“How Do You Find Balance After You Have a Baby?”

jackson and mom mother's day

I recently got married and we agreed to stop actively preventing pregnancy for now. Emotionally, we’re not exactly ready to have kids though financially we are. Ideally, we would wait three years, but we would feel very blessed to have a baby before then (we had my fertility tested and there are some issues; if I was unable to conceive, we would likely adopt). We want to ease into the process, especially since I’m still young, and be as prepared as we can, which is why these thoughts of readiness are coming up now.

When my husband and I first met, we were not in a good place emotionally. Both of us are much better now through a lot of individual work on our issues (anxiety/depression/PTSD for me, and anxiety/depression for him). I was raised in an abusive and neglectful environment, and, while my parents did a better job of raising me than their parents did raising them, I felt the repercussions of their childhoods greatly.

I know I won’t be a perfect parent, but I do worry about passing on similar emotional issues that I went through/learned from my parents (like self-esteem, abandonment, and body issues, lack of affection and lack of boundaries…). Another similar concern is that there is a lot of mental illness in our families. My mom has BPD, and my husband and I each have a relative with schizophrenia, in addition to other relatives who are mentally unstable.

We work hard to create what I think is a stable, loving, and supportive family. And with all my anxiety, I strive for balance. I know I can be present physically, but I worry about my own mental health suffering and my neglecting myself, in order to prevent neglecting a child. I love how honest your writing is about your experiences with parenthood. How did you know when you were emotionally ready to raise a child (and commit 18+ years)? And how do you find balance for yourself in all the ups and downs of raising a kid? — Anxious About Parenthood

I answered a similar question last year. About all the various questions people might have when thinking about having a baby and becoming parents, I wrote:

You can’t ever know the answers to all these questions until you just do it. And for many of us, the answers won’t be concrete anyway. They’ll shift and evolve because parenthood, like life, is fluid. There are high tides and low tides. There are days — well, moments, really — as a parent when you can’t imagine a better life. And there are moments when you long for the way things used to be. And sometimes that longing is such a crushing feeling because you know things can’t ever be like they used to be. Never. And ‘never’ feels so permanent.

If that just made you anxious, I can empathize. If you’re worried about how you’ll retain the sense of balance you and your husband have worked so hard to create, both as individuals and as a couple, I appreciate that, too. I also can understand the fear you have about passing down your own emotional issues, as well as hereditary illnesses. You are certainly not alone in any of those fears. And you aren’t alone in having had an imperfect childhood and a family history of various diseases. Many, many, many people have experienced those things and many, many, many of them have gone on to be wonderful, loving parents. You can, too.

None of that means it will be easy. And it doesn’t mean you’re ready. I’m a little concerned that you have already stopped using birth control when you say that you aren’t emotionally ready to be a parent and that ideally you’d like to have a baby three years from now. Three years is a long time from now. I understand that you may have some fertility issues, but if you’re young and have time to spare, why not wait 18 months? Give yourself a chance to mature a little more and adjust to married life (you just got married after all, right?).

In 18 months, you will probably still have the same fears, but you and your husband will likely have a stronger foundation, both as individuals and as a couple, to weather some of the challenges parenthood will throw your way. And there WILL be challenges. No matter how much planning you do ahead of time, you will still wonder what the hell you’re doing. There will be days you do not have the balance you desire. There will be many, many days that you WILL neglect yourself — or at least neglect giving yourself all the care you’re able to now. But there will also be days when things seem … normal (a new normal). As I wrote before:

Once you have kids, you’ll spend at least their early years constantly carving and slicing time for this thing and that and trying to find more energy to do all that is needed of you. There will be other things you’d rather do, and other things you HAVE to do. You’ll get help. You’ll enlist family members or a babysitter or find a daycare you love. You will guzzle coffee or take naps. You will definitely go to bed earlier. You will be tired a lot. Whether you work outside the home or stay with your kid full-time, you will be exhausted. But it’s an exhaustion that you will slowly get used to.

