The Financial Confessions: “I Regret Having A Baby When I Did”

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As of this writing, I am sitting at my cubicle in the small ad agency I work at in the suburbs of Connecticut, sipping my second iced coffee of the day (it’s 11:30 AM), and focusing on anything other than work. I’ve been assigned to probably the worst client I’ve ever endured and, as an account manager who has never been as naturally good with people as most of her colleagues seem to be, dealing with the 2 AM phone calls and frantic emails has been taxing, to say the least. Every day it feels harder to just smile and agree, so I quietly get revenge by burning company money to online shop, look for other jobs, take long coffee breaks, and, now, write articles for personal finance sites.

I’m probably older than most TFD-readers, but hopefully not that much. I’m 34, which can feel very different for different people. A lot of my friends who still live back in the City (yes, I call New York “the City,” because that’s what people within 100 miles of it who have no life tend to do) are 34 and they feel like 22-year-olds to me. Many of them are unmarried or married and childless, going out when they want, working/quitting/applying for jobs they want, swiping on dating apps, seeing 11 PM shows of movies, and living a life that feels totally alien to me. When I go visit them for a weekend here or there, I feel like I’m in an episode of Sex and the City, as pathetic as that sounds, because the feeling of being able to go to a dinner and then a bar and then follow the night as it comes is incredible. I don’t have to race home to relieve the babysitter, or respond to her texts every 15 minutes, or even think about my daughter. I’m free for those precious weekends.

I don’t necessarily envy this life, mind you. I love my home, my husband, and of course my 6-year-old daughter, but I am often met with pangs of regret and envy when I call them from my kitchen island and get filled in on the exciting and ever-changing details of their lives. My life, save for a few things here and there, tends to be pretty much the same every day. I get up, get my daughter ready for school, drop her on the bus, head to work, work, come home, let off the babysitter who does the after-school shift, make dinner, do homework, put my daughter to bed, do a little on the elliptical if I’m lucky, cuddle up with my husband (and you can fill in the rest there). I have a good life, and I know that, and I try to remind myself “actively” — a word my therapist loves to use — of how lucky I am. But I find myself often incredibly bored, and wistful for the life I imagine I could have had if we’d stayed in New York, and hadn’t had our daughter so young.

The thing is, where I’m from, 28 is not young to have a kid — it’s actually kind of old! That’s probably weird, I know, but I’m from a conservative family, Catholic school in Northern Virginia, the whole nine yards. Most of my girlfriends were married in their early-to-mid 20s, and the only reason I didn’t follow suit with my husband is because we met when I went to college in New York, where I became “radicalized” as my parents often semi-jokingly say. He comes from a much more liberal background, and when we fell into a group of hip, progressive people at school, suddenly the path I thought I had to follow didn’t seem so completely set in stone. We could build a life together in New York without having to get married at 25 in some lavish wedding and have kids right away.

We moved in together a few years after college, much to the horror of my parents, but still didn’t feel any pressure to tie the knot. We attended wedding after wedding for my friends, and each time felt less in a rush. We both had a lot of ambitions (he worked in urban planning and I worked in the non-profit world at the time, which meant that we were both wide-eyed and underpaid), and we didn’t want to give that up. The first few years we lived together, an incredible amount of things seemed possible to both of us, and even though I knew I wanted to be with him for life, each year in New York made the pressures and expectations of my background feel further and further behind me. I remember sometimes having a distinct feeling of “I don’t care what my mom thinks,” which you have to understand was extremely liberating for me.

But, as you can probably guess by now, I got pregnant. I was just shy of 28 and felt utterly unprepared, but completely clear-eyed about wanting to have the baby. I had had an abortion as a teenager (which was much of what propelled me to moving to New York instead of going to Richmond, as I had initially planned all through high school), and I did not feel any kind of moral pressure to have the baby. I didn’t think this was “God’s baby for me” — mostly because I don’t believe in God — and I also didn’t think that my then-boyfriend would pressure me either way. I knew that he would completely support whatever decision, and that made me feel even more certain about having a baby at that time. I didn’t feel like a kid anymore, and I knew I was at a place in my life and with a person that it was the right decision, even if I had not prior to that point been in “mom mode.”

