How soon is too soon to plan a family?
February 26, 2013 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about having babies, like this random thought that keeps popping up over and over again. But the career path that I am planning to embark on will probably lead to me being an older mom. How can I know if I'm making the right choice and how can I find out more before getting committed to one path or another?

I am in my mid/late twenties. Ok, soon I'm going to be entering the last quartile of my twenties.

I am curious for some other perspectives on this, being a woman in an urban setting, college educated and hoping for more education and life experiences before having kids. None of my peers/close friends are even married, though many of them have settled down but none of them want kids any time soon, so it's hard to discuss this with them.

Career-wise, I have a very good idea of what I want to end up doing, but not exactly how or when my career is going to really take shape (it will involve a long, committed training program that will make kids impossible for at least a few years). The truth is though, I would love to meet someone and have kids within the next few years.

If I feel this way now, what are the chances that at 35, I'll really regret not starting a family, even if it requires dialing down the career goals? How could I reach out and find out more about this in my day to day life (I'm thinking books, novels, or nonfiction/research, since I don't know many women with children in a personal capacity, though yes in a professional one).

Many thanks for any suggestions.
posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you actually WANT babies or are you just thinking about them like "oh my biological clock is ticking, maybe I should do something about that..." ?

I am in my early 30s and starting around age 28 I suddenly started thinking about babies a lot. But I still knew I wanted to focus on my career for a while longer. I also knew that I wouldn't be devastated if having a kid just never happened in time for my fertile years-- I figured that by focusing on other stuff first (career and stable relationships and finding a good place to call home) I'd have more options to occupy my attention later on if I missed my opportunity to have a kid.

Some people aren't like that, however. Some people know they NEED to have children for their life to be complete, in which case starting on that ASAP may make a lot of sense. So which one are you? Maybe meditate on that for a bit.

Since my biological clock kicked in at 28 I started looking around lots for stories of women who were like me -- who wanted kids but didn't NEED them immediately during their most fertile years, who waited and put other stuff first-- and I never really found any who regretted their waiting or not being able to have kids later in life. The only stories of regret I heard were from women who always knew they wanted kids as soon as possible but who had waited for better times.

Again, I think it depends on how much you feel like having kids is an essential part of your life story. For me, I am relying on the notion that if I do wait too long for my career to flesh out and I miss my opportunity that I will still be able to use this newly-found nurturing instinct in other ways, like adopting or fostering or evening mentoring an at-risk youth. YMMV, however.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:53 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

Huh... there's a big missing component here: is there a partner you're considering having children with? Ah, nevermind - "would love to meet someone." Ok, well, as a 29 year old, I'd say don't neglect your dating life now in favor exclusively of your career. Unless you're thinking of adopting or going the single-mom route. I'm looking at older friends and younger friends, and it sure doesn't get easier with time, whether or not they're looking to have kids. That isn't to say there's a huge rush to do it immediately, but mid-late 20s is a good time to start getting pretty serious about finding a partner, I think.
posted by namesarehard at 11:38 PM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Are you financially secure? Is the prospective other parent in a financially secure and stable career?
posted by discopolo at 11:53 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, you need to be able to support yourself (and any children you may decide to parent)—preferably doing work you don't actively hate—regardless of whether or not you eventually find a partner.*

Re "I would love to meet someone...within the next few years"—so, have a social life! I mean, even if you ignore the above/decide to forego a career in favor of becoming a full-time, stay-at-home, wife and mother, it's not like your're going to make finding a partner a full-time occupation in the meantime, right?

When the time comes, you and your partner will decide how to accommodate children. Lots of people have careers when their children are small (e.g., the OB/GYN who delivered my first child had her 2 children while in med school). It might be difficult, but it's doable.

*About half of all marriages end—ignore this at your peril.

FWIW: my first was born a week after I finished grad school, which was a couple of months shy of my 35th birthday, and my second was born almost 3 years later. I am SO glad I waited until I finished school and SO very glad that I had them.
posted by she's not there at 12:14 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

nthing the suggestion to just focus on dating and finding someone to partner with now, and letting the exact timing of kids works itself out after that. Actually, if you're about 27 now then by the time the pieces all naturally fall into place you'll probably be in your early to mid 30's anyway.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 12:24 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's never to soon to evaluate what you want out of life and prioritize these things. It's probably too soon to give up career aspirations for kids if you don't have a partner.

