Can You Afford to Wait to Have a Baby?

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Afford a BabyLike a growing number of women, I waited until I was 35 to start trying for a baby, until my husband and I were “ready”— emotionally and financially. I figured it would take a month or two, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I was only 35, after all.

But a few months in, I noticed my menstrual cycles were getting shorter and shorter, and I had a gut feeling something was off. My doctor ordered a couple of tests to measure my egg supply.

Days later, I got the call that almost killed me: I had diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), a condition whereupon a woman’s egg supply is dwindling faster than it should, and I had about a 2% chance of naturally conceiving a baby.

RELATED: Why Americans Aren’t Having Babies—and How It Hurts Us

I practically dropped the phone.

“I am only 35!” I exclaimed. “How can I need fertility treatments?”

I had thought age 35 was supposed to be the absolute deadline for getting started, before my fertility really started to decline. Also, so many celebrities I read about—Marcia Cross, Kelly Preston—were getting knocked up deep into their 40s.

RELATED: Do You Need to Get Your Fertility Tested? 

Fortunately, I got lucky. At the last minute, right before my husband and I were about to put down $15,000 for my first non-insurance-covered IVF treatment, I got pregnant. It’s important to mention that I still paid about $5,000 on ovulation kits, visits to specialists and medications prescribed by my doctor to “prevent miscarriage.” The one thing I didn’t pay for was a cooperative, willing husband.

But many couples and single women in their 30s and 40s who are trying to get pregnant aren’t so fortunate. When deciding on when to start trying for a baby, it’s common for couples to push back the process because they’re not financially ready. Perhaps that’s why there is such a high volume of “Can You Afford to Have a Baby?” journalism. This is understandable. We live in a lackluster economy and the thought of somehow coming up with more money and supporting a child can be stressful.

RELATED: Why I’m Glad I Had Kids in My 20s, 30s, 40s

But waiting too long to have a baby could cost you more than several years’ worth of diapers and daycare—and you might not have anything to show for your efforts.

Big Misconceptions & Big Costs

Most people have heard that infertility—which is defined as the inability to conceive a child after one year or more of unprotected sexual intercourse—affects about 15% of all couples across the board, but usually increases with a woman’s age, says Dr. Alan Penzias, a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF.

A woman’s fertility starts to decline noticeably at 27, and more steeply at age 35, and even more steeply at age 40. While a man’s fertility doesn’t decline at the same rate, there is growing evidence that the quality of sperm degrades over time—and recent studies have linked children of men age 50 and above to a higher risk for autism. What people don’t assume is that they will need fertility treatments—or that it will be as expensive as it is.

“Nobody feels like they’re getting less fertile,” says Penzias, who is also an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. “The biggest alarm bells aren’t biological, they’re chronological. I see a lot of people age 29, 34, and 39 coming into the office, fearing their 30th, 35th, and 40th birthday. Some societal message says, ‘when I hit that next seminal birthday, that’s when I see fertility decline.’ It’s more emotional.”

  • Alex

    Interesting discussion….I encourage readers to check out this recent Atlantic Monthly article on what the statistics really say (and don’t say) about fertility beyond age 30. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/07/how-long-can-you-wait-to-have-a-baby/309374/

  • kimberly

    I am 32 and have a 4 month old. My husband and I decided to start trying because of all that I read about fertility in your 30′s. I love my little girl, and I can’t afford to stay home with her. We just absolutely cannot do it! My husband just finished grad school at a very expensive university and has to take temp jobs until he gets a project off the ground (having to do with his Masters Degree), which will only pay off in the long term. We might have been better off to wait another year because the financial pressure is unreal and we are living off of about half the income we had without a baby. It’s rough. I think people should have a good bit put back before trying to conceive and the husband should have a very stable income-that’s not sexist, that’s realistic. I never thought I would care about staying home because I have always identified myself as a career woman and not really a baby person. But I sure wish I had that option now. I do think one more year would have made a difference for us, but I think more than that would have been too long.