It became clear right away that we couldn’t afford to live in New York if we were going to have a baby, so he took a job in Connecticut (that actually paid slightly better!), and I decided I would leave my job a few months before baby-having, since my maternity leave was going to be laughable anyway. We moved to Connecticut and set up in a little Cape Cod-style house, and I enjoyed the first six months of motherhood in a very relaxed and idyllic setting. Despite my parents’ initial explosion over us having a baby !!!OUT OF WEDLOCK!!!, they quickly got over it and settled into their excitement over being grandparents. They helped us out financially, and my mother came to live with me for a month to help me ease into everything. Frankly, even before I found out about the pregnancy, I had been feeling fed up with expensive, noisy, smelly New York, and at first the move to Connecticut felt ideal: I could train it in easily when I wanted to hang out with my friends, but escape the chaos and build a nest somewhere where everything wasn’t incredibly expensive and frantic.

By the time my daughter was six months, though, I was itching to get back to work, and we needed the money. My husband wanted me to work, too, as he knew my professional life had always been a big part of my identity. I couldn’t find any non-profit work, though, so after a solid three months of searching and calling every person in my very-very-extended network, I took a job in account management for a market research company. It was not my passion by any means, but I got to go into the City frequently and I had a good amount of responsibility, AND made over $65k a year. I excelled at that job and moved up, then over to the ad agency where I am now, and where I have enough autonomy to be not working at my desk (and working on things like this) for extended periods of time. I handle my shit. My professional life in Connecticut hasn’t been perfect, but overall I’d say I enjoy it, and have definitely made the most of what it is.

We talk a lot about moving back to the City, but we both know we never will. There are too many reasons not to, and now that our daughter is settled in her school and her friend group, it would feel wrong to take her away. I don’t have some depressing Sam Mendes movie suburban life, I’m not secretly drinking and taking pain meds and sobbing on the bathroom floor. I don’t want to over-dramatize the situation. But I am not incredibly happy with my life, and I know that a lot of the things I promised myself I’d do “one day” are likely not to happen, or at least any time soon — grad school, world travel, starting fresh in a new city, starting my own company, etc. My life is now constrained in a way I had never anticipated it would be, and so much of what I loved about my life before (primarily the freedom and openness my husband and I both had) has all but evaporated. I know that my life must be lived now with someone else as the constant priority, and I still feel that there is this spontaneous, irreverent 28-year-old inside of me who has been put on pause. I want to un-pause her and go live free in New York again, but I know I can’t. And no one could have prepared me for that feeling.

There was a fork in the road, and I chose the path that led me to a domestic life that I do love for what it is, but which inescapably can feel like a failure to me. I love my daughter more than life itself — I would lay down my own life for hers in a second — but I can’t say that I don’t sometimes wish she had come along later. I do sometimes feel a pang of regret at having had a child at 28, and it’s one that I wouldn’t vocalize to even my closest friends.

Mothers are taught to be grateful, and enthusiastic, and doting, and always talking about their children as blessings and gifts and the best things in their life. We are not allowed to express regret or doubt or even nostalgia for our pre-motherhood selves. If I were to say out loud “I regret having my daughter when I did,” people would assume I meant I wish I had chosen not to have her when I found out I was pregnant. That is not true, but it’s also an unfair question — of course I would not give up my daughter, but before I was pregnant there was no daughter. She didn’t exist, and could have not existed in another plane of reality. Almost no mother would say “I would have chosen not to have my child if I could go back,” but that’s an impossible proposition to answer honestly. Things happened the way they did, and there is no going back, and you can feel that something is both wonderful and tinged with a bit of remorse. Life can be bittersweet, and so can having children. (One thing it has taught me for sure, for example, is that I don’t want any more children — the freedom of just having one is still significant.)

