Monday, August 14, 2006

Dismaying Story #32: To Procreate or Not to Procreate

Dear Andrew,

My husband and I have been married for 2.5 years and living together for 3.5 years. He's 33, I'm 35. I have been married / divorced once before (divorced six years before marrying again, btw) but I was my husband's first serious relationship of any kind.

Things were okay for about a year after we were married, but then some pretty serious problems involving finances, substance abuse and lack of communication began to arise, resulting from both of our behavior patterns, not just one of us. These issues resulted in our being separated for a year (my idea), but we recently moved back in together to try and work things out. The aforementioned issues are still present, but he and I are both trying to work on them; it's simply going to take some time to resolve them, particularly in regard to the finances. Our relationship is still fairly tumultuous but isn't as bad as it was before we separated; I think things could work out in the long run.

I've already had a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but my husband still has something like $22,000 worth of credit card debt. Furthermore, we both have student loans that are in deferment (we're both part time students, looking to graduate within about 2.5 years). We share no credit card or bank accounts. We are trying to pay down the debt but with our meager income it will take years.

The issue is that my husband wants us to have children, and soon. Before I met him I never wanted children -- I never saw myself having a life conducive to family and my own family history is pretty dysfunctional to say the least -- mother married five times, father splitting when I was a baby, endless emotional strife at home, etc. My husband, though, is so warm and nurturing, the kind of person who would never abandon his family. I fell in love with the idea in a pipe-dream sort of way but I've always had serious practical questions. The romantic, sweet notion of having babies was nice while cuddling with my husband, but how could we pull it off while maintaining any sort of stable and secure lifestyle?

My husband is anxious to begin trying within a year. In terms of pure biology I can see his point but when viewed within the context of where we are in life it makes no sense to me. I would have to give up my job (daycare is far too expensive), curtail my schooling (career suicide for me) and assume pretty much sole responsibility for the house and offspring while my husband continues to work full time and go to school part time. Meanwhile, the credit card bills will continue to collect interest, the student loan companies will want their money and my husband's still meager salary couldn't possibly cover everything.

My husband dismisses my concerns as being overly negative and simply says things will work out somehow. Considering that I am expected to make the majority of the sacrifices, I'm having a hard time buying such cavalier statements. I love my husband but I don't think either of us (individually or as a couple) are ready to negotiate such an undertaking without an inevitably disastrous outcome. I'm afraid that if I suggest that we hold off for a few years that he will think that I'm cheating him out of something and will ask for a divorce.

Signed, Leery of Becoming a Mommy

Dear Leery,

I can't possibly come down unequivocally on one side or the other of your issue and say, "This is what I think you should do." It would be incredibly presumptuous of me to do so for such an important life decision. You obviously have concerns, however, and have asked me to provide an opinion on whether your concerns have merit. That I can certainly do.

I'd like to start with your last statement; you are afraid your husband might divorce you if you don't give in to his request. Worries over the tenuousness of your marriage might not be the best reason to consider having children. If the bond between the two of you is so weak that a disagreement like this would dissolve it, then you would likely be in danger of separating anyway when the extra stresses of raising children arrive. If your bond is strong, then the timing of when you have children should not be a make or break issue. Either way, the threat of divorce should not be enough to make you ignore all the other issues you mentioned; it should make you take them all the more seriously.

Let's assume you decide to have a baby within a year or two. Realistically, all the issues you mentioned will still be around; there is nothing to indicate you are on the verge of eradicating any of them from your life. Hopefully you are aware that adding an infant to the mix will not make any of those issues easier to deal with. Instead, you will have even more pressure:
  • Your money situation will be worsened because of loss of your income plus considerable childcare expenses, even with you home full-time. Clothing, diapers, car seat, crib, toys, high chair, food -- they all cost money and plenty of it.
  • Both you and your husband will be sleep deprived, even if you try to carry the bulk of the night-time responsibilities. If he thinks working full-time and studying part-time is a challenge, wait until he tries it with less sleep, an exhausted wife and a noisy child making it difficult to concentrate. And if things are tumultuous now, add in sleep deprivation and more stress -- the results are probably predictable.
  • I am especially concerned about the substance abuse. I can't tell from your letter whether this is an issue for one or both of you, but either way the potential impacts on any child that enters your life are obvious, ominous and huge. I hope you would strongly consider dealing with this issue on its own before subjecting a child to its effects.
  • You and your current husband have already separated once. Although you seem optimistic about the future, you must worry whether history will repeat itself, especially when the extra stresses I mentioned come into play. Where would that leave you? What would that mean for your child?
You need to have a realistic vision of what life might be like with a baby and ask yourself if you can live with that.

I have to wonder how much of your hesitation is actually fear based on your family history. You have been taught to expect instability and abandonment. You had always thought that you wouldn't be able to provide a stable lifestyle for children, even before your current husband came along. Without diminishing all those other concerns, you should ask yourself honestly how much these sorts of fears play into your decision making and whether you still believe them to be valid. I don't know the answers but I think you should ask the question.

Your age is also certainly a factor. You have a little wiggle room to wait but Mother Nature will shut the door before too many more years pass. If the two of you (and it should be both of you, not just one) truly yearn for tiny hugs in your life, I can understand how waiting much longer would be difficult for you.

In short, I agree that your concerns are valid. Many children are born into less than perfect life circumstances and manage to grow up despite their parents' struggles with life. Such families often face tremendous challenges, though, and that would almost certainly be true in your case. How much risk are the two of you willing to take? Only you and your husband can decide how to balance those factors. I hope you can reach a decision that works for both of you.