I had my first child at 33, and most of my mommy friends are older. We joke about missing the energy of our 20s, but the paths we chose led us to where we are, and we wouldn't change them.

I also have friends my age (35) who are now shifting from career to relationship/family focus. They all know it's harder, but they also believe that their choices led them to be happier people and eventually better parents.

You are thinking about the regret of those who put off having kids, but what about those who derail their careers or try to force relationships with incompatible men for the sake of kids that may or not ever happen? There's regret there too.

Enjoy your life. Maintain a balance that allows you to meet people and find a life partner. When the time comes, the two of you will figure it out.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:04 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

The committed training program will make kids impossible for a few years, but you haven't met anyone yet? I'd say go for it, and here's why.

Let's say you walk out of your house tomorrow and meet someone. (Mazeltov!) Even should you fall wildly in love with that person immediately, it'll probably take about a year (at least) to get to the point where you decide to get engaged/join your lives. Then once you are engaged, it's at least a year to plan the wedding. So we're looking at two years from tomorrow, in the best possible circumstances, before you would probably even start trying. Let's suppose on that day you instantly get pregnant.

You are still looking at 2 years, 9 months, in the most optimal circumstances, before you'd have a baby. How close is that to those "few years" we're talking about? And how much likelier is it that it will take at least a few months to find someone, etc?

I say continue on your career, but date up a storm and be open to meeting someone. You dont' have to choose now!
posted by corb at 5:16 AM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

When I was your age, I was very open to having children, in fact, I rather expected that I would. I did know that I felt that both parents should be together and/or very involved in the kid's life. Since I didn't have anyone in my life, I just figured I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

As I got older, and it seemed that I was destined to be single, the interest waned. I relished my lazy Saturday mornings, I loved that I could eat ice cream for dinner and watch old movies any time I wanted. I had friends who had kids and I enjoyed hanging out with them and spoiling them and when they started to get annoying, I gave them back.

When I was 39, I met and married Husbunny. At that point, neither of us were at all interested in having children.

Now, when we watch Toddlers and Tiaras, or we see some horrible parenting and/or a bratty kid, we wordlessly high five each other. Dodged that bullet.

Having kids is a completely different lifestyle. And unless you see yourself enjoying that lifestyle, it may be that it's just not for you.

Every choice you make in life involves some sacrifice. I don't know of anyone who "has it all". I don't know anyone who wants it all!

The optimal thing would be that you progress your career and become the major breadwinner, and you meet and have children with someone who perhaps isn't so ambitious.

I will give you a couple of cute stories from my childhood.

1. My parents were considering having a third kid. I was 7, my sister was 5 and the window was closing. Our neighbors and good friends had a little one so my folks decided to borrow her for the weekend, and let the neighbors go out of town for some alone time. Saturday morning came, I got up, got my sister up, put the baby in the high chair and made everyone breakfast. Then we watched cartoons. When my parents woke up at 10:00 AM, saw that everything was under control, they realized that having self-sufficient little people in the house was a GOOD thing. The following week my dad scheduled his vasectomy.

2. It was a rainy day in California and my sister and I were playing in the house. My mom was trying to get some cleaning done, so she brought out the vacuum cleaner. I thought it would be hilarious to pretend it was a monster so Sissy and I ran around screaming while she tried to do the rugs. Something snapped, Mom calmly turned off the vacuum. Went into her room and locked the door. Soon, Mom had a job, and we had a baby sitter for after school.

Not everyone is wired to do the traditional thing, not everyone wants the same things out of life.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

You asked: "If I feel this way now, what are the chances that at 35, I'll really regret not starting a family, even if it requires dialing down the career goals?"

My answer (based upon my experience and that of my friends): You will most likely regret it very dearly.

I am an "older mom" who didn't have my first (and only) child until I was 37. My first pregnancy was easy, leading me to be hopeful that I had not waited too long to have kids. Unfortunately my husband and I have not been able to have another child, which we desperately want, due entirely to my age (I have low ovarian reserve, normal for those of us over 40).

