Career Choice: Motherhood Now or Later

A relatively young mom herself, Kogan credits her age (read: energy level) as the reason she's able to keep up the "crazy pace" of balancing a 60-hour-a-week Web startup with being married and caring for a preschooler.

"I'm not sure I could do this when I was 45," she said. "I'm not sure I could handle a company and a 4-year-old."

Show Me the Money

But for one 33-year-old IT professional I know (let's call her Jasmine), money's the biggest concern. She's been putting off trying to conceive until she finds a new job because she suspects she'll be more likely to get hired before she becomes a parent than after.

"My current contract ends this month," Jasmine told me. "We would really like to have children, but my husband and I can't raise a kid on one income alone, even though he makes a decent one."

For many would-be mommies, though, it's not just about the money. It's about playing the "Who am I?" game first.

Take Christine Traxler, who was an Air Force officer and political campaign coordinator before becoming a high school English teacher at age 35 -- the profession she calls the "right fit" for her. Only then was she ready to have a child, which she did at 38.

"I had the time to figure out what I wanted to do for a living," the 42-year-old Snohomish, Wash., resident said. "If I got married and had kids young, I may not have become a teacher."

The Flexibility Question

Another big perk of putting 5, 10 or 15 years of mileage on your career before taking the motherhood plunge is being able to call in your chits with your employer and nab some of that highly coveted flexibility once junior arrives (teleworking, job sharing and the like).

"You can build a lot of faith and goodwill at the beginning, establish your reputation, and then you can slack a bit and take time off when the wee one comes along," said one 43-year-old project manager from New York (let's call her Melanie).

"Even if you go back to work right away," said Melanie, who had her son when she was 38, "your work will suffer because you are profoundly sleep-deprived and hormonal."

Then again, there's always the concern that you could jeopardize your job or fall behind in your career development by taking too long a leave, said Robin Gorman Newman, founder of MotherhoodLater.com, a Web community for moms over 35.

And even if do you pay your dues, your job still may not jibe with your newfound status as a family woman.

"I made the decision to quit my job as a senior database analyst for an advertising firm when my employer said I'd need to increase my time commitment to 50 to 70 hours a week shortly after I got married," said Sarah Nassif, who hoped to start a family right after getting hitched.

"I didn't see how working more and more hours would mesh with that, even if I took maternity leave," said the 35-year-old Minneapolis resident.

So instead she started a home-based design business, becoming a mom at 33.

On the flip side, Jill Ward, who had her first child at 22 and her second at 27, says working through her kids' early years (she and her husband couldn't afford otherwise) is finally starting to pay off. Not only does the 32-year-old communications professional have a flexible work schedule and high salary with the furniture manufacturer she works for, she loves the job.

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