Why I Wasn’t Ready to Start a Family Until I Was 40, and Why I’m Glad I Waited

About two weeks into my partner and I having our new puppy, I had a rather large freakout.

Being someone who is terminally spontaneous, hyper-social and not really one for thinking things through too much, I had felt it would be best to wait to get a dog until we were starting our family because that would mean my days of doing things on a whim were on pause for a while anyway. Plus, I love the idea of my kids growing up with a dog — something I had always longed for as a child.

A positive pregnancy test coupled with yet another lockdown made it seem like the ideal time to finally get the furbaby we’d been talking about for almost a year.

So, why was I suddenly in the throes of an intense panic attack when my beautiful little family was all falling into place?

The answer to that question didn’t really come to me until I was asked by a colleague to write a note to my younger self in honour of International Day of the Girl.

“I just wanted to let you know that you are not going to be ready to do anything “normal” with your life until you’re almost 40 and that is more than okay (even though at times you will feel like it’s not),” I told my mini-self.

“You will go through (many) phases where you just want to be free of commitment and don’t want to get married or have kids and that does not make you “dead inside” nor does it make you less worthy of having those things now that you actually have them. Everyone does things in their own time and it’s better to wait until you are 100% ready to do them rather than rush and regret it just to feel “normal” in society.”

Suddenly, I got it. Of course, this new life that I was creating was going to feel a little jarring when I had been harbouring a deep fear of commitment for most of my adult life. I was never someone who dreamed of my wedding day and I tend to feel a little queasy when it comes to anything too traditional so, naturally, the stable, “normal” life I was building was throwing me for a loop.

I spent more than a decade living it up in New York, being completely free of responsibility, caring only about my career, planning only for my inevitable hangovers and just generally living life with the pursuit of fun at the forefront of my decisions.

Sure, as I moved through my thirties, an annoying voice would sometimes creep into my head and tell me that I should pursue a suitable relationship and think about parenthood, but an even louder voice told me I really wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted.

I even wrote a piece about it for my friend’s site, quipping “when it comes to the business of babies, I don’t want to be the CEO because I’m still enjoying the perks of freelancing.”

There were periods in my life, in fact, where I was adamant I did not want to be a mother. The concept was too at odds with the life I was living (and thoroughly enjoying) and I was terrified that becoming a parent and, potentially, a wife would strip me of everything that I thought made me interesting and render me “too normal.”

So, I spent my time actively throwing myself into relationships that were guaranteed to fail because they were easier, and keeping my life in a perpetual state of rootlessness, always with the comforting thought that I could run away if ever things got too real/hard/boring or predictable.

Here’s the conundrum though: when I felt like parenthood might not be a path I wanted to venture down, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong with me and that perhaps I was missing a crucial emotional gene that made me a good person. And when I did fall pregnant, after less than six months of trying, I was plagued with guilt that perhaps I didn’t deserve this because I had spent so long feeling like I didn’t want it.

The sense of panic I felt about my life suddenly being irrevocably anchored to a person, place and puppy then gave way to feeling like a truly awful person for not being exclusively elated to find myself so easily in a situation many couples struggle to arrive at.

This is something I think we need to have better conversations and visibility around — you are not going to wake up every day of your pregnancy feeling over the moon and blessed by an angel (well, some people might and that is beautiful) and that is okay. It is normal to freak out, mourn your old life, feel scared that things will never be the same, worry about losing your identity and feel guilty that you have been given something that many others haven’t. And these feelings can and do co-exist with feeling totally in awe of the fact you made another human and knowing you will spend every minute of your life trying to make them happy.

I’m very fortunate to have the world’s most calm, understanding, kind and patient partner who listened to my tearfully relayed concerns (including that we were going to become a “boring old couple, incapable of talking about anything but their kid” and, my biggest fear, “normal”) and abated every single one of them.

My little family.

I’m sure that pregnancy hormones and feeling depressed due to lockdown did not help the situation, but the feeling that I was somehow unworthy of being a parent because of how briefly panicked I felt, was a tough thing to shake.

Here’s the thing though — I shudder to think how I would have felt if I had ignored my instinct and started a family before I was ready. If I had settled for someone I knew was not right for me or had a kid when my only reason for wanting one was “in case I regret not doing it when I’m older”.

Everyone needs to do things in their own time, especially when it comes to bringing a new life into this world. For me, my own time meant turning 40, which comes with its own set of worries, but it also meant having a lifetime of experience to share with my little human and (almost) no FOMO.

At 13 weeks, I went for another scan and there was my kid, two arms, two legs, two sides of their brain and the cutest little tush you ever did see. As the ultrasound technician panned the camera I burst out laughing.

“They’re giving me the finger!”, I exclaimed, a rush of pride and affection flooding toward this sassy little miracle in my belly.

Yes, this kid has obviously inherited my attitude (lord, help me) but they have also clearly inherited their father’s ability to swiftly assuage any and all of my fears because, at that moment, I knew our life could never be boring. I realised that who I am doesn’t have to completely change with motherhood. I’m still going to be me, I’m just going to have one more amazing person to share my adventures with.

I plan to frame that ultrasound photo of our baby flipping me the bird and hang it in their nursery because not only does it make me laugh, but when I look at it, I’m reminded that the best adventures in life will always be worth waiting for — and I am so glad I waited for this one.

My sassy little mate.

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