Take a hard look at the numbers. Fertility for most women drops off dramatically around age 35, also, of course, there are the substantially increased risk of birth defects. At age 30, a woman has a 20% chance each month to get pregnant (which doesn't mean a viable pregnancy resulting in a live birth, the chances of which are lower), by age 40, that has dropped to 5% per month (once again, this is your chance of getting pregnant, your chance of having a live baby from that pregnancy is much much smaller).

Don't be fooled by all these celebrities and older women having babies. You would be very surprised at how many of these women are using, not just IVF, but also donor eggs and surrogate carriers.

Also, I have a handful of friends who will never be able to have biological children due to serious health problems they developed in their mid-30s (cancer and auto-immune diseases). And many other friends who, like me, will not be able to complete their families in the way they had hoped simply because they had waited to long to have their first.

My advice: Don't panic, and don't worry about having kids right now, but you should begin dating with the intention of getting married (or whatever passes for marriage these days). Don't waste your time dating anyone who you know is not marriage material, anyone who says they don't want children, and anyone who has to be dragged into a commitment.

Think about it. Let's say you meet the right man when you are 28, you date for 2-3 years before marriage, so you are married at 30, you want to be married for a couple of years before kids, so you start trying to get pregnant at 32, it takes 6 months to get pregnant, so you have your first child at 33-34, then you want to wait 2 years for your second, so that puts you at 36. It might now take a little longer as you are a bit older, so you will be pregnant at 37 with your next child born at 38.

That timeline implies that you or your spouse don't have any fertility issues, pregnancy issues, miscarriages, job problems, etc. etc.
posted by kentuckyfriedgirl at 6:38 AM on February 27, 2013 [10 favorites]

In my prior comment I suggested that you start dating seriously now with the intention of finding someone with whom to have children.

In addition to that I would suggest that you physically start preparing yourself for getting pregnant. Take good care of your health: keep your weight in check (you want to be neither too heavy nor too lean in trying to get pregnant); exercise regularly; get off the junk food; eat lots of vegetables; etc.

I would also recommend that you start keeping tabs on your reproductive health. An amazing book for that is Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler. I know so many women who swear it helped them get pregnant (I know it did me).

While it may seem strange to start charting your temperature and tracking your cervical fluid now - long before you plan on getting pregnant - this will help you find out if you have any underlying fertility problems that you should address now so you will be able to get pregnant later.

For instance, you may be getting a regular period and think you are fine, but you could still not be ovulating (which would be shown by temperature charting).
posted by kentuckyfriedgirl at 6:53 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You asked: "If I feel this way now, what are the chances that at 35, I'll really regret not starting a family, even if it requires dialing down the career goals?"

My answer (based upon my experience and that of my friends): You will most likely regret it very dearly.

And not to invalidate kentuckyfriedgirl's experience at all, but it's been the total opposite with me and my set of friends. I never wanted children when I was growing up. When I was around 25 I finally thought "huh. If I had a baby I think I'd be ready to care for it." When I was 33 or so I had a lot of friends having babies and thought "huh. Those seem pretty cool." When I was 35 I thought "you know, I definitely don't want kids enough to have them on my own without a partner." Now that I'm 38 I think, "thank god I didn't have kids!!!" I visit my adorable niece and nephew, who I love to absolute pieces, and am never as happy as when I can walk away at the end of a visit. I've got a ton of friends who feel the same way. We look at the one friend who decided to seize the last of her fertility and have a baby at 42 and think "good for her, but jesus that seems like a LOT of work. Glad it's not me!"

So, you know, think about all your goals in life holistically. If having children is a major priority for you, work toward that. If you go back and forth on wanting to have kids plus you generally find a way to enjoy whatever life throws at you, then there is a pretty good chance you will continue to be happy with your life whether you end up having kids or not.
posted by MsMolly at 6:54 AM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I really like kentuckyfriedgirls advice:
Don't panic, and don't worry about having kids right now, but you should begin dating with the intention of getting married (or whatever passes for marriage these days). Don't waste your time dating anyone who you know is not marriage material, anyone who says they don't want children, and anyone who has to be dragged into a commitment.

