FAIRFIELD – Marisa Torrieri Bloom sat on the kitchen floor of the house she rents in Fairfield, knees crossed and bending over, as she lifted a blue and green spoon to her 10-month-old son’s lips. It was dinner time in the Bloom household, and since her son, Nathan, was feeling under the weather, Bloom took the banana puree to a place he would be more comfortable than his high chair where he usually eats.
“I never thought this would be my life,” said Bloom, 37, who is originally from Silver Spring, Md., but spent her late 20s and early 30s living in New York City.
“If you’d told me a few years ago that right now I would be in Fairfield County about to buy a house with a little baby, I would have thought that was the most boring thing ever,” she said.
It doesn’t seem so boring this Mother’s Day. These days, it’s pretty blissful — and a little stressful, when she factors in her full-time writing job and part-time gig as a guitar teacher. And after worrying whether she would be able to have her first child at age 36, Bloom said she is thrilled to have Nathan and her husband Zack by her side.
Here in Southwestern Connecticut, women have children later in their lives than in most other parts of the country.
The Bridgeport-Stamford Metropolitan Statistical Area — which covers the same ground as the footprint of Fairfield County — has the second highest percentage of 35- to 50-year-old mothers in the nation. In total, census data shows that a little more than 36 percent of Fairfield County mothers who gave birth within a recent year were in that age bracket, lagging slightly behind the No. 1 metropolitan area: Boulder, Colo.
Nationally, the figure is much lower, at about 20 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I’ve been working in the Stamford area since 1995, and we have many women who are 35 to 45 having children — not necessarily their first child — but many women having a child then,” said Dr. Elisabeth Aronow, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Fairfield County OB-Gyn, who spends most of her time practicing in Stamford and Darien.
Darien’s rates of new moms between ages 35 and 50 are even higher than the Fairfield County norm. Of the 25 towns in Southwestern Connecticut with at least 100 births in a recent year, the town had the second highest percentage of moms in that age bracket, at 64 percent. It was barely outranked by New Fairfield, where 66.9 percent of births were to women between ages 35 and 50.
Part of the reason there is such a high percentage of older women having babies is likely because women begin the motherhood process at a much later age in Connecticut. While Aronow noted that not all children delivered to an older mother will be the first child in the birth order, the most recent data available from the National Center for Health Statistics shows Connecticut and New Jersey were tied for having the second-oldest average age of a mother at first birth in 2006, at 27.2 years old, just behind Massachusetts’s 27.7 average age.
That year, the average age across the nation was 25, but while the NCHS said there are no more current figures for state-by-state breakdowns, the national average has continued to creep up slowly in recent years, to 25.4 years old in 2010 — a trend that a NCHS spokesman said is likely to be mirrored in Connecticut.
The reason for older moms in the Nutmeg State is multifaceted, but in a paper published by the Pew Research Center on Friday, Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based “fact tank” wrote that a record share of new moms are now college educated, which can have a significant effect on the age at which mothers give birth.
In 2011, roughly two out of three mothers had at least some college education, up from about one in two in 1990, according to Livington’s report.
“And I would expect that in more affluent areas, where women have more education, it’s not a surprise that they would tend to be older when they have babies,” Livingston said Friday morning.
Fairfield County women, on the whole, are more educated than women across the nation. In this area, 39.7 percent of women who are 18 or older hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 25.7 percent nationally.
Not only does earning a four-year or advanced degree often lead to delaying a marriage or the decision to become parents by several years simply to make time for education, there is also a high correlation between well-educated couples and the traditional order of marriage followed by parenthood, Livingston said.
Especially in Southwestern Connecticut.
“A number of people wait,” Aronow said. “Having children is one along the list of things to be ready for. It’s ‘We need our dog. We need our house, and then we can consider having children . . . I think there are many people around here with that Type-A personality, and everything has a time and an order for it to fit in.”
Marisa and Zack Bloom, both of whom hold a master’s degree, followed that order in their relationship, and after beginning to date in May 2008, when Marisa was 32, they found the pressure mounting to kick things into high gear. They were married in August of 2010, and began trying to conceive after about a year.
“I was very tense about the fact that I would be getting married at 34, and 35 was like this number I had in my head: ‘Must start before I turn 35. Must start before I turn 35.’ So I feel like it did start getting more prominent in the back of my head,” Marisa Bloom said.
“I mean, my parents were at my throat. They were like, ‘You know, we had two kids by the time we were 33,’” she said with a laugh.
When Marisa was born in 1976, the average age for a mother to give birth for the first time was 24.6 years old, and her mother was a few years older than that. Nathan is the first grandchild for Marisa’s parents in Maryland, and Zack’s parents who still live in Wilton where he grew up.
The pressure didn’t seem as heavy for Zack, who is seven years younger than his wife, and celebrated his 30th birthday last summer.
“I never had any pressure. I just knew I didn’t want to be an older dad when my kids were in high school and college, and I knew that people around here get married later, so this is more normal,” he said. “I’m a high-energy person, so I wanted to be able to play sports and be an active father with my kids. And in my late 20s and early 30s, I figured then I would be in my late 40s or early 50s when they’re in high school and college, so I could still be cool.”
The timing worked out for the couple, who said they plan to begin trying for a second baby in a few months, when Marisa has finished nursing Nathan.
“It’s funny, like would I space it out if I could?” Marisa asked. “That’s such a hard question to answer, because I don’t have the option of not spacing it out. But it’s good, fortuitous, that I want to try this summer because there really is no other choice.”
It still comes as a shock to Marisa when she examines her life from the outside. After living in the New York City bubble for so many years, where she felt like she was “living in an ageless place,” she still has trouble realizing she is 37 already — and that life is more baby gates and feeding time than Brooklyn bars and concerts.
“Life actually began for me when I was 30,” she said, spooning out another dose of the banana puree, some of which had made its way into her long blonde hair, courtesy of Nathan’s sticky fingers.
“We just had an offer accepted on a house in Fairfield,” she said. “It’s weird because now I feel like I really am a grownup. I have the house, a kid, a husband. It’s like it’s all complete.”