No longer want to have kids?
December 14, 2010 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Did you always want kids and then at some point change your mind?

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to have kids. I'm now almost 34, and for lots of good reasons haven't had them yet. But the older I get, the less I want them. And since I've wanted them so passionately for so long, I'm wondering if I'm just getting cold feet, or if I really am changing my mind. We had planned to start trying in a couple of months, but now are having second thoughts.

For one thing, I'm getting increasingly nervous about the exhaustion factor. For another thing, the closer I get to taking the plunge, I am starting to get terrified about pregnancy (mine would be high risk for a couple reasons) and the possibility of all the problems that can happen to a fetus or a child, or even a teenager. We've had a bunch of horror stories in our friends' lives lately. The chance of having our hearts broken or our lives ruined by something terrible happening to this hypothetical kid is overshadowing my feelings about the topic. (I know this is really selfish.) I also don't want to ruin my husband's life by insisting on a pregancy and then dying or having a horrible kid. He's happy with his life right now.

On the other hand, I do still feel like I would really regret not having kids, and that I would feel like my life was unfulfilled if I never had kids. I think I could talk myself out of that feeling, and substitute kids for something rewarding like volunteering, but it would be hard.

Also, my husband is TERRIFIED of something happening to me, so he wants to adopt, but my dream would be to have one biological kid and then also adopt. Also, my husband is very concerned about the exhaustion factor. And there's a big part of him that doesn't want to have kids, but he has agreed to have them because he thinks I would go insane in 10 years if I didn't. And because he is excited about having kids too.

I can't tell if his pretty strong fears about having children are just wearing me down, or whether I am actually waking up and shaking off this unnecessary biological urge.

We're trying to make the right choice for us as a family, and that may just be that his apprehensions about having kids outweighs my hopes to have them. But I'd like to figure out where I stand these days, and I have been struggling with this question for at least a year.

It seems unlikely to me that I would go from so many years of really wanting kids to not wanting them, so I think this is fear talking, but I thought I'd ask whether other people really have just changed their minds eventually and no longer want kids. (I know it happens the other way around, which makes more sense to me as the biological clocks starts ticking louder and louder.)

Throwaway email: amazingly "" was still an available email address.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Yep, but different circumstances than you. I'm 30. Always wanted kids when I was younger. Fell in love with a man who definitely didn't want kids, and decided that I wanted him more than I wanted kids.

We are deliriously happy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Have you considered a surrogate with your egg and his sperm? I totally hear you about fear of death trumping wanting babies!
posted by 2003girl at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2010

I'm 25 and recently had my tubes tied. I always assumed kids would be a "one day thing", but then a few doctors said that the only b/c method I could probably safely use was condoms, and that seemed way too risky. I realized I didn't want kids, or even the statistical probability of having one. I work with kids, I like them, I just don't want to be responsible for one. My opinion may not hold much water because I'm "too young" and a lot of people say "I'll change my mind," but I don't really see that happening. I think in your case any guilt about changing your mind or realizing you don't want kids will be 1,000,000 times less than guilt about having a child you're not sure you or your spouse want.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2010

(I know this is really selfish.)

Why is it selfish? I think it is not only reasonable, but in fact responsible to think long and hard about the potential downsides of kids before having them. Knowing the stakes before you embark on raising children is very important.

I also don't want to ruin my husband's life by insisting on a pregancy and then dying or having a horrible kid.

It is incredibly unlikely that you would be responsible for your own death, and you would certainly be no more responsible for having a horrible kid than your husband would be. If he wants kids, then he needs to be comfortable with those possibilities.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I felt the opposite. For most of my life, I was confident I didn't want children, and planned for my life as if I would never be a parent. Ironically, it was an abortion I had that made me change my mind.

