I’m a mother of a beautiful 7-year-old girl. She’s intelligent, charming, and witty; honestly, a joy to be around. As I approach my 30th birthday, I think about having more children and expanding our family. The added pressure from the matriarchs of my family doesn’t help either, telling me that I’m not getting any younger. But truth be told, I’m not ready to have another child.
The first time around, I was homeless and in a toxic relationship. Choosing to have a child was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But I made that decision based on my five truths:
- I was dedicated to my child’s well being.
- Being a great mother wasn’t based on the status of my relationship.
- I would not put myself last.
- I could afford to take care of the child on my own (something that I needed to work on, but I was committed to doing).
- I was emotionally prepared to take on the responsibility of loving another person.
With these five truths, I can approach giving birth from a pragmatic standpoint, more than an idealistic one. It has less to do with my love for the person I choose to have a baby with and more about if I’m able to handle motherhood, emotionally, financially, and mentally.
Sadly, planning for a baby when you think you have it all together is somewhat of a luxury. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the nation’s leading group of physicians dedicated to improving women’s health: “A woman’s peak reproductive years are between the late teens and late 20s. By age 30, fertility (the ability to get pregnant) starts to decline. This decline becomes more rapid once you reach your mid-30s. By 45, fertility has declined so much that getting pregnant naturally is unlikely for most women.” This news is sobering. After 30, getting pregnant becomes a calculated process, that for some, includes shame for not conceiving earlier or at all.
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There’s also the reality of how having kids can affect your career. The wage penalty for motherhood shows women’s earnings are negatively impacted by raising children, while men’s earnings are not. An analysis of Census data by the non-profit National Women’s Law Center shows mothers in the U.S. are paid 71 cents for every $1 father’s make — about $16,000 a year in lost wages. “Families depend on women’s incomes, yet mothers, regardless of their education level, their age, where they live, or their occupation, are paid less than fathers. When mothers are shortchanged, children suffer, and poverty rises. Families are counting on us to close the maternal wage gap” says Emily Martin, NWLC General Counsel and Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice. In other words, the system fails to protect women.
For Black women, we know all too well how the system works against us. We are three times more likely to have a maternal death than white women in the United States. Social determinants, like stress, trauma, food insecurity, neighborhood violence, and access to prenatal care: can influence these disparities. As an emergency physician, Dr. Arabia Mollette once said, “There needs to be a revolution in Obstetrics.”
But, I digress. When you choose to become a mother, you must hold your truths to be self-evident. Understanding what you can and cannot handle is the best place to start. I think women tend to put themselves last, not realizing that becoming a mother is all-encompassing and gives new meaning to self-lessness. Having a baby is not for sport. It will not fix a relationship or make you invincible.
I believe you are ready to have a baby when you know despite anything that happens – you can be a dedicated parent. I’ve had many conversations with my girlfriends who won’t have a child without being married. I think it’s great to assess what will make you happy on this journey, and healthy two-parent households have their privileges but, you need to be able to visualize yourself – alone – owning this responsibility. I’m not sharing this to increase the fear around this topic but making it clear that if things change between the two of you, you will never stop being a parent. It is a 24/7 job, and rarely are duties divided equally.
I spent my early twenties caring for a child, and now I want to be selfish. My career is in a great place, after years of being underemployed or unemployed, and I am enjoying the moment. It does not mean that you can’t have it all, the family and the career. I am living proof that you can, and there are countless examples of women making it work. I am in a committed, healthy, loving relationship and look forward to expanding our family when the time comes. Hopefully, it will include an addition of a night nurse. Until then, I’ll enjoy being a mother of one and an auntie of six.