If you're in your thirties, waiting for all of the stars to align - that promotion you have your eyes on, finding the perfect house, one last trip to Europe - before you get knocked up, I have news for you. There's no "perfect time" to get pregnant. Trying to knock off a list of personal accomplishments, financial goals and vacation destinations before you attempt to conceive may do more harm than good.
Life is funny. For me, the twenties was liberation, fun, finding myself and what exactly it was that I was interested in. I didn't lay too much groundwork for future security in those years. I spent them working my ass of all year so I could frolic around Europe in the summer. I found photography and started showing my work. I made friends. I hung out. I had fun. They went by fast. But not as fast as my thirties.
At thirty-two, I got pregnant. We weren't planning on it, but we figured, "What the hell?" We were in love. We were adults. We wanted kids. Then I miscarried. For the first time, I realized that having children may not be as easy as I always thought it would. After you've spent your entire adult life trying not to get pregnant, you tend to assume when you are ready, it will just happen. Unfortunately, for a lot of women it just doesn't work that way.
We spent the next five years trying to conceive. The first miscarriage was followed by an ectopic pregnancy and another miscarriage. We weren't planning on starting to try that early, because by pretty much every measure we weren't "ready." But all of a sudden I was really glad that we did. I had no idea it would take us five years to get a pregnancy to stick.
If you were to look at the life we were leading at the time, you would probably say, "These people are not financially ready to have kids." My husband is an actor and a musician. Occasionally he would get a big ticket job that would set us up for a few months, but we usually relied on an endless series of small gigs that took a lot of hustling to get. Before our first child, I was working as a bartender at a very popular bar in Brooklyn. The money was pretty amazing but there is no maternity leave involved in the service industry. No 401k. No planning for the future. Once the baby came, I could no longer work the necessary 12 hour shifts to bring home the bacon. Our income plummeted.
We had to seriously adjust our lifestyle to accommodate having a child. Since we didn't have the income to afford daycare, we shared total care-giving responsibility. This usually meant me watching our son all day while my husband worked, passing the baby off when he got home and heading out the door to work myself. It wasn't ideal, but we did it. And guess what? We have a happy, healthy, well-adjusted toddler now. All while living in the second most expensive city in the country.
I say all this to illustrate that you don't have to be in the "perfect" situation to be capable of raising a child. If you are certain that a child is something that you really want in your life, you have to make it a priority as early as you can. I say this, of course, in hindsight. Please don't think I'm ordering anyone around or passing judgement. I just know that if we hadn't had that miscarriage at 32 and decided to start trying - if we would have waited until our situation was "ideal" for breeding - we never would have done it.
Family planning is not an exact science. The bottom line is, it is harder to conceive as you get older. Not for everyone, but for a very large percentage of women. It is sort of a cruel joke that your body is the most ready to reproduce when you are the least ready. And when you are older, more secure and finally ready to start trying, the odds aren't always in your favor. The average time it takes a couple over 35 to conceive is one to two years.
I get some flak when I talk about my financial situation and having children when I don't have the perfect, cookie-cutter, monetarily stable existence. "Maybe people who are having trouble paying for daycare should be responsible adults and stop having kids when they can't afford them. Birth control would be much cheaper." That's a comment that someone left for me in a previous article I wrote that spoke to the limitations on parenting choices that you have when you aren't totally financially secure. But you know what my response to that is? Fuck off. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all came from the same financial background? We struggled growing up, and my parents managed to raise intelligent, kind, professional children. I may be the bohemian in the family, but whatever.
My point is, if you want children, don't let the world convince you that everything has to be "perfect" in your life for you to be ready to be a parent. You can't buy everything. A healthy, well-adjusted family is not off limits to you because you can't afford all the best baby gear. Don't believe the hype. It may be a little harder, but it's not impossible. There are many, many parents who will tell you that.
Also, if you want to knock off a few more personal accomplishments before you start trying to conceive, you should be a little realistic. Prioritize. Be ready to change plans. Understand that it may take you a lot longer than you thought to have kids. Unfortunately, having children isn't one of those events you can pen in your day planner. As you get older, you don't have a whole lot of control over how it will go down. That's just a fact, but it's not as daunting as it sounds.
Let go of the reigns and live a little. Perspective is free.