Recently, a couple I know told me they are waiting to have a baby until the economy turns around. Both successful, the wife’s business has taken a hit in the recession and the husband is just plain worried about finances. They are both in their 30s.
A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August 2011, found that the cratering economy is responsible for birthrates dropping to their lowest rates since 2007. This pattern has not been seen since the Great Depression, according to the CDC. Today, the birthrate is 65 births per 1000 women. In 1935, it was 77 births per 1000 women.
The CBS Early Show last Saturday profiled several women in their 20s and 30s who are holding off having an additional child or delaying having their first child until the economy recovers. Their decisions are financial, based on the cost of having kids. Melissa Rheinlander, a mom of one daughter interviewed, says she expected to have 3 kids by now but can’t because of money. Interestingly, the CDC study found there was an increase of women in their 40s having kids.
Reading this news makes me both sad and relieved. As a mom, I’m sad for women who want to have a child, or additional children, but can’t due solely to financial reasons. On the other hand, I applaud these families for making smart choices and not taking on responsibilities they can’t handle.
I waited to have kids until I was in my mid-late 30s. My decision was based on career ambition and wanting to find the right person to have a family with. I got married at age 35, which is ancient by some people’s standards. By the time my husband and I had kids, we were financially secure enough to pay for everything they needed. When I had my daughter, I was a vice president at a global public relations firm. Even so, having a child is extremely expensive. Living in Los Angeles, daycare and preschool expenses shocked me even more than the outrageous cost of diapers and baby food. My daughter’s preschool started at $900 per month and by the time she finished, cost $1,300 per month. It is estimated the cost to raise a child is about $250,000.
Dr. Jacques Mortiz, director of gynecology at New York’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center told CBS News there is a risk for women who wait to have kids. “They might not be able to get pregnant or they may need in-vitro services,” he said. This adds an even scarier scenario women must consider when they weigh the decision to postpone having kids. Many of us have friends who have struggled to get pregnant, spent their entire savings on fertility treatments, sometimes with success and other times with the crushing despair that comes with the inability to conceive.
Like so many life changing decisions right now, having kids can be added to a long list of dreams and goals postponed, put on hold or even given up due to the economic meltdown. The recession has thrown several of my friends out of work. They are well qualified and experienced in their fields. They are either unemployed or underemployed and have been for months or even years. Sustaining lifestyles they became accustomed to is no longer an option and they are downsizing by getting rid of a car, cutting back on vacations, selling their homes and moving their kids from private to public school.
The CDC study points out, “Childbearing patterns have profound consequences for society. These consequences include the demand for schools and housing, as well as women’s participation in the labor force. Moreover, the lives of women who become mothers are significantly different from those who do not. Having children affects the acquisition of material goods and may impose costs for the mother in terms of personal and professional options.” Most Americans tend to think of having kids as a family decision and we don’t necessarily consider the impact on our society or the economy that our individual family decisions may have. The CDC report reminds me that in our uncertain economy, even the most personal decision a woman can make is, in some cases, being determined by harsh economic realities in a way we haven’t seen in a very long time. It’s one thing to sell a car. It’s an entirely different reality to decide you can’t afford to have a child you desperately want.
Becoming a mom is the most profound, amazing and humbling experience I’ve ever had. Wanting a baby is a longing that can’t be fulfilled by anything else. Reading the CDC report brought back memories of my first baby, now 11 years old. I thought about the ups and downs of pregnancy. The tremendous high of seeing the positive pregnancy test result, the lows of morning sickness, and the moment when I first held my baby. There is nothing else in this world that compares to those moments.
There is no question, we are a nation of instant gratification. And, not just when it comes to material possessions. Your biological clock is ticking? Forget waiting. We want it now. This is certainly true when it comes to wanting a baby, a very personal decision and a huge responsibility. The desire for a baby is almost universal. It’s a natural feeling that won’t be easily deferred, even by a double dip recession.
Christina Simon is the author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She blogs at www.beyondthebrochure.blogspot.com.