Can You Ever Know If It’s The ‘Right’ Time To Have Children?

Megan Roantree asks four women about their roads to motherhood

Photo by Catalina Carvajal Herrera / Pexels

Most women who want to have children will know this from a young age. They’ll picture themselves holding a baby, and even have some names in mind. Many of us think of it as something that’s way down the line – a ‘one day’ type of idea, something we feel we have loads of time to think about. But at some point, the day will come when you have to seriously think about whether now is the ‘right time’. But what does that even mean? 

If you Google ‘when is the right time to have a baby’, you’ll find that the top results are all about monthly cycles, ovulation and general conception. But before we even begin to track our most fertile days, we need to make the decision to do so in the first place. Sure, many many women don’t plan their babies, and it almost always turns out to be one of the best things that ever happened to them. But what is ‘being ready’ to have a baby? And if we’re in a position to plan, what do we need to do and where do we start? 

First of all, taking stock of your finances, career and health is probably a good sign that you’re open to being pregnant. For some women, it starts with the simple decision to take supplements. “For me, the idea of having a baby sooner rather than later came from many things, but I really felt I was saying ‘I’m ready for this to happen’ when I started taking Pregnacare tablets,” says Elaine, who was 32 when she got pregnant.

If you’re worried about putting your career on hold to have children, there are many things to consider, says careers coach Dearbhalla Baviera of “Our careers are long. We can do it all, but maybe not all at the same time. And that’s okay,” she explains. “I would focus on how to manage the transition into being a working mum, and prepare for maternity leave as effectively as possible. The main advice I give to women is to really think about this next phase of their career while they think about the nursery and pram purchases.” 

Dearbhalla, who specialises in maternity coaching programmes, adds: “Don’t write yourself off and don’t go under the radar as you prepare for maternity leave. [Some women] may be going for promotion just before or even during maternity leave. Some want to plateau, do a good job on their return, and that’s enough. Take the time to make conscious decisions, own your choices and keep the long game in sight. It is so important to stay present. Show up fully. Have the important conversation with your manager about your career before you finish up. Make sure that you complete any performance reviews and make a note of all of your achievements in the last six to 12 months. Both you and your manager may have forgotten them after your return.” 

If you’re concerned about missing out while you’re away, you have to be up front about it: “Before you finish, let them know if and how you would like to stay in contact, and if you would like to be considered for promotion or a role change during maternity leave, or advised about any job opportunities.” Dearbhalla suggests arranging a meeting before you come back to discuss any changes in the workplace so that you can be fully prepared for your return. She also recommends looking into the maternity policies and facilities that your work offers before, during and after pregnancy. 

On average, women in Ireland are now having their first child at around 32, which can leave less time for gaps between each pregnancy if you want to have more than one child. “I was 33 when I began to seriously consider having a baby, but ideally I would have waited another year or so, just to really enjoy my first few years of marriage with my husband. But we both knew we wanted more than one, so we figured it was time to get started. If it wasn’t for my biological clock, I would have waited a few years – so while I was ready to do it, I wasn’t as ready as I would have liked,” Caroline reveals. 

Photo by Marina Zvada / Pexels

Midwife Shelley Carlisle explains that medically, a woman getting pregnant over the age of 35 is considered a ‘geriatric mother’. “Most people are shocked to hear this, as it has become more of a societal norm to have children later in life, but medically, 35 is when you will start to have issues. Some will have issues even sooner due to other factors, but even if you are in perfect physical shape, eat the rainbow and don’t drink, your age will still affect your ability to conceive. 

“Unfortunately, if you do get pregnant after 35, you are high risk for complications. This does not mean you can’t get pregnant, have a normal pregnancy, a safe delivery and a healthy baby. I promise you, I have met women who have done just that aged 40 and older. Please do not let any of this freak you out because there is so much more to [deciding to start a family] than just your age, like your relationship, your career, your own health, and if you actually want to not only birth a baby but raise that baby into a child, a teenager, an adult.”

Sarah, 29, says seeing her friends have kids made her realise she wanted them too. “It sounds bad, but really it was just that I was hanging out with mums a lot more and spending more time with kids. I liked the idea of my future child having friends around that were a similar age,” she says. “There are two years between my baby and my best friend’s son and I know the older they get the closer they’ll be, which is really nice. It obviously wasn’t the only reason I did it, it was just the nudge I needed. My partner and I were in a long term relationship and we had always spoken about having kids ‘one day’ and then all of a sudden the day came. I didn’t feel I needed to be married or engaged first, because I knew he would be a great dad.” 

Finding the perfect partner can be the reason that many people feel ready to have kids, but you don’t have to wait or rely on someone else if you’re all set yourself. Clodagh O’Hagan, who is a solo parent, shares her story with STELLAR: “I made the decision to have a baby on my own following a routine check-up at the doctors.  We ended up discussing my plans to have a baby in a year or two. Based on my age at the time (41), the doctor strongly recommended that if I wanted to have a baby, I should really consider it sooner rather than later. 

“I had been ready for a few years but hadn’t met the right person. When it came down to it, it was more the question – was I ready to do it on my own? When the potential of not having a baby was a real option, there was no question about if I was ready for it or not. All systems go! The first step was getting tests to check my fertility and make a treatment plan from there. Then I chose a sperm donor and embarked on Follically Assisted IUI. I started the treatment three times in total but only completed it once, the final time (for various reasons) when I thankfully became pregnant. 

“My pregnancy journey began around 18 months before I became pregnant. Conscious that I had a potentially difficult and long journey ahead of me, I made every effort to support my fertility journey. This involved overall health in terms of exercise, food, going out and drinking less, plus a holistic approach to support my treatment plan that included therapy, reiki and acupuncture to ensure I was equipped in both body and mind for what lay in store. When I started thinking about having a family I made the decision to move away from working for myself into a full time position at Vodafone, as it is a company that really supports women and their families. Not to do things by halves, I also bought a new house and relocated to an area that has great schools and amenities for bringing up a little person. I moved around a lot as a child, and it was very important for me to be living somewhere that I’m happy to stay for the foreseeable. 

“If you’re thinking of taking this journey, my advice would be to get a fertility test as soon as possible to help inform your decision. While I knew the clock was ticking, I wasn’t aware of how much your fertility decreases year on year past 40. I would also recommend involving your close family and friends early in the process. It’s their support both during the treatment and when your gorgeous baby arrives that will get you through everything. They say it takes a village and it does. While you may not have a partner in the traditional sense, once you have figured out who your village is, you will be flying it!”