    • Maureen

      Why? So you’re saying if you were not married yet, you’d just jump into making babies by 33? That’s illogical. “Too long” is subjective. Plenty of people haven’t found their partners by their thirties, yet we get steamrolled by the same biological clock fears that coupled women face. Let’s stop blasting one another with it. To my knowledge, none of us are doctors, let alone OBGYNs or fertility specialists.

  • Lauren

    The suggestion of putting your eggs on ice at a young age is ludicrous in my opinion. I am 26 and $15,000 is nearly half of what I make in a year. There is no way that would be a viable option for myself or many other young women in this economy.

    • Maritorri

      Lauren, I empathize with how you feel. I felt the same way at 26. But now, at 37, I see things differently. I had no idea I’d have trouble at 35 (or not meet my spouse until 32).

      • Elizabeth

        That still doesn’t make the money magically appear. Suggesting that 20-somethings just “find” 10-15K to use to freeze their eggs (as opposed to say, saving for retirement or paying off student debt) is a freaking joke. Isn’t this supposed to be a financial advise site?

      • LeeLee

        But it sounds like you’re saying (from a financial viewpoint), that you think definitely spending $15k in your 20′s is better than possibly spending $20k in your 30′s. Even assuming that the $20k you spent would absolutely happen to every woman in her 30′s, it would be better to invest the $15k in municipal bonds rather than eggs.

  • JenInBoston

    I want to mention a less-discussed, but obvious drawback of “waiting” to have kids: you will have less overall time with your children in life, and proportionally much less time with your grandchildren. Time also seems to pass more quickly as we age. Sometimes I wonder if, having a child at 24 or 25, one feels like the experience passes not quite as quickly as when having a child at 40.

    I’m from a line of women who were born when their moms were about 32. Unsurprisingly, my great-grandparents passed away long before I was born. But even of my grandparents, two had passed away by the time I was five and none lived to see my own child, born when I was 30.

    You will love your kids SO much! You will value your literal time with them more than what it costs you to have them. We worry so much about the finances (even though of course they’re important) and sometimes forget the extra value that just still being around for an additional 5-15 years with our kids might hold for the whole family. This is just more true for men, who may delay parenthood until 50 or later.

    Which would you rather have: 5 more years with your grandparents or a lower student loan burden? 10 more years with your children or an annual vacation to fill-in-the-blank? Maybe the ROI of waiting isn’t as great as people say. Everyone is entitled to their own answer. Just don’t deny yourself the chance to think about this other angle in family planning.

    • kimberly

      I agree. I wouldn’t trade my daughter for anything, and I don’t regret the timing. It would be easier to have more money, but money is not everything. The people you love are so much more important than a 401k that could tank at anytime. People are more valuable than your money or your pride.

    • LeeLee

      My parents were 40 when they had me, and the only grandparent I had died at the age of 92 when I was 6. To be honest, I almost think it was easier on me to not know my grandparents than to deal with the pain of their loss as an older child.

      I am the youngest of 3, and my parents were 26 and 30 when my other two siblings were born. They experienced more financial troubles raising my siblings than they did raising me. As a result, there was much more stress for my brother and sister growing up which created more issues in their development and their own personal financial lives. Both of them still struggle with anxiety and neither of them have a healthy relationship with money.

      Personally, I’d like to start having kids soon (I’m 28, and my husband, 31, agrees). One of the major reasons for wanting to have them sooner rather than later is because I want my parents to be able to spend time with my kids before they die. However, I am also very cognizant of the stress that can occur when money is tight, so we’ve waited to save up a little extra.

      It’s a balancing act, I think, and not a black and white issue. Since nothing is guaranteed, it’s hard to choose a perfect time to have kids, but I do feel it’s best to make sure you can support the basic needs of a child before bringing one into the world.

      • Maureen

        I love how logically you’re strategies are here. I’d like to emulate something similar when I’m in the appropriate position to consider these things.