How will you know when you’re ready to embrace that exhaustion and those challenges and the complete and utter overhaul of your life? You will know you’re ready when the excitement is greater than the fear. Either that, or it’ll just happen and you’ll have to just arrive at the excitement in your own time. But if you can avoid a surprise or avoid getting pregnant before your excitement-to-fear ratio is a little higher, I would. I would also not be at all shy about seeking counseling/therapy to help you cope with the demands of parenthood while dealing with your various mental health challenges. If you have the means to get support and help, do it! We aren’t meant to parent in a vacuum. Help and support, in all their various forms, are what makes parenthood not only survivable but pleasant.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. LW, I kind of wonder whether you’ve decided to “not actively prevent pregnancy” in the belief that you’ll encounter fertility problems anyway and won’t get pregnant soon? If so, that’s a little dangerous. Just keep in mind that “not actively preventing pregnancy” is pretty much the same thing as trying to get pregnant and will often lead to pregnancy in a short amount of time.
    That said, I was also wondering – going into the opposite direction – how anxiety might influence the decision to try for a baby. You might still feel anxious even when you’re perfectly ready, and “emotional readiness” is something that is pretty hard to define. I agree with Wendy though: Only try for a baby if you’re truly excited to have one soon.

  2. LW, listen about the excitement vs. fear ratio. Also, are your friends having kids? Here is why I ask. So when my husband and I were married 3 years, our good friend was dating a woman who had children very young. She told us she couldn’t wait until everyone caught up. She had been so lonely being the only one with kids for years. She had a 7 year old by the time our friends started having their first. Now, I am not saying that you should build your life around peer pressure but they jump to parenthood isn’t that scary when you have support in the transition of the people around you.

    Also, my social life has changed without children because my friends now have kids. So there are more “make your own pizza nights” at someone’s home rather than late nights at the club. It is more game nights or movie nights. This is something to think about because there are big parts of my life that won’t change that much because my friends have already changed. Just something to think about.

    1. I definitely agree.

      I had my first two kids in a new city and with very little in the way of friends or support and my third in a city where I have an established social group and where two good friends had babies at the same time, and it’s really night and day. It is so fun to be pregnant have a baby at the same time as good friends. It’s so much easier than trying to make friends with other mothers.

      In general, everything is easier when you have a peer group of parents who are basically where you are. It’s hard to arrange that, though!

      1. I agree, sometimes your friends are scattered everywhere. But all my local friends started as DINKs then had kids and it was nice for them to lean on each other. They have different relationships then with the mother groups that only know them as “John’s mom”. You want your friends to know your name, not just as a mom.

  3. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

    Why would you ever stop birth control before you’re mentally/emotionally ready for kids, especially given your past????

    1. Agreed!! I know the LW knows this (given whatever it was SHE went thru in her childhood) but a parent is more than a body with a bank account!

  4. I like the idea of the excitement vs. fear ratio. See, I think I’ve always felt like that. Like, don’t do it unless the desire to do it overcomes the worry/fear/doubt/reasons not to. And that hasn’t happened for me yet (I know I’ve mentioned this in these threads before, sorry to be on repeat). Since I just got married, it’s amazing how many people are now not only enquiring directly when I’m going to have kids (I’m 38), but also spending big chunks of time actively trying to talk me into it. And this is just at work! Since I got back from the wedding I haven’t had time to do much socializing in big groups.

    It’s really really interesting the lengths people will go to to try and convince me why I should have them. “Lifelong companionship.” “They bring you so much joy!” “I had the baby in 40 minutes!” “I can’t imagine life without my kid!” “I just want to stay in on Saturday night now and be with my kid!” “You’re obviously really healthy, you should go for it! The risk of anything happening is very low.”

    I mean, I believe these people, and I know they wouldn’t be trying to convince me if they didn’t sincerely feel that having a baby enhanced their lives, but I’m just not there yet and maybe never will be, and I don’t want to bring a kid into this world if that “yes! I want to do this!” feeling doesn’t outweigh the “I don’t think so” feeling, EVEN IF I only have a couple good years of fertility left. I can’t let fertility dictate what’s right for me. I would not be comfortable right now with going off birth control and letting nature take its course. It has to be a conscious decision.