Fertility is not guaranteed. You ask if you will regret waiting when you hit your mid-30’s. If you can easily get pregnant at 35? Probably not. But if you cannot get pregnant? You may be facing some severe heartache. It's worth noting that fertility treatments can be expensive, difficult, and they have no guarantee of working.

What does your heart say about adoption? Or donated eggs? If these alternatives feel like a viable option for you in the face of infertility, it may be a useful hack to keep yourself from feeling the pressure too much as you pursue your career. Remember that there are lots of ways of having a baby. But if you really truly want to be pregnant with a baby from your own eggs, don't blind yourself to the shelf life of your own fertility.

Good luck!
posted by waterisfinite at 7:26 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to mention first that I've been there.

You sound ambitious and motivated so you are probably used to setting goals, figuring out what to do to achieve them, and then taking those steps in that order. In my opinion, having a family isn't like that. I know a handful of ladies who have tried to operate that way. A friend went on online dating websites, made a profile and a spreadsheet to keep track of her dates. It hasn't worked for her. If you're set on having babies, partner or no partner, it can be more like that but otherwise, it'll be more challenging.

I think that you should focus on the things you can control, like your career path and your health. Do you have an OB-GYN? Have you seen her within the last year? Do you have any health concerns that could affect your fertility? You can even start taking prenatal vitamins and reading books about having and raising kids.

You can also put yourself out there for a potential partner. Do people know that you're single and interested in changing that? How do they know that? Do your friends know that you want to find someone? Is there a friend who has talked about setting you up with someone but hasn't, for whatever reason? I hope I didn't sound like I was opposed to online dating because I'm not and if that's something that interests you, check it out.

Also, I don't know what your career path is but being able to provide for a family is an incredibly powerful thing, in my opinion. Divorce happens and divorced women frequently end up living in poverty with their children. At some point, I started looking at my career choices as something that aren't relevant just to me and my husband but our potential future family. Again, this isn't an argument to hoard money and choose a profession based on income potential but I feel confident that, barring something significant, my years of working unpaid or barely paid internships or jobs is over. Decisions I make related to my income will affect my family and I'm prepared to fight for my family.

My perspective: I'm a 30 year old woman who has been with the same person for 9+ years and married for 3+ years. We want to have a family someday but we're not ready right now. I'm trying to stay healthy, we're both pursuing our careers, trying to save some money, and maybe have some adventures that would be more difficult if we were parents. I realize that when I want to have kids, my kid-having equipment might not work. I expect that at that point, I will feel sad, but I think that I will feel sadder if we did not make the most of the time we had before we started trying to have kids. If the kid-having equipment doesn't work, I am open to trying to make it work but I'm also open to adoption. I want to pass on my husband's genes but I think we will be good parents so if someone needs good parents, maybe we can talk.

This all might be horribly naive but that's what we feel comfortable with. I think it's like retirement planning in a way. I'm not saving as much as I possibly can but I have a 401K into which I contribute with each pay check. I could be doing more, I could be doing less, I am comfortable with what I am doing.
posted by kat518 at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

For another bit of perspective, I would recommend that you examine your assumption that whatever career path you're thinking about pursuing will make it "impossible" to have kids before you're in your mid-30s. Depending on what that career path is, it may make your work/school/home life balance quite challenging. I suppose there are a handful that would make having a baby flat-out impossible (astronaut? arctic explorer?). But there are women who do have babies in all sorts of less-than-ideal career or educational circumstances (active-duty military, grad school, law school, med school, being the governor of the Great State of Alaska...).

Compromises get made, priorities get re-arranged, and media-fueled fantasies about what it means to be the perfect parent/spouse/student/employee may need to be set aside. But I think that this idea that you have to be in the perfect position to have children is sadly keeping some women (and men) from having the children they want, and keeping other women from confronting the societal structures that put women who want challenging careers and families at a disadvantage.
posted by drlith at 8:29 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got my first twinges of my biological clock when I was about 28, when I was not in a place to start a family. Up until then, kids were an abstract concept. That was the first time that I realized that it might be something I'd want in my future.

