Tick-tock biological clock
November 18, 2009 12:33 PM   Subscribe

38. No kids. Want kids. Loving relationship. HELP!

So. I'm a professionally successful woman who just turned 38. In my 20s, I was never particularly interested in having kids. About 5 or 6 years ago or so, though, I decided I wanted them. I've been dating my current awesome guy for 2 1/2 years; we've de facto lived together for about a year and a half (officially for about 4 months). He's great in all kinds of ways and I love him very much. He would be a great father. I'm pretty sure he wants kids. We joke about names for them (silly names), he dotes on his nephew, he is very sweet with our cats.

But. It isn't pressing for him the way it is for me. I mean, he KNOWS the facts, presumably, but he can't hear the bright loud "TICK TOCK" that is echoing in my head. And I think that if biology didn't enter into it, he wouldn't want them right this instant. He can be a little bit oblivious, and I don't think he's aware of just how fast fertility declines, and that we would have to start trying asap.

So, to my question: how on earth do I bring it up? I am terrified of being a cliche (the late-thirties-marry-me-monster). I am terrified of scaring him off. I have already let it go on too long without discussing it... and am starting to plan next year around the hope of being pregnant in the fall. I realize that this is crazy, and that it's almost pathological that I can't quite bring it up.

Tips or advice on how to start the conversation would be very much appreciated. I saw this thread -- http://ask.metafilter.com/80182/Propose-or-hint -- but it's more about marriage than babies. I care a lot more about the baby thing than the marriage thing -- or, at any rate, than the *wedding* thing. (Frankly, at 38, it's only sensible to worry more about trying to get pregnant.)

And please, I don't need anyone to tell me that if we can't talk about having a baby, we shouldn't have a baby. We have a very good relationship, and usually talk well. I think I'm partly having a hard time because of a past relationship, and crazy commitmentphobic behavior on the part of that ex. I also think I'm partly having a hard time because I'm just not one of those women who has always known they wanted kids, and planned their life accordingly. It's a weird, hard thing for me to say, this "gimme baby now" thing.

Posted anonymously because said boyfriend knows my screen name. I may need help with this, but at least I know that coming across an Ask Mefi post is NOT the way to bring it up.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You know who can help you organize your thoughts around how to make your case, and encourage you to make your case, and help you deal with the consequences of whatever answer your partner gives? A therapist.

This is a Big Deal. It's worth the investment in professional help.

And I say hooray to you and mazel tov and all that. Most of my female friends are late-thirties and forty-something moms, and they couldn't be happier.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:35 PM on November 18, 2009

I wouldn't wait a day more to bring it up or be subtle about it. Just bring it up. Say, I want kids and I'm ready now, how about you? I would spend some time thinking about what your plans are if he says no way or if he says yes and you have difficulty getting pregnant.
posted by anniecat at 12:49 PM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

What if, tonight while the two of you are eating dinner/watching TV/relaxing, you came out and said, "Hey honey, do you want kids?"

I'm not trying to be flip. I just mean that, if you're worried about coming on too strong, a friendly question might be the way to go. Not a serious "We have to talk"-talk but something a little lighter. Although it's a serious, important topic and you feel a fair amount of emotional baggage about it, it's also an ordinary topic for couples to discuss. If he were dead-set against having kids, he'd probably have mentioned it. If he were anxious to become a dad, he'd probably have mentioned it. His feelings and plans about becoming a parent (or not) have probably changed and developed, as yours have, and are probably more complicated than an absolute yes or no.

Also, you're in a happy, stable relationship with an awesome guy: give him a chance to believe you before you assume he'll view you as a cliche.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:05 PM on November 18, 2009 [7 favorites]

Yeah, just do it. Some old friends of mine with three small children have three small children because one of them said "You know, I think we should have kids soon" when they were putting groceries in their car. Response: "Okay." My own transition to impending parenthood was similarly unremarkable.
posted by kmennie at 1:05 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good lord, people are so quick to jump on the therapy bandwagon. I really think that's overkill; it sounds like your thoughts are pretty well organized as it is. You want kids, and you're running out of time to have them. I agree with Meg_Murry; just ask him, and don't worry about being cliche (if wanting kids is cliche, then there's a whole lot of cliche peple out there).
posted by downing street memo at 1:10 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think part of every serious relationship is when you get a cup of coffee/tea/go for a walk, and then have a conversation around "so how do you see your life in 2, 5 years, personally, professionally?" Thats where you can bring up you see yourself with him, raising a child together.

