Ir’s the question every woman who wants kids asks herself repeatedly in the years (or even decades) leading up to actually trying to conceive: when is the right time to have a baby?
And, whilst there is very clearly no right answer, there’s been plenty of people weighing in on the argument, since, well…probably since humans very existed, we reckon. The average age in the UK for a woman to have a baby for the first time is now at 29.6 years, a number which has been climbing since the seventies. But, according to official government data, that number is actually almost exactly the same as it was in 1938, when the average age of a first time mum was 29 years old.
We spoke to seven mums, who all had their first babies at different ages, to talk about their experiences of becoming a parent, and what impact they feel their age played in that.
We hope you find it interesting!
Toni Thomas had her first baby aged 16. She says…
“It was my mum, who is a midwife, who knew I was pregnant before I did – so I took a test and it turned out she was right. Mother’s instinct she says! I was already quite far along at 11 weeks and I was absolutely terrified.”
“My mum had organised a private abortion for me as the NHS appointment was weeks away and she knew I would really struggle with the wait. As we drove to the clinic in London my mum asked me if I was sure about my decision and what worried me most about having a baby. I told her the cost was all that worried me so we turned around and came home.”
“I called my boyfriend to tell him the news and he didn’t talk to me for two days. Then he called to say he had got two jobs and that everything would be OK. We’re still together and have gone on to have two more girls – one aged 11 and another aged two. We’ve just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary.”
“The part of parenthood I’ve always struggled with the most is the judgement, but as I went on to have my youngest at 30, I realised that it really doesn’t matter your age, people will always judge your parenting. I love just hanging out with my family. They make me laugh so much, and just watching them play together gets me in the feels.”
“Being a young mum with a teenager actually works really well. I get her, I still remember how all the hormones make you feel and I’m young enough to not be a complete embarrassment to her. There’s definitely a fine line though between being a fun young mum and being strict enough so she takes me seriously. I think we missed out on a lot when she was a baby as I really hated going to baby groups, other mums just weren’t interested in chatting to me. With my youngest I have been to all the groups and loved them, it makes me sad that we missed out on that but I’d to think that we’ll be really close as she becomes an adult.”
Tami Brieses had her first baby aged 21. She says…
“I had my first baby just after I turned 21 – I never quite made it to my 21st birthday party. My daughter was a complete surprise – I was on contraception at the time, in my third year of university and having the time of my life living in London. I remember only doing a test because I felt weird, and I burst into tears when those two lines appeared. I was terrified. I was 20 years old and didn’t have a clue how I’d be able to provide for a baby. I didn’t have a lot of money, just my student loan, and there was no way I’d be able to continue staying in London because the rent was ridiculous. It was made worse by the fact that my self esteem was in the toilet, I thought I needed a man to make me happy and my boyfriend at the time said he’d leave me if I DIDN’T keep the baby, so I felt like I had no choices other than to try and make it work.”
“I’ve since gone on to have another baby – a boy – and my favourite thing about being a mum to my kids is the fact that I’m needed. I know that despite feeling all of the mum-guilt for doing things, they still think I’m the bloody bee’s knees. I never really thought I was maternal, but seeing their faces light up when they see me makes it all worth it.”
“The negatives would obviously be not being able to do all the fun things my friends were doing at that age. I would’ve loved to go on holidays with my friends all the time, spend my weekends getting drunk and just enjoying my life (what I would give for a lie in until God knows what time), but instead I shared a room with my daughter in my parents’ house for quite a few years. I guess it put me in good stead, because I’ve been able to make a life for my family now, and I have everything I always wanted.”
“It really has completely shifted my perspective on things, though. Before having a baby, I’d get so upset over little issues, like you would at 19 or 20 years old – XYZ didn’t text back and my world was over, Debbie at work was being an arsehole about the way I folded a shirt etc. It really made me take a step back and think, actually? That is literally not important. It makes you grow up pretty quickly. This tiny human relies on you to make good choices for them and at the time I found it so overwhelming, but if I didn’t have Isla when I did, I don’t think I would’ve handled a lot of what life threw at me, the way I did.”
Minaz Mawjee had her first baby at 27 years old. She says…
“My first son was a planned baby. It was quite straight forward and I knew I was pregnant from very early on. I was completely overjoyed as I’d always wanted to be a mum so it was just the best thing ever. My second one on the other hand (who arrived two years later) was a complete surprise and the guilt I felt for having to share my time with my first born was so daunting.”
“My favourite thing about being a mum is re-experiencing the world through them. Everything is exciting and new and wonderful. I love their innocence and simplicity which makes me re-evaluate how I look at my wins and failures. The thing I struggled with the most is my sense of identity. I’m a make-up artist turned stay at home mum (which is like three full time jobs all rolled into one) and I struggle because I refuse to see myself as “just” a mum. I want so much more for myself in terms of career and achievements but the noise around me always tells me how I should be content with what I have.”
“I found becoming a mum to be a lonely journey. I was the first one out of my group of friends to have a child and I found that very isolating. I felt very lonely for the first year of my baby’s life which led me to go for therapy. The therapy was fantastic and forced me to branch out and reach out to new people so it turned out well in the end. Becoming a mother put me on this journey of self-discovery because I wanted to be a better human and person for myself and them. I truly believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have my children and I’m so thankful for them.”
You can follow Minaz at @xminzi.
