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Despite all the easy-to-find explanations for exactly when you should have a baby, the reasons to have a baby are actually entirely your own. You see, as women, most of us have been raised under a few basic assumptions, one of the most common of which is that we want to have children.
As author and scholar Brené Brown tells us in Daring Greatly, “Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound . . . . Women are constantly asked why they haven’t married or, if they’re married, why they haven’t had children. Even women who are married and have one child are often asked why they haven’t had a second child.”
Brown highlights a complex truth we all live with–most of us are raised to believe we should want children, and perhaps even by a certain time. But there’s no perfect time to have a baby.
Deciding when to have a baby is complicated, and it’s not usually as simple as just wanting a child and then having one.
We’re here to help you with that decision, recognizing that the decision is still entirely unique to you. While there may not be a “perfect” answer to the question, “Am I ready to have a baby?” there are certain things you can consider to help make the decision a little easier.
From weighing your financial situation to analyzing the health of your relationship, we’re here to help if you’re undecided about having a baby!
All of the “Facts” About When to Have a Baby
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that I shouldn’t make important life decisions based on statistics. Despite this, however, I’m a fact girl.
When it comes to pondering life’s serious moments, I can’t help but face a general curiosity regarding what everyone else is doing. Or, when they’re doing it.
If you’re like me and need the cold, hard truth of the matter, there are several statistics about marriage and children that might be helpful when trying to decide when to have a baby. These include:
- As of 2018, the average age for first-time mothers was 29.9 years old. Gone are the days of thinking we need to be finished procreating by age 30.
- The average married couple waits about three years after getting married to have their first baby. Honeymoon babies are not the norm anymore.
- Approximately 1-in-4 women have to return to work within two weeks of giving birth, but the postpartum experience really requires more time for rest and recovery. Considering your work situation could be important.
- 43% of women do not return to work at all after having a baby. Again, consider your situation and your life goals.
- Women under the age of 35 have an easier time getting pregnant and carrying healthy pregnancies, but modern at-home fertility tests make it easier to determine if you need to worry about issues like your ovarian reserve.
- 1-in-8 couples will struggle with infertility, and 1-in-4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
Am I Ready to Have a Baby? 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
There’s no perfect formula for learning how to decide when to have a baby. No matter what your mom, grandmother, and best friend tell you, the answer to this question is neither universal nor easy.
While it would be so much simpler to plug in some stats and have someone else decide for you, that’s just not how things work (at least, not yet, although I’ve read enough dystopian literature to have some concerns for the future!).
There are, however, a few questions for you to consider that might help you figure things out one way or the other:
1. What are your reasons for having a baby?
If your answer to this question involves the words “should” or “supposed to,” I’m going to go ahead and say that maybe getting pregnant is not in your best interest.
Don’t let yourself be bullied into having a baby when you aren’t ready. There is no rule stating that you have to be a parent at any given time (or that you have to be one at all!)
I don’t care that your mother-in-law is begging for grandchildren. It’s not her body, time, or money, that will be doing the heavy lifting. Aging parents do make the choice harder, but ultimately, it’s your call.
If, however, your reasons to have a baby relate to an innate desire for a child and a dream of building a family, you might want to give yourself the green light to try and conceive if the time is right.
2. What’s your relationship currently like?
Let me say this loud for the people in the back: Please don’t use a baby as a “band-aid” for your relationship!
Nora Ephron famously warned us, “Having a baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage.” And research shows that she’s not far off.
While happy, healthy couples are ideal candidates for children, you don’t want to bring a baby into an already toxic environment.
Studies have shown that in more cases than not, when couples have a baby to try and repair their relationship, things typically become worse.
According to Molly Millwood, PhD, “for 40 to 70 percent of couples undergoing the transition to parenthood, there is a decline in marital quality, one that is quite steep in the first year of the baby’s life.The level of conflict between partners tends to increase by a factor of 9, while the numbers of positive marital exchanges decreases substantially.”
Although Millwood’s research specifically revolves around married, heterosexual couples, she is careful to point out that research indicates similar findings among unwed couples and gay couples.
That is to say, no matter what type of partnership you’re in, it’s likely to become more difficult once you have a child, not less.
This information isn’t meant to scare you. Just because you had an argument last Tuesday doesn’t mean you’re not ready to have a baby.
But it is ideal to go into the decision educated, understanding that babies are not the solution to repair a broken relationship.
3. How is your financial situation?
Did you know that new parents spend approximately $13,000 in the first year to take care of their babies? And sadly, that number doesn’t even account for the cost for childbirth itself!
Some of the biggest expenses include:
- Pediatrician appointments
- Furniture and baby gear
- Diapers and Wipes
- Nursing Supplies, Formula, and Baby Food
It’s essential to consider these numbers before you choose to get pregnant. If you’re already struggling to make ends meet, having a baby will just add more stress to your financial situation.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it does mean you want to put some time into financial planning.
Ask yourself if you have the financial resources you feel are necessary to have a baby in a way that’s in keeping with your lifestyle.
4. Do you have enough room for a baby?
When it comes to figuring out when to have a baby, the size of your home is something to consider. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the answers to this question are relative.
After all, what exactly is “enough room?”
If you’re comfortable with the idea of sharing a room with your child for the foreseeable future, finding a larger home with space for a nursery may not be an issue. There are people who have babies in tiny homes, after all!
But if having a large home in the suburbs, complete with minivan and basketball goal, are in your plans for raising a family, and you aren’t quite there financially, you might want to consider waiting.
Like all choices, this one looks very different for every family.
