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Lisa VerWeire didn’t plan to become a mother in her early 40s. It’s just the path life led her down.

“Everyone hopes to wait until the perfect time, but there is no perfect time,” says VerWeire, a Rochester mother.

After falling in love with the man she wanted to marry, the couple began trying for their family.

“My clock wasn’t just ticking anymore,” she says. “It was gonging at that point. We were committed to each other and I knew he would be a good dad, so we figured we ought to get on the train before it left the station.”

VerWeire is not alone. Statistically speaking, more women are waiting to start families. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more women ages 30 to 34 had babies than women ages 25 to 29, an age demographic which has had the highest birth rate for the past three decades.

“I’m not an expert as to why people have children when they do, but that seems to be the narrative — that people are taking time to finish degrees and get settled into jobs,” says Dr. Loralei Thornburg, director of maternal/fetal medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Delaying childbearing is something that comes with that.”

In 1970, the average age for women to have babies was 21. By 2006, it was 25. And now many women are waiting until their 30s and 40s to start a family.

“Some of it has to do with women making decisions to be in the workforce,” Thornburg says. “People are waiting until they get married, until they’re more financially stable.”

Preparing for pregnancy

Waiting until you’re older to start a family is largely safe, but the fertility rate does decline as women age, while the risk of complications increases.

“Some women who decide to get pregnant later in life may find they need assistance getting pregnant,” Thornburg says.

With age comes a greater chance of developing diseases like higher blood pressure and diabetes or struggling with autoimmune disorders or other underlying health conditions, which can create challenges for women looking to get pregnant. An OB-GYN specialist in high-risk pregnancies, such as Thornburg, can work to adjust medications or optimize disease control to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible.

“Certainly as our eggs get older, the risks of having an extra chromosome increase, and so women who are having babies, especially in their 40s, may elect for additional screening,” Thornburg says.

While no woman is immune to the possibility of birth defects, those who wait until they are older to conceive also have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during their pregnancy and may even be at higher risk of miscarrying, she adds. The most important thing women can do is to plan their pregnancy in order to ensure they are in the best possible health.

“Sometimes it can be as simple as going in for a check-up, taking prenatal vitamins or making sure you’re up to date on shots and vaccinations,” Thornburg says.

The transition to motherhood

Being an older mother can mean more financial, career and emotional stability.

“I think that women who come to see me in their 40s are often the best informed, researched and planned as far as their pregnancy, and one of the keys to having a healthy pregnancy is planning,” Thornburg says. “Planned babies are healthy babies.”

Along with the statistics showing more women are delaying pregnancy until they are older, the size of the American family is also shrinking. In 1976, the percentage of mothers with four or more children was 40 percent. In 2014, the percentage of women with four children was 14 percent, and the percentage of those with two children was 41 percent.

Delaying pregnancy until your 40s can mean having retired parents who can provide assistance with childcare. Conversely, Dr. Thornburg says, a woman whose parents were older when they had her, and who waited to have children herself, may wind up caring for both their children and their parents.

Although VerWeire says she didn’t have many peers her age just starting a family, there were some advantages to being an older parent.

“Life has been such an amazing journey and through the years I have acquired numerous and various skills with which to navigate motherhood,” she says. “I'm grateful for that. Our son is our sunshine and life is good.”

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