    • Maureen

      This truly makes me sick. See my above comments. Again, this is from a perspective of someone who is 1) married/partnered 2) financially prepared 3) *supportive family. I signed up for this site expecting a refreshing approach to female independence with finances taking the lead. This is starting to read like a drunken Betty Crocker confession. I don’t need to feel any more concerned about the fact that I am not married and not yet a mother than I already do. I will visit parenting sites or sites about family planning if I am seeking cautionary tales of “letting life slip by,” or perhaps not meeting my great-grand children (give me a break). My primary concerns right now are, in this order: 1) financial stability 2) pay off student loans 3) home purchase 4) family planning, with or without a husband by this future, more stable point. I do want kids. I do not want to feel berated for not having them yet at 31 when I log into a financial site.

      *assumption of familial support is based on content and context of your statements.

      • S

        Stretches of financial stability come and go. Sometimes you will be told that owning a house is an investment other times you will know it is a burden. Student loans are well earned burdens the payments have to be endured to the end. Family planning and personal finances influence the outcomes of each other. Whatever you choose to do there will be a cost.

  • Julie G

    It really blows my mind that in a world of over 7 billion people (one born approximately every second) that we’re having a discussion about paying $15,000 to freeze eggs when that amount could provide birth control to about 30,000 people for a year through an organization like the United Nations Population Fund. $15,000 is about half the cost of domestic adoption, and one-half to one-third the cost of foreign adoption. I know no one likes to talk about population control, but we need to start doing it now, before your great-grandkids are faced with a world of diminished resources and the resulting conflicts. I do not represent this organization but they are one of the few talking about it in a rational manner (see it alone for the world population clock)

    http://www.populationinstitute.org/?gclid=CLfv4q7XorgCFa1xOgodOAcA_Q

    • Ranavain

      I completely agree. It seems so selfish that people are willing to spend ridiculous amounts to have kids so they can have a baby that looks like them when there are so many children alive today that go unfed and unloved. If money is an issue, then fostering children is a fantastic option, and helps children who are unlikely to ever be adopted…. Helping those kids break out of a system that is likely to claim them in their adult lives as well would be such a gift. But they won’t be perfect little cuddly babies, so people with the means to make those lives better aren’t interested. Its truly sad.

      Its also ludicrous that adoption costs so much. If you have the money to provide a decent life for a child, that should be the go-to option, rather than encouraging people to undergo crazy expensive infertility treatments!

      • kmilla

        Selfish to want your own genetically similar child? Have you been able to have your own?

      • cj

        Or rather than having to care for children other people had that they shouldnt of had, then if we focused on prevention, there wouldnt be as many children to adopt.and maybe its not that women want a baby that looks like them so, much as to make a life, and care for it, which other parents could not. And not to say adoption is the problem, its wonderful, but if people would stop having babies they dont want and cant care for, you wouldnt be suggesting to adopt, then these people making the tough decision to bare their own child, wouldnt be getting slammed by you for doing what the parents of these adopted kids couldnt. Also, not everyone has it in them to love someone they are not biologically related to, thats not a bad thing, and its better that they get the child they want then the one you think they should want.

    • maritorri

      Where are you getting your data? International adoption is expensive, too — and sometimes more expensive than domestic adoption. Fortunately, there are organizations that offer scholarships to offset the costs.

      • LeeLee

        In her comment, she’s estimating domestic adoption at $30k and international adoption at $30k-$45k. With which part of that do you disagree?

        • maritorri

          Oh — I misread it. My bad. She is correct: A friend of mine just paid $40K to adopt internationally. It’s a shame there isn’t more money available to help families adopt. I absolutely agree with everyone’s points about the merits of adoption.

          • LeeLee

            Why would families spending $30k+ on freezing their eggs/IVF/donor eggs/etc need financial help to spend $30k+ on adoption?

    • maritorri

      Not sure where you’re getting that international adoption is half the cost of domestic adoption. International adoption is easily as expensive — and sometimes more expensive — than domestic adoption.

      • Julie G

        I said $15,000 is one-half to one-third the cost of foreign adoption.

        • maritorri

          Sorry Julie. I was not reading clearly. Anyway, that’s a great link. And I’m all for adoption, international or domestic.

          • Julie G

            It’s ok. I’m just astonished by the spending on fertility treatments. I can’t imagine justifying it.

