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There's Never A 'Right' Time For A Baby — But These Questions Can Help You Decide

Photo: Julianna Brion for NPR
Photo: Julianna Brion for NPR

Some people are born knowing they want to be parents. Others are sure they never do. But for a lot of people, it's a tough decision — and a question that hangs over many other life choices. That decision-making process has been complicated, for some people, by the new stresses of the pandemic.

We asked some experts what to consider if you're thinking about having a baby.

Face your feelings honestly. "To be absolutely honest about what you want in the world is terrifying," says writer Nell Frizzell, author of the new book The Panic Years. "If you admit to someone there is something that is burningly important, you then have to confront the fact that not getting it will make you desperately sad. But without admitting what you want, how on earth are you ever going to get it?" Frizzell advises having honest conversations with your partner, if you have one, about your deepest desires for your life.
Gather a support network — including friends, family and even colleagues. Raising children is hard.  Sayida Peprah, a licensed clinical psychologist and a birth doula, advises spending time with friends who are parents to get a feel for what it's really like. Consider how support will fit into your current lifestyle. Will parental leave be available at work, and how much? How will childcare work, and what will it cost? A support network includes a culturally competent healthcare provider.  People of color face worse outcomes for infant and maternal mortality due to systemic racism, including structural inequity in healthcare, and Peprah says that's a concern for many patients. "The way to mitigate it is to make sure you understand what your concerns are, and align yourself with providers and the support team that can make sure that you are supported in the ways that you want," Peprah says. "It's very possible. I see it every single day — women of color, achieving amazing birth outcomes."

Assess your finances. Money is a big concern for most prospective parents. From the cost of the nursery to paying for college, it's a tall order - and a giant tab. Personal finance expert  Erica Sandberg, author of  Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families, advises creating a list of all the likely expenses related to having a child, then taking a careful look at the family budget. That might seem overwhelming, but it can help get a handle on what to expect — and what adjustments might be necessary to make parenthood possible. Sandberg says it may be necessary to cut expenses, or take on extra employment — but it's also important to realize that, as many a parent has pointed out, there is no perfect time to have a baby. "It's very rarely a situation where you're going to go, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm the perfect age and I've got the perfect amount of money and all of that,'" Sandberg says. "So good enough is sometimes good enough."

Assess your fertility. If you want a biological child, it's a good idea to speak to a healthcare provider who can help determine how much time you might have. Women face a substantial  dropoff in fertility around age 35, and an even more precipitous decline at 40, and the risk of pregnancy-related complications also increases with age. Male fertility also declines with age, although medical experts say it's less dramatic and less predictable. Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, a fertility doctor based in California, says there are ways to extend that timeline through modern medicine — but only so far. "One hundred percent of us will become infertile, we'll all run out of eggs," she says. "[My patients] come in in their 40s and I have to tell them that they are in perimenopause or in menopause. And that's heartbreaking for me." Dr. Aimee, as she's known, advises patients who may want to become pregnant to seek advice as early as possible in their adult lives, and to talk over their health and family histories with a doctor. They might be advised to have their hormone levels tested, and possibly, freeze eggs or embryos. Those last two options are expensive, and they're not for everyone, but they can buy some time. Know that this is your decision, and there's no right or wrong answer. When she counsels her patients, Dr. Peprah says she wants them to know there's nothing wrong with deciding not to be a parent — or a biological parent. And there are many ways to contribute and care for other people, including adoption and foster parenting, or offering informal support to friends and family members. "If you want to, there's always opportunities to care and nurture our little people," she says. Nell Frizzell says whatever you do, there will probably be some second thoughts. After some time with an indecisive partner who finally came around, Frizzell has a toddler now. But she remembers what it was like to worry that someday she'd look at moms with their strollers and feel she was missing out. "We are all so scared of regret. But I can tell you...that as a parent, you do also suffer regret," Frizzell says. "You sometimes look into your own pram in the supermarket and think, 'What the hell have I done?' And so don't let that dictate the way you're living your life in the moment, because there is going to be a wonder and a sense of anxiety about the path you didn't take."

The podcast portion of this episode was produced by  Andee Tagle . We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at  LifeKit@npr.org . For more Life Kit,  subscribe to our newsletter