Financially, logistically, and personally, having a child was a choice I objectively wasn’t ready for, but I don’t think anyone ever really is. We made the best of it, as all parents do, and will continue to make the best of it. In a few years, when our daughter is between elementary and middle school, we will probably move to one of the other, more manageable cities that have caught our eye, and my life might feel more balanced and “me” then. I am not completely hopeless about my future as an individual, even if I can often feel like I’m drowning in the title of “Mom.” I know that I’m going through a particularly tough period at work, and it’s making my whole life seem more bleak as a result. But I do wish, regardless of all of that, that mothers were allowed to talk more about regret, remorse, or mistakes. When we are only allowed to express joy and gratitude, we paint a picture that is unfair to so many young women who are thinking of becoming mothers themselves. No woman in my life ever even hinted that it was anything other than “the best thing in their life.” Where I come from, motherhood is a sacred, untouchable thing, and if you are not extremely fulfilled as a mother, something is wrong with you.

I don’t think something is wrong with me, I think something is wrong with a world that doesn’t allow moms to be full people, or be honest about the good and bad of their experiences. I love my daughter with the weight of the world, but I wish I had become a mother later in life, when I had accomplished more and understood more about myself. Both of these things can be true, and both of them can be part of who I am. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed, I just feel human.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Court E. Thompson

    This is a fantastic and thoughtful and really important piece. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Alexis

    This is such a personal and intimate piece, thank you for writing. If I can say to you, you have made every right choice there is to make – even if you do question or doubt it sometimes. I hope you feel more confident in your choices as you go on. Your life is as blissful as you choose to make it. Sending you good thoughts xx

  • Phoebe Prentice Terry

    I remember when one of my father’s female friends had just had a baby and she told me that no one would actively choose to have children if they knew how hard it was going to be. She is a really good mother and a really interesting woman who clearly loves her kids but I was really grateful that she had confided in me something so personal. How she honestly felt about her new role as a mother, that it is overwhelmingly difficult. We need more women being honest like that and more being encouraged not to have children if they don’t want them. I’m very much on the fence about motherhood as I love kids but I won’t know how I feel about motherhood until I actually do it.

  • Thank you for sharing this!
    “You can feel that something is both wonderful and tinged with a bit of remorse.”

    I’m 29 and my husband and I are expecting our first child in the spring. We’re excited and feel like we’re ready, but it also feels like there’s an entire aspect of my life that will “die” in a sense when we become parents. We plan to fight that with everything we’ve got, but know that kids change things no matter what. It’s good to know I’m not alone in that!

  • Lela Dixon

    Just letting you know, I am twenty five, live in new york city, and your life, at your age, is 100% #goals to me. so today, I’ll be your (friendly) “active reminder” 🙂

  • jdub

    This was really powerfully honest and I really appreciate how candid you were. I’m sure your daughter will grow up and appreciate the beautiful life you’ve given her. I’m sure with a supportive husband and family and the drive that you clearly have, you can still have a great, exciting life as she grows older — even if it isn’t exciting in the way that you expected it to be 🙂

  • nycnative

    I was really moved by your piece. No life is perfect, and no life comes without trade offs. I think about staying in NYC and then the reality hits me of how difficult it is now to raise/afford children here, and I wonder what’s more important – living the life I want/see myself living with my partner, or changing everything just so that having a child isn’t so f*cking hard? These are tough choices and of course there’s no right or wrong answer – just the thing we end up choosing.

  • betty

    Can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had w NYC friends who describe this life–a nice house in Connecticut. A great little family and a job that pays well as #goals. My (future) self included

    • Rose

      As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side!

  • I’m so glad that I DO see more and more women openly talking about this, and it’s because others like you are brave enough to open up about this. I think that this is a serious issue for older women, especially since we still tend to get handed most of the house and childcare in a family (despite progress, sure), and women for decades have had no outlet to handle those feelings.

    As someone on the other side of that, being in my late twenties and fully aware that kids would, frankly, get in the way of other goals I have, I am facing the fallout (or complete brush-offs). It feels like women are forced to pick a poison in that if they make a decision but then need an outlet to handle negatives aspects of it, we are frowned upon. Because as much as parenthood is undoubtedly an amazing experience, it comes at costs–financially, time-wise, career, mentally, physically, your relationship to your spouse, and parents and in-lows changes, everywhere.

