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I’ve already waited so much longer than I want to. (Image: Archi Banal)
I’ve already waited so much longer than I want to. (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyNovember 23, 2023

Help Me Hera: I’m desperate to have kids but my partner is stalling

I’ve already waited so much longer than I want to. (Image: Archi Banal)
I’ve already waited so much longer than I want to. (Image: Archi Banal)

He wants to wait until he has some certainty about his health. I’m worried he’ll never be ready.

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Kia ora Hera,

I’ve wanted to be a mum all my life. I’m close with my own parents and family, have deliberately sought out and spent time with my younger cousins and friends’ children, and have been putting money aside into a “baby fund” since my early 20s. 

My partner and I have been together since our teens, and children have been on the cards for a long time (or so I thought). Now that we’re both 33, own a house, earn good money, and have done our Big Travel Experience, I’m ready to start trying for our own family. 

Trouble is, he isn’t. He’s managing an undiagnosed health issue that mainly presents as unpredictable fatigue and low mood (by my count, about 24-48 hrs every 2-3 weeks) and he worries that having a baby will put so much stress on his health that all the exciting, meaningful, and fun things about being a parent will be pointless because he’s too exhausted and numbed-out to enjoy them. 

He would prefer that we wait (indefinitely) until he has some certainty and control over his health before we start trying to get pregnant. I was ready to start trying in mid-2022, was really ready in January 2023, and am experiencing this delay as huge, deep, and unrelenting grief. It’s severely affected my mental health and our relationship. 

He’s my Big Love, and I think we’d make great parents, but his inability or unwillingness to try and find a way through this which doesn’t require that his health issues are resolved gives me no hope that he’ll ever be ready to try. He’s working with the medical system to try and figure out what’s going on with his health, and we’re seeing counsellors and trying to navigate this together with love and understanding, but most of the time I feel like I’m at the end of my resilience and resources.

I don’t want to leave, but this is agonising, and feels unendurable. What can I do to find some acceptance or peace with this situation?

Ngā mihi,

Desperately Ready

A line of dark blue card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear Desperately Ready,

I don’t even want kids, and this letter brought me out in seven different kinds of stress hives. I want to be charitable to your partner and his mysterious health issues. But having children is one of those situations where you don’t always have the luxury of time. I can’t help feeling like your partner either doesn’t fully understand the implications of his prevaricating, or is intentionally using his bad health as a form of procrastination, hoping to run down your biological clock. 

Everyone wants to be in the best possible position before bringing new life into the world. Good health. Good finances. Secure housing. A supportive partner. A $7000 luxury German crib called Das Kinderröcker. But these are certainly not prerequisites, and very few babies are lucky enough to enter the world with a full stats bar and complimentary tote bag. 

I don’t mean to diminish your partner’s concerns about his health. There are a lot of people out there with mysterious chronic illnesses, which are difficult to diagnose and treat, and even harder to live with. I’m certainly not trying to suggest your boyfriend is faking his symptoms. Your description of “low mood,” “unpredictable fatigue” and being “numbed out” actually sound a lot like depression. But I’ll put away my toy stethoscope because I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis.  

I will say, however, his health isn’t the only relevant factor at play. The last thing I want to do is contribute to fertility-related scaremongering. Women already face so much pressure when it comes to having children. Society treats fertility like a doomsday clock, counting down to a vague and nebulous midnight. But do you know who usually suffers from health-related complications related to having children? The person growing and then expelling an entire human from their body!

Even if you have one of those miraculous, two-minute, soap opera labours, you’re not going to come out the other end ready to run a marathon. Your partner may want to wait until he is in full health before becoming a father. But mothers don’t get that luxury. Part of the deal is having to compromise your own health and bodily autonomy. Yet even mothers who have already experienced the kind of labour that would make Cronenburg faint still elect to go through with it. 

It’s not just that it’s harder to conceive later in life. There are also greater health risks associated with a geriatric pregnancy (ie one over the age of 35), both for you and the baby. I know lots of people who have had kids in their late thirties, without any problems or complications. But I wonder if your partner is aware of the risks? I’m not saying his health isn’t important. But what about your health, and the health of your child? What if you want more than one child? What if it takes longer than you think to get pregnant? I wonder if it’s worth seeing a doctor or fertility specialist together, just in case he needs some remedial information about the birds and bees. Even if you’re not ready to try, it might allow you to make a more informed decision together. 

Of course, the other possibility is that he’s deliberately procrastinating, because he has cold feet and doesn’t actually want children. 

Personally, I understand the ambivalence. Kids aren’t for everyone. If this is the case, I imagine he’d be scared to tell you, knowing how badly you want this. He’d be justifiably worried about what his confession might mean for your relationship. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. It’s a big decision, and one that everyone has to make for themselves. What isn’t fine is maliciously dawdling, wasting your time and impairing your ability to make an informed choice about your future. 

I can see you love him, and are trying to be as compassionate as possible, while also silently panicking. You probably feel like you can’t press the issue without sounding like you don’t care about his physical or mental health. But is he being equally respectful of yours? It seems to me that your partner hasn’t fully grasped the emotional reality of the situation. 

It also sounds like his reasons for putting off having a kid are a little out of touch with reality. He’s worried his poor health might prevent him from enjoying parenthood. But you’re not going on an all-expenses-paid cruise to Madagascar. I have no idea what having a kid is like. There are allegedly lots of profound and transformational moments of joy. But it also seems like having a baby is a real pain in the ass. No matter how prepared you think you are, things will inevitably go wrong, and it’s going to be difficult. Most people don’t choose to have a kid because they think they’re going to enjoy it. Or if they do, they’re in for a rude awakening. Having kids isn’t just about what you, the parent, get from the experience. It’s about what you’re able to give. It’s an act of wild, self-abnegating generosity and love towards another person. 

If your partner is waiting for certainty and control over his health, he will be waiting forever. With or without children, there are no guarantees. I know a staggering amount of new parents that have had to deal with serious and unexpected illnesses. Whose children have gotten sick. Whose partners have died. You can never predict what the future will bring. Having children is always an act of faith. 

I commend you for your patience. But you’ve been patient for a long time, and are obviously at the end of your rope. I think it’s time for a come-to-Jesus conversation. Even if you feel like you’ve already had this conversation a thousand times. It’s time to put all your cards on the table. Here are some of the questions that I would want answers to—

Questions for him: 

  • Does he actually, seriously, honestly want children? Or would he be fine either way? 
  • What happens if his health doesn’t improve? Or gets worse? Does that mean kids are off the table? 
  • If he definitely wants kids, can you agree on a date you want to reasonably start trying by, health notwithstanding? 
  • Does he understand the health risks for you and your child, when it comes to having kids after 35? 
  • Would he be willing to discuss the possibility of freezing your eggs?  Does the astronomical cost of the procedure affect his decision? 

And the big question, which you need to your own answer for: 

  • If he doesn’t want to have children with you, do you want to break up and pursue single parenthood/finding a new partner?

I’m not usually a fan of ultimatums. But sometimes when all other avenues of compromise and understanding have failed, they become necessary. It’s not just that you obviously want a family. It’s also that this situation is causing you real distress, and that’s not sustainable, for you or your relationship. 

Sit down together, perhaps with a doctor or fertility specialist or a couple’s counsellor. Maybe all three. Get the whole council of Elrond in there, if it helps. Lay out all your concerns, and see if you can agree on a timeline together. If not, it might be time to consider cutting your losses, before time makes the decision for you. 

Good luck. I truly hope things work out for you. 

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