It seems to me, just by reading this post (so not a huge amount of detail), you seem to be stuck in a lot of black and white thinking. Either having kids is going to be amazing and wonderful, or it's going to be the worst thing ever and kill you. You mention "horror stories" of your friends; do you have any good, or at least not awful and terrifying parent role models in your life?
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

I always wanted kids until faced with the reality of having kids. Then I spent 6 months being terrified of having kids, but we did it anyway. Had a miscarriage, but while I was pregnant realized I wanted nothing more than to have kids. Had a kid. It's the best thing ever. Now in the middle of being terrified about the thought of a second child, for all the same reasons we were terrified the first time (high risk pregnancy, lack of sleep, OMG it's my tiny human!), only now the added terrifying thought of messing up what we already have. I'm sure we'll eventually try again anyway.

The feelings you have? The ones about being scared? Totally normal. In fact, totally normal anytime you're thinking about a major life change. Only you can make the decision. Good luck.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think it is worth exploring why you want/wanted to have kids "for as long as (you) can remember. What made/makes you feel that way? What is it about "having kids" that you feel or felt like you want/need? Start there and explore those reasons, and figure out if it is something that will truly be fulfilled by having kids, or if those reasons are something that you just cannot live without, or if they're general feelings that can be filled with other experiences. There is no take backs when you have kids - figure out if the feeling behind those lifelong wants are something that you must have in your life.
posted by raztaj at 9:04 AM on December 14, 2010

Don't ever decide anything based on merely on what you've dreamed of your whole life. The car you'd have picked out for yourself as a 13 year old is probably not the car you'd buy now, right? The only people you need to satisfy are present-tense you and your husband. Accepting the present on its own terms is challenging enough without inviting phantoms to the table.
posted by hermitosis at 9:28 AM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

(I know this is really selfish.)

Wrong. Having kids is selfish. The world does not need more people. It would be much better off if fewer people had kids and instead spent their lives doing other things.

I say this as a parent who is very happy to be a parent. You should absolutely not feel guilty about making the other choice.
posted by alms at 9:29 AM on December 14, 2010 [31 favorites]

You're being confronted with the realities of parenthood. You always knew you wanted them, but you were probably romanticizing the idea a bit. Even if you knew it would be hard, what a 20 year-old can assume will be 'hard' in raising kids is often quite different than the realities that a 34 year-old, whose friends and relatives are in the throes of raising kids, knows will be HARD. Discipline, having your heart broken, having your heart live outside your body, your own exhaustion, the realties of life choices, your own mortality, the fear of your relationship changing, feeling like you're 'doing it' to your partner for unfair reasons... those are grown-up stresses and grown-up decisions. You're now facing them. Frankly all parents face those thoughts at some point - the first 8 weeks, the toddler screaming and flailing in the grocery store, the teenager experimenting or making bad choices, some other heartbreak later in life. Those who romanticized what parenting means, and how kids act 24/7 are in for a rude awakening then. It's good that you're considering these issues now. But you might not have to throw out the (metaphorical) baby with the bathwater.

I've always wanted kids. After seeing how freaking stressful, exhausting and HARD parenting can be -- as an adult, with my adult friends and family -- the realities of having kids was starting to make me seriously rethink my own ideas. But I also continue to see the beautiful moments, the way many of my friends have changed for the better (less reactive, more forgiving, living in the moment, working for good in the world), kids are just plain awesome, and as a result of that thought-detour, I think I've come to a fuller expectation of what it means to have kids.

As an offering for your own consideration: the time-tested truth -- you will never truly feel ready or prepared for kids. Ever. And even if you do feel ready or like you've got some part of parenting down, the kid will change and you'll feel woefully unprepared and unworthy for the next step. It's the great secret of parenting: everyone is making it up as they go.
posted by barnone at 9:31 AM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

I haven't ever really wanted kids, but I do remember reading some research that showed that as many people switch from wanting kids to not having them as the other way around. It is ok to,change your mind and not have children.
posted by plonkee at 9:43 AM on December 14, 2010

Yep, I'm one of those who always wanted kids, and later changed my mind.

