Ask Dr. V, Did I Wait Too Long?
Dear Dr V,
My husband and I waited to get married and made a conscious decision to have children later in our lives. We are now 38 and 35 respectively and I am terrified about the prospects of not being able to get pregnant. I hear horror stories from friends and families of like-minded couples not being able to get pregnant in their mid to late 30s. Have we been too selfish? What do we do if we cannot have children? Can a marriage be complete without kids?
Feeling Selfish and Scared
Dear S & S,
By no means at all have you been “too selfish.” It sounds to me as if you and your husband were thoughtful and deliberate in making your decisions regarding marriage and kids, and then moved forward together with common purpose in your lives. Your marriage has lasted and is stable enough that you feel ready to become parents together.
Believe it or not, this speaks volumes about the quality of the relationship between you and your husband.
Please believe me when I tell you I understand all too well the anxiety you feel about becoming pregnant at what many perceive as an “advanced” maternal age. But you should also know that it is far from being too late for you. Many women in their thirties and forties give birth to perfectly healthy babies and go onto become fantastic mothers.
Truthfully though, I’m more concerned about your internal process on this, and how that could affect your perceptions of yourself, your husband and your marriage as a whole.
Theoretically, a woman could begin having children as soon as she ovulates for the first time. If we were still a cave-dwelling species, it might make some kind of brutal Darwinian sense to start having children around twelve, thus increasing the amount of humans in the world as soon as possible and ensuring the survival of the species. But we are a far cry from our feral ancestors. It simply doesn’t make sense for humans to have children at such an early point in their lives. Likewise, think back to where you were in life in your early 20s, what many would consider to be biological prime time for childbearing. In all likelihood you were not in a place where you felt emotionally ready to be a parent (just like nearly every other twentysomething. I know I didn’t), which explains why you wanted to wait. And there’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, does it really make any sense to deliberately plunge into a life-changing event you know you are not ready for if you can wait until you do feel prepared?
What I’m really driving at here is that I don’t think you need to beat yourself up for honoring your boundaries. You made the decisions that were right and best for you at each particular juncture in your life. All that has happened this far has transpired exactly as it was supposed to, so that you could find yourself in the moment and place you are now, which is exactly where you need to be. There may be some challenging or even difficult times ahead, but I hope you can find solace in the fact that you have done nothing wrong. Just the opposite, by respecting and honoring your own comfort zones and boundaries you and your husband have done right.
This being said, I would like to offer some measured optimism and encouragement. It is a fact that more and more women are having their first children well into their thirties. In February of 2008, a survey conducted by the Office of National Statistics in Great Britain stated that there are more first-time mothers in their 30′s then their 20′s. It would seem that our bodies are adjusting to the societal shifts in the kind of lives modern women lead.
In the department of anecdotal evidence, I’d like to use as an example a couple I was seeing a few years ago. A man and woman, the woman was 39. After trying to conceive unsuccessfully for a long time they were ready to give up. They began to reflect on the bigger picture, how badly did they want to be parents? After serious deliberation they began to consider adoption. Shortly thereafter, they discovered they were pregnant. Nine months later they were rewarded with a beautiful, healthy baby boy. Not only this, but all the friends they made along the way in the journey of their pregnancy; in prenatal yoga, birthing classes and so on, were also all mothers in their 30s. By now, all the babies have been born, and are healthy, happy and thriving. So not only is it possible, it may not be as unattainable as you have been led to believe.
Of course, consulting with your OB/GYN would be the best place for you to begin, as he or she can offer professional insight and perspective on the physical aspects of this issue. Once you have this information you can then consider what you and your husband want to do next. Yes, it is true that there are certain risks and difficulties associated with pregnancy once you’re past your twenties. However, pregnant women in their twenties share much of the uncertainty and anxiety as their slightly older counterparts. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that while pregnancy is one of the most miraculous and joyous aspects of the human experience, it can also be quite exhausting and stressful. There is nothing wrong or abnormal about this, it’s the nature of a complex, multi-faceted, and ultimately sacred state of being.
Life cannot always be a predictable, controlled event. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in the hands of the Universe and trust we will be cared for in the best way possible.
To answer the last part of your question, about if a marriage could be complete without children: I do think if you can both truly accept the situation and remain loving, empathic, caring and honest with each other, there is no reason you both could not go on to live a rich, full life together.
Just to play Devil’s Advocate, there is also the possibility of adoption. I realize this may not be an acceptable solution for everyone, but if you and your husband truly feel your lives will not be complete without the experience of raising a child and cannot conceive, it could be a viable answer. There are many different avenues of adoption, and if this becomes a serious consideration, there will be much research for you to do.
However you decide to proceed, please do so free of unnecessary guilt or regret. You have been living your life in a deliberate, purposeful way. There is no shame in that; it is something to be celebrated. It is my deepest, heartfelt hope that you can reclaim and redirect your energy in a positive way that energizes and prepares you for the adventure that lies ahead.
Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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