Planning a Family
Waiting Too Long? continued...
So how long is too long to wait? "Unfortunately, there's no
test doctors can conduct that will tell you, 'You have two years,' or 'You have
four years,'" says Goldstein.
According to Fretts, women who delay childbearing often have
"more education, good jobs, and perhaps more money -- so they're socially
advantaged but biologically disadvantaged. The optimal time to have children is
really in the 20s."
Gayle Peterson, PhD, MSSW, a family therapist in Berkeley,
Calif., says that the challenge of balancing work with the desire for
parenthood is becoming very intense for many women. On the one hand, as their
biological clock ticks, they understand the need to start their family, she
says. "But lately the work environment has moved toward demanding
more overtime, especially in certain professions, and it's almost
impossible for these women to find balance."
New Birth Control Alternatives
Ironically, when it comes to contraception, couples have more
options today, and thus greater control over at least one component of family
planning. In about the last year, the pharmaceutical industry has spawned a
wave of new alternatives for women, which include:
- A new type of intrauterine device (IUD), called Mirena, which can be left
in place for up to five years. It contains the hormone levonorgestrel, which is
gradually released over the life of the T-shaped device.
- Lunelle is a once-a-month injection of synthetic estrogen/progesterone
hormones. Despite the convenience of not taking a birth control pill each day,
Lunelle does require a visit to the doctor every 28 to 30 days for a new
- The first contraceptive patch, called Ortho Evra, delivers a steady stream
of estrogen and progestin through the skin, and is replaced every seven days.
Worn under the clothes on the buttocks, upper torso, or abdomen, it will become
available sometime in 2002.
- A vaginal ring, called NuvaRing, is a small, flexible ring that will soon
come on the market, and provides a low dose of estrogen and progestin over a
Does Size and Spacing Matter?
The trend toward women starting families later (or not at all)
-- along with the availability of more birth control methods -- does not seem
to have made much of a statistical impact on family size in the U.S. According
to a recent CDC report, analyzing data from 2000, the average number of
offspring born to women over a lifetime was 2.1, compared with fewer than two
children per woman during most of the 1970s and 1980s.
With the help of contraceptives, some parents continue to try
to space out their children in what they consider the most appropriate
intervals, although Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate with their family
planning. Many child psychologists advise that three to three-and-a-half years
between children is optimal.