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Children of the Good Life

Well-off couples face choices on issues from prenatal testing to child care

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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.

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.''

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