I find that approach a little better (as a man) because it means the conversation isn't focused just around one thing but on us, as a couple, and our wishes for the future. I can bring up something I really want to be doing at that time (travel, living in another city, taking 2 years to meditate on a remote mountain) and you can bring up things you really want to be doing. But definitely be honest about what you want during this conversation, don't skirt around the issue.

You say he is oblivious? Then you need to muster your courage, and have that conversation. Not just about children, but your life, together.
posted by Admira at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yea start casually. If you begin with anything that seems too serious or if you even hint at an ultimatum, some guys (like me) would just shut down.

Also, if it's that important to you it might be a good idea to have a contingency plan. Right now you primary sense of urgency is you can't control his actions. Assume that he doesn't want kids and consider how you would do so (or if at all) in his absence.
posted by rdurbin at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd focus on the wanting a baby with him part. Turns it into a positive.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2009

What? What's crazy about wanting to have a child? What's crazy about wanting to have a child ASAP? Why would wanting to get married to and have children with your boyfriend of two and a half years make you a crazy desperate monster?? I'm in my mid 20s with no plans to have children anytime this decade, but I wouldn't date a guy for even half that time if I didn't know our compatibility on the marriage/children front. (Not saying this to criticize you, just to say I think this is really important).

You said your last ex was really commitmentphobic. So, maybe he/that situation made you feel as if wanting perfectly normal levels of commitment is something only a crazy/desperate/demanding/neurotic person would want. I know I didn't directly answer your question, but I just wanted to tell you that's not true at all.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Concept 1: Humans have been having children for the entirety of our existence.

Concept 2: I have no data to support this, but I don't think you need a therapist to have a kid.

Concept 3: It sounds like you love your guy and he loves at you.

Concept 4: It is perfectly normal to be nervous about talking to him about it. It sounds like you've had a good thing for a long time and maybe you're a little afraid this will be a monkey wrench applied to the works. It doesn't mean you are broken and need professional help, imo.

My suggestion is simple. The next time you have a chunk of time alone with him you tell him you love him. That over the years the idea of co-mingling your DNA with his and producing offspring has become more and more appealing. Express your worry about falling into a pit of cliche, how wanting to avoid that has made you cautious, and yet it means enough to you to risk upsetting the comfortable rhythm the two of you have.

It sounds like you're satisfied with him and what the two of you have. One thing to consider is that perhaps he is having these same thoughts and is nervous to bring them up with you. Wouldn't that be rad? (And probably statistically as likely as him being opposed to the idea, perhaps more likely given that he's enamored of nephews and kitties.) If I was in his position, you hadn't posted this anonymously, and I had stumbled upon it and learned of your secret desire... at the very least I'd be touched you thought so highly of me and that in the midst of this inner struggle you still manage to worry about my thoughts and feelings.

If a SO approached me with something like this there are a couple things I'd want. Tell him you think he would be a great father and have reasons like the ones you list above. (I can't think of a bigger complement than telling a guy you want to have his child.) Explain the biological imperative if it is knowledge he doesn't currently have. (A lot of guys just don't understand the physical constraints imposed on women by nature.) Most importantly be prepared to give him time to digest the input. (Kids can be a scary proposition for some people at first, but given time they decide they like the idea.)

The bottom line here is that it sounds like you need some support and encouragement. My two closest friends had a kid (my goddaughter =) last year after being together for about 8 years and living together for about 5 or 6 of those. They hadn't planned on getting married or having kids until about a year prior. She's in her 30s. She just told him she wanted kids and that for their sake they should probably get married. He was like 'word up' and the next thing you know they're a full on family. All three of them are very happy. They're a great little family. If they can do it so can you.

Good luck, I certainly do envy the adventure you're about to start and am confident it will all turn out well.
posted by Gainesvillain at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

If a guy is in a committed relationship with a 38 year old childless woman, he has to know that kids are an issue. If he's not bringing it up, it doesn't mean he's oblivious. It means he doesn't know something -- how he feels, or how you feel, or what they would do.

You both need to get over it. What's a committed relationship for if you can't ask the important questions?

But I agree not to make it A Big Talk. Just bust out an "Hey, I would really love to have kids with you. Or a kid. Have you thought about that at all? 'Cause I'm 38."

I don't think you're obliged to work out in advance how you'd feel about all of his possible responses. In fact, I wouldn't. That's a little manipulative. I'd just put it out there and ask.