          • LeeLee

            I agree. I understand having your own kids naturally, but it’s harder for me to wrap my mind around spending so much money for the possibility of making a kid that’s biologically mine instead of providing a loving home to someone who needs one.

  • Eden

    Every woman who desires to become pregnant must consider her health, her family’s health history, her partner’s health, and have conversations with other female relatives who have born children and her doctors. She too must consider her financial position. Women may struggle to conceive in their twenties, and women over 35 may conceive immediately. There are many different experiences out there. Do the research, consider your personal circumstances, and make an educated decision about when is best for you to conceive. Do not become fearful by others’ hardships, but do not keep your head in the sand.

  • Emily

    I am interested in knowing about my fertility levels but not necessarily looking to try to have a child at this exact moment. Is there a way to check it that is not super invasive or expensive?

    • maritorri

      Yes, Emily. Ask your OBGYN to test your Day 3 FSH levels, and your AMH levels. Both of these numbers will give you a ballpark (however, the rate of decline for each of these numbers depends on the person. So, you could have lots of eggs (a good reserve), but see a steeper decline of eggs in a one-year period than a friend of a similar age.

      • Emily

        Do you have any experience with the at home FSH level tests? ie First Response?
        I imagine it is less reliable but I unfortunately do not have a regular OBGYN– no health insurance.

        • maritorri

          No, I don’t. My doctor gave me mine. Also: FSH isn’t the only measure of ovarian reserve. There’s also AMH. The test is worth it, even if paid out of pocket. So many women who have experienced infertility wish they had taken these tests before their 35th birthday.

  • Michelle McIlroy

    My husband and I started trying to have children right before my 33rd birthday. We had no idea how difficult it would be. It took 5 years, multiple procedures and then finally IVF. $15,000 is the average for IVF, but even less invasive methods can be $2000-$3000 a month. Also many couples need multiple tries before they are successful. I have heard of couples spending as much as $100,000- $200,000 to have a child!!!!

    Infertility also takes a huge toll on your relationship. Many marriages do not survive. Adoption is an option for some couples but it is a very expensive, emotionally draining and personal one. NOONE should have an opinion on this topic unless they have gone through it, you have no idea what couples suffering with infertility go through!!!!

    Another thing to consider as one gets older is that the rates of miscarriage and major birth defects increases yearly as a woman ages. These are also terrible things to have to experience.

    Probably 85% of insurance policies cover 0% of infertility treatments! The best thing for young woman to do is to have their ovarian reserve checked every couple of years to make sure that is not a concern. For woman this is the most incorrectable situation. Male partners should also be tested too since a growing % of infertility is connected with this as well.

    • LeeLee

      No one should have an opinion unless they’ve gone through it? That’s a pretty ridiculous and illogical statement, especially given that the author is recommending that women in their 20s irrationally drop 15 grand on extracting their eggs. While I agree that the scenario might look different after you’re personally and emotionally invested, that doesn’t mean that everyone else shouldn’t form their own opinion and make their own decisions.

  • LW

    I’m a little shocked to see a few comments berating women who go for fertility treatments over adoption. Not only is it understandable, it is natural for people to want to pass along their genes. Adopting a child can come with its own challenges, so while I applaud those who make that choice, it’s not for everybody.

    On a different note, I’m 24 and single, but I would like to have children one day. I recently had a scare where a test indicated that my ovarian reserve was almost zero. Long story, but it was only after my doctor counseled me to thank about freezing my eggs that they discovered my low result was due to a lab error. Even though the problem wasn’t a problem, freezing my eggs was in the back of my head. I’m no doctor, but from what I understand, the best chances for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby starts with the highest-quality eggs. As you age, both the quality and the quantity of your eggs starts to decrease. So, should I freeze my 24-year-old eggs now? I don’t have that kind of money floating around, but it’s something that’s on my radar.

    Interesting read.

