HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - More and more women are waiting later in life to become mothers for the first time.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, a News 3 investigation looks at why so many are waiting to get pregnant and the impacts this has on the community.
Kathy and her husband tried to get pregnant for seven years. We are only identifying her by her first name for privacy reasons.
She wanted to wait to have a baby until she was married but said she did not find her husband until her 40s. She said they tried on their own to have a child for about a year and then decided to seek help from doctors.
“Unfortunately, none of that worked. We hit a brick wall, so we decided it was time to do IVF [in-vitro fertilization],” said Kathy.
She said it was very difficult for years trying to conceive.
“There are so many ups and downs; so many failures. Nobody and no one nothing prepares you for the heartaches that go along with it,” said Kathy.
But that heartache turned into joy when Kathy got pregnant at 54.
“You can’t let fear control you, and if it is in your heart, just do it because you don’t want to ever regret not having a child if that’s what you want it all along,” said Kathy.
She, like many others, got pregnant later in life.
She came to Dr. Robin Poe-Zeigler, who is the medical director and owner of the New Hope Center Reproductive Health and Fertility Clinic in Virginia Beach.
“I’m seeing a lot more women that are in this late 30s to mid-40s group, but I’m also seeing more women that are in the mid-40s to the early 50s group that are trying to get pregnant,” said Dr. Robin Poe-Zeigler.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows the majority of women are giving birth in the 20s and 30s.
Data also shows in 2020, there was a wide-ranging decline in childbearing in the United States compared to the year prior.
The agency reports that birth rates for women between 40 and 44 have risen almost continuously from 1985 to 2019, by an average of 3% per year.
They say delayed childbearing affects the size, composition and growth of our population.
The CDC says there are increased health risks to older mothers and their babies but say first-time older mothers are generally better educated and more likely to have higher incomes than those at the youngest reproductive ages.
Teenage births continue to decrease, along with births to women 34 years and younger.
An expert from Old Dominion University told News 3 U.S birth rates also declined during the pandemic. This could be due to the economic uncertainty and the loss of wages and as another potential worry.
While the long-term implications are still unclear, overall if the United States has fewer births, it could also mean fewer future workers available to contribute to the economy, taxes and Social Security.
Dr. Elizabeth Gregory is a professor of English and the University of Houston Institute for Research on Women, Gender & Sexuality. She wrote a book called "Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood."
“They needed to delay so they could get an education. They needed to delay so they could get established at work. They needed to find the right partner for the long term that they thought. It wasn't necessarily the person that they ran into when they were 21,” said Dr. Gregory.
She said more women are now in leadership roles trying to put issues like adequate childcare at the forefront.
“They've trickled up into roles where they could start changing the infrastructure, both within business and in government around support for families,” said Dr. Gregory.
Improvements in technology have also given women more choices about how and when they want to conceive.
Dr. Poe-Zeigler with the New Hope Center said she loves working with people to help them get pregnant. She has been working in the field for more than 30 years and watched major changes in how technology has helped so many people.
“I particularly love working with some of the mature women because these women really want to have children, and they have a lot to offer children. With years come wisdom; with years comes knowledge,” said Dr. Poe-Zeigler.
Kathy said she wanted to speak out about her own journey to give others hope
“If I can just reach one person and give them hope and inspiration, then this is all worth it,” said Kathy.
Now, she rubs her stomach with pride and is delighted to be several months pregnant.
“I was so happy that after all of these years I’ve finally got my little miracle,” said Kathy.