    PS – I don’t have mental illness in the family but I do worry about passing on certain traits from my mom, such as losing her shit / face-slapping out of frustration, violating my privacy, stuff like that. And other worries I won’t go into regarding my ability to be the best parent.

    1. oh i am so you, kate. me too.

      related: i had a dream this weekend i was pregnant. i wasnt *exactly* me, and the dad wasnt *exactly jake, but all i remember from it were the feelings- we (the not-me and not-jake couple) were so so so excited. so happy. i have never experienced those feelings, i havent ever gotten near wanting those feelings, so it was so weird! it was like an out of body experience.

      1. Katie, I’ve had those dreams occasionally too. But then in real life the “holy shit, scary” feelings always outweigh the “hmm, maybe?” feelings.

        Another thing is, and maybe this is crazy, but growing up in the 80s and 90s was EASY. The environment and global warming still seemed like far-off worries, and if you got a college degree you could get a good job. You could buy a house too! Things are SO different now, and honestly I do believe the predictions that in 20 years or so things are going to look a lot different and a lot shittier. So I’d feel guilty about bringing a kid into that. I KNOW that people have ALWAYS felt like that, but seriously, it scares me. It was hard enough to live my life in decades of prosperity, I would feel terrible dumping a kid into chaos and hardship.

      2. So, I had a professor ask “When were the good old days?” His answer was they were when the person speaking felt the most carefree. If you were a parent in the 80s, you were worried about USSR, another world war. There is always impending doom out there when you come to realize just how lucky you are and how much you have to lose.

      3. Yeah, CSP, I’m familiar with that line of reasoning. But things ARE harder now for kids than they were when I was growing up. My parents wouldn’t have said that. They grew up in 50s/60s and were hiding under desks during school drills, plus fighting for civil rights and women’s rights. In the 80s (when I was a kid) they were getting paid ridiculous money for middle management jobs with 16% raises each year and big bonuses. They were thinking their kids’ lives would be better than theirs. I can’t say that at all.

      4. See, I feel like you and I had this same discussion before but I do not believe that a retracted home size or fewer things makes a worse life. While some industries are retracting, others are exploding. Maybe you won’t see those kind of raises in middle management but you will in IT and Engineering. While some worry about the US economy, it is still the strongest in the world. Certain areas expand and certain contract. Just because there are no more typewriter repair people, doesn’t mean that the economy suffered. While some people will argue that early salary dictates future earnings, the fact that the 1940s generation had a delayed workforce entry during the war and still had growth proves exceptions to the rule. Don’t count us out, I am seeing a big comeback.

      5. AliceInDairyland says:

        Errbody better work on their farming skills. That’s all I’m gonna say.

      6. Nope, not me. I’m more worried about apocalyptic environmental events than the economy, but I do see kids these days having a lot tougher time finding decent jobs than I had when I graduated.

      7. oh yes, i have similar ethical problems with having kids too..

      8. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

        This conversation is a total downer, which makes it appropriate for my mood today. Life is all doom and gloom people, but the good news is someday you will die.

  5. Thunder_Power says:

    As a person living stably now with anxiety/depression/bipolar I just want to chime in and say that with pregnancy comes hormones. Hormones that do a good job messing with the sense of balance you’ve created over the years within yourself and perhaps with medication. When you do decide to get pregnant/have the baby it is so vital that you communicate with your psychiatrist throughout this process to ensure that any meds you take will be okay for the baby and also keep you mentally healthy. If you haven’t already I think that talking with a mental health professional about this process BEFORE the pregnancy and baby happens would be a great idea so that you have the best support and information possible. Best of luck!!

  6. LW, please use birth control until you are more sure you are ready to have a baby. I was diagnosed with endometriosis at 19, and my doctor told me at 29 that if I wanted a baby I should start trying right away, and that she doubted I would be able to conceive naturally. Well I got pregnant the first time I ever didn’t use birth control…not the first month, literally one time.

  7. I’ve gotta second the advice to not go off BC until you are emotionally ready to be a parent. Especially since you have a history of mental illness in your family and have had a lot of emotional issues to overcome in the past. Please, wait until you’re ready.

