Planning the Unplannable

Planning the Unplannable – Some couples are sure they want children, while others are sure they don’t. If you don’t fall into either of these two categories, you may feel caught in the gray area in between—unsure about having children, how many children, or when to start trying to have children. In this chapter, we will help you think about these issues and develop a plan.

➤ Deciding whether to start a family ➤ Deciding when to start a family ➤ Dealing with infertility

Decisions, Decisions

It’s very important to clarify how each of you feels about having children. Any unspo- ken disagreements about the issue can cause damage to your relationship because the issue is so central to your lives. You don’t have ultimate control over whether you can have a child, but that does not mean the decision of whether to try should be left to chance. There are many steps that you can take to think through this important deci- sion. The first step is to sit down with your spouse and decide whether you want chil- dren, and if so, when. We designed the following questions to help guide you through these issues:

1. Do you think about being a parent?
2. Is raising a family a major goal in your life?

3. If you think about yourself in 20 years, can you imagine not having children?

4. Do you want children, but you want to wait?

5. Will the reason you want to wait to have children still be there in the future, or will it be resolved (or modified) over time?

If you and your spouse agree about whether you want children and when you want to try, congratulations. You have just passed a major hurdle in your relationship. However, it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of tension surrounding the issue of when or whether to have children.

Common Concerns About Having a Child

Deciding to have a child is a big decision that brings up fears for many people. The following are some of the concerns people have shared with us:

“It’s a huge responsibility.”
“It will interfere with my marriage.” “I will lose control of my life.”
“My career is very important to me.” “Raising a child costs a lot of money.” “I’m afraid I won’t be a good parent.”

If you are feeling some or all of these things, you are not alone. Having these concerns does not necessarily mean you don’t want to have children, though it may mean you want to wait. But it means that you are aware your life will change when you have a child.

Discuss your specific concerns with your spouse. He or she may be able to give you the reassurance you need. It’s easier to respond to a specific concern, rather than trying to respond to someone saying “I don’t want children.” Also consider talking with friends who are parents. They will probably be happy to share the con- cerns they had and how they overcame them. And they will be able to share with you the joys of parenthood as well.

We just love weddings 


Ken and Beth had been married for three years. Beth was ready to start a family. She always knew she wanted to have children and thought about having two or three.

On the other hand, Ken really liked their life. He had no interest in having children now and said he would consider it in “five years.”

Beth was convinced that she could change Ken’s mind. She was especially nice to him and brought up the subject of children when he was in a good mood. But nothing worked. Ken didn’t want to think about children. He liked their relationship and his freedom and felt that children would completely interfere with his life.

Beth became discouraged. She was definitely getting the message that Ken did not want a family now. But it was so important to her! She talked herself into waiting sev- eral years so that she would be on the same schedule as Ken. Beth felt that would be a workable solution. The only problem was that Beth was miserable. A very important goal of hers was being postponed a long time, and perhaps indefinitely. Ken and Beth began to fight more than ever before. Beth became more critical of every little thing Ken did. Their marriage turned from a good one to a disaster. Both Ken and Beth were miserable.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: I don’t ever want to have children, but I don’t want to hurt my spouse’s feelings. What should I do?

A: You must be honest and tell your spouse how you feel. It’s not fair to keep your part- ner waiting for years, hoping you will change your mind. Your spouse might—or might not—be able to accept your decision. But better now than later.

Several years later when Beth talked about children again to Ken, he said “No way.” Now he was really sure he didn’t want a family. Ken had all of the same reasons as before and now the added reason that their marriage was not very good. Beth was devastated. She had counted on the fact that waiting would be the solution. Ken and Beth are still together, but they have an unhappy marriage. And Beth is still hoping that Ken will change his mind about having a family.

You cannot have a fulfilling marriage and disagree on this fundamental issue. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that it will work itself out, or that time will resolve it. You need to make a decision together that you both can live with. If you cannot re- solve the issue by yourselves, it would be wise to see a skilled therapist together. A neutral third party might be the best way to get beyond the deadlock you are facing on this important and emotionally charged issue.

