When is the right time to have a baby? Can we ever feel 100% ready? Starting a family is probably one of life’s biggest decisions. Babies come with enormous responsibility and a hefty price tag. Western Society is so focused on ‘family’ that it can appear to marginalise those of us that don’t wish to have children or are sadly, unable to have children.
Choosing not to have children can come with many benefits; more money and personal freedom to pursue anything you wish. A woman’s creative or ‘maternal’ instinct isn’t just limited to fulfillment through children – it can be gratified though a myriad of ways; career, personal projects, and other meaningful relationships.
By the time a woman over 35 decides to start a family or have further children, she may be well established in her career. Her life may well follow a comfortable and predictable routine which the shock and thunderbolt of a new baby could almost certainly shatter. The reality is that the arrival of new life creates upheaval. The first year of parenthood in particular is both rewarding and overwhelming, and can impact stressfully on the parental relationship. However, as older parents tend to be more financially secure, this gives greater choice over payed childcare alternatives offering further support and lessening stress.
For some of us the decision to have children is a ‘no brainer’. An older woman may be ‘more ready’ because she’s experienced fulfillment in other areas of her life (career, travel, older children) and is now ready for a new change in direction and purpose. She’s reached the right time in her life for a much wanted first baby or subsequent child. If she’s employed, future juggling of family and work may mean she doesn’t reach the pinnacle of her career, but this may no longer be a priority anyway.
For others the decision can take time, even years of soul searching and weighing up the pros and cons of parenthood. By the time we have arrived at an outcome we may well be in our late 30’s or 40’s. The idea of becoming a mum can seem a scary prospect; one which entails the sacrifice of personal freedoms and the never ending unconditional care and responsibility for another human being. We often need to feel a certain amount of emotional and psychological ‘readiness’ before embarking on babies.
Research by Dr Julia Berryman and the University of Leicester Parent Research Group found that ’emotional and financial security’ were the main reasons cited for delaying pregnancy in a group of women 40 and over. Only a very small percentage gave ‘career reasons’ as an explanation for a later baby. Australian studies have found that another major factor in women delaying pregnancy was finding a committed partner who wanted to start a family with them.
The idea of having a baby could evoke a spectrum of feelings and associated childhood memories casting motherhood in either a favourable or an unfavourable light. However, mixed or ambivalent feelings are a very normal part of the decision making process and on becoming and being a mother. It’s important to acknowledge the parts of ourselves that does want a child and the parts that doesn’t. Talking to someone confidentially can help us to accept the thoughts and feelings we face – whether we decide to have a baby or not. Acceptance, even by a small degree, may also help lay the emotional foundations for conception; through feeling more at peace we might feel a greater sense of readiness for a baby.
Regardless of age, the relationship with our parents, particularly our mothers, can impact on our ‘readiness’ for children. In 2008 I researched this in a small two day workshop for women mainly in their mid to late 30’s who were grappling with the issue of having a baby…
What laid behind their mixed feelings was some aspect of their relationship with their mothers that influenced their decision making process. This was irrespective of whether their experience of being mothered was ‘good enough’ or not. Even though some of the women had experienced a difficult childhood this wasn’t going to stop them from having children. However it did mean that the issue of having a baby evoked painful memories of their own childhoods and relationship with their mother. This in turn had an impact on the timing of when to conceive a child by delaying it.
If your experience of being mothered was positive then it is likely that you feel a sense of inner security and trust in the world and are skilled at comforting yourself. As an adult, you probably now have the confidence in your abilities to nurture your own potential child and feel good about becoming a parent.
However, if your experience of being mothered was negative through abuse, neglect or loss you might lack a sense of security and safety and not quite know how to mother yourself. This might translate into a lack of confidence and ambivalent feelings around your ability to nurture your own child. The idea of becoming a parent might seem especially daunting and one which you might want to either put off or not bother with at all. If any of this rings true for you, then counselling can help you feel clearer about your situation.
Ambivalent feelings about pregnancy and being a mum are normal and can happen regardless of a positive or negative upbringing.