  8. Avatar photo something random says:

    This was great response from Wendy. I also second everybody who is recommending not going off birth control before you are sure you’re ready.
    I can also vouch that some woman can get pregnant very easily. I became pregnant with my older son the second time we tried without birth control. Not like the second month we tried without birth control but the second actual time. We had just dipped out toes in to feeling more ready than scared and I had no concept of ovulation time or anything like that. So it can happen fast. It also happen fast with my second. I’m not as specific about the actual time but I went off bc at the beginning of september and had a positive pregnancy test in October. I’m only sharing these personal details because I understand the impulse to “play chicken” when you would like to have a baby but feel scared. Its easy to just “see what happens”. BUT I’ll bet you would feel so much more happy and confident during your pregnancy if you gave yourself time to work through your anxiety and make a proactive empowered decision instead just letting life make that choice for you. JMO.

    Also, it sounds like you have worked through a lot. You sound self-aware and resourceful. It sounds like if and when you decide parenthood is what you want, I’m sure you will be able to find a satisfying balance.

    1. You know, it’s pretty weird to me, but I’ve heard from a bunch of newly pregnant couples that they just “didn’t prevent” a pregnancy but really weren’t “actively trying”. A friend of mine explained it to me by saying that she thinks for a lot couples “trying” is too loaded and they don’t want that pressure, so they frame it as “not really trying, not really preventing”.

      1. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        We’re probably going to do the “didn’t prevent but not trying” scenario. IMO, “actively trying” means ovulation monitoring, having sex at *exactly* the right day/time, etc. For me, I think I’d be too stressed/feel too much pressure on myself to go that route (at first) and would rather just see what happens. (When we’re 100% sure we’re ready mentally/emotionally and as ready as we can be financially.)

      2. Yeah, I guess I haven’t really thought about all the possible degrees of trying. To me, not using any form of birth control would count as trying, even if I wasn’t monitoring ovulation or planning sex at certain times. The latter definitely sounds too stressful for me. (I’m always aware of where I’m in my cycle though so I couldn’t just obliviously have sex right before ovulation, I’d definitely know).

      3. something random says:

        I definitely get that. I guess I was phrasing “actively trying” as being 100% ready to have a baby, not necessarily turning sex into goal achieving, calculated sessions.

        I only brought up ovulation because I’ve heard people talk about pregnancy being improbable unless it occurs during a specific time of the woman’s cycle. I know I just assumed it would take awhile. My point was that it can happen even the first time so I wouldn’t recommend going off birth control unless you are completely sure you’re ready for it to happen right away.

      4. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        Oh I completely agree! No one should stop preventing pregnancy until they are 110% ready to be a parent. I was just trying to explain that there are a bunch of degree’s of “trying”. (My BFF also got pregnant immediately after stopping BC, so that’s what we’re “assuming” will happen, so to speak.)

      5. That’s what we plan on doing. Pull the IUD and just see what happens. I don’t want to chart fertility or anything like that right away. Maybe if nothing happens after 6 months or so?

      6. I’d do the same! I guess the thing that surprised me about how these couples were framing it is that they were almost arguing that they didn’t get pregnant deliberately, “just seeing what would happen”, when in reality it’s likely that you’ll get pregnant that way. It’s like they didn’t want to put their pregnancies in the “planned” category for whatever reason.

      7. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        We haven’t talked about that (when to start *trying* with calculating and such). Eck, guess that goes on the list!

  9. applescruffs says:

    If you haven’t already, talk to a psychiatrist or a psych nurse practitioner before you get pregnant if you’re on any medication. Sometimes pregnancy can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and you’ll want to be on medications that are safe for when you’re pregnant, or at least know what your options are and what to expect should you go off for the duration of your pregnancy. And if you have a therapist, make sure you keep in contact with him or her so you have that support system in place for during and after the pregnancy.

  10. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    You’re ready to have a baby when you’re ready to do a lot of giving. Giving that is physical, mental, emotional and financial. Giving that is very intense for the first three years and then slowly becomes less intense during the second three years. Ages 6 to 12 are relatively easy. Ask yourself if you’re ready to be mostly selfless for a long period of time because the baby is so incredibly helpless they can’t do things for themselves and the toddler is more capable but can and will get themselves into trouble if not watched nonstop. It’s easier if you have help and your families don’t sound like they can help so you may need to plan on hiring help, either daycare or nanny.

