My maternal instinct has not kicked in yet. And it’s okay if yours hasn’t either.
This past New Year’s Eve, our best friends told us they had an announcement. After their big African safari adventure in May this year, they were going to start trying to have children. My husband excitedly high-fived them and wished them the best of luck.
I, on the other hand, found myself suddenly feeling incredibly glum. I’m 32 now and pretty much all my friends have had children or are currently pregnant. There are still a few single friends and childless couples, but they are becoming few and further between. These were one of the last of our friends that still didn’t have children. It wasn’t that I wasn’t thrilled for them, I truly was, just like I was for all my friends and family that have had kids.
But I knew in that moment, I wasn’t actually sad, I was genuinely scared - will I ever feel ready to have children? We are so much in debt, and I want to take care of my parents as soon as I finish up my residency and fellowship training. I don’t actually know how we could afford to raise a baby right now. I’m also still selfish – I like our current lifestyle as a childless married couple – being able to take trips or partake in fun activities on the fly. It doesn’t help that I trained as an obstetrician for a few years, and all that I have witnessed has made me incredibly fearful of pregnancy, labor and delivery. I can’t help but feel the relationship between my husband and I will change drastically as our new primary focus will be on our children. I’m also irrationally scared of accidentally neglecting my dogs that I love so much once my hands are full with kids.
On top of all that, I have been so busy spending all my twenties reaching my career goals, so time has not been on my side. They say that there is never a perfect time to really have a baby, especially in the medical field when you are either always studying for big exams, working 90-hour weeks in residency, or trying to find a job as a board-certified physician. And I’m not alone in my timing. Women in their thirties are now having more children than women in their twenties. Many women today are waiting longer to have children for many reasons including years of training for her career.
But if I don’t have a maternal instinct yet, why do I feel like I am supposed to by now? It is a standard social expectation that being a mother equates to womanhood. Some even consider women that admit to desiring to remain childless extremely selfish. But with the growing number of ladies that choose to hold off on having kids with no evidence that this trend will be slowing down, the stigma of women choosing to postpone starting a family needs to decline as well. And as a woman, I’m aware that I do have a smaller window of opportunity for fertility and that gets closer to shutting with each passing day. But the public needs to stop constantly reminding women that they don’t have the luxury of waiting forever to become ready. Women choose to not have children for many different reasons whether it be personal or medical. Her discretion of when she is ready to have children always deserves respect, not interrogation.
I have expressed this concern that I may never feel ready to have children to other ladies before and have found lots of support. Some have told me that my motherly urge will eventually kick in. I just have to give it time and let myself decide when I am truly ready. Others have told me that it actually may never take effect, and there’s absolutely no problem with that.
And if you find yourself in the same situation, I hope that you will trust that you will know when the right time is for you. And if you know motherhood isn’t for you, that’s perfectly fine too. And most of all, always remember that society doesn’t get to dictate what womanhood is - you do.