I’m 26 years old. Although I’ve been married for almost 10 years (not a typo), I don’t have children. In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking that having kids would probably be the worst thing that could happen to me even though I did want children… someday. Now that I’m closer to 30 than 20, I can’t help but wonder: When, exactly, is “someday”? And how, after years of being panicked by the idea of pregnancy, do women make the switch from “not yet!” to “maybe”?
There is endless conflicting advice about when to have a child. Every year, more women are delaying pregnancy, simultaneously creating a panic about fertility and a growing stigma toward women who choose to have children “early.”
I started reaching out to parents asking them how they decided they were ready to try for a baby. On first response, most people told me what had been true for my parents, “Well, we didn’t exactly plan…”
But what I really wanted was to hear from the people who had taken the leap on purpose. And their answers were not so much about checklists or life milestones as I’d suspected, but other factors. Sasha, a writer and yoga teacher who has three children, said it was essentially an act of nature. “Biological clock,” she explained. “Went from not wanting them to wanting them right now.”
Medical issues also had a big effect on timing. Kim Boniorno of New Jersey and her husband knew they wanted kids because they came from families with multiple siblings. She also knew she had a medical condition (PCOS) that might make it difficult to conceive, which made planning a family a priority. “We married when I was 27, and I began taking care of myself, physically, to prepare for TTC while my husband was managing the finances of becoming parents. I ended up having our first child when I was 29.”
A cancer diagnosis sped up Lea Grover’s timeline. “My husband has terminal cancer, but after an experimental treatment, he was doing great. We had no idea how much time he had. So we decided to have kids immediately, because we figured the longer he had with the children, the more likely it was they would be able to form meaningful memories of him,” she told me. She was 23 when her husband was diagnosed. She had twins at 24, and later another child. They’re now 8 and 5, and her husband is still doing well.
Lindsay, who had her first child at 30, said jealousy started her down the path of having children. “I started getting a tad bit jealous of all my friends and cousins who were having babies,” she told me. She knew her husband wanted children, but she’d never felt a particular urge until she felt this bout of envy. She spent a few years getting sober before actively trying, but it was this initial emotion that lit the spark for her.
And she’s not alone in feeling a kind of indifference toward the idea of having children. Pam of Colorado felt similarly. “If anything, I think having friends with kids and hearing how their lives and marriages had changed made me not want to have kids,” she said. But she knew her husband wanted children definitively, and so decided to wait a year after getting married and then start trying. “Once I got it into my head that we were going to do it, I forgot about being afraid of messing up my life.” They followed their plan, and she was 33 when she had her first child.
For others, it was a subtle shift, a kind of, “Why not?” Rachel, who had her first child at 23, said she and her partner had graduated college and had relatively stable jobs when they decided to stop preventing pregnancy. They’d both been born to young parents and wanted to be young parents themselves. “One day, my mother-in-law said to me, ‘If you wait for the right time, you’ll never have children.’ And just like that, we jumped in before we started overthinking things.”
“I can’t pinpoint that moment to any one event, just a feeling that grew the longer we were married,” Andrea, who was 29 when her first child was born, told me. Her close friends weren’t having children or making plans to have any. She didn’t feel like something was missing, but found herself considering the idea and talking about it with her husband, Matt. “I think I felt like it was an adventure I was ready for and when Matt and I talked and he felt the same, we just went for it. Although we thought it might take longer than it did!”
Cristina, who had her first child this summer, had been married to her husband for over four years. “We’d reached a plateau of comfort and stability, so we felt ready — or as ready as we’d ever be — for the massive life upheaval that is having a child. Plus, as early 30-somethings, we’re no longer spring chickens and it felt about time.” She said her decision could mostly be summed up by a quote she remembers Jerry Seinfeld saying. “Something along the lines of, ‘Life gets so predictable, you go, ‘What’s next?’ So you have a kid.’”
If anything, what it comes down to is that nobody can tell you when the right time to have a child is — early or late, with intense baby fever or with a shrug of the shoulders. The timing for when to have children seems to be as unique as the children that timing produces. And at a certain point, one just has to leap.