The mathematics of motherhood


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Nicole Kidman might have given birth for the first time at 41, and Kylie Minogue might still be holding out hopes of a family at 44, but most women realise pregnancy in your 40s is more often fantasy than fact. If they’re still waiting to have kids, it’s usually due to circumstances rather than by choice.

Ninety-one per cent of those surveyed think 25 to 34 is the best time to have children. Despite all the press coverage of 40-something celebrity first-time mums, it’s clear the average girl has heard all the warnings about fertility decreasing as the years tick by. But for those who don’t manage to pop out a bub or two during the magic fertility window, it’s not because they’re ignorant, selfish or career-obsessed.

A third of childless respondents said finding Mr Right was the biggest barrier to having children. Sixteen per cent want to get more financially secure before embarking on the cash drain of offspring. Only 14 per cent said they didn’t want to give up their independence, and 10 per cent didn’t want to set their career back by becoming a mum.

“The best time to have a baby is when you’re financially stable, you’ve got a partner and he’s happy to have a baby,” fertility specialist Professor Michael Chapman says. “If these three are not fulfilled then 25 to 34 is not the best time to have a baby, even though for health reasons it is.”


Baby guru Robin Barker says few women make a conscious decision to wait until their 40s to have children. “Women have babies at 40 because they didn’t meet anyone earlier to have babies with.”

Fiona Prosser didn’t meet her partner until her late 30s. She had her first child at 41 and has just given birth to a son at 44. “I didn’t put off kids to have a career,” she says, noting she finds being a parent “very challenging”.

Many younger respondents were ambivalent about having children. Nearly a quarter of those aged 18 to 34 don’t know if they’ll have children in the future. “From where some people sit, parenthood doesn’t look that good,” Barker says. “The temper tantrums, running noses, the inability to have a conversation about anything other than children. Women have so many more choices in their lives these days. They see the changes that happen with their friends after they have a child and … a lot of it is distasteful.”

But Barker counsels young women that becoming a mother focuses you. “It gives you meaning in life. People around 18 to 30 don’t see that. People in their late 40s without children do wonder more about what life is about. Very few people regret having children.”

And so much for mother guilt: seven in 10 mums are happy with the amount of time they’re spending with their children. Of the 57 per cent of our readers who are mums, not too many are up for more children. Only 7 per cent want another child, and that desire seems to wane the more children you have.

Two-thirds of respondents with one child say they’d have another if circumstances were different. Only a third of those with two children would go for a third. “It blows your economies of scale!” says Karen Miles, author of The Real Baby Book You Need at 3am. “You need another bedroom, a bigger car. You only have two hands and you need a third. You’re outnumbered.”

Not only does a third child mean more expense and more juggling, it also means more time out of the workforce, potentially affecting career progression. “Two is easier, full stop,” says Miles.