When I was in my late teens or early twenties, I always assumed I'd have kids reasonably young, in my mid-twenties or so. As I reached that age, I thought, "Soon, but not yet. Maybe in a couple of years." And when I reached that age I thought, "Yeah, eventually, but not yet; maybe in five years or so." The older I got, the farther in the future I wanted to push off having kids.

In the intervening time, I had plenty of family and friends who had kids, and while I adored playing with those kids in small doses, the best part was always handing them back to their parents and returning to my childfree life. Eventually, I sat down and had a good hard think about it, and decided to make it permanent. So I got a vasectomy, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. No regrets whatsoever.
posted by browse at 10:05 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did you previously deep-down, truly want kids, or did you assume you would have them because it was What People Did?

Many of us grew up in a time/place where not having children wasn't even presented as a serious option.
posted by bunji at 10:18 AM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

I always wanted kids. I taught nursery school. I broke up with someone after years because they didn't want to have kids. I picked apartments based on housing that could be converted to accommodate a baby. I screened my husband for "wants kids" before our first date. We chose where we live based in large part on maternity services and schools.

And then we couldn't have kids. And facing all of the standard "what to do when you cannot conceive without intervention" options, I also began to consider - for the first time ever - the idea of not having kids. It seemed strangely radical, and it took about two years to grow into an idea I could wear comfortably. Parts of those years were pretty hard, to be honest, and there are still questions I struggle with because there isn't a really established cultural roadmap for not having offspring. (Who will we leave all our stuff to? is strangely a big one for me.)

FWIW I was around 34 when this became a serious issue. I'm now 38 and I'm hugely relieved I do not have a child; that's how much my thinking has changed in the last four or five years. The thought of the routine, the responsibility, the noise and the additional exhaustion when I am already so tired so much of the time just stopped being outweighed by all of the good things I know are there about being a parent.

I won't pretend I have no regrets. I regret I will never give birth, or see the merging of my partner's and my DNA or have grandkids. At the same time, I look back and think that if we'd gotten pregnant when we first started trying, I would be the mother of a five year old, and on balance I'm pretty glad I'm not.

So yes, to answer your question: yes, I did change my mind, and I think that was driven in large part by the natural changes of ageing. I'm OK with that.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

It's easy to want kids in the abstract, when you are not close to having them; when you do get close (I had my first at your age), it's not unusual to get scared. I mean, big, irreversible decision, right? Absolutely, I was scared. Absolutely, we had been putting it off, saying maybe next year, etc. We hear stories about women who want desperately to get pregnant, and we begin to think that ambivalence or fear in ourselves is a Bad Sign. Not necessarily - it took me a few months to get excited about my pregnancy because I was afraid of (you name it): the delivery, the responsibility, potential changes in my marriage, finances...

As many others have mentioned above, choosing not to have kids is fine and life continues to be great. It does sound to me like you still want a child, though? If that's the case, please take it from me that people do exaggerate the difficulty of parenting a [healthy] child. Sure, you're tired, then things get better. The kid gets to be really fun! People complain about their child acting up or having tantrums, because it allows them to commiserate with other parents, but they don't tend to brag about the wonderful things.

It's true that there is always a risk of having a child with special needs. But there's also the risk that you or your husband will develop special needs. That's life. All I'm saying is that you don't have to let your anxieties make this decision for you. And you are young enough to put off the decision and revisit it next year, or the next.

It seems unlikely to me that I would go from so many years of really wanting kids to not wanting them, so I think this is fear talking, but I thought I'd ask whether other people really have just changed their minds eventually and no longer want kids. (I know it happens the other way around, which makes more sense to me as the biological clocks starts ticking louder and louder.)

As for this question, I would say again, not necessarily. Not everyone wants a child more and more the closer they get to menopause. Actually, for some, it may be the opposite. My husband and I were getting used to our childfree lifestyle. We freely spent money that now goes to daycare. We could go anywhere we wanted with any amount of spontaneity. Our joke is that it's a good thing we went ahead and had a child before we got too set in our ways.