5. How is your mental health?
Just as examining the health of your relationship before deciding when to have a baby is important, it’s also crucial to look at your own mental health, as well.
While stress is a common reality for so many of us, you should debate how pregnancy stress and getting ready for baby could exacerbate the situation, not to mention the sleepless nights that are to come once you do have a little one in your home.
Plenty of women who struggle with mental health issues choose to have babies, and there are plenty of ways to make this work.
But knowing your own risk factors for issues like perinatal and postpartum depression and anxiety are important!
6. What is your career & maternity leave situation?
We live in a cultural moment where women have more professional opportunities than in years past.
But the reality of the matter is that, in some situations, having a baby can disrupt career opportunities.
It’s a good idea to examine the present and future of your professional career.
Consider how taking time off for a baby might interfere with possible promotions or whether you’re willing to give up your job, if need be.
It’s also vital to find out what your company’s policy on maternity leave. This will help you determine whether you can afford to be out of work for the time it takes to have your baby.
Something to Consider if You’re Undecided About Having a Baby
In her previous advice column, Dear Sugar, author Cheryl Strayed discusses the decision-making processes we use as we make our way through life.
She uses the image of a ghost ship to symbolize the parallel reality of our choices.
When a person goes left, there’s an unknown experience that would have happened if they’d chosen to go right. That’s the ghost ship that floats alongside the other choice.
In this particular column, Strayed advises a man who’s undecided about having a baby. He’s torn between the benefits of having children and losing the life he’s currently living.
When you’re pondering the question, “Am I ready to have a baby?”, it’s vital to consider every aspect of the decision – not just whether you can afford a lifetime supply of diapers.
Consider for a moment, both sides of the scenario–the reality and the ghost ship.
If you choose not to get pregnant, will you have regrets later on in life? As you get older and children and grandchildren surround your friends, will you feel as though you’ve missed out?
Alternatively, if you do choose to have children, will you regret the life you could have led? Will you miss the freedom to go and do whatever you want, when you want to do it?
Which of these circumstances weighs more heavily on your heart?
From a personal standpoint, I will wholeheartedly admit that I have moments where I wonder what life would’ve been like without kids.
Sometimes, I miss the ability to have a dinner date with my husband without trying to line up a babysitter for the evening. I miss the freedom of just doing things I want to do without a second thought.
But missing your freedom and actually regretting motherhood are two very different things.
Personally, I can look at the other side of the coin and recognize that I made the right choice for myself and my family.
I can’t imagine my life without my girls, and I know that all the freedom in the world couldn’t measure up to the experiences I have with them.
But it is worth noting that there are women who do regret having children; a few of their stories are outlined in this book.
So if you aren’t sure you want them, but you think you “should,” imagining the two possible ghost ship voyages may do you some good.
There’s No “Perfect Time”
Having a baby is undoubtedly a big decision; so big in fact that many of us will simply get gun shy about making a choice at all.
I’ve always been a “baby person.” I like to snuggle them, stare at them, and even sniff them on occasion (my goodness, how delicious is that new baby smell!?) That’s why it seems strange to me that there was a point in my life when I didn’t want kids.
It’s such a big step and an even bigger commitment.
I think deep down I always knew I would become a mother, but I was scared that I wouldn’t live up to the expectations floating around inside of my head.
After my husband and I had been married for a few years, we found every excuse in the book not to have a baby.
Just one more vacation.
Just a little more money.
Just a larger place to live.
Eventually, however, we came to a realization: there is no “perfect” time to have a baby.
Despite the list of considerations outlined above–which are all important considerations–we also need to give ourselves credit for having ability to adapt.
We realized that whenever we got pregnant, we would figure things out.
After all, no new parents actually know what they’re doing. And that’s okay!
No Perfect Age, Either
We asked our audience what they wish they’d known when they first began TTC, and the main response was that there’s no perfect time or age.
Some people want one in their early 20s; others in their early 30s; and many women think they absolutely must start a family by age 40 before their fertility declines.
And while there are pros and cons to different ages, the ultimate factor is that you need to do what works for you and your life.
Figuring Out How to Decide When to Have a Baby
As you can see, there’s not a right or wrong way to answer the question: “Am I ready to have a baby?”
The best you can do for yourself and your hypothetical child is to explore what a baby will bring to your life.
By answering some of the previously mentioned questions, you will have a better understanding of what it takes to raise a child.
You’ll be able to use this information to analyze whether there’s room in your life to bring a little one into the picture.
If you’re facing a break-up, dealing with financial problems, or struggling emotionally, these can be clear signs that “right now” is not the best time to have a baby.
This doesn’t mean that getting pregnant in the future is out of the question; it just means a better time to build a family could be right around the corner.
On the other hand, however, if you’ve answered the questions and feel confident about your circumstances, maybe getting pregnant is the right choice for you! If so, it’s time to start looking into some trying to conceive tips!
If you’re already pregnant, what made you decide it was the right time to have a baby?
There’s no clear-cut answer, but looking at your actual desires (as opposed to what you think you’re “supposed” to do) in conjunction with your life circumstances can be really helpful.
There is no perfect age to have a first baby; what matters most is that you are ready. While women are more likely to experience fertility complications after the age of 35, plenty of women still have successful pregnancies after this time. If you’re worried you’re running out of time, consider having your ovarian reserve levels checked to help you make a choice.
If you do not have the innate desire to have a child, or if you’re hoping to use a baby to fix problems in your life or relationship, then it’s likely not the time to have a baby.
There is no perfect time, but knowing when a child fits into your life can be helpful. When you have the work flexibility and financial means to support a baby, along with the strong desire to have one, it’s worth considering whether now is a good time.
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.