Care and Feeding

I Want to Have a Baby on My Own

But I know my parents will freak out.

A silhouette of a pregnant woman
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mustafa Omar on Unsplash.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 35-year-old single woman and last year I began have a panicked feeling that my time was running out to meet someone and have kids. I have been seeing a counselor since last September about it, and she has helped me sort through my feelings and look at my options. I have come to understand that the thing that’s most important to me is to have a child, and that marriage is not in fact what really interests me. She helped me look at becoming a solo mom by choice as a real possibility. I have a good job, a house, family nearby, no known health problems and savings—a list I’ve ticked off in my head a lot for reassurance. I am, however, hesitant to pull the trigger on it. I know I could do this, but I’m so afraid something could happen to me and my child would be left with my family—a loving, stable family, but it would be up to them to cope with a choice I made. My brother is supportive, but I have not been able to tell my parents yet that I am considering this. I’m not in America and this path to parenthood is very rare. I’m worried what they will think.

—At a Crossroads in a Catholic Country

Dear AaCiaCC,

I had the same realization you did, and at the same age. I hesitated to pull the trigger for my own reasons, and as it turned out—because life is unpredictable—while I was hesitating I met someone with whom I did want to have a child, and two months after I turned 38, I did. I also married the guy, despite having been sure by then that I never wanted to be married. I tell you this story from my own life not because I believe that if you wait, this will happen to you (I am still astonished by the way things went for me, and I’ve now been married for almost 28 years), but because I want to establish that I understand and empathize with where you find yourself at this juncture and that the advice I’m about to give is not dispassionate.

It is nobody’s business but yours to determine if, when, and how you have your child. Certainly you will have to prepare yourself for your parents’ disapproval—and there’s a chance, of course, that they will never come around (but if they love you, they will find a way to make peace with your decision, even if it takes a little—or a long—while). And it sounds like you will have to prepare yourself for the disapproval of others too. So you will have to be very strong. But you seem to be quite clear on what you want. As long as you know (and you do know) that there will be challenges ahead, I believe you should move forward with your plan. I see no reason to tell your parents in advance (giving them a chance to try to talk you out of it). Present them with the news of an impending grandchild after there’s no turning back. It’s your life—and your child’s—not theirs. And have a will drawn up that designates a guardian for the child. This does not have to be a member of your family.

I wish you all the best as you begin this process. Being my daughter’s mother has been the most joyous, interesting, rewarding, exciting, and fundamentally satisfying thing about my life (which is absolutely not without other interesting and rewarding things).

If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a mother to a happy, bubbly, 6-month-old white baby boy, and the recent events have made me realize that I don’t know where to start to speak to him about race and racism, and how to be humble when that time comes. I don’t want to raise a child who takes for granted all that is handed to white males. I also don’t want to shy away from the fact that inequity will be all around him and that he needs to be a good ally. How do I teach this to him? What resources are there for raising him in this way (and also for me so I can make myself a better ally)?

—White Boy’s Mom

Dear WBM,

Because it isn’t possible to teach our children what we don’t know ourselves, the place to begin is with educating yourself. There are plenty of resources available. I am particularly grateful for the “Lesson Plan on Being an Ally” and am working my way through it myself. I am also finding this guide to allyship helpful. I urge all white people to dive into these resources, whether we’re learning how to be better parents or not, as it is never too late to learn to be a better person. But for a compilation of articles and sources specifically for parents about talking to kids about racism (not just for white parents, though some are aimed at white parents), here’s another resource. And here is a good place to find books to read to your child. Also: Although you didn’t ask when to start talking to your child about race, since studies indicate that even 3-month-olds show racial bias, it’s never too early to start.

I would further suggest that humility is not the spirit with which to approach conversations about white privilege and racism with him when he is old enough for such conversations. Be direct and active, from the start, with him—and humble now, as you face up to (as most of us are now facing up to) how much you don’t know. And you—and I, and all white people—need to make sure the commitment to anti-racism that has been stirred up by “recent events” doesn’t flag after the current media attention has died down.

Finally, and most importantly, since we all know that “do as I say, not as I do” is a wholly ineffective method of child rearing, look around at your own life. Are there black people in it? Do you live in a neighborhood that is exclusively white? Do you patronize black-owned businesses? When you witness racism, when you hear or see it, do you call it out? And when it’s time for your child to start school, will you make sure he’s at a school where everyone doesn’t look like him?

You can make choices about your life, and his, that are actively anti-racist, not only nonracist. Children imitate their parents. He will learn to be who you are.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I, childless by choice, have a 6-year-old nephew on my side of the family who lives in a different state, and a 3-year old niece and 2-year-old nephew from his side who live an hour away. We see the 6-year-old on major holidays, his birthday party if work allows us to make the trip, and the occasional group video chat, and my brother and his wife are fine with our relationship and help us with the distance in an “Oh, let’s get excited when Aunt and Uncle are coming!” type way. My husband’s brother and wife are another story. They’re upset we don’t take more of an interest in their children’s lives and consider the level of involvement we have with my brother’s family insufficient. Actually, my husband’s whole family would prefer us to be one big, involved family of best friends. But we don’t have much interest in this. We both work well over 40 hours a week in high-stress health care jobs. My husband is lucky if he gets a single weekend in a month off. Spending the little downtime we do have with children is unappealing to us, and frequent video chats sound miserable.