Anyhow, good luck with your decision! Either way, you'll be fine.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:33 AM on December 14, 2010

Seconding the notion that being a parent isn't either OMGSOGREAT or OMGSOAWFUL. There are a lot of highs and lows and in-betweens. There are absolutely no guarantees in life: you could decide not to have kids and in 10 years get hit by a bus. Or die tomorrow. Or have five kids and live to a ripe old age. You could have the World's Most Perfect Child or the World's Worst Child, but more than likely you'll just have A Pretty Great Kid. It's all a gamble. Life is a gamble.

You have to decide if you're the kind of person who likes unpredictability in any form, because that's mostly what being a parent is all about. I don't know what kinds of moods my kids are going to be in when they wake up, I don't know what asshole is going to be mean to them at school, I don't know what incredible thing is going to inspire them tomorrow. If you can roll with all of that, you'll be fine. Really. I was never a flexible person until I quite surprisingly found myself pregnant with my oldest child. Being a parent has taught me to loosen up. Am I terrified for them every single day? Of course. They're my children. But I'm also really glad we did this. I can't imagine, really, I cannot even fathom my life without them.

The exhaustion? Yes, it's exhausting in the beginning. But it does ebb and flow and pretty much go away after a while. Mine are 13 and 10 right now and we haven't been woken in the night for years and years and years.

This is your decision to make with your husband. You're not being selfish, you're thinking it through, which is a lot more than many people do. The problem is that you have a finite time to make this decision. You'll either have to jump or not, in the end.
posted by cooker girl at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2010

How about this one: It's perfectly normal to change your mind on something, especially as important and life-changing as having kids!!

I'm 30, rapidly approaching 31 and am still not married. I've always been on the fence about having kids and have recently taken the stance of "Don't put tfhe cart before the horse" (meaning, I'll worry about it when I have a husband). With that said, I realized that I want a husband, definitely before kids regardless, and we'll decide together. If I don't have a husband, then I'll stay kid-free, because I can't bear the thought of raising a kid on my own and don't think it would be fair to the kid. As I'm getting older, I'm rapidly coming to terms that I may never have kids due to said singleness and that's ok with me. Both having kids and not having kids has it's benefits. "Family" can be defined in many different ways and not just the traditional Mom/Dad/Kids way, IMHO.

Give it some long, hard thought. It's OK for you to change your stance, in fact, it's normal. Just make certain that you and your partner communicate and are on the same page and are 100% honest with each other. Good luck!
posted by floweredfish at 10:38 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was always a little ambivalent, but expected to have kids. I didn't and am really happy being an aunt and having free time to myself instead.

You, on the other hand - all of your reasons for not having kids sound like fear talking. I know it's a mefi cliche, but talking to a therapist might help you pick apart those fears, figure out whether you really do or don't want kids. From your post you sound like someone who still wants kids, but has gotten scared (mostly by anecdata).

You might also want to talk to your GP about the high risk pregnancy thing - how high is your risk? Would a doctor recommend against your being pregnant? Professionals can be a tremendous help in cases like this!
posted by ldthomps at 11:33 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to come in and say that whatever decision you make, you don't have to berate yourself over or try to justify it to anyone else. Some people choose to have kids and some don't. Everyone has their own reasons for what they decide and that is their personal choice.

You aren't selfish for choosing not to have kids if that is the way you decide to go. I hear people say this a lot and I've never understood it. Fear is a perfectly legitimate reason to not want to reproduce--even "low risk" pregnancies can end very badly, and then at the end you have a person whose life you are responsible for.

Just don't feel bad for whatever you end up doing. And try not to care what other people think because it isn't their life.
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:39 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just want to second talking to a doctor about what the risks of pregnancy would be for you. More information should make the decision a little easier to make (or possibly turn it into a decision about a surrogate.)