And, if he runs out of the room crying, as my first wife did, then you have your answer.
posted by musofire at 1:32 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

What's with all the 'get some therapy' advice on here? You don't need therapy. Just ask him a question or two, straight up. Maybe let media bring it up. Like "hey, isn't that baby cute right there on that commercial? you think you'll ever want one of those?" Along those lines.
posted by bunny hugger at 1:39 PM on November 18, 2009

Good lord, people are so quick to jump on the therapy bandwagon. I really think that's overkill

This is important to her, and she's having a hard time asking him about it.

How is getting help "overkill"? What do you anti-therapy people think happens in therapy? It's not like some Woody Allen thing where you tell people about your dreams for 35 years and then you wind up marrying your common-law wife's daughter anyway. Therapists are people who can give you advice on how to deal with significant life challenges.

Telling a partner you want kids may not be a significant life challenge for you, but it clearly is for this questioner.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:47 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, this might be totally not what you're looking for. It just popped into my head, so here goes.

What if you took him out for a really nice dinner and over dessert presented him with a nice watch (to represent your biological clock) and asked him to be the father of your children? Like you were proposing to him?

You say that you have a great relationship, so this could just be the ice breaker you need to get the discussion going. If he says yes, go home and make a cerimony of getting rid of all the birth control and go nuts. If you want to be really fancy you could take him away for the weekend.

Just and idea...
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:50 PM on November 18, 2009

If it makes you feel any better about being a cliche, a late 20 something female friend of mine is engaged to a 38 year old. He asked her how she'd feel about having kids sooner rather than later as he didn't want to be the 70 year old dad at his kid's h.s. graduation. So while you don't hear about it as frequently, some guys do hear the bio clock.

That said, you need to access this guy's level of commitment to you. Trust me, totally awesome, lovely guys, with whom you have a great relationship can also be commitmentphobes. Yes, initiating relationship talks is scary, particularly when you are unsure of the reaction (which suggests to me that your relationship is perhaps not as secure as you'd like). But if kids are really a deal breaker for you, you need to find out where you stand ASAP. I don't see anything with calmly saying:

"Hey, I know that we've only been living together for 4 months, but we've been dating for 2.5 years. I just want to check in and make sure that we're both on the same page about where we see this going. You know how we joke about names for kids?, well I'm kinda serious. You know I want kids right? I'm not saying that I want them right this second, but I am 38 and I can't put off trying to get pregnant for too much longer. Have you given any thought to what it would be like to have kids in the not too distant future?"

If he hasn't thought about it, ask him if he'd give it some serious thought and also give him time to process and mull over everything that you've said.

Good luck!
posted by kaybdc at 2:02 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

and by access, I meant assess. d'oh
posted by kaybdc at 2:23 PM on November 18, 2009

Most guys prefer a straight approach and don't like when someone is beating about the bush. Just come right out with what you want but be prepared for the possibility of not getting the answer you're hoping for. I'd vote against turning it into a special setup with a nice dinner and gifts. To me this would seem manipulative and inappropriate for such a serious and consequence-laden matter.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:29 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I mean, he KNOWS the facts, presumably, but he can't hear the bright loud "TICK TOCK" that is echoing in my head.

I wouldn't assume this. I'm often surprised at how many women (let alone men) do not understand that their fertility begins to decline in their 30s. Seeing celebrities and others having children in their 40s and 50s has made some people believe that a "biological clock" is just some antiquated notion, and women of today can choose not to subscribe to it. While it's absolutely possible through both natural and medically-assisted means to have children past your prime reproductive years, it can be riskier and more complicated. My guess is that he doesn't know all the facts. In his mind, you're only 38! You're still young and beautiful. Talk to him about it and see.

It sounds like he wouldn't be shocked or scared off (and if he is, wouldn't you rather know that now?) by the mention of babies since you already joke about having them. Best of luck!
posted by defreckled at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Tell him that you think he would be a good father and that you would like to start a family with him as soon as possible. You will have to be blunt and up front with your boyfriend. He probably doesn't fully register that this is something you can put off for much longer.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:02 PM on November 18, 2009

If the guy were me back when I was that age I would want the woman to just bring it up, gently and without pressure. This is the sort of thing it takes most men considerable amount of time to get comfortable with if they were not already thinking about it.
posted by caddis at 3:05 PM on November 18, 2009

My take on this comes from my admittedly weird back story, but I think that extreme perspective gives me some cred.