Amy Phung had her first baby at 33 years old. She says…
“I had always wanted to be a mum but it came as a complete surprise. When I found out, I knew I was ready physically and emotionally to have a baby, but a huge life change was coming my way so I had to switch gears. At the time I was living apart from my partner who was working abroad in Switzerland, which was the biggest hurdle. I felt the pressure to put on a show of having the standard family set up; married with the picture perfect home together. However, I’ve never wanted to marry, and have always been used to living on my own and having my own space, so I had to resist the need to prove myself and do what was right for me. We knew that moving to Switzerland would mean I could be supported, plus the fresh lakes and mountain air was quite a big draw! So I decided to forget the pressure of conforming to societal expectations and make the leap to start a new life abroad with a newborn.”
“I love being able to see the world through the eyes of my daughter – she recently became fascinated that grapes come in two colours and it makes me laugh daily when she points out everyday things we take for granted. My work fighting for causes affecting East and South East Asians as part of besea.n means that I’m often exposed to difficult realities so being able to spend time with my daughter is something I find really grounding.”
“I struggle with being too hard on myself and feeling the dreaded parent guilt when my daughter is upset and I can’t help her. I know that tantrums are normal so I try to be more forgiving of myself. I had a strict upbringing so I find it hard to find the right balance of giving my daughter the right guidance of what is right and wrong without being too stern. I am constantly second guessing myself and try my hardest not to create the rigid upbringing I had. In some ways, I think I’m now far too relaxed and I’m sure she takes advantage of that!”
Amy is a co-founder of Britain’s East and South East Asian Network, a non-profit, grassroots organisation founded by six East and South East Asian (ESEA) women, whose mission is to promote positive representation of ESEA people in the UK and tackle discrimination at all levels in our society. You can follow them at @besea.n and sign their petition for the launch of East & South East Asian Heritage Month in the UK here.
Liv Thorne had her first baby at 38 years old. She says…
“I had always longed for children from a really young age. I had just never envisaged my adult life without becoming a mum. Yet, every year that passed I remained a professional singleton. I say professional, because I was really bloody good at being single, I excelled! Not necessarily through choice either, just circumstance and being criminally bad at dating. So at 36, without being able to hush the deafening ticking of my maternal clock, I decided to go it alone. To hopefully become a mum by way of a sperm donor. Not an easy decision, but one that was much easier to arrive at than the thought of being childless for a moment longer.”
“To cut a very long, arduous yet exciting story short, after 4 rounds of IUI (sperm being placed directly into my cervix) I became pregnant with my longed for son. How did I feel? Fucking elated. Like I had literally won the lottery. Until the sickness came … and stayed, for the full 42 weeks!”
“After the first 6 months, which I found absolutely brutal, I have loved most things about being Herb’s Mum. He is totally ace. I have the unique joy of being able to nurture him alone. I don’t have to share him with anyone. There is no compromise, there is no resentment, there is no undermining rules! On the flip side it is ALL on me, and that can feel like quite a crushing responsibility sometimes. Especially financially. Have you seen how much childcare costs in England?”
“I honestly think that as long as you are ready, that it is something you wanted and you are fit and able to love and nurture a child, then what age you are makes little difference. Life is not linear, no one familial set up is the same, ‘rules’ are made up from one generation to the next and none
more so than the ‘perfect’ age to have a family. It’s bullshit. The judgement people receive for their individual choices is absolutely bonkers. The only negative I felt was being called geriatric!”
Julie was 50 years old when she had her first baby with her wife, Gemma, who was 35. They say…
“One day Gemma said to me ‘I want to have children’ and I thought, ‘sure, we’ll think about that…’. It took us two egg collections, three embryo transfers and just over two years to conceive our son through IVF, using donor sperm. We did not qualify for any NHS treatment, so it was also a huge investment financially (as well as in all of the other ways, you can imagine). We thought the third transfer would have to be our last, for lots of reasons, and we delayed testing because we were sure it hadn’t worked (again) but we were lucky! Having a baby after lots of intervention and loss, and amidst a pandemic was not what we had imagined but it has made us really appreciate what we have.”
“And, although it was Gemma going through the physical experience of pregnancy and giving birth I was there throughout – she wouldn’t have had it any other way. It made me feel like I was always a part of things, I’ve been there from the beginning.”
“I love the way my son looks at me, and the way it makes me feel. It is the best feeling in the world. He is happy to see me, and that is everything. I love it when we declare ‘family bath’ or ‘family nap’ and we are just silly together, when there is no pressure. I just feel more confident now, being with him, being his mother. I struggle with just finding an hour for myself. I don’t have any ‘me time’ – unless you count being in the shower! It is an adjustment just not being able to do what you want to do sometimes.”
“I never thought I was going to become a Mom. I never thought I’d have the opportunity at 50. It is pretty amazing, I’d already let go of that. The negative is that I’m 50 and a Mom! I have an achy back, and I’m a bit creaky. I never thought I’d be giving a kid a bath every night at this age. Obviously when we go out I worry, will other people automatically think ‘is that your grandchild?’”
And Gemma adds: “I think for me that it was important to feel like I could be a good mother before I committed to trying to get pregnant. I’m not even sure what that means, but I felt like I needed to be stable, and a bit more assured about my place in the world before I tried to have a baby. It took me a while to find the right person to start a family with and to get to the right place myself psychologically, so I’m not sure I could have become a mum at any earlier stage. I think that compared to my close friends it is pretty average to be considering motherhood at this age (although most of society might think I’m an ‘older mother’). I do think that career-wise becoming a mother has had a pretty negative impact, but perhaps my priorities have shifted a little because I feel less angry about that than I anticipated.”