I am 37 years old and happily married to my husband. We just brought a 9-week-old French bulldog puppy into our lives and are enjoying the total chaos he brings. While we’ve been potty training him and teaching him right from wrong, my mind can’t help but wonder whether my husband and I will have actual human children one day.
My entire life I’ve always wanted children, but knew in the back of my mind it might not be in the cards for me. I tend to accomplish many of life’s milestones late — by society’s standards, at least. I married at 36, got my driver’s license at 27 and still can’t ride a bike. Now that I am firmly settled into the next chapter of my life, I’ve felt the pull of children a bit more.
My husband and I just moved back to Pittsburgh after spending 20 years in Washington, D.C. Here in Pittsburgh, most people I went to school with are married with multiple children. Two out of my five siblings have children too. In D.C., I didn’t mind being child-free; we had plenty of friends both with and without children, and many of our friends were just starting to build their families. I didn’t feel like we were missing out. Things feel a bit different in Pittsburgh. The big city energy is gone, and things are definitely more family-focused in suburbia.
That said, it is nice to leave our nephews after get-togethers, giving our blessing to my sister to get them to bed and do all the “dirty work,” so to speak. I also suffer from seizures and my husband has retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that causes gradual blindness, so having kids with our disabilities would be an added level of stress.
As my husband and I debate the pros and cons of parenthood — bearing in mind that it will be harder at the ages we are now, 37 and 43 — we try not to let any awkward questions that come up about our family planning get to us. Most of the time, my family is not intrusive about questions about children. Sometimes, we do get the occasional inquiry, but my husband and I (especially him!) often dodge them with some humor.
But fielding questions about family planning can be a minefield, and many people find them intrusive and hurtful. Ahead, women in various situations share how they feel about the "when are you having kids" conversation and how they handle it.
Trying to have kids
Beth, 37, who asked not to use her real name, got married just over a year ago. She and her husband are currently trying to have children, a situation she describes as “scary and stressful.” Beth was diagnosed with endometriosis in her late 20s and has been seeing a reproductive endocrinologist to manage the condition and preserve her fertility. Her family doesn’t directly ask intrusive questions, but co-workers of hers will often ask if Beth wants old maternity clothes from their pregnancies a decade ago. Sometimes, it's her spouse who contributes to the pressure.
“My husband makes comments that lead friends to immediately think he’s talking about me being pregnant, which leads to the ‘no, I’m not pregnant yet’ [response] because people get excited,” Beth tells me. “He will say things like ‘when we have kids,’ which I love but it is also scary since fertility in your late 30s is anxiety-inducing to say the least — I fear saying [things] like that would set me up for heartbreak.”
Do not want children
Casey, on the other hand, does not want children. She married her husband in 2020 and feels lucky the couple does not experience any family pressure to have kids. However, she did recently have a friend tell her she’d be all alone in old age.
“I’m not concerned about that; I’ll make friends in my nursing home,” she says.
Casey, 37, wishes society would have a bit of a shift in which having kids is more of a choice than the default. “I feel like my husband and I are the only ones not doing it,” she says. “Also, I hear people talking about established adults getting married and having kids. I’m an established adult even though I don’t want kids, thank you!”
Like Casey, Kate, 35, does not want kids, describing herself as “not a kid person" who hasn't had any desire for any of her own. Kate had a bilateral salpingectomy (or the removal of both of her fallopian tubes) in July so that “pretty much sealed the deal,” as she says. If people ask about her being child-free, she lets them know what a personal question that is to ask. People closest to her have stopped asking, given that Kate reiterates every year that she is not having any children.
She wishes people would realize what a personal decision parenthood is and it’s not for everyone. “People will say things like ‘well, who will take care of you when you’re old?’ or ‘what if your kid grows up to cure cancer?’” she says. “There’s a certain mix of pity and suspicion people react to you with when you say you don’t have or want children, and that annoys me.”
No children due to medical issues
Kelly, 37, had strep for eight months in her 20s. It destroyed her hormones and thyroid and she still has to take medication for it, which dramatically decreased the likelihood that she would have a healthy baby if she were to become pregnant.
“Obviously, my husband knew all of these things when we married and I was never certain I wanted children anyway, and knowing the risks tipped the scales,” she says, adding, "We are no less of a family because we don’t have children."
Kayla, who is in her late 30s, says having kids was a decision she and her husband were uncertain about. A decade into marriage, Kayla was diagnosed with stage 2 endometriosis. During a conversation with her doctor and subsequent surgery, Kayla found out her tubes were tied, and a pregnancy would be difficult and high risk given her age.
“If the question does come up, we just say it’s not in the cards or we’re blessed in other ways,” Kayla says. “I think it’s difficult because our dream when younger and playing house was the family in the station wagon and putting the baby in the car seat and visions of our childhood.”
Wants children, but doesn’t want to do it alone
Single, 30-something Aurora, who asked not to use her real name, doesn’t know if kids are part of her overall plan. Growing up, she always had the notion that she wanted kids and when she was younger, she assumed she’d find a soulmate in college, get married and live happily ever after with their two kids by age 30. She ended up pursuing a career first but not the personal life she dreamt about. Aurora has investigated adoption and freezing her eggs but knows that she does not want to pursue parenthood alone.
She grew up in a conservative town and attended a Christian school, where most of her classmates went on to get married straight out of college and had kids soon after. Once Aurora left her home state and went to college in D.C., she learned that there was more to want than just family life.
“However, I wish that I found the balance between the two as I do feel like I’m missing out on something,” she says. “A bright light for me is that even though it can be high-risk, I do notice more women in their mid-to-late 30s having healthy pregnancies; I just need to have a person who wants to go on that journey with me.”
Those closest to her typically don't bring up the kid question — but strangers or people she's just met don't seem to hold back.
"When people first see me or find out my age, they automatically assume I have kids," Aurora says. "I tell them I don't and then they ask me why not or if I'm planning on having them. I tell them that I focused on my career and I haven't found a partner to have kids with yet."
What a therapist says
Not sure how to deal with the intrusiveness? Therapist Barbra Russell recommends preparing ahead of time, as when you are caught by surprise, it can sometimes lead to stumbling, stuttering or defensive responses. Answers can be short and sweet. Depending on the situation, she suggests lines like, "We want kids some day, but it’s just not in our plans right now," "I've decided not to have children" or "I don’t know whether I’ll have children. I’m taking my time to think about it, and I’m happy with that decision."
Russell also recommends the broken record technique: If the questioner keeps pushing, repeat your chosen quote. After your response, trying a follow-up question can be helpful, like asking the person a question about themselves. For worst-case scenarios to the especially rude and pushy, let them know by saying things like “I know you mean well, but this is a personal decision” or go the humorous route with retorts like, “Oh, why were you wondering, do you need more kids for the baseball team?”
Above all, don’t feel like you must justify being child-free. There is also no need to explain your decision, Russell notes.
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