All the best,

If you haven't already done so, now is your chance to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my personal favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.


  1. I like you answer to her and you are right there is no reason why they have to rush into having children.
    They are young still and they could enjoy their company now with more freedom than if they had a child.
    She stated that she didn’t want children but is now distraught over the issue.
    What I want to know is, has she changed her mind about having children or is she caving in for him because if she is doing something she doesn’t want to do then it’s only going to create more resentment for each other and the baby.
    Didn’t she tell her husband she never wanted children before they got married?
    As for him, I bet the separation she suggested in burned into his head.
    Many people use having children as a means to hold onto a partner so they won’t leave them.
    I know this is the case with my brother and his present girlfriend.
    They are in a living loveless hell and they only get worse as the days pass.
    She had a kid so he wouldn’t leave her and nothing has changed other than the kid spends more time at my mother’s than her parents.
    Maybe they should sit down and figure out the cost of having a child and deduct that from their present income and live on what is left for 3 months and see if they could afford having a child and let’s not forget he has to get up in the middle of the night and feed baby to not just her.
    Have a nice day Andrew

  2. My neighbors are in this exact spot, and keep coming to our happy, stable, and kid filled home for an answer. I am glad to see that what we have been telling them is consistant with your answer. I will forward this to them if they come-a-knockin again.

  3. I agree with Andrew.....babies are wonderful but can add much stress to an already stressful situation. And really...its not fair to the baby. Babies do not "fix" marriages. It doesnt sound as if she has a family to help support her is Hubby decides its not what he wants after all. And how much resentment is she going to have giving up so much to stay home and raise baby?

  4. My ex husband had always said that he didn't want children until we were financially stable. I became pregnant due to a vitamin deficiency and a hormone drop either though we used birth control. It wasn't planned, but it happened and we made the most of what we had and coped the best we could at the time.

    But...I always wanted to have children, as did my spouse, and we didn't have the extra stresses that Leery and her husband have. Our relationship was solid, there was no substance abuse involved...the financial side of things were already stretched...and although we hung in there for another 9 years anyway. During that time the stress levels were HUGE...the word seperation was bandied about a few times, more due to lack of sleep and financial pressure. I can't imagine how soon the whole thing could've blown up in our faces, had we had to deal with what Leery and her hubby are.

    The question of whether a couple are going to have children or not should be brought up well before they walk down the aisle. I think too often people assume that children come after marriage for everyone. It's just not so, some people just don't want children.

    Sorry, I'm rambling. I just don't understand why anyone would want to bring a child into a marriage that sounds anything other than stable, and especially with the substance abuse involved (that made the bells go off real loud in my head). Lack of communication, financial pressure, substance abuse...they're all things I try to teach my children to get away from...I'd hardly be deliberately throwing them in the pot to continue the cycle.
    Just my two cents.

  5. Anybody with my user name is more than half nuts, so my comments come with a prepackaged disclaimer. And I presume to give no advice, just my own experience and perspective. 1) I'd have to wonder at the root causes of such financial excess. As a recovering alcoholic, I'd have to wonder, that's all. 2) A spiritual mentor said to me when my first wife was pregnant, "That's what people do in troubled marriages: Buy a house, get new furniture, or have kids. Then they can be distracted from their problems." Looking back, I was offended. But I can't say he was wrong. good luck. And...
    Laugh. Or....

  6. If any man ever gave me the ultimatum that I had to loan him use of my uterus for 9 months or he'd leave me...the question of just how loved I really was would be answered, and I'd be out the door before it could hit me in the ass. Unless you like the idea of being a single mom, collecting some monthly pittance from him...if you're luck and he pays.

  7. The substance abuse issues are what bother me more than anything. I don't think it's fair to purposefully bring a child into a situation where one or both parents are addicts. If you can't make the commitment to recovery, I don't think you should be making a commitment to parenthood. And it is a commitment. Parenthood is hard enough in the best of circumstances without adding the stress of dealing with a dependancy on top of it.

  8. Anonymous6:22 PM

    To have children thinking it will "help" the relationship between a man and a woman is purely wishful thinking!! My husband and I married young and had our kids soon after and nearly divorced due to our being immature, not having good communication skills AND NOT having a good spiritual base. But for the grace of God, many years later we're still together and thankfully we were able to grow personally and together to have a healthy relationship. I believe that the person above would benefit by "good" marital counseling!!
    Children do, as you say, add alot more stress to a relationship. They're expensive and require ALOT of care!! They are unlike pets, that you can sell or give away (I'm trying, and not doing a good job, to add a bit of 'sick' humor here) It would NOT be fair to children to come into a family that is already struggling~~they NEED BOTH a mom and dad to flourish!

  9. Anonymous5:35 PM

    The Original Poster replies:

    The issues with substances that I mentioned in this post aren't so much based on true addiction as they are periodic substance abuse (and yes folks, there IS a difference). I will agree that these issues with drugs and alcohol nonetheless give me a lot of pause when considering becoming a mother, as well they should. And I certainly wouldn't want the abuse to morph into true addiction, especially if there are chidren involved!

    That being said, I guess what's really bothering me about this is the problems I'm having communicating with my spouse about ALL of the concerns I have regarding procreation, not only the substance abuse issues. The subject seems to get changed pretty quickly after I receive some kind of vague "everything will work out somehow" bone being thrown at me, and I'm finding myself becoming increasingly wary and frustrated all at once.

    I realize that my waffling on this issue may be exasperating to my spouse, but with a decision as monumental (and unretractable!) as the decision to have children is concerned I can't help but feel entitled to do some SERIOUS soul searching before I jump!