Timing Is Everything

In our society, we are given the illusion of control about many things. We can pre- program our coffee makers to have fresh coffee in the morning, watch close to 100 cable channels on TV 24 hours a day, and zap frozen food in the microwave for a 3-minute dinner. We tend to assume that we can apply this control to everything in our lives.

Unfortunately, many things do not work this way. Planning to have a family is one of them. You might have decided to wait two or three years before having a child, but became pregnant even when using birth control. Or you might be trying to be- come pregnant and are disappointed month after month.

But, within reason, it’s important to think through when to start a family. While we hope you find the following ideas helpful, we caution you against thinking you can plan exactly when you will have a child. It’s beyond your control!

Personal Goals

While your own life does not stop in its tracks when you have children, it does slow down quite a bit. Infants are wonderful and beautiful creatures, but they are incredi- bly time-consuming. You will be exhausted from lack of sleep for many months. Your life will dramatically shift from going after your own goals to meeting the needs of your baby. By waiting to have children for a year or two, you might be able to complete something important to you and be in a better position to focus on your child.

If you are completing a segment of your education or starting your own business, you might consider giving yourself some time to reach a reasonable goal. For in- stance, you might decide to get your Bachelor’s degree before having children. If you have a vocational goal, such as getting a business off the ground, you might decide you need to be able to hire an employee to help before you have a child.

We are not suggesting that you wait until everything is perfectly settled before you start a family. You’ll be waiting forever. But if there is some major, obtainable goal you can reach that won’t take longer than a year or two, you might feel much better prepared to make the transition to being a parent.

Financial Responsibilities

Raising a child is expensive—from diapers and food to child care and education. If waiting a year would change your financial situation, the two of you might want to consider waiting. Maybe completing a degree in school would allow you to get a higher-paying job. Or maybe paying off your credit cards would let you start your family with money in the bank instead of with loans to pay off. It might allow one of you to stay home with the baby instead of working full-time just to pay your debt and child-care costs.

Again, the answer is not to wait until you have a huge amount of money in an investment portfo- lio. Rather, it’s to consider whether the two of you might enjoy a more favorable financial situation in a year or two. It might make the difference be- tween always struggling to meet the monthly bills because you are still paying off your debt, and hav- ing a tight but reasonable budget that allows you to save for your future together.

There is, however, one major caveat to waiting for your finances to be settled before you have kids. Very few people ever feel that their finances are settled! Even people who have more money than they used to will find new ways to spend it or worry about how to manage it.

Your Relationship

It’s very important for the two of you to have a good working relationship before you start a family. Even though you will get a lot of joy from a child, you will also get a lot of new stress. The stronger your relationship with your spouse, the better parents you will be.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: My spouse and I are having difficulties in our marriage. If we have a child, will that bring us closer?

A: Many people think that having a child will fix a troubled marriage. But, in fact, once you have children, you will need to work harder to keep your relationship strong. Ideally, you should work on and improve your marriage before you have children.

Now or Later?

Joe and Fran were unhappy. Joe wanted to start a family and was genuinely surprised that Fran was reluctant. Fran said she wanted kids “someday,” but would never talk about when. She would withdraw and become sad when they discussed children. She rarely wanted to have sex because she was worried she would become pregnant.

Joe was feeling desperate and insisted that he and Fran go to therapy. When they came to see us, we asked them to picture themselves as parents. Fran looked up and started sobbing. In between tears, she choked out, “I’d be horrible. I’d mess up my kids. They’d be miserable.” Joe was speechless. He knew Fran well, but he had no idea that she had been thinking these sorts of things.

Over the next six months, Fran and Joe came to see us weekly. Joe began to under- stand Fran’s concerns better. She was terrified of repeating her past. She had had an unhappy childhood and felt that she didn’t want to raise a child who would suffer

like she did. Her parents divorced shortly after she was born, and she felt it was her fault. She was worried that Joe would leave her after they had a child. Over time, she was able to see how Joe was different from her own father. Joe was supportive, stable, and wanted to raise children with her.

