Bringing up Baby in the '80s
For a college professor who chooses her words carefully, Suzanne Berger becomes almost effusive when she talks about the surprises that come with being a new parent:Skip to next paragraph
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''It's astonishing! There's really no preparing yourself for the arrival of another person in your life. I mean, Daniel is a remarkably affable, agreeable, and sociable baby, but he's also a person in his own right. It's just extraordinary!''
We're sitting in Professor Berger's office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she's been teaching political science since 1968. The phone rings constantly, stacks of student papers threaten to engulf her desk, and she gets up occasionally to shake Max, the English sheep dog that lies sprawled at our feet, out of a deep, snoring sleep.
While Max sleeps the day away in the office, Professor Berger's son, Daniel, is napping at home with a babysitter. More than half of the women in the US are part of today's paid work force. And almost half of these 46 million working women, like Suzanne Berger, are mothers of pre-school children.
There's another statistic that Professor Berger figures in, as well. Like an increasing number of women, she became a first-time mother at what is considered a late age. She gave birth to Daniel a year ago, when she was almost 42.
A report due to be published by the National Center for Health Statistics in May, ''Trends in First Births to Older Mothers 1970-1979,'' cites a significant increase in first births for older women at the same time that first births for younger women have declined.
In 1970 there was a rate of 7.3 first births per thousand for women aged 30- 34, and in 1979 that figure had climbed to 12.1, an increase of 66 percent. During the same time, the rate of first births for women aged 20-24 dropped from 78.2 per thousand in 1970 to 56.4 per thousand in 1979, a decline of nearly 28 percent.
However, Stephanie Ventura, author of the NCHS report, says that the median age for first births has increased only slightly in the past decade, from 22.1 in 1970, to 23.0 in 1979, since the total number of first births by older women still are a small fraction of the overall total of first births.
Suzanne Berger and her husband, Kenneth Keniston, family researcher and author of ''All Our Children: the American Family Under Pressure,'' were married when she was 37 and he was 47. Both are full professors at MIT, and both have arrived at points in their lives where, she says, they have no ambitions for further professional advancement.
Whether to have a child was something they talked over for a year or two after their marriage. Dr. Keniston had two grown daughters by a previous marriage and realized that a new baby would mean that he would probably spend the rest of his life as an active father. With two good salaries, however, they both knew they could afford the best child care. Their financial security, says Professor Berger, was an important factor in their decision to start a family.
When Professor Berger became pregnant, her husband, who hadn't had the option of being at his daughters' births, was eager to sign up for a childbirth class. ''We were virtually the grandparents in the class,'' she recalls with great affection, ''but it was a wonderful experience.
''Now the problem is not who's forced to spend too much time with Daniel,'' she continues. ''It's that we both wish we had more time with him. We were so happy about having this child, he has been such a source of joy, that how things are shared has not become an issue.''