I don’t mean to make it sound like we don’t love our niece and nephews—we do. Though our time with them is limited, we give our all to it when we are with them. We do bubbles and art projects. We go to parks and zoos. We tell stories and jokes to them when we video chat. And this seems to work for my family. But his family wants more.

We already feel guilty and shamed for feeling the way we do, maybe even biologically broken, but kids in general don’t bring us the joy they appear to bring everyone else on the planet. Growing up, I only saw my aunts and uncles a few times a year and I don’t think I love them any less than other people love their relatives; I don’t consider them strangers. If we spent more time with my brother-in-law’s kids, it would be an obligation, not fun. So what do we do? Do we stick with the current formula? Or do we give in? I don’t see a happy medium here.

—Apathetic Aunt

Dear AA,

I don’t think you’re apathetic, and I’m sorry to hear that you feel guilty and shamed. I can say with 100 percent certainty that you can be an aunt beloved by all of her nieces and nephews without spending all your downtime with them. Plus, there’s something to be said for being outside the central family hub; when the kids are teenagers, they may well need trusted adults to turn to who are not a part of their daily lives and their parents’ daily lives. But here’s the thing: For this kind of relationship to work, the parents have to be completely on board. I think your brother-in-law and his wife are working against their own goal if they continue to complain and put pressure on you, rather than embrace the level of involvement you’re willing to have, and model their enthusiasm about it for their children.

But they may be constitutionally unable to do that. I get it. Everyone has different ideas about what it means to be part of a family, and people show (and experience) love in different ways. Not to mention that you and your brother were obviously raised to understand these things in a way your brother-in-law wasn’t. It sounds like your husband is the outlier in his family, if he is truly on the same page you are. (This happens a lot, too, and who knows why? In my husband’s family, he has one sister who is bound and determined to do the “one big, involved family of best friends” thing, although no one else is interested in that.) While there may not be a happy medium for you, I don’t think the choices are quite as stark as they seem to you right now. I absolutely do not recommend that you bite the bullet and devote all your nonworking hours to your husband’s family, but I don’t think insisting on the formula that works for you and your own brother is a great solution either. (I’m also wondering about those major holidays on which you see your brother’s family. Does that mean you and your husband never see his family on holidays? If so, it’s no wonder they’re feeling slighted—and I say this with the full understanding that it may be more fun to see your family, since they seem to take you as you are. But a little sensitivity about hurt feelings may be in order.)

In any case, I would propose an honest but tactful conversation the next time the subject of your resistance to too-much-togetherness comes up—or if it never comes up but is only implied (by sighs or groans or stony silence) when you turn down yet another invitation to get together. My husband and I have had to have several of these frank conversations with my sister-in-law, so I’m not going to pretend that this will be easy or pleasant (or one and done). Still, it’s better than letting bad feelings fester. Affection for the kids should be expressed, as well as your interest in being a part of their lives to the extent that you are able, given other demands on your time and your own needs. Your husband should take the lead in—and the heat for—this, not you. But if he can’t bring himself to do it—and yes, sometimes it is hard for an outlier to take on one’s own family—go ahead and plunge in and do it yourself, as long as this position accurately represents his feelings and thoughts as well as yours. I would follow up this uncomfortable conversation with an invitation of your (plural) own to get together, even if it’s months hence.

And just for the record: you’re not broken, and not everyone on the planet finds joy in being around kids. If your in-laws imply—or, good lord, say—either of these things, stand up for yourselves. If they continue to give you a hard time, as they will learn soon enough, you won’t want to spend any time at all with them.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I have been trying to have a child for five years now. We went through multiple rounds of IVF with no success and decided last year to use an egg donor. I finally got pregnant, but I miscarried last winter. It was my second miscarriage. I needed a little time to recover, then COVID happened, and we have not been able to travel to have another IVF since. My partner wants to try again as soon as the lockdown is lifted. We still have four frozen embryos waiting. But I am worried. I am turning 41 in the summer. I feel like time is running out. When is it too late to keep trying? I know that people have kids much later in life now than before. But I fear other people’s opinion about me having a child in my 40s, and I wonder if it’s fair to a child to have parents who are this old. When is too late too late?

—Too Late?

Dear TL,

It’s too late when you decide it’s too late for you. Or when your doctor tells you it’s no longer a viable option. In regard to other people’s opinions, see my response to At a Crossroads. In regard to the “fairness” of your child having older parents, I think your age is one of the least important aspects of your fitness for this job. Sure, you are not going to have the energy of a 25-year-old when you’re playing with (or chasing) your toddler. I remember wishing I had the energy of a twentysomething—or even a thirtysomething—mother when I was in my early 40s. But I also had none of the anxiety about what I might be missing out on when I was at home with my baby, since I’d already had so many experiences. I had no fear of my identity being subsumed into motherhood, since I already had an identity that was secure. And I was happier, all around, than the much younger mothers of so many of my daughter’s playmates. As to the fairness of your being in your 80s when your potential kid is your age—or maybe even not being around anymore by then—I’ll ask you to undertake a thought experiment: How dependent are you at this point on your parents?

If having a child is what you really want to do (and may I stress the you?), then try again. Or consider adopting. There are plenty of reasons not to have a child, but the one that’s worrying you doesn’t have to be one of them.

—Michelle

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