How do I know if I want kids?

An advice column where Chicago can ask questions on how to navigate life transitions, relationships, family, finance and more.

Dear Ismael,

I’m conflicted when it comes to deciding whether I want children or not. I often ask myself: “Do I want children because I want to have them?” Or, “Do I want children because I feel like I have to have them?”

It is also hard to decide when you feel pressured to make a decision because of “a woman’s ticking biological clock.” I brought up the question to my partner once and asked him, “Do you want kids?” His answer was “yes.” The way he was so quick to answer made me realize that not having children was never something he considered.

As selfish as this sounds, I am also very worried I won’t like my body during and after pregnancy. What should I do?

— Maternal Instincts in Logan Square

Dear Maternal Instincts,

When my mom was 36 and pregnant with my little brother, I remember seeing her cry one day.

She had just gotten back from seeing her friends and they ridiculed her because she dared to be in her mid-30s and pregnant. They teased her, saying, “You’re going to be an old woman when he graduates high school.”

Fast-forward 18 years to the graduation. No one batted an eye that my mom was 54. She didn’t need a cane when entering the arena, and didn’t break a hip walking up the stairs to find her seat. As for the rest of the women, they kept popping out kids through their 30s and 40s, as if that comment never happened.

Societal norms are changing, and you shouldn’t feel selfish or guilty for not wanting the life of the women who came before you.

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Nationally, the birth rate for women 20 to 24 declined 4% from 2022 to 2023 — 47% since 2007 — while women 30 to 34 had the highest birth rate in 2023, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Locally, from 2010 to 2021, annual births in Illinois have gone from 164,998 to 132,221, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Before, it wasn’t really a decision. Having children was kind of what you did,” said Lynn Zakeri, a mental health therapist in the Chicago area. “Now, it’s much more of a decision. The idea of how a marriage should look like has changed drastically. And there’s a lot more fluidity to the word ‘should.’ ”

Should vs. need

Forget about what you think you should do, and see how having a child aligns with everything that brings you a sense of purpose, Zakeri said.

Start by considering how being a parent will add to your strengths and weaknesses, and then ask yourself, “How will a child add or take from what brings me fulfillment?”

Also think about what children need — consistency, security and stability. That doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous; your life just needs to be a little predictable.

Realistically, not every single person considers all this before having a baby. So, you simply expressing your concerns is a good first step.

‘The talk’ with the partner

It doesn’t look like a childless relationship is a deal-breaker for your partner, but those talks will become unavoidable as the relationship grows. And that’s a good thing.

“Talk about what your fears are so you can figure them out together,” Zakeri said.

That goes both ways. Talk not just about fears you have about having kids, but also concerns of having a childless life together.

Walk tall with your choices

When it comes to your body, drastic changes will be inevitable as we age — whether you have a baby or not — Zakeri says. The best we can do is embrace those changes with confidence.

If the decision is no baby, you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. The only right choice is the one that helps you sleep at night.

“If she’s walking tall with it, the world will follow suit,” Zakeri said.

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