It's funny how sometimes events in your life take you along familiar roads, over and over again. I was thinking about that last week, when I found myself walking across a beautiful college campus, on the way to giving a reading from an essay of mine which appears in this wonderful book. It was a proud moment for me, and I was nervous and excited all at the same time. Yet as I looked up at the buildings around me, and the bright green early spring grass everywhere, I saw a small child running along, with his mother close behind him. I hadn't been thinking specifically about my own kids at that very moment, but when I saw the child I remembered my own L. running across that same strip of grass, years ago, when he was not even two. I also knew that somewhere off to the right was the medical campus, and the hospital building where T. had her surgery. Still further to the right was the little brick building where I take L. once a week for a therapy appointment. It was strange to be back, and to be there just for myself--to share and celebrate something I also created--except it wasn't made of flesh and blood, but words on a page.
One of the things that struck me the most about last Thursday was how amazing it was to look out at an audience of mothers (and a father or two, I think, thrown into the mix)--all from different fields and all at different stages in their parenting lives. Some were pregnant, some already mothers; some not even trying yet but still thinking it through--wondering what motherhood might do to their careers, their personal lives, their dreams. I recognized myself more in those women. The event last week was just the sort of event I would have eagerly gone to when I had been in graduate school, wondering what insight could be offered to someone like me--someone so eager to be pregnant, and to start her own family, despite the nagging fears that motherhood might tank her career in the process. I remember I didn't care much, though, about those worries. At that point in our lives we wanted to start a family very badly, and the feeling that it was the right time for us was so strong that I knew we'd make it work, one way or the other.
So when a young woman raised her hand and asked that burning question--how do you know when it's the right time?--many in the audience had ready answers for her. You never do know, really. Sometimes we wait, expecting a divine sign from above, or some signal from the universe to tell us that the time is right. Several women shared stories of infertility problems, and the heartache they went through. I still believe, as I did years ago, that there is no "right" time to start a family; when to have children, or how long to delay having children is a decision each couple needs to make on their own, weighing also their individual dreams, career plans, fears, and goals as a couple. But there are some critical elements that need to be in place before you plan a family:
--Good health insurance (we're living proof that sometimes unexpected things happen, and your 6-month old just might need a $30,000 surgery)
--A responsible and committed partner. At no other time in your lives will your marriage be as tested as when you become new parents. There will be up years and down years, but you should always, always, be able to work as a team
--A roof over your head. Don't wait until you build that dream home, though, before starting a family. A baby (and a child, for that matter) won't care whether you're in your dream home or not when you bring them home.
--And most importantly, love, love, love
A child--or two or three or more--will never fit comfortably and conveniently into your lives no matter how hard you plan. Parenthood is a messy, sometimes painful, often draining, always rewarding and fantastic, glorious adventure. And like all adventures, sometimes you have to plunge right in and let your life take root around around it.
What do you think? What was the right time for you? How did you know?