One of the most frequently asked questions I get is How did you know when you were ready to have a baby? Im very happy to share my answer, of course, and over the past few months, I asked 11 other women to weigh in, as well. Their answers were fascinating (and so different!)…
Ignorance is Bliss
For me, the initial decision-making process was clear. My whole life I knew I wanted children. I played with dolls, babysat for years and cooed after every child that passed me by. After meeting Alex, I felt even more sure about starting a family sooner than later.
Even though none of our friends had kids yet, my arms would literally ache for the weight of a baby. It was a surprisingly physical, visceral feeling. We agreed to try for a baby after we got married, and once we got home from our honeymoon, lo and behold I discovered I was pregnant.
While my decision to have a child was clear, I was still blown away by what a huge life change motherhood was, and I faced ups and downs that came with having a child. I adore parenting, but funnily enough, its almost like only in hindsight did I realize what a big decision it actually was.
I always wanted to be a young mother. My mom had me when she was 34 and she died when she was 52. I realized that if she had had me younger, I would have had more years with her. I wanted to give my kids the longest time possible to have a mom. So at the ripe old age of 23 I gave birth to my daughter, and at 25 I had twin boys. My dreams of being a young mom came true. I just hope my kids still want me around when Im a grumpy 98-year-old.
Our son was a total surprise. I call him my juice cleanse baby. At the time, we were using a diaphragm for protection. I did my first juice cleanse (this was many years ago now) when they were all the rage. Well, I lost 12 pounds I didnt realize that would affect how the diaphragm fit, but, it did! So, I didnt have the challenges of deciding to have a child, but I did struggle with motherhood. I love my son and was so humbled to become a mother but I hadnt been emotionally prepared for everything I was giving up (alone time, time with my husband, casual morning sex) and I didnt realize the energy and willpower it takes to juggle a career and a child, and just the general ongoing sacrifice of myself for my family that comprises being a mother. It took me a long time to find my own way through those woods.
One Mormon Experience
I was 25 when my first daughter was born. Its common in the Mormon culture to have kids really young. Financial stability isnt always a factor, its often assumed everything will work out fine. My husband was still in law school; we didnt question whether we were prepared or not.
My mom had us young; I was the oldest of five, and, growing up, family was the forefront of everything in our Mormon community. Although I love that, the way girls are raised can sometimes be unbalanced. My parents would always talk about their excitement for me to be a mom, but theyd never say to me, were so excited to see what youll do with your college degree. It wasnt pressure, it was an assumption; it was just what you do.
I dont want to make assumptions for my daughter, and Im always trying to plant seeds, like saying, IF you want to be a mom someday, or IF you want to be a doctor someday. I want her to have a different mindset. I want her to feel open to every possibility and know there is joy in all of it.
When it came to having kids, I honestly didnt think about it. Its so silly to admit that, it makes me feel kind of foolish! My friend recently joked, I put so much more thought into which stroller to buy than whether or not to have a kid. Im happy with the way everything has shaken out, but its funny to imagine what our lives would be like if we hadnt had kids so young.
Deciding to Adopt
Before I even met my husband, I knew I wanted to adopt. I didnt feel a deep desire to be pregnant, but I felt deeply that I would be a loving mom to a child who is already here, as I used to say to my friends. My husband is adopted, so when we started talking about having a family, he was very open to the idea. When it turned out that I had some medical issues that would have made pregnancy tricky, even dangerous, he was one hundred percent pro. When I asked him How do you feel about being the adopted father of an adopted child?, he got this very tender look in his eyes and said, Ill know how to explain it to her.
I have many friends whove adopted, and each one is a beautiful story, but ours was uniquely fast. We had had one preliminary how does this work? conversation with an adoption attorney, but we were busy in our lives and thought wed wait six months or a year before starting the paperwork and all the other requirements.
Then one day, out of the blue, our adoption attorney called and said, I have a situation with a birth mom. Shes six-months pregnant and the couple that was going to take her baby found another baby. Would you like to be considered? We looked at each other over the phone for a moment. It wasnt our timing. We were still living in my tiny apartment. But we had no reason to say no.
