Is there any calculus as tricky as deciding when to start a family? Waiting any amount of time may seem selfish, especially to your overbearing Great Aunt Mildred, but parenting is not a decision to be made according to anyone else’s schedule. Ultimately, it may come down to timing that just feels right to you and your partner. Even then, there is so much uncertainty in the best laid plans.
When my husband and I tied the knot in 2013, we planned to enjoy married life for a few years before adding kids. After I qualified for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials — a dream years in the making — it made sense to us to wait until after the Trials to have children. Still, I didn’t like to admit running produced the timeline; I felt guilty that my hobby dictated family planning. When people asked, I usually deferred to wanting to be “just married” for a while rather than admitting running had anything to do with it.
Having kids changes your life, and you need to do it on your terms.
After giving birth to my daughter Maya in the spring of 2017, I learned having a kid does not make the questions about your family’s size go away. It makes them worse. “Aren’t you going to give her a sibling?” Just after Maya’s first birthday, her friends’ moms started getting pregnant one by one and I marveled at their ability to take it all on again. I wasn’t emotionally ready for postpartum struggles or mentally ready for the realities of a newborn. Physically, I was just getting back to running, to feeling like I had my body back and could chase down PRs again. I had finally turned the page and I wanted to stay on that page for a while. The next chapter could wait.
Again, running provided a timeline that made sense to me: I hoped to qualify for the 2020 Trials, why not have another post-Trials pregnancy? If I waited until after the 2020 Trials, my kids would be a little more spread out and I could spend more time with a baby as Maya started school. I would hopefully be a little more emotionally and mentally ready. The plan seemed right to my husband and me, which is all that truly mattered.
It didn’t make sense to everyone else. “Don’t you want your kids to be friends?” Running seemed like an insufficient and selfish excuse. It’s just a hobby; I’m not an Olympian so do I need to procreate in four-year cycles like one? Again, ashamed of the running-driven logic, I deferred to other reasons.
Having kids changes your life, and you need to do it on your terms. It’s ok to wait before you start because you have unfinished business on the race course. It’s okay to wait between kids if you need a break to feel like yourself on the roads, trails, or track again. Alternatively, it’s okay if you want to focus on having children and say goodbye to diapers for good.
But as much as we try to plan, pregnancies often work on their own timetable. There is always uncertainty around pregnancy, labor, and parenting. Now, in a world overrun by coronavirus, there seems to be even more. What I was sure would be a moment of celebration (finally trying to grow our family!) seems selfish in a new way I couldn’t have expected. Should I feel guilty for embarking on something that requires so many doctor’s visits and a hospital stay in nine months? There’s no evidence yet of prenatal effects of the virus, but infants may be particularly vulnerable. And these new questions are on top of the previous uncertainties. Will I even be able to get pregnant?
Parenting is constantly wondering if we’re doing the right thing and not knowing what the world will hold in the months or years to come. We have to pray that our gut feelings combined with whatever divine fertility intervention we believe in won’t lead us astray. And hope that we’ll be able to bring more love and joy into this world at just the right time.