    One thing you should do before going off birth control is to talk to a doctor about any possible birth defects caused by any medications you or your husband may be taking. Second, ask for a referral to a genetic counselor to determine your risk for a child who has BPD, schizophrenia, or any other familial mental health disorder. Knowing your risk can help you make your decision. Everyone has their own comfort level with risk. Our friends who have a son with a severe heart defect found that their risk of having another child with a similar heart defect was 5% and that was too high for them and they had no more children. You and your husband need to determine your level of risk and your level of comfort with that risk and then make a decision.

  11. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    I’m too tired to even read this. Why? Because I’m a new mom and I AM FUCKING EXHAUSTED! I’m feeling overwhelmed with exhaustion and guilt. Guilt that I can’t spend as much time with Moose as he wants, needs, and deserves! He is such a good doggie that he deserves me home to coddle him 24-7. Fucking work!!!!!!!!! I am never going out again. It’s work, hurry home, and play with Moose. And then repeat, every day, for the rest of my life.

    Fatigue and guilt. That’s all i have. Le sigh.

    1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

      Also b/c the topic is parenthood and Moose is my baby, know what I did last night? Well, you see, Moose sleeps with me. (And that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of Moose’s life so that’s that.) Which means I need to wake up and taking him to potty lest he potty on my bed. Last night I took him to potty at 2:30 am and he pooped all over the floor, and I stepped in it. A big steamy mound of fresh dog shit went splatttt right under my foot. It squirted up in between my toes and spilled over onto the top of my foot. We had an emergency bath for both me and Moose at 2:30 am. How can a 6.5 pound puppy shit so much?

      And, if I could be so bold, here’s why having a puppy is worse than having a human baby: (a) no diapers for puppies, (b) puppies are mobile but still poop everywhere! and (c) … that’s all I got.

      1. something random says:

        I feel your pain, Addie! In the spirit of competitive mommy-martyrism and in true STFU parents fashion.. oh nevermind. I’m still too paranoid about online posting even anonymously. But you aren’t alone. I feel your pain.

      2. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:


    2. I’m a new puppy parent too and ohmygod what a life changer! I’ve missed social things. And sleep. And I dream about accidentally squishing him on the regular. Ahhh! Just keep telling yourself he will grow up and get easier than the puppy days!

      1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        So funny story I was talking to a guy on Tinder who seemed nice and interesting and we were trying to find a day/time to meet. I told him that I got my dog on Sunday (Sunday was my first day alone with my new puppy, who was just then separated from his brother) and I was telling him overwhelming and tiring these first few days have been as we find our new normal – with sleep and doggie day care and me feeling guilty leaving him, etc. and I asked if maybe we could meet for a drink in my hood so I can get home to Moose first, etc and he wrote back saying he’s not really interested in dating someone whose life is dictated by a dog and it’s a big red flag that I asked if he could come to my hood… Alrighty then, thanks for the understanding, next! So there, the dog has already interfered with one potential mate haha.

      2. It’s a red flag that he didn’t get your slang, haha. Well I guess it’s an easy way to eliminate the wrong guys. Wait for the guy who can’t wait to meet the pup!

  12. I grew up with a neglectful, abusive mother and have a pretty dysfunctional background. I now believe my mother suffers from undiagnosed mental health problems. I struggle with my past a lot, and my relationship with my mother is fraught with tension and emotion to this day. I also struggle with finding balance in my life since I never had balance or structure as a child and since I have always been anxious and emotional. All that being said, I am a fantastic mother (most days, or on some days, most of the minutes) and I know it. I feel like my mother was a great anti-example for how I should behave and I actively try to avoid the things that she would normally do, and it works out pretty well. Every now and then I might find one of her phrases in my mouth or I might find myself being a little lazier than I would like, but everybody makes mistakes. My point is, being aware of yourself and doing the work on yourself that you are doing now is great and if you can continue that into parenthood (when you are ready!!!!) then that is a wonderful foundation for overcoming your burdens and being the best parent you can be, Also, we all worry about finding balance and about being good, productive people, not to mention parents, so you aren’t at all alone in this. When you do have children, try to have a network of parents to commiserate with, it will make things much easier.