A few days later our attorney called us back with a trill in her voice. The birth mom picked you! she shouted. I felt like my heart was bursting out of my chest. Miracle, miracle, miracle, I kept saying to myself.
For the next month, we did nothing but paperwork, or so it seemed. Finances, background checks, original birth certificates, testimonials from friends, bank records, tax returns and meetings with a social worker. I said it was like going to work for the CIA combined with buying a house. At the same time, our birth mom found out her baby would be arriving early. We were in a race against the clock to get our paperwork done before the baby was scheduled to be induced.
We made it by one day. We were in the hospital when our daughter was born. We were holding her within hours. It had been seven weeks since that phone call from our attorney. Seven weeks from no baby to being a mom.
We are so grateful to the birth mom. She made the hard decision to put her daughter up for adoption. I never forget that. And I love my little girl so much. She is a joy to us every day.
An Intellectual Decision
I was the baby of the family and didnt babysit, either. So I never grew up with the feeling that I had to have kids. I just figured after I got married I would one day have the urge. So I waited, and waited… no urge.
As my mid-thirties approached, my husband and I realized that our choice to have kids would be more of a intellectual decision instead of an emotional decision. We felt stable financially, were enjoying staying home on Saturday nights, and basically said, Why not? I was worried my lack of urge would make it hard to adapt to being a mom, but I loved my son deeply from the second I met him and have never regretted our decision. I always say I wasnt ready to have kids, but I readied myself.
Theres No Perfect Time
My husband and I knew we wanted to have kids. When we were nearing 30, my husband suggested we get started. I said, But things are so good the way they are, and he replied, Theres no perfect time to have a baby. That resonated with me.
There was always some career or life reason why the timing wasnt ideal, but I realized in retrospect that that would forever be the case, even with our second or third baby. I dont think everyone has that alarm bell inside that says, Today is the day.
Of course the moment our children joined us, our lives made room for them. Thats just the way it is. I think as humans we get apprehensive about change, but then we adapt to it so much that we cant imagine what life was like before.
A Long-Term Vision
My partner and I asked ourselves what we wanted our lives to be like in 10, 15 or 20 years and we tried to make the decision based on that vision. We decided we wanted to be a part of a bustling, interdependent, multigenerational community of adults and kids, and we wanted to go to soccer games and graduations. So it wasnt as much a matter of am I ready to be horribly sleep-deprived; will I find that awesome? as it was the life we want to have when we are 50, ideally, has kids in it.
I think that if we assume that when you are ready it means that the adjustment to a with-kids lifestyle will be fairly easy and natural and we wont regret it, then almost no one is ever ready. Its sensible to feel ambivalent about that disruption, and a certain pragmatic ambivalence doesnt mean youre not ready.
Its also such a stark decision. Its not like deciding to go to grad school and knowing that if you hate it you can drop out. Once you have a kid, you have him or her forever. So I think a lot of this question is about trying to predict regret. If I have kids, will I regret it sometimes? If I dont have kids, will I regret it sometimes? And for most people, the answer to both questions is probably yes. Theres not really a self-awareness quiz that will help us never to feel wistful about the whatever path we didnt take.
Just One Kid
While working at Elle Magazine, I heard so many women talk about the ups and downs of parenthood. So I was able to think and think and think about it. I wasnt sure if I wanted a child. But I wasnt sure that I didnt want a child. I was 50/50, completely ambivalent. My whole thing was I wanted to be totally sold on it before getting into it. I wanted to want it.
But, a fertility counselor I once interviewed for a story told me you dont actually ever want to get to the point where you want a child more than anything else in the world, since usually when women get to that point its because they cant have one. Another doctor I interviewed suggested that instead of thinking yes or no on kids, it might help to think, one kid or more than one kid. She pointed out that one kid would provide the joy of parenting in a less intense way than multiple kids and that many of the things I was worried about might not be a factor with one child my career, my relationship, my finances.
Thats was first time someone mentioned one child as a compromise. So we had a child.
Now I struggle all the time with how to tell people what it feels like to have a child. Before I had decided to have a child, I would get very frustrated when people would say super optimistic things, like, Once you have one youll love them SO much. I would roll my eyes. But I struggle now because it IS such a wonderful thing. How can I tell people that without sounding like an brainwashed, annoying person who is overly besotted with her baby? But, its so awesome. Every single day I feel so happy, like 100% happy, that we had a child. Thats why I never write about it or address the topic of motherhood with a tone of and we lived happily ever. It just sounds so ugh. But Im so, so, so glad we did it.
