Deciding whether or when to have children is among the biggest decisions of a lifetime. Conflicting emotions and pressures from family, friends, co-workers, and even the media can make it difficult to think clearly about what is right for you.
You may be asking yourself many questions as you think about motherhood: Do I want children? Am I ready? What effects would a child have on my career? On my relationships? If I don't want children now, does that mean I'll never want them? If I don't have children now, will I have fertility problems later? These are all important questions to ask.
Do I want children?
You may have known since you were a young girl that one day you wanted children. Or you may never have felt you wanted children and may still be questioning whether motherhood is right for you.
Many factors can affect a woman's decision about whether or when to have children. That can make it hard to sort out what you want from what others want for you. You may feel pressure from family, friends, and society to start a family. You may feel pressure from your partner to have children before you are ready. Success at your job or career can make it difficult to take a step back and think about the other personal goals you may have. You may also feel pressure from the biological clock -- pressure to decide sooner rather than later whether having a child is right for you.
The most important thing you can do as you weigh whether or when to have children is to think about your own feelings, values, and goals -- what you want and what feels right to you. You can do that by asking yourself questions and by talking with your partner and people close to you about what you are thinking and feeling.
- Talk honestly with your partner about fears and concerns. Though many people may not even be aware of it, fears often drive important decisions. For example, the daughter of an alcoholic parent may be afraid to have a child for fear her child could develop alcoholism. A child of divorced parents may be fearful of putting his child through a similar experience. For a woman with a history of health concerns in her family, it may be easier to think of not having children than risking the health of the child or her own health. The idea of becoming a parent can be difficult to imagine. What would becoming parents mean to you? Talking openly and honestly about your concerns and anxieties can help you and your partner make choices based on knowledge, not fear.
- Think about your life values and goals. Do most of your goals involve family and relationships? Work and career? What do you find yourself making time for in your life? Where do you get most of your satisfaction? Where would a child fit in with those goals and priorities?
- Start thinking about motherhood early. Experts urge women to start thinking seriously about motherhood by age 30. That doesn't mean you have to know you want children by that age. "Figure out what you want your life to look like at 45," advises Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her book Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. "What do you want your personal life to look like? What do you want your career to look like?" Postponing the discussion or decision-making process may end up creating more pressure later, when fertility rates decrease and timing becomes even more critical. Even if you're almost positive you don't want children, talking and thinking about it now can help you cope with the pressures the biological clock may put on you later.
- If this doesn't feel like the right time, think about why that's true. What doesn't feel right? Do you have financial concerns? Job concerns? Relationship concerns? Are there things you could change in your life that would make it the right time? Or is your feeling that this isn't the right time more deep-rooted? Perhaps you really don't want to have children of your own.
- Think about how important having a biological child is to you. Perhaps you haven't found someone with whom you'd like to have or raise a child. Or perhaps you're worried about the possibility of fertility problems later on. Having a biological child isn't the only way to become a parent. You can adopt or become a foster parent. Would you (and your spouse or partner) want to consider these options? If not, are you prepared to undergo fertility treatments or artificial insemination? Knowing your options -- adoption, foster parenting, artificial insemination, fertility treatments, or surrogacy -- and how you feel about those options can help you gain a better perspective on motherhood. Note that there are age limitations with some of these options.
- Seek support from others. Trusted friends or relatives can offer support, be a sounding board, and help you sort through your feelings. Ask a friend or family member who is a mother how she made her decision to become a parent and if she struggled with any reservations, nervousness, or difficult feelings. You might also want to ask your friend how she handles parenting along with a job or other responsibilities.
- Talk with a member of your faith community. A priest, minister, rabbi, or other member of your faith community may be able to provide support, advice, and perspective.
- Consider talking with a counsellor. Making the decision about becoming a parent can bring up many emotions and issues that can be difficult to sort through on your own. Talking with a professional counsellor can help. Some therapists specialize in working with women on issues related to motherhood. Ask your health care provider for a referral, contact the program that provided this publication, or search online for counsellors in your area who specialize in family matters.
- If you and your partner disagree about parenthood, decide if it would make sense to get counselling together. Sometimes questions about becoming a parent grow out of deeper concerns about a relationship or lack of confidence about being a parent. What would being a parent mean to your marriage? If you have these concerns, you may need to resolve them before you can feel comfortable with any decision you make about a family. A couples' counsellor can help you sort out the issues together. You can learn more about couples' counselling on the website for the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (http://www.camft.ca).
- Realize that your feelings may change over time. The way you feel at age 28 may be very different from the way you feel at 35 or 40. But gathering information and thinking about the issues early can help you prepare and plan for the future.
Deciding what's right for you
Deciding whether to become a parent is one of the biggest decisions you'll ever make. And you're the only one who knows what's right for you. How do you picture your life five, 10, or 20 years from now? What will be most important to you in your personal life? In your work life?
As you weigh the facts, questions, and concerns you have about becoming a parent, think about what your heart is telling you. Do you want children? Do you want them in the near future? Later? Focus on what's right for you, not what's right for other people in your life.
© LifeWorks Canada Ltd 2016