Seems like just yesterday you were closing in on 30. You may have thought about having a child. Or it may have been the furthest thing from your mind. After all, you had plenty of time.
Perhaps you were still single. Perhaps you were pursuing your career or furthering your education.
Or you simply weren’t sure you wanted to bring a baby into the world with all that would mean for your life.
Fast forward to now…you’re closing in on 40, or you’ve zoomed right past it. And you’re wondering if you’re too old to have a baby. Can you have a baby after 40? Should you have a baby when you’re single? Do you truly want a child? Are you even ready for motherhood?
A few facts before we dive in to help you find clarity. Women in their 40s can and do get pregnant and have healthy babies. Women can and do raise children as single parents. Women also choose not to have children and live happy, fulfilled lives.
Those final two questions…do you want a child and are you ready? Only you know the very personal answers to those questions, but I can help you explore and find clarity.
The Clock Is Ticking
While it’s becoming more and more common for women to have babies at 40 and beyond, society and even the medical profession haven’t quite caught up. Your doctor might call it advanced maternal age, and if you’ll be 35 or older when you deliver, you may be deemed high risk.
It’s true that your fertility decreases steadily after age 30, and by age 40, you may need fertility treatments to conceive. However, as an “older” mom-to-be, a healthy pregnancy may be more tied to your physical health than your age. In other words, an unhealthy 25-year-old woman may experience more problems during pregnancy than a healthy 40-year old woman.
Is the biological clock real? Yes, in the sense that your natural fertility (chance of getting pregnant without medical intervention) does decrease after 30, more at 35, and again at 40.
Does it mean you won’t get pregnant and have a healthy baby if you’re over 35? Of course not. You may or may not need fertility assistance to become pregnant, and like pregnancy at any age, there are always risks.
Biological ticking aside, women face another source of pressure…
This feels more like a pressure cooker than a slow ticking. It’s the pressure society exerts as you enter your mid to late 30s. Your family, coworkers, and friends might have good intentions when they ask, “When are you going to have a baby?” Or the offhand comment, “Wow, she’s 41. She’s way too old to be pregnant. Can you imagine?” Or the pointed barb, “If you wait too long, you won’t be able to get pregnant. Besides, you don’t want to be an old mom.”
It’s this impatience with your decision-making, your ability to find a mate, and even questioning your maternal instincts, that pushes many women to the boiling point.
Most of us don’t take this decision lightly. If you’ve postponed motherhood to your mid 30s and past, you’re likely at a biological and emotional crossroads.
Do you get pregnant and have a baby? Will you need fertility intervention? Do you adopt a child? Do you continue your life without motherhood?
No matter the decision you make, you’ll be judged. They’ll see you pushing a stroller, and ask if your new baby is your grandchild. They’ll ask if you have kids, and when you say no, give you a puzzled look. Perhaps even ask, “Why not?”
You can brush off the inconsiderate comments, but the deeper issues and questions within aren’t easily pushed aside, and shouldn’t be ignored.
Deciding whether or not to have a baby is a fundamentally life-changing decision, and not just for you. If you’re in a relationship, the decision affects your partner. And let’s not forget the child you bring into this world.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the biological urge for motherhood, the inclination to surrender to pressure from your family and society, and your own deepest desires for motherhood.
Beyond pregnancy, which is challenging and life-changing in its own ways, you’re deciding to bring new life into the world. Beyond those tender and tiring first days and weeks with your newborn, you’re committing to 18 years of intense responsibility. You’re committing to be a parent for the rest of your life. To say this decision will have a tremendous impact on your life is an understatement.
The decision to become a mother looks different for each of us. Your life. Your hopes and dreams. Your plans. Your personality. Your childhood. Your emotional, physical, and mental health. All of these factors come into play. Then there’s that innate desire to be a mother…
Do you feel like you’ve always wanted to be a mother? That motherhood would complete you and fulfill you in way nothing else could. Or is that instinct is missing? You never thought much about being a mother. Or you have and you’re 100 percent against it, and you certainly don’t need it to complete you.
Both viewpoints are normal, and sometimes one person will sway between the two extremes of needing to be a mother to be fulfilled, and needing the freedom of being childless.