I struggle with fatigue, so I understand worrying about how medical conditions can affect kids, but I think most kids are adaptable. My daughter will sometimes sigh and announce that she's tired now and will lie on the couch with me for about twenty seconds before jumping up to run around (and let me lie on the couch for the next hour, if that's what I need, bringing me books to read her, or art projects to show me, etc.). When she was a baby, I ask friends and family for a lot of help, and they were happy to come over and let me nap during the day if I hadn't slept the night before, or do the dishes and laundry if I was just too tired to manage. So having medical problems can be fine if you have a good support network (family nearby, a religious group you're part of, or close friends).

I think all of us are scared of what awful things could happen, but try not to focus on that alone. And in terms of kids being good or awful, I have to say most cycle between both several times an hour. And, in general, the one tantrum does not outweigh the ten times my daughter will come over and give me a hug or ask for a snuggle. And I think most kids are like that. (I work in a school, so that's not just rosy glasses.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:13 PM on December 14, 2010

i never really strongly wanted kids my whole life but i'd sort of assumed i would have them, you know, just as a matter of course. but the older i got (especially as i got into my 30s—i'm now 38), the more i realized that i didn't really want them. i love babies, and i like teens (not so crazy about the in-between), and i don't doubt that when push comes to shove i'd be a great parent. the idea of pregnancy squicks me out a lot tho and all the stories i hear from parents (even my boyfriend, who has two kids and loves them to death concedes that if he was to do it all over again, he probably wouldn't have had them) about how much work they are (not to mention how much money it takes to raise them), has really solidified my feelings about not having them. i also, fortunately, have a number of couples in my social circle who do not want children so, in a small way, that also makes me feel less pressured about it. that's not to say that i don't have twinges every once in awhile about, oh i would be missing out on something. but the truth is, i'm not sure that i would because i like my lifestyle and i like having disposable income to spend as i wish, to be able to spontaneously do what i want, go where i want, and buy what i want. i don't think that is more selfish than wanting children (which, let's be honest, it is). i'm not going to lie: having to work around my boyfriend's schedule with his kids is sometimes a big pain in the ass—and he only has them half of the time.

also this.
posted by violetk at 12:24 PM on December 14, 2010

For another thing, the closer I get to taking the plunge, I am starting to get terrified about pregnancy (mine would be high risk for a couple reasons) and the possibility of all the problems that can happen to a fetus or a child, or even a teenager.

I'm not high risk (as far as I know), and the actual having of children is pretty far off for me. But I've definitely started to feel less gung ho about having kids, and this has been the kicker.

When I was 22, I "knew" I wanted kids. I really couldn't see beyond the positive aspects of "cute baby" or "awesome kid" or whatever.

Then people I'd grown up with started having children. At least three of my childhood friends had preemies who were in NICU, lots of health problems and dangerous pregnancies and other scary stuff. And these are otherwise healthy people who are having kids in their 20's, prime childbearing years. Suddenly I realized that there's a lot that can go wrong, and when it goes wrong, it can go wrong. It's not like some tiny fraction of a percent of parents deal with risky stuff - this is something that is an actual concern that it's important to think about.

That was a major factor in my shift from "of COURSE I'm having kids" to "if it happens, it happens". So, no, you're not alone.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2010

You can't predict what will happen.

If I were in your shoes, I think I'd ask myself two questions -- first, objectively, what are the risks of pregnancy and are they worth it? And second, can I only be fulfilled if I have kids?

If the answer to the second question is yes, then even though the exhaustion and the hardship will suck while you're going through it, it will all be worth it. You can try adoption if the answer to the first question is that pregnancy is too risky.

The second question is hard because you can't know how you'll feel in the future -- all you can do is imagine yourself at the end of your life, with and without kids. Put aside any feelings of guilt or selfishness. The only thing that should make you feel guilty or selfish is if you do something you don't want to do, because you feel like you should.