I was already in a good career and fairly financially stable. However, I was in a bad marriage, and this realization was the impetus I needed to end it. From there, I realized that I wanted to take advantage of my youth & freedom before I was tied down with kids, so I started making changes to my life. I went on big vacations alone, I dated casually, I built up a great social network & made tons of wonderful adult friends. Most people do this kind of thing in their 20s, but I had been so serious. I was very aware of the possibility of missing out on these things. I made sure that I didn't.

This winter, I turned 35 and got engaged. After the wedding this fall, we plan to start trying for a family. It feels totally natural and good, but we are also very aware of our ages & the issues we might face. We've seen our friends struggle with miscarriages (some very late-term), fertility treatments, IVF, adoption, and other issues. It might be difficult for us. If it doesn't work out easily, it will be hard on us (probably harder than I imagine). But parenthood will also be hard- our lifestyle and cash flow will change dramatically. So, while we will try for the family we want, I hope that I can be happy with a different path if that's where life takes me.

Whatever happens, I am glad that, at age 28, my biological clock made me slow down, listen to myself, and change what was wrong in my life. Seven years later, I think that these were the best years of my life so far. I feel like I've made good use of my youth and freedom while I still have it! I'm in a better place for not just a family, but for my own self.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:52 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Again, I think it depends on how much you feel like having kids is an essential part of your life story. For me, I am relying on the notion that if I do wait too long for my career to flesh out and I miss my opportunity that I will still be able to use this newly-found nurturing instinct in other ways, like adopting or fostering or evening mentoring an at-risk youth.

This resonates with me as well. I'm 35 now and my husband and I are considering having a child. The idea is just one, if any. We didn't wait until now for some big grand reason, although it is nice that we finally both have stable careers. It's more that we just don't feel pulled strongly in either direction, which means we have to just jump in and make a conscious choice. If it doesn't work out for us, though, then we just will go with that life and be happy with it. Or adopt, and be happy with that. No worries. You need to know if that's your outlook, because that honestly does make it a lot less emotionally risky for you to wait. For anyone who feels similarly, if you haven't read it, check out the "ghost ship that didn't carry us" advice column response.
posted by bizzyb at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, you need to be able to support yourself (and any children you may decide to parent)—preferably doing work you don't actively hate—regardless of whether or not you eventually find a partner

While I realize the quoted point of view is pretty popular on MetaFilter, the Standard Model until very recently until human history has been the way a woman does this is by finding a man that support her and the offspring they make together.

Here is an idea I mentioned in a previous comment that I will flesh out more here. You talk about your career and where you see it going. Well, I am a fancy pants lawyer in a prominent firm and I do not say that I have a "career". Or rather, I do not say that my job is my career. A career is one's course through life. My course through life is to be husband to my wife and father to my children. My job is the unpleasant thing that I do to support this course through life. No, I like practicing law just fine - work is unpleasant because I spend the majority of my waking hours away from my wife and children. I am very against the modern idea of one's job as being the font of "self-actualization", which is a very new idea. I "self-actualize" by being a husband and father. But, that in itself doesn't fill stomachs, so off to work I go.

The point is, why do you think you were brought upon this earth? Was it to be someone who has a top notch professional career after a long training program, or was it to be a wife and mother? Only you know the answer. Once you know the answer, act accordingly. As Ruthless Bunny said, you cannot have it all. Don't make a decision based on the assumption that you will get to "have it all".

Speaking for myself, I know I was not brought upon this earth to file motions and make smart arguments in front of judges. Everyone has there own priorities, but for me, I will take my children over flying to Rome at a moment's notice.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my own experience (as a young urban woman), all of my friends were in a similar situation when they were your age. Like clockwork, everyone starting meeting serious mates and getting married around 29-30 and then began having babies a couple of years later. It even happened to me and I really thought I might be single forever!

I agree with previous posters that you should make dating a priority if you want to have a family in the near future. But my guess is that it will work itself out and in 10 years you will find yourself exactly where you're supposed to be.
posted by jrichards at 11:23 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

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