A healthy pregnancy can’t be judged by a belly
For Sarah McClelland-Brown and her husband, the decision of when to have a child wasn’t a simple one.
When she was 25, and just three weeks before completing her master’s degree, she met, Jon Brown, who would become her husband.
Now 30, she is a mother and a pastor. Her husband also is a minister.
McClelland-Brown said finances, education and communication played roles in their child-rearing decisions.
“Personally, I wanted to be done with my ordination process,” she said. “It is later, but I needed to finish school first.”
After she got married, McClelland-Brown and her husband waited a while before having kids. They wanted to take some time to further establish their relationship as a married couple and develop their communication skills before having kids.
As a clergy couple, McClelland-Brown said they wanted to practice what they taught to other couples. In addition, McClelland-Brown wanted to make sure she was employed somewhere with a good maternity leave policy.
“People aren’t getting married until they’re older,” she said. “If you’re choosing to have a child, then having financial stability and a stable relationship would be the two things that you would want, and those aren’t happening until we’re older because you need more education to earn a decent living in a lot of situations.”
For many people pursuing higher education, the time line for decisions about marriage and children has changed. Experts also say the up and down economy have affected parenting decisions and in turn, birthrates across Middle Georgia and the United States.
The 2017 U.S. Birth Rate Report shows a historic low in fertility rates with a national average at just over 60 births for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, down about 2 percent from 2016.
Here in Middle Georgia, the birth rates are a bit higher than Georgia as a whole. According to data provided by the Georgia Department of Public Health, Macon-Bibb County saw a rate of 44.1 births per 1,000 female residents in 2017, compared to Georgia’s overall birth rate of 39 births per 1,000 women.
Dr. Mitch Rodriguez, medical director of Navicent Health’s neonatal intensive care unit, said the national decline in birth rates during the past decade, in part, was due to the 2008 recession.
“Their perception of their financial well being, that makes a big difference into when you (women) become pregnant,” Dr. Rodriguez said.
He said the economic uptick this year also coincided with an increase in the birth and fertility rates, including an increase in pregnancies for women over 35.
Laura Simon, assistant professor of sociology at Mercer University, said that when reviewing birth rate statistics, it’s important to keep in mind that different factors are involved when looking at planned versus unplanned pregnancies. Higher education, she said, often motivates couples to push back and delay childbearing situations.
“Some of it is less of a decline overall and more of a delay,” Simon said. “It really comes down to stability for a lot of couples.”
In the summer of 2017, McClelland-Brown and Jon moved from Abbeville, Ga., to Macon when she was 30 weeks pregnant.
She said it took about six weeks to find a new OB-GYN, and the closest one she found who accepted her insurance was in Warner Robins, Ga. For those insured under the Affordable Care Act, she said it can be incredibly difficult to find coverage in Middle Georgia.
“My entire pregnancy, I did not have an OB closer than 30 minutes,” she said.
Still, she said that she and her husband will likely have another child in the future and that the low cost of living in Macon helps.
“We would definitely rather do it here then, say, Atlanta,” she said. “The cost of childcare is prohibitive for some people.”
Simon also said that a lot of couples are making the decision to be “childless by choice” for a number of reasons, including environmental fears and career priorities.
“I think it’s becoming less stigmatized, especially for women,” she said. “We’re just seeing more diversity of options, which I think is a strength.”
Looking ahead, she said, health care and retirement systems will need to adapt if these “childless by choice” numbers increase.