We were at a party recently when a friend asked me how I knew.
What she meant was how I knew, really knew, that I was ready to have a baby.
For some women, this is easy. I have friends who have always wanted babies. I have friends who never wanted babies and then, at some point in their early thirties, started wanting babies so badly they could practically taste them. When I was living in Colombia this past year, I knew a woman who wanted a baby enough that it was nearly driving her crazy.
Why crazy, you ask?
Because her partner wasn’t yet ready to have one.
This was the case for us two years ago. Only I wasn’t the partner who wanted a baby so badly I might die. I was the one speaking what, I saw then as, reason. I was too young, I said. I had so many things I still wanted to do in my life. Places to travel. Adventures to have.
The only problem was that Marta had just turned 35.
In the world of women’s fertility, 35 is a magic number. Magic in a a suicide attack sort of way. It is at 35 that they start talking about a precipitous drop in women’s fertility. And it is after 35 that they warn of increased chances of miscarriage, other health problems if pregnant and having a baby with a chromosomal abnormalities.
In reality, of course, lots of women easily get pregnant, and have healthy babies, after 35. It’s just that our bodies are all getting less fertile as we get older–if we’re women, that is. And in the game of averages, 35 is the crown prince. And so many women who want to give birth, Marta included, start to get a little antsy when they turn the big 3-5.
I remember, ashamedly, having very little sympathy for this perspective. Marta and I had only been dating two years at that point. I saw us dating three or four more before we started talking babies. I saw us traveling the world together first. Living on a houseboat maybe. Going dogsledding in Alaska and visiting the Antarctic.
But she was, as always, realistic.
“Sarah, I know you’re not ready,” she said. “But I am and I can’t wait that much longer.”
We were taking a walk along the Iowa River. It was spring and we’d decided to take a long walk to talk about the issue because, though she’d brought it up before, I had been putting off a serious discussion. I thought at that time that, if I just put it off, eventually it would go away. Until I was ready, that is.
Only by me putting it off, Marta just got more and more antsy, in that I-am-35 sort of way. On that long walk we both realized something. I realized she really was set on having a baby. She realized I was set on waiting. We were at an impasse.
And so, daughter of a psychologist that I am, I recommended we try couple’s therapy.
We went to a woman recommended to us by a friend. A woman whose office was filled with Buddhas and prayer rugs, one I thought would surely be too peace-love-and-understanding for us. But she ended up being perfect.
In just about a month she had helped us reach an understanding. If Marta wanted to start having a baby, she should. If I wasn’t ready, but still wanted to be with her, I could stay on as her girlfriend, as her partner, and support her in the process without opting in as a parent.
It’s not a traditional route toward parenthood, but it worked for us. Marta didn’t have to feel like she was delaying her childbearing dreams and I didn’t have to feel like I was forcing myself into parenthood too early. The following August, I left for Colombia on a 10-month Fulbright scholarship on the country’s Caribbean Coast.
We stayed together. We talked nearly every day over Skype. And we began to plan the basics. I’ll blog about this process later–the how of how we got pregnant–but suffice it to say that it takes a lot of planning. That whole fall, in addition to talking about all the normal daily life matters of my life in Colombia and hers back in Iowa, we also talked baby-making plans.
And somehow, by the end of that semester, I realized I was ready. I had caught the baby fever. At least a mild case of it.
I’m not quite sure why it happened this way. Why I couldn’t be ready when Marta was or why I know now that I am. I think it may have had to do with giving myself the space, with deciding to take the trip to Colombia and, being there, realizing how tired I was of moving all the time, of never settling down. I think also it was realizing, as we talked over Skype for 10 months, how well we work together. We can both be stubborn as hell, and yet when it’s important we are always willing to negotiate.
Our story isn’t one for the movies. There is nothing super sweet about our negotiations. But it is what worked for the two of us. And now that we’re at this point, I can’t say how thankful I am that Marta was willing to be flexible–and that I was too. That our lack of consensus never became a breaking point.