  13. I’m not sure if anyone mentioned this, but when you do have a baby, be on the lookout for postpartum depression. It can happen to anybody, but if you’ve already had to deal with some emotional issues, you may be more at risk for PPD. My mom has a history of depression, and she actually had postpartum psychosis, where she hallucinated after I was born. So, I think having the family history of some of those illnesses means that being on the lookout for anything like that might be good. My mom didn’t seek help, which is not only sad for her, but pretty dangerous. Be sure that you and your husband are just aware so that you can help yourself feel better if needed.

  14. Wait, just wait. I don’t know you, but it really sounds like you’re really rushing this. You just got married, and, on a whole other level, you’re nowhere near ready for a baby. I get your fertility concerns–I truly do–but so many mothers have been told that conception will be unlikely or difficult, and then they get pregnant. Unless it’s a time-sensitive fertility issue like endo, I’d wait. Wait till you’re ready. Then try. If you’re fertile, you will get pregnant next year just as easily as you’d get pregnant this year. If you’re infertile, you will know you’re ready to try treatments or whatever your next step is.

  15. So, I’m the LW. I’m sorry, I really should have clarified. We’re not throwing all caution to the wind just yet. He pulls out, and while I wouldn’t recommend that for teenagers, it is fairly effective, and if a baby still happens that way, we would be grateful. Previously we always used 3 forms of birth control so I don’t think we’re being naïve about that.

    Anyways, I don’t have anything else to add. I do really appreciate all the suggestions and advice though, like genetic counseling, which we’ve done (though no testing).

    I really like thinking of it in terms of excitement versus fear. I think that will help me decide when I’m completely ready. I’ve discussed my fears with my therapist, and will certainly continue to do so. Sometimes, I just need help putting things in perspective.

    1. Yep, pulling out is an effective method. I only learned that recently. To me this IS a way of actively preventing pregnancy.
      Good luck with everything, mylaray.

      1. I agree, pulling out is what we did through my whole first marriage, and no pregnancies. Also, my mom mentioned that after her diaphragm failed to prevent her from having two kids right away, they used the withdrawal method all the time after that and never had another pregnancy. So yeah, I think that’s way different than just going off the pill and having unprotected sex and letting nature take its course.

    2. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      For every “success” story of how pulling out worked, there is at least one, if not more, where a pregnancy happened. There was a DW regularly who got pregnant on her honeymoon using the pull out method.

      So, I still think you should go back to a more effective form of birth control until you are for real ready to have a child. Per Planned Parenthood, the effective rate of withdraw is between 4 and 27 pregnancies per 100 women. That’s a pretty dang good chance you could get pregnant!!!

      1. Oh damn! I think what I did that made it more effective was pay attention to when I was ovulating. And make sure he pulled out EVERY time. I bet that 27% failure rate is among people who don’t use it reliably. STILL, it’s obviously not foolproof, though much better than nothing.

      2. Yeah, it’s among people not using it correctly. Obviously there’s little room for error with the pullout method. If you use it correctly, the failure rate is actually comparable to correct use of condoms.

      3. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        Yes, the 27% does account for people who have some error. Coupling withdraw and say the Basal Body method (temp and cervical mucus tracking) would probably be highly effective. While it’s just Wikipedia, this is a pretty interesting chart. (edit- wiki is citing the CDC so I’d say this is fairly reliable.)

      4. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        Also, I just want to say, I’m not trying to be a jerk. I just personally think that this is risky territory. Having a kid changes like everything in your life (at least to a degree), and having a history of mental health needs- well I think the decision should be made with even more weight. Pregnancy hormones can have BIG effects on a person, and it would super suck to not be ready/have the mental health counseling needed to deal with that.

    3. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      If you’ve already done genetic counseling you are way ahead of almost all new parents and your baby will be lucky to have such thoughtful, concerned parents.

  16. Bittergaymark says:

    Have a uninhibited gay best friend around who will actually call you on your bullshit. AND get you out of the god damned house every once in a while.

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