician (both of us were as young as possible aged 33), you want to become established in your area of expertise which a 6 month or 1 year maternity leave could be quite detrimental. Have them young, work and train hard, and have no regrets later in life. What's the point of having a great career into your seventies if you end up having no one to share it with ? Eg. Spouse, family, kids etc....

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  11. Being a "young" mother made me a better person and a better phisician, and gave me the oportunity of surviving during the residency of Internal Medicine while raising 3 kids alone. I am absolutly sure that if I had been older I couldn´t have done the huge amount of work hours, study, parenting, domestic stuff I+ve done those last 15 years. I now turned 50 and have 3 wonderfull kids of 22, 19 and 17, and keep being a doctor and enjoying life outside medicine. The hardest work is done (and proud to be well done!) and the anguish of going old with very young children will never be there. I think I did it right !:)
    Maria, Lisboa, Portugal.

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  12. I've taken this year off to have a baby. My husband is finishing his final year of medicine this year & I've got 2 years left. To be honest our baby was a surprise but now we couldn't be happier. I have always put family above career & so has my husband & we will continue doing that in the future. It is so rewarding to have a child. So amazing. I personally think too many women wait too long especially in careers like ours & then do end up having issues with fertility. My late aunty said to me once to have a family & fit my career around it & not the other way around.

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    1. Yes, I've heard that quote about having the family first and fit the career around it. I agree.

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  13. Baby #1 - 4th year medical school; took a year to conceive; easy pregnancy

    Baby #2&3 - in my early 30s; so glad I didn't wait to have #1 as conceiving took forever and now I am pregnant with twins; there is never a good time; I am having them at the beginning of my practice when my schedule is still lighter than it will be later

    Decreased fertility is a real problem for many women as we age. If you wait too long you may find you are not able to have your own biological children. Also, complications with aging also play a much bigger role. I have noticed higher blood pressure (during my pregnancy) and have had a whole host of complications with this later pregnancy.

    I wanted to be a mom long before I wanted to be a doctor and I would have really been sad to miss out on that experience. That said, it is really not easy to do both well.

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    1. I totally agree that I wanted to be a mom MUCH more than I wanted to be a doctor. So why would I miss out on the mom part for the sake of something I wanted less?

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    2. I totally agree too. Being a mom is number one priority in my life and always has been so. I don´t care if I didn´t achieve the top of my career, I still feel I chose the better way :)

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  14. A leading Australian executive Wendy McCarthy is a supporter of women having kids earlier and then growing with their kids. She talks about the multitasking that you master as a parent and the struggle that those who have achieved a high level in their career can have when a child comes along and changes everything, I think this is true in medicine. I Think being a mother makes me a better doctor and starting my career as a mother (39 weeks pregnant at graduation) means that I have developed as a mother-doctor with all the skills that that particular balancing act requires and each year that goes by I get closer to mastering this role. I find it confronting that young female doctors are not encouraged more when they decide to have children given that as doctors we should have fertility challenges on our radar. I would never advocate someone having children if they didn't feel it was right for them but anyone who thought the time was right for them from medical school through junior doctoring and beyond needs someone in their corner, it is do-able and so very worthwhile.

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  15. I was 35 when #1 was born and I'm 37 now and pregnant with #2. I probably would have had kids sooner, but I didn't meet my hubby until I was almost 33 and had been in practice for 3 years already. We got married when I was 34 and waited a few months to start trying. It took us 6 months to get pregnant the first time and only 3 months the second time, which surprised us! It's not so bad to have babies a little later. I think it keeps me young!

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  16. I am 24, a first year medical student, with a beautiful 5 month old daughter. I have an interesting social situation. I come from a religious traditional background where 24 is considered "old" to be married, and most of my high school friends have either newborns or on baby #2. For my med school peers, babies are the last things on their minds. About 2 months into school, I can say that I am completely happy with my decision to start my family before starting school. Having a family to juggle helps me focus my studying time and gives me much more perspective than most of my peers. I am, however, really really lucky and grateful to have been accepted to my local state-school (also my number one choice academically) and have parents, and free childcare, nearby. I am also the oldest of 7... the difference in energy of my parents with me and my now-3-year-old brother is really striking. My brother thinks of my husband (his brother-in-law) as a sort of father figure!

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  17. I am a 33-year old mommy to a five year old and three year old twins, and am applying to medical school to start next fall. I always knew that I wanted to have all my kids before I turned 30 (mission accomplished!). I'm fortunate to have a fantastic hubby and family nearby, but I'm still fearful of trying to balance it all - family, school, finances... I really don't want to be an "absent" mother. Any tips you mamma MDs could offer would be much appreciated.

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  18. Saw this blog and decided to read it. No I am not in the medical field. I was 37 when my husband and I had our daughter no problems getting pregnant and she is a very healthy happy 2 year old. I think this is stupid to put a biased opinion out there just because you chose to have children earlier. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another just because you are youthful doesn’t make it a wise choice for everyone.

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    1. First of all, this post was about why having kids "young" worked for ME. You can interpret it any way you like, but that's clearly what the post is about.

      Also, if you had tried to get pregnant and failed at 37, gone through multiple expensive infertility treatments, and still not gotten pregnant while all your friends were having babies, what would this comment look like?

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  19. I would have adopted. All I am saying is we should respect choices.

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  20. I was not trying to be confrontational just letting you here another point of view.

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    1. That's fine. FYI, next time you're not confrontation, maybe you should avoid calling the post "stupid."

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  21. I'm in my early 40's ready to have my first child. I just got married only recently. My husband and I are very happy but of course I wish I had started a family much earlier in life. I just dont have the energy and stamina that I did 10 years ago, so the pregnancy has been difficult for me. For myself, I felt ready to have kids in my late 20s and early 30s but I just didnt have the right partner. The guys I encountered were so focused on careers and making more money for themselves so settling down was the last thing on their minds. I dont feel my career would have suffered if I had started my family earlier. Actually from what I see around me, the folks that had their families at a younger age actually did quite well with their careers and raising a family. I guess the kids made them focus more on their goals and having a partner really does provide a lot of intangilbe benefits.
    Looking back, I know that I wasnt that savvy in finding the right partner when I was younger so that's why I advise any of my younger girlfriends not to leave their marriage and family plans too long. Its easy to get complacent especially if everyone if busy with their careers and lifestyles.

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