My husband and I never, ever, ever wanted kids. At all. He had an appointment on a Tuesday to get a vasectomy, but on the previous Thursday, for reasons that are really beside the point but involved me thinking I had cancer and was going to die at age 36, I went to the doctor and discovered I was eight months pregnant. So, we had "the talk" about having kids in a very different way than you will have your talk. Way different.

This talk took several forms, some of which were serious and some of which were not. Many of these talks made me want to drink -- right after I'd learned I really should not. But the universal thing that happened in all of these talks is that we talked, to each other, about the most important things in our lives, now and forever. We love each other, and we held hands. We fought, we cried, we were scared, and we were loving and careful with each other's feelings. There might have been some blaming. We grew tremendously as a couple, and as scary as it all was, we got through it because that's what relationships do -- they create the foundation on which this kind of conversation can be had.

You can talk to your man about this. You can do it. You can tell him how you feel, and your craziest thoughts. You can be logical and rational. You can be strong and you can be weak. You can just talk to him. And you will find a way, with him, to be happy and to make this work. You do not need to worry about scaring him off, and you don't need to worry about being a cliche, and you don't need to find a gimmicky way to bring this up. Just tell him, and then just listen to him, and then just keep talking and listening together.

And just to resolve the back story, we've got a six-year-old daughter and our lives are damn near perfect. Having a kid is the best thing in the world, and you should have one if you want one. I have faith that you will do the right thing, and be a great set of parents, and have a wonderful child or two.
posted by Capri at 3:19 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

The hardest part is that you don't know what he's going to say. You probably have a pretty good idea, but you don't know. That's why you're scared. The only way to know for sure, though, is to talk about it. No, it's not as easy as it sounds. I get that. I proposed to my boyfriend because we had been together for three years, living together for a year, and I wanted to know. Now, I didn't get down on one knee or anything. I'm kind of impulsive, so I just walked into the bedroom one day and said, "Are we going to get married someday or what?" He said yes, we set a date (six months out, no less!), and here we are 15 years (next week is our anniversary) and two kids later, happy as can be.

The "trick" is to be prepared for a "no." That's the really scary part. But if you're prepared for it and it comes, at least you know where you stand and you can move forward from there. I'm pretty sure you're going to get a "yes," and then you can start discussing the important things that go along with marriage: money, kids, where to live, etc. You don't even have to propose to him. Just start talking about the future and where you'd like to be (with him) in it.
posted by cooker girl at 4:38 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

You know, I've been thinking that you would be a terrific dad. Have you ever thought about that?
posted by theora55 at 5:13 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is hard, but first, try to put aside that voice that makes you worry about coming across as a cliche. Your partner thinks of you as the woman he loves, not some unreasonable biological-clock ticking harpy. One discussion will not change that. As for how to start the conversation, I would tell him that as much as you love him and are perfectly content to let your relationship develop in its own time, you are concerned about how time will effect your ability to have children, especially given your age, and then ask him what are his thoughts about it. You will know pretty quickly how he feels, and if its framed in a more "what do you think about this" type of a discussion than a "we only have so much time" conversation, I don't think the dialogue will get ahead of you or threaten your relationship in any way.

The fact that it's been 2.5 years, you've been living together for a while, and he is okay with discussing kids names, even jokingly, means he is pretty committed to the idea of a future with you. I really don't think asking for his thoughts and feelings about children will make him panic or run for the door. I understand your concern, but it sounds like that is based in insecurity and not reality. We all struggle with those issues, the trick is to ignore our fears, reasonable or not, and do what we need to do anyway, which for you, is to have this conversation with your partner. Best of luck to you both, and for what it's worth, my guess is that it's going to go a lot better than you think.
posted by katemcd at 8:22 PM on November 18, 2009

Here's how it happened at my place:
Her: "If we want to have children, we've got to do it soon or the numbers will be against us."
Me: "Yeah, I'd like to do it one day, but it seems such a big change and I'm really pretty happy with the way things are. Can we think about it again in a little while?"
Then we looked at the numbers together and found out we couldn't wait, particularly if we wanted any chance of having two. She already knew this (and was a late convert to the idea of parenthood) and I probably did too but I procrastinate.
posted by hawthorne at 8:35 PM on November 18, 2009

Show him this graph: The effect of age on fertility. Point out that you're about to fall off a cliff, and if he wants to have kids with you then you need to GET ON IT NOW, especially if you want more than one.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:48 AM on November 19, 2009

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