If you do choose to try for kids, whether biological or adopted, you might be setting yourself up on a long and heartbreaking path, or a life of joy. But -- if you don't, same thing. You can't worry too much about it now.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2010

I always believed I would have kids until one day, probably about my mid-twenties, I realized it was actually my choice, that I'd only been conditioned to want kids, and that it was totally okay to not want them. And I didn't really want them, when I thought about it. That could change, but the idea of raising a couple of mini-mes doesn't make me smile dreamily, and all my pregnant friends' gleeful chatter about their condition actually fills me with horror. My "biological clock" ticks only in terms of accomplishing career goals. When it comes to being fruitful and multiplying, there's no yearning whatsoever. If it happens, and I'm in a good place in my life, maybe I'll be excited about it. As it is now, I don't feel like anything's missing.

Tell ya one thing, though. My parents settled down and had me because that's what they thought they should do. My mom put aside all her own dreams and hopes for the sake of her new family, and, boy, did she resent me for it. Don't be that mom. If you're happy with your life, don't pressure yourselves to have a child just because you think you're supposed to. Should you come to that decision when pregnancy's harder to achieve, you can adopt, and I guarantee (from what relatives who've adopted tell me) that you will not look at your child and think, "I'd love you so much more if you were blood."
posted by katillathehun at 2:18 PM on December 14, 2010

I've gone back and forth on the kid issue many times in my life. Sometimes I really wanted the, sometimes I haven't. I'm swinging more towards the "don't want kids" side now because I thought long and hard about the reality of it: I am a selfish person who doesn't like to be concerned constantly with the well-being of others. I am impatient, inconsistent, and like my freedom to do what I want when I want to do it. I also don't have the financial resources and likely will not have them anytime soon, and I have my own goals (non-career-related) that having a kid would get in the way of. I'm also single and know that I would not be able to handle the responsibility on my own, and I'd like to have several years together with someone before we start in on trying to create a family (if we decided to do that). So if I were to go down that road, I'd likely be in my late 30s or early 40s before I even start trying to have a baby. For some people that works, for me it doesn't.

Bottom line, I asked myself, would I rather regret not having kids, or regret having them? This may be the one case in my life where I'd rather regret not doing something than doing it and living with the consequences.
posted by Fuego at 5:31 PM on December 14, 2010

On the other hand, I do still feel like I would really regret not having kids, and that I would feel like my life was unfulfilled if I never had kids.

This is the part that stood out to me, personally.

I'm about to be 30, and preparing to move into the kid-having stage of my life myself. I am terrified of what having kids will do to me -- to my body, my career, my free time, my relationships -- but that fear seems pretty normal, if the experiences of the people I know are anything.

At the end of the day, no matter how scary the idea of children may be, I believe that 1) new people have to come from somewhere, 2) I (perhaps arrogantly) think I have it in me to create some pretty okay people, and 3) I don't want to be 60 with no children, nor do I want to have kids in college at that age. Which means I'm going to try to have kids, and it's going to be relatively soon.

Basically, I'd echo what Fuego just said: Bottom line, I asked myself, would I rather regret not having kids, or regret having them? This may be the one case in my life where I'd rather regret not doing something than doing it and living with the consequences.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:35 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

(eep...I only meant to quote the first have of that line from Fuego!)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:43 PM on December 14, 2010

From the minute I was born, it seemed, I wanted kids. I adored them. At family gatherings I was by default the babysitter of the younger kids because I loved to do it. At 16 I got snowed in (alone) with my cousin's 3 kids for a week (ages 6, 2, and 3 months). I was never happier.

Now that I'm 30? Pfft. I feel like I've already had my kids. The oldest of the kids next door (that I babysat for starting when he was 6 months old and I was 12) has just gone off to college. Most of the cousins I'd watch on a more occasional basis are graduating high school as well. I still love kids... but I also love when I can give them back to their parents when I reach my exhaustion point, or sooner.

And quite frankly, pregnancy and childbirth terrify me too. All the hormones messing up my already-unstable moods, and all the discomfort, pain, and tearing of sensitive flesh... I ask myself why someone would willingly put themselves through that! Not to mention that I too have a couple of physical health concerns that would probably make a pregnancy high-risk.

It's totally okay to change your mind. You're in good company. Look up the "childfree" movement.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:56 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older I, uh, fell down the stairs. That's all.   |   Reality check, please! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.