  • Tania

    Not having children is one of the biggest regrets in my life, I’m not going to lie. Last year, at 44, I had a procedure done so that I can no longer get pregnant. The chances were slim that I would anyway but when I thought long and hard about having a baby in my mid-40s as a single mom, I can’t do it. I do have a boyfriend in my life but with that situation I also knew if I was going to do it I needed to be prepared for taking on most of the childcare myself, both physically and financially. I’m too tired at this point in my life. When I thought long and hard about it, I just felt too old. I know many women who have children at my age but their life circumstances are also different from mine. I stayed in a prior marriage that was destined to be childless for almost 20 years and that’s why I’m without children today. Sure, I’ve advanced in my career and I have the time/freedom to write on top of my day job but that doesn’t replace having a family. 35 is not a magic number btw, your fertility is going down a little each year. My advice to younger women would be not to just to think about the here and now but to think about “later” now. What if you waited and then couldn’t have children, would you be ok with that? What if you took longer than you’d think to get pregnant? How much energy will you really have in your late 30s/40s? How old will you be when that child is a teen and young adult? These are questions I didn’t ask myself until later. The reality is in my mid-40s, I don’t have the energy level I had in my 30s, definitely not what I had in my 20s.

  • Kelly

    This is a rather flippant solution to putting off children – freezing your eggs, while also very expensive, is also fraught with uncertainty. Of all the eggs harvested, they then need to a) survive the freezing process b) survive the thawing process and then c) be successfully implanted! My friend is an embryologist and said to me recently not to bother as the odds of getting pregnant are just so low. It is a convenient solution for middle class families/women wanting to keep working themselves up the corporate ladder instead of focussing on the optimal time to have children.

    How about we learn to live with less? Lower our living costs? Get rid of the cable, the cellphone contracts, the Lexus?

  • bcalnyc

    I’ve been saying it for years. Never mind the celebrity baby stories – if you don’t have your first child by 30 your chances to have a child without medical assistance drop like a rock. To say anything else is lying to our daughters (and sisters and friends).
    To all those women who want to have some money socked away before having kids – understand clearly that that money is likely to go to fertility treatments.
    You CAN have a life and children but it’s actually easier to have them together (at the same time) than to try to have them sequentially.
    I have no problem with people who don’t want kids (in fact, if you don’t want them, please don’t have them) but if you want them, have them when you’re young enough to do so without health risks and while you have the energy. I’ve had 4 – over a 22 year period. They are the best part of my life – I don’t regret my first, born when I was “too” young or my youngest, born when I was “too” old. The only regret I have is not having more.

  • Maureen

    This article has thoroughly depressed me. As a divorced woman, it makes me feel anxious to “nail down” my next husband and start trying to “plant the seed,” OR ELSE!! It would be nice if articles like this had trigger warnings, I thought it would really be about being able to financially afford to wait and thought “oh that’s a curious new topic I haven’t heard much about.” I had no idea it would be mostly about how women have cursed themselves with barren wombs by “taking their time.” Essentially, I’d rather WAIT for a husband/life partner than feel RUSHED to do it alone a la biological clock and a crowd of tsking young mothers who encourage me to get on with it, already.

  • justsayinghere

    Why have a baby ON PURPOSE if you are not financially & emotionally ready? YES waiting has its risk & also advantages. It is smarter to be ready before bringing a soul to the world. What’s to like about having more responsibilities just for the sake of “Having children” because the clock is ticking?… No money & No emotions in place = No baby. That’s a HUGE favor somebody can do to a baby & the planet.

    • Clueless

      you will never be ready, trust me, ask any parent out there and they will tell you the same, if you think you can be ready you are in for a shock.

  • guest

    the woman of today jump in bed with so many different men when it coms time to think of having a child their eggs do not work. Schooling debts to get ahead. why not marry someone who can support you and children . Men have it easy but in end the women suffers. A child need the love and care of parents not the many unnecessary junk the newer generations feel is necessary.

  • kmilla

    I have no words for those of you who deem the folks spending money trying to concieve their own genetic similars vs adopting “selfish”
    I am 25 and have been told I can not conceive, and am clinically infertile. So…do i just give up on my dream of having my own children and tell my fiance i’ll resign to the fact that I can’t?
    No woman has any room to comment on the choices another makes for her future family. It is simply not your business to put someone down for following the plans they’ve laid for themselves.