    Personally, I feel like I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t, because, like the author said, no one is every fully read. So how do you know? You just have to decide and then live with it. You can change careers but you can’t change being a parent. I felt that the author felt compelled to cover her tracks on many occasions, and it made me sad–we know, we KNOW that you love your daughter, and don’t regret having her as a person in your life. It’s a complicated and nuanced thing, but the Internet is not exactly adept at that kind of conversation. Thank you for writing this. : )

  • Summer

    Thanks for writing this. It’s so refreshing to see more and more women stepping up to admit that motherhood isn’t all roses and unicorns. As a 32-year-old who doesn’t want (and has never wanted) children, it constantly perplexes me how people can seem so confused when I say that I’m not interested in being a parent. Whether folks admit it openly or not, it seems like common knowledge that having children is incredibly difficult, taxing, and restrictive. To go into something like that just because it’s a societal norm seems absolutely ludicrous to me. Having kids is the ONE thing you cannot undo. Speaking about the unpleasant aspects should be welcomed and encouraged, not stifled and frowned upon as it tends to be. Kudos to you for making the best of your situation and having the chops to own your mixed feelings.

    • Judith

      I feel the same. Also, the amount of hostility I experience each time I mention that I’m just genuinely not interested in being a parent has made me not only overly cautious of ever mentioning my opinion, now I get a rush of fight-or-flight response whenever the topic comes up. Not a pretty reaction.

      • Summer

        SAME. I become very anxious very quickly when the topic of children comes up in nearly any context, and my mind immediately starts thinking of ways to change the subject without being completely obvious about it. I prefer not to talk about kids AT ALL because it’s never as simple as saying, “parenting is not for me,” it always turns into an interrogation at worst, or an uncomfortable conversational transition at best. I don’t have to justify myself if I say I don’t want a dog (or a parakeet or a donkey or a snake farm), so why do I have to justify my lack of desire for a child?

        • Judith

          I’m glad I’m not alone with this. Actually, I use the same reasoning about having a dog or cat or guinea pig. And it just doesn’t make sense to me that saying “I don’t want a dog because it’s loud and drools too much” is an okay thing to say, but swap “dog” with “baby” and you’re suddenly a monster. Some people’s life is totally complete and fulfilled without a pet, so why is it so unthinkable that I feel fulfilled without a child?
          I find that it’s such an unusual thing to say that people just don’t have a reaction to it so they go into interrogation mode while not trying to really understand what you’re saying but framing it in some way that is consistent with their worldview. And in that game, it seems you only get losing cards.

          • Summer

            We should be best friends.

          • Judith

            Hahaha. We should be. 😀

  • alyjarrett

    “I don’t think something is wrong with me, I think something is wrong with a world that doesn’t allow moms to be full people…”

    Amen to that! I wish that more parents were as honest as you were in this piece, because then it wouldn’t feel so foreign for someone like myself to live a childfree life. That for some, the sacrifices involved with raising children are just too large to make. I know that I’m a total nerd to be quoting Gandalf right now, but, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Some have chosen to have children early in life, some later, and some never, and it’s completely normal to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. We all do!

  • Mj D’Arco

    i liked this article, and I wish thefinancialdiet would post one of a woman who decided to have children and felt like it was the best decision of her life

    • Summer

      I feel like you can see articles about that almost literally anywhere on the internet, tbh…

  • A. Ann

    This piece is so important.
    I wish we could talk about parenting, and very specifically motherhood, as not this magical, special calling but as simply a legitimate life choice with realistic expectations that it can fulfill you in some ways and, as with any big life decision, have significant sacrifices as well.

    To the author, I would just say, be careful to not overglamourize your single friends’ lives. Social media is a highlight reel. I’m sure their lives, because I know mine often is, can be just as monotonous too, that’s not to say your feelings aren’t legitimate.

