Throughout your life, you may pause from time to time to think about when and if you want to become a mother.
You might weigh various factors like career, life pursuits, marital status, and fertility against one another in an endless, unpredictable chess game, not knowing when and if various goals and plans will take shape.
Against this milieu of unpredictability and uncertainty, it is important to know what you should be thinking about at each stage of your life, to make sure becoming a mother doesn’t pass you by.
Here are the different stages of fertility awareness that many women go through in their lives, and the information I wish I had known at the time.
Early 20’s: Maybe Someday
When you are in your 20’s, you are at your most fertile, with a 20-25% chance of conception each month.
And yet, for many women, having a baby feels like a “maybe someday” proposition when they are in their early twenties.
More and more women are opting to focus on their career and their own lives, putting off baby-making until they feel they’ve accomplished some of their goals, or feel more secure in their careers.
I know when I was in my early 20s, I was so focused on my career, travel, and having fun that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a mother.
Even though I’d been a baby-obsessed child, I was so focused on other parts of my life that I couldn’t connect with my maternal instincts
If you find yourself very focused on your career at this point, with no desire to rush the baby thing, it’s not too early to think about freezing your eggs.
Because you are the most fertile you will ever be, freezing eggs at this point will yield the most viable eggs.
With some eggs on ice, you can relax a little about when you will start thinking about babies.
Egg freezing isn’t for everyone, and many women do not want to subject their bodies to unnecessary hormones when they have ample time to have a baby in the future.
If so, it’s a great idea to have a yearly check-in with yourself about your goals and desire to have a baby. Otherwise, you may find yourself waking up one day, past your peak fertility, panicking about where you find yourself.
Early 30’s: Reverse Math
As you reach your late 20s or early thirties, you and your friends might start to fall into two camps — those that are certain they want kids, and those that are still uncertain.
Those that are clear that they want a baby, might start thinking about by what age they want to be married and have kids.
When I was this age, certain friends started doing what I called “reverse math.”
They wanted to be married by 35, and have kids a year or two later at the very latest. So, as their prescribed age approached they got deliberate and focused on finding the right guy.
At the time, I scoffed at the seemingly formulaic, highly planned nature of their thinking.
But, it’s smart to think about your goals and how you are going to achieve them whether they are career, life, or parenting goals.
And, most of my friends who did reverse math, achieved their goals, getting married and having kids around the age they set.
Of course, there’s a concern that you might be so blinded by the goal that you end up in the wrong relationship. But let’s be honest, this is probably always a possibility.
Those that aren’t certain whether or not they want a baby, might still be focusing on their career and having a fulfilling life.
Like me, you might not focus on dating with the aim of finding a partner.
Instead, you might continue to focus on your career and interesting, spontaneous life, giving little thought to whether you even want a child at all and thus remaining unfocused on finding a partner or having a child.
I know that in my early thirties, I simply buried my head in the sand, unwilling to ask myself what I really wanted.
I even went so far as to create a mantra, “I can’t decide whether I want children until I meet my partner, and then we will decide together.”
In part, I feared my certainty would drive away men. And in another part, I convinced myself it was a partner decision.
I never considered it was something I could do alone, so I was willing to wait for my partner to decide.
But by doing so, I never got clear about what I wanted.
And some may say, it was impossible to attract the right mate because I wasn’t clear about what would make me thrive.
So, my advice to you is to figure out if you want a baby — full stop.
Not, do you want a baby if you find a partner — just simply, do you want a baby?
If you know you want a baby, then it’s time to ask yourself to what lengths are you willing to go to have a baby? Are you willing to do it alone if Mr. Right hasn’t appeared?
Would you consider having a baby via adoption or egg donation?
The answers to these questions affect each other.
If you are willing to forgo a genetic link to a baby by adopting or using an egg donor, you have more time to look for a partner or focus on your career.
But, if you are not willing to entertain alternate paths to motherhood, then you need to set a date by which you will start thinking about having a baby on your own.
At this point in your life, these kinds of questions may seem unnecessary, too scary, and completely out of the question.
You likely have a view of what motherhood will look like and think that alternate scenarios are not going to happen.
But I encourage you to consider your firmly held beliefs — your fairytale notions of what should happen — and open yourself up to what else might be possible.
39 And Time To Hustle
If you find yourself in your late 30s or early forties and still childless, you are amongst a growing number of women who are putting off child-rearing.
Doing so can indeed make you a more mature mother who is better prepared for the loss of freedom that comes with raising little ones.
But, it’s also important not to be lulled into thinking you have endless amounts of time.
Many of us have been told it’s easy and possible to have a baby in our forties.
But, did you know that by your fortieth birthday your chances of conception have fallen to about 5 percent per month and by forty-five that number drops to about 1% or less?
Many women, myself included, thought it would be easy to get pregnant in their late thirties or even early forties. I was in no rush to settle down because I didn’t feel any urgency.
But I was sadly mistaken when before I even started trying to get pregnant at the age of forty, I was told there was no point in using my own eggs.
If I wanted to get pregnant I needed to use donor eggs.
It’s a decision I don’t regret in the slightest. And yet, it wasn’t my original picture of what I wanted.
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Maybe you are 39 and still waiting to find your mate? Or, you are waiting to find your partner in order to have children, or even to decide whether to have kids at all?
Either way, the time has come to not only decide once and for all whether you want a baby, irrespective of your romantic status, but to take action towards having a baby.
You might say to yourself, this isn’t how it was supposed to go.
And, believe me, I understand. But if you want to be a mother, it’s time to stop dreaming of what-ifs and open your mind to reality.
You need to revisit what you are willing to do to get pregnant — with the caveat that your answers might change as you start trying to make your plans a reality.
For me, I set out wanting the partner, the house, the baby, the pets.
But by 39 years old, it wasn’t coming to fruition, so I decided to go it alone via an anonymous sperm donor, only to be stopped dead in my tracks with the knowledge that my egg quality would not allow me to conceive with my own eggs.
At first, I said, no way! If I couldn’t have a genetic link to my child, I wasn’t going to have a child at all.
Then I paused and examined what being a mother meant to me.
What was the point of motherhood? For me, to love and be of service to a being in this life.
To love and be loved by a child—to share my experiences, wisdom, and insights with a person so they could have their own life and experiences.
In short, I wanted to shepherd a life. Because I had always assumed I’d have a genetic connection to my child, I thought my satisfaction was linked to that.
But when I examined what it meant for me to be a mother, I realized a genetic connection was completely unnecessary.
I knew I would dearly love an adopted child, and yet, I wanted and needed to be connected via pregnancy. I guess you could say I was superstitious about being pregnant. I wanted a baby to experience my body and emotions during gestation.
With that recognition, I could move on to using an egg donor as a single woman, without regret.
And, in hindsight, it is the best choice I ever made. I am more linked to my child than I ever thought possible.
And I truly believe I got the child I was meant to have, and feel empowered and proud about not allowing the lack of a man to hold me back from having a baby.
Sarah Kowalski, Esq., is a fertility doula, family building coach, postpartum doula, and author, as well as the founder of Motherhood Reimagined.