Even women who’ve made the decision one way or the other have lingering doubts, feelings of regret, guilt, or jealousy for how the “other half” lives.
A childless woman in her 50s might see her niece blossoming into a young woman and wonder what her own child might have been like. A mother might see her single friend’s latest travel adventures on social media and wonder what it would be like to have no children.
It’s normal to wonder about what we don’t have, even to long for it at times. You can face this part of yourself with compassion, knowing the woman on the other side of your envy might envy you as well.
Grief and Loss on Both Sides
It’s normal to grieve for what we’ve lost—either by becoming a mother or not. Mothers must sacrifice, make changes, experience loss. Women who don’t become mothers must sacrifice, make changes, experience loss. Both sides are far more similar than they might think.
Mothers make sacrifices from their bodies, their time, their sleep, their health, their energy, their attention, their love. Becoming a mother changes your life forever. In terms of loss, just think of the sacrifices mothers make.
Often even those in a committed relationship can bear more than 50 percent of the responsibilities of parenthood. Not always, but often, the mother is the primary caregiver, even when the father is present and active in his child’s life.
So, you experience a loss in freedom, independence, and in many facets of self. It’s a change and a loss, and our society treats the topic as taboo. This unspoken grief many mothers feel is pushed down in shame. You should be thrilled to be a mother. You should enjoy every second. You should embrace this change. Or you risk being judged as ungrateful, or even as a “bad” mother.
Then there are women who either choose not to have children, or have the choice dictated by fate or biology. Either way, they may experience grief and regret over what might have been. There are many different stories here, just as in motherhood, and all are deeply personal.
Perhaps a woman experienced miscarriages or stillbirth and was unable to have a healthy child. Perhaps a woman lost her partner before they started a family and was not emotionally ready to start over. Perhaps a woman lacked the urge to have a child, or listened to her own instincts that told her she didn’t want to be a mother.
The loss here is the experience of motherhood. The experience of raising a child. The experience of having that one you’ll love more than anyone else.
Just as a mother mourns the loss of experience, so does the non-mother. And just like the mother, the non-mother faces spoken and unspoken judgment from her loved ones and society.
Society has by and large equated womanhood with motherhood. Without motherhood, womanhood is called into question by society. The assumption is made that all women want to be mothers, and that if this “duty” isn’t fulfilled, their life is incomplete. The assumption is made that if a woman is childless, it’s not by her own choosing.
Of course, like many assumptions, these are wrong. Not all women want to be mothers. Some women choose not to be mothers. Many women live full, joyful, and complete lives without being a mother. Motherhood is not a requirement of womanhood, or of a fulfilled life.
Am I Ready to be a Mother?
If we remove the societal pressure, what are we left with? A personal decision, one that’s challenging to make.
You’re the only person in the world who can answer this question. Before exploring readiness, you should examine your desires. Even if you have a partner, I recommend doing this inner work alone, before moving onto a conversation with him or her.
- Do I want to be a mother?
- Why or why not?
- How do I feel about being a mother?
- How do I feel about not being a mother?
- How might outside pressure and influence be affecting my desires?
- Do I feel judged for my choices?
- How can I release this judgment and find what’s underneath?
- How might my own childhood be influencing my desires?
- What does it mean to me to be a mother?
- What does it mean to me to choose not to be a mother?
Now, you can explore being ready for parenthood. Although some would say you’ll never be ready, you can take this time to help you make the best decision for yourself.
- How will my life change if I have a baby? In the next year? The next five, 10?
- What will be different if I choose to have a baby?
- How do I feel about a lifetime commitment?
- What do I think is needed to be a good parent? Emotionally, mentally, physically, financially.
- Is there anything in my life that I need to change before I’d feel ready to have a baby?
- Do I believe I need a partner to raise a child? Or do I believe I’m fully capable of doing so on my own?
- What if my child has mental or physical challenges? How do I think I would handle it?
Dig deep here. Journaling, meditation, and therapy can help you process the emotions that will inevitably come up with such a loaded topic. Remember to observe without judgment, and that it’s okay to feel what you feel.
If you’re in the San Francisco area and would like guidance in making the decision to become a mother or not, or you’ve already made your decision and need support, please reach out to schedule a session.