If both of you want to try for a child, but one of you want to wait for a while, the person who wants to put it off needs to consider why. If the reason you or your spouse want to wait is a long-term issue, such as being worried about making a good parent or concerned about the time raising children will take, it should be worked through right away. Postponing the discussion will only postpone dealing with the issue. On the other hand, if the reason for waiting is short-term, such as having the chance to complete college first, then the other person might feel different about com- promising and waiting.

Don’t Put It Off Too Long

The biggest risk in waiting too long to have children is that you increase the chances of infertility. Some couples are infertile for reasons that have nothing to do with age. But nowadays, it’s not unusual for people to delay having children until their 30s or even 40s. A couple who might easily have conceived in their mid-20s might have fer- tility problems in their mid-30s and need medical intervention to have a child.


It’s absolutely heartbreaking to want a child with your spouse and not be able to get pregnant. You go through countless months or years of disappointment and tears. At some point, many couples make the decision to see a fertility specialist. This option frequently helps couples become fertile. But be prepared. It can be a stressful and ex- pensive undertaking. If you and your spouse are planning on pursuing fertility treatment, always keep in mind it’s a difficult process and you need to support each other through it.

If you and your spouse decide to try fertility treat- ments, you will want to research the various fer- tility clinics and specialists in your area. The following issues are important to consider when choosing a facility and physician:

➤ Find out the success rate for different interven- tions. There is some variation from location to location. By doing your homework in the beginning, you will keep from using a center with a much lower success rate than other centers. Protect your time, money, and energy by starting with the best!

➤ Get referrals. Ask friends if they liked their physician and the atmosphere of the center. Was the staff supportive? Were they able to answer all your questions to your satisfaction? Feeling comfortable is an important factor in reducing your stress level.

➤ Consider the location. While the other issues are obviously more important, the location of a facility might be a tiebreaker. If you undergo fertility intervention, you will need to visit the clinic often and on specific days in your cycle. Having a clinic convenient to your home or work will make things easier.

➤ Consider the cost of the treatment and how much (if any) your insurance will cover. Some plans will cover certain treatments and not others. And sometimes certain clinics are covered and not others. It’s important to know this information ahead of time to help you make your decision.


If you cannot have children with your spouse and fertility treatment either does not work or seems too stressful to pursue, another option to consider is adoption. Choosing to adopt a child is a big decision. One of the best ways to get started is to talk with people who have adopted a child. Most people are happy to share their experience about how they adopted their child. You probably will hear some interest- ing stories. Find out what route they took to adopt their child to help you decide what might work best for you.

There are many types of adoptions, including local adoptions, statewide adoptions, national adoptions, and international adoptions. Each state and country has different adoption laws, including waiting periods, rights of the birth mother, and age requirements of the adoptive parents. An adoption agency or an adop- tion broker can help you through this process.

Some of the issues you should think about when you are considering adopting a child include:

  • ➤  Will you accept either a boy or a girl?
  • ➤  Will you accept a child of any ethnic background?
  • ➤  Will you accept a child who is not an infant?
  • ➤  Do you have an age limit for a child you will accept?
  • ➤  Will you accept a child with disabilities?These are very difficult questions to answer. It’s important to think about them ahead of time. The more flexible you are, the more easily you will find a child to adopt. Most adoption agencies will ask you these questions as well.

The Least You Need to Know

  • ➤  Deciding if and when to have children can be difficult. There might be many reasons why your spouse does not want children; openly talk about those rea- sons together.
  • ➤  Sometimes waiting a year or two to have a child can give you time to mature and reach some personal and financial goals.
  • ➤  Having a child will not fix a troubled marriage and is likely to make it even worse.
  • ➤  Putting off having children too long might result in fertility problems. Under- going fertility treatments can be stressful. It’s very important to support each other during this difficult time.