Children of the Good Life
Well-off couples face choices on issues from prenatal testing to child care
IT is early evening. In the living room of a beige stucco house, nine-month-old Sarah Weiss is hugging an oversized stuffed camel near the fireplace. She smiles at her mother, who is behind her on the floor, then crawls across the room to the sofa, where her father is sitting. He picks her up and she smiles again. It is time for a bottle, and then bed. For Sarah's parents, this cozy domestic scene would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. Her father, Ron Weiss, admits he had long been ``very skeptical'' about having a family. ``The future for children just seemed awfully bleak, politically and environmentally,'' he says, adding that his outlook changed when his daughter was born.Skip to next paragraph
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Similarly, Sarah's mother, Susan Eilertsen, spent 10 years pursuing a career as a book publicist in New York. ``I had a very, very exciting life there,'' she says.
But three years ago the glamour faded, and Ms. Eilertsen moved back to her native Minneapolis to start her own public relations business. She and Mr. Weiss, a lab manager for an audio visual company, were married in 1987.
``I was 37 and Ron was 40 when Sarah was born,'' Eilertsen explains. ``She's the most interesting thing that's ever happened to me in my life.''
Although most women still give birth for the first time in their 20s, the percentage of those, like Eilertsen, who nurture careers first and then nurture babies after 30 has increased fourfold since 1970. Well-educated and affluent, they find later parenthood producing dramatic changes not only in their own lives but also in the broader patterns of late-20th-century childbearing and child-rearing.
Unlike teenagers and low-income women, whose pregnancies are often random occurrences, upscale parents-to-be specialize in planning. The operative word is control, which may begin with an at-home ``ovulation predictor test'' that promises, ``Whether you want to plan for a winter, spring, summer, or fall baby, the 10-minute ... test just made it easier.''
Once a pregnancy is under way, the attentive mother-to-be will average 13 prenatal visits - five more than a healthy woman needs, according to new guidelines issued by the US Public Health Service. She will read books and magazines on ``parenting.'' She may even call special hotlines for advice on nutrition and breast-feeding.
In addition, she and the father-to-be will enroll in courses for expectant parents. At one typical class at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Fla., nine couples assembled on a Thursday evening to watch videos on infant care and to practice diapering dolls. They also listened attentively as Jean Heath, an obstetrical nurse for 20 years, dispelled myths about perfect parents and model babies.
``Your friends may brag, `My baby sleeps through the night,''' Mrs. Heath told the group. ``But that may be from 11 to 4. You have to redefine what night is.''
Kari Bjorhus, a vice president of a public relations firm in Minneapolis, whose first child, Nicholas, was born last week, sums up the feelings of many career women when she says, ``I didn't know anything about babies. It would be a pretty frightening thing without books and classes.''
When the time comes for the baby's birth, the father-to-be, fresh from coed baby showers and Lamaze coaching, will participate in the delivery, perhaps videotaping the newest family member moments after birth. In some hospitals he will even be permitted to stay overnight with the mother and newborn in a private room decorated to look more like a luxury hotel than a maternity ward.
It sounds like an infant utopia - and for many families it is. Yet with choices come consequences, and despite all their advantages, the mothers and fathers of these silver-spoon babies face decisions their own parents never could have imagined.
One of the first - and most bewildering - involves high-tech prenatal tests that reveal the sex of the fetus and signal possible abnormalities. For some couples, the procedures offer reassurance that the pregnancy is proceeding normally. For others, they necessitate anguished choices about possible medical intervention or abortion.