Even as a child, motherhood was never something I pictured myself doing. Pretending to be a mother was a role I found boring compared to other games, like pretending to be a spy, a dancer or a teacher. There was so much world to explore beyond the relatively small domestic realm of raising children, I thought. When I got older, I never enjoyed babysitting, either.
I noticed that I wasnt captivated by the everyday aspects of parenting people envision when they yearn for a child, either dressing and undressing a baby, bath time, bedtime, playing in the park. Ive always felt that focusing on those things would involve missing out on intellectual stimulation and that I would resent the repetitiveness, endless housework and other demands that come with being a mom.
Articulating why I dont want children has been a long, thoughtful process for me because I have been asked to justify it so many times. People sometimes take issue when you say that you dont want children, so I always felt I had to come up with brash or witty responses to being attacked for expressing this preference, ranging from I dont like babies (for the shock effect) to Theres so much else I want to do in my life to I would have kids if I could have a wife and be a father. I dont think I would have encountered the same level of skepticism, curiosity or even hostility about my decision not to have children if I were a man.
People often think of a life without children as empty, but the only times I feel my life is empty are when I am creatively blocked or when I am not able to spend enough time with friends and family whom I love. Quiet and order are important to me. I need both to be able to think and read and write.
When many of my friends started having children, I became more aware of the fact that some day, as I got older, my option to have kids would definitively end. And being in a committed relationship has made me stop and think through my decision once more. But ultimately, my partner and I are both committed to our work, to travel and to having our lives be open to opportunity.
A Busy Calendar
A lot of the decision was just finding a quiet stretch in our schedules. After our wedding, we waited a couple of months to take our Italian honeymoon and I knew I didnt want to be pregnant and miss out on the wine and the cheese and the cured meats. Then, in the year that followed, a seemingly endless string of life circumstances intervened: we had five more weddings we wanted to fully celebrate; I quit my job; we moved apartments; I started my freelance career, making life more hectic and uncertain.
We felt like it made the most sense to wait until we had settled into our marriage and our careers and the mad rush of trips and weddings slowed. I ended up getting pregnant RIGHT after my best friends wedding at the same time she did.
Hoping Every Month
I was quite sure I did not want a child throughout my twenties. I had a strong gut feeling that I didnt want someone to need me that much. I had always adored kids, but I wanted my freedom and having a family just wasnt calling me!
Then something changed for me around age 32. It wasnt a lightning bolt, it was a slow shift. I decided to take some time to get my cycles in order and see if I could work on general fertility for a while. I dove into the book Womens Bodies, Womens Wisdom and adjusted how I ate and took care of myself.
I started to welcome the idea of a child and let it sit with me. I started talking about it more with my sweetheart. I started to feel more emotionally connected to our idea of a family of three and we felt more sure it was something we were hoping for and not just wondering about.
By the time I turned 35, were were hoping to be pregnant every single month. It was a long journey for us, which took many twists and turns, but we finally found out I was pregnant about six weeks before my 39th birthday. I am now 30 weeks along and due this summer. We are not at the end of our story by any means, and I feel lucky to be where I am every single day. Ill always remember and respect how long everything took.
My only real piece of advice about figuring out if you are ready is to take your time. So many of us rush around all day long and take that same approach with the big decisions in our lives. People always say life moves quickly, but I disagree. I think life moves slowly if you are paying attention. There is so much for us to take from and learn from every single day. If you pay attention, you will know if and when you are ready and even the pondering becomes an important part of the journey. I wish everyone a good and fulfilling path toward their own families, no matter what they look like!
Thank you so much to these women for sharing their personal stories. What about you? Are you weighing the decision right now? If you have a child, how did you know you were ready? I am so curious to hear…
P.S. How many kids do you hope to have (were torn!), and would you ever decide not to have kids?
(Top photo by Ruth Orkin; bottom photo of Toby as a newborn. A few names have been changed for peoples privacy.)