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"Successfully guiding multi generational families through life stage planning"
Biological, career clocks might be out of sync



June 17, 2008 Winston Salem Journal

By Laura Giovanelli

Jun. 17, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
delivered by Newstex) -- Summer Riley married her
husband, Mike, the June after she graduated from
Wake Forest University. She was 22.

They played in a soccer league together. They spent nights in restaurants and
bars. On whims, they took weekend trips to the beach. Starting a family wasn't on
their radar.

"We were young and fun and cute and didn't really think about it," she said. "I was
concerned that I have this perfect life with this great husband. And I wasn't
particularly interested in introducing these people into my life who would take up
all this time."

Her mind-set changed by the time she turned 25. That's when she and Mike
decided to try to have children. "I knew we would have kids. We owned a car, and
we owned a house," she said. "I just think we thought, 'Better do it now while we're
young and energetic than wait and wait and wait.'"

They ended up having fraternal twins. Today, at 29, Riley has three children, and
is pregnant with a fourth, due in October.

When to start having children is a weighty and highly personal decision. And if
you want them, chances are there will never be a time that feels perfect.

Many women face the paradox of modern society's expectations and their own
ambitions with the biological realities of aging and declining fertility.

More and more American women are putting off motherhood for careers,
education, travel, or just because they don't feel ready. The average age of
first-time moms has steadily crept upward, from 22.7 in 1980 to 25.2 in 2005.

That steady climb is at odds with the fact that women are most fertile between
their late teens and 20s. By 34, fertility decreases by 10 percent, and between 34
and 39 by 8 percent a year. "At age 39, you have half the chance you had of
getting pregnant as you did at 30 or 31," said Dr. G. David Adamson, a
reproductive endocrinologist and the president of the American Society for
Reproductive Medicine.

It was infrequent back in the early 1990s for a 35-year-old to be getting pregnant,
said Dr. Lamar Parker, an OB/GYN with Lyndhurst Gynecologic Associates.
Today, he sees such patients regularly. "Our lifestyle has gotten ahead of our
biology," he said.

Older women are also more likely to have issues with weight, diabetes and other
health problems that could complicate pregnancy, said Dr. Tamer Yalcinkaya, a
reproductive endocrinologist with Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center's
Center for Reproductive Medicine. "A lot of women have led successful lives and
are used to getting what they want," he said. "And this is really considered being
part of being female. It's kind of mind-boggling to them when they give up
contraception and can't get pregnant."

Ten percent to 15 percent of women experience infertility. But older women often
have trouble getting pregnant because their eggs are also aging. Older eggs are
more likely to be abnormal and therefore less likely to fertilize and implant in a
woman's uterus. Older mothers also have higher rates of miscarriages and
genetic abnormalities.

That's why some women who put off having children find it's not as easy as they
thought it would be to get pregnant. While other factors contribute to infertility,
one that is predictable is that time affects women's eggs. We are living longer
than ever, but that's thanks to antibiotics, cleaner water and vaccines. Modern
reproductive medicine hasn't solved the problem of aging eggs.

The best time biologically is to have a baby between 20 and 35, Adamson said.
"That does not mean some women can't get pregnant after that ... but the reality
is that one in four women by 35 will have difficulty conceiving."

Kate Gentry got into teaching because she knew that she wanted a family. But
her career turned out to be one reason she and her husband waited to have a
child. She had one demanding administrative job after another with Davidson
County Schools. She was an assistant principal by 28 and a high-school principal
by 32. She gave birth to Maggie, a girl, in March but it was after about four years
of trying. She eventually turned to in-vitro fertilization.

She wasn't desperate to have her own child. Adoption was an option for her. But
she was surprised that she had difficulty getting pregnant.

"I kind of got fast-tracked into my career," Gentry said. "Each time we'd think,
'We'll have a baby,' I'd get a promotion.

"I knew that the longer you wait, the harder it gets. At 30, I thought we probably
should start. And then when it didn't work after a few years, I was a little
concerned."

Still, Gentry is glad that she waited. At 35, she feels as if she is financially and
emotionally secure. "I think if we have any more (children), we'll do that in the next
couple years. I do feel a sense of urgency about that."

Riley had no trouble getting pregnant at 25, but today her life is drastically
changed. None of her friends from college have kids yet. She takes joy in the
small things, such as picking strawberries with her children for the first time, or the
time she and Mike took their brood to their first Chicago Cubs game (Mike is from
Chicago).

Riley is also keenly aware that there's no day off from parenting. Sometimes she
thinks it would have been smart to work a little longer (a teacher, she is now home
full time with her children), save money, buy a better wardrobe, travel more. She
will get e-mails from a friend who lives in New York, chronicling her single life as if
she is the fifth, long-lost girlfriend of the Sex and the City quartet.

"I'm like, 'I changed 85 diapers!'" Riley said, laughing. "Some days I am great at
this ... and some days, I'm like, 'We need to watch a movie, because I'm going
crazy.'"

Then she remembers that she will still be relatively young when her children are
grown. "I also think if I had waited much longer I wouldn't have had this many
children," she said. "I feel like everyone does what suits them the best. People
kind of go the route that feeds their heart the most."

Laura Giovanelli can be reached at 727-7302 or at lgiovanelli@wsjournal.com.

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