  • RIA

    easily my favorite article i’ve read on tfd to date. thanks so much for being so intimately honest.

  • AmyK

    I had my kids even younger and I turn forty in two weeks with a 13-year-old and 15-year-old. I understand those feelings of constraint, but it gets amazing. When your friends are finally settling into diapers and suburbia (with less energy than you had to deal with it), you’ll be leaving your daughter for overnight getaways. My husband and I travel internationally (with and without kids), go out often, and are looking forward to having independent kids while we’re still in our forties. Plus we have established careers and can afford to do more fun stuff with our time than during our twenties. Having kids young gives you serious FOMO when you’re the only one watching the clock to get home for the sitter, but just wait. Soon the tables will turn and you’ll not only have adventures, but a great traveling companion in your daughter 🙂

    • SG

      Thank you for this comment 🙂 As someone who 100% wants children in the future but is worried about “losing” my identity, it’s really, really, really lovely to hear this side of it.

  • Cara

    This was a wonderful article, but it just goes to show you that the grass is always greener on the other side. I am a 35-year-old woman living the life you describe in NYC but wish I had your life instead – a husband and child in the Connecticut suburbs. I learned after moving to NYC that it is nothing like an episode of Sex and the City (at least in terms of dating) and to “follow the night as it comes” gets old after a while. Be thankful that you found a great husband and have a healthy child, but can still enjoy the glamorous New York City life when you get a chance 🙂

  • clay

    What a powerful piece, thank you for writing. I’m 30 years old and about to finish up graduate school. I feel pressured to get settle down, get married, buy a house, have a kid..the whole nine yards. But a part of me still feels like I can’t or won’t be able to handle the commitment and monotony. I still want to work on my career (I will never be a stay at home mom), go out, drink, and have fun with friends but I definitely feel the biological clock ticking and wonder if I would regret not having a child earlier.

  • Barrett

    I love this article, I’m 24 with a two year old and live in Portland where most people my age are far from having children. I often feel so incredibly bored despite adoring my son because I am unable to do so much of what I used to do now.

  • Jessica de Sey

    Congrats on this incredibly honest piece.

  • DBoss

    Thank you for your honesty regarding your feelings about motherhood. I hope that you can continue to acknowledge and honor these difficult (and sometimes what feels like socially unacceptable) feelings while keeping on showing up every day. I also come from a community where motherhood is viewed as a sacred calling, and many experience it as the most fulfilling role they ever take on. I was shaken to the core after the birth of my daughter at the age of 30, because my expectations of motherhood were wildly out of line with the day-to-day reality. In addition, I am a physician and found a lot of purpose in my professional identity so it’s not like my life was “empty” before kids. We also left NYC when my daughter was a year old, and left behind the glitz and glamour of that life, though I can’t say I miss it much. I’ve since had another child (a son) and will say that for me the quiet joy of motherhood grows daily, despite the pressures of work, being the primary breadwinner, trying to be more financially literate (which I discuss on my blog https://thatsnotokay.wordpress.com/). I wish you strength and courage in pursuing a life that holds meaning for you.

  • Jasmine

    To echo most of the other commenters, this is an extremely important perspective I so rarely see shared, both in personal conversations and the public domain. Thank you for your honesty and perspective.

  • Violaine

    I’m thankful to my mum who always told me that she was so grateful and happy to have my brother and I but that at the same time she sometimes regrets not having done different things before she had us. She had planned us and had us at the time she chose, but she also says that she didn’t foresee how much it would change things and things she told herself before having children (“I’ll go back to college once they are in nursery; I’ll keep working so I can still do my hobbies and travel; it won’t be that much more work to cook and clean after 2 children than to look after my husband and I; I’ll have time to study and read and paint when they are asleep in the evening…”) just did not happen because children take more space than she thought they would.

    I really don’t think I want children. I’m happy for people who want them and have them but it’s not for me. People always say “You’ll change your mind” and who knows, maybe I will… But I don’t think I want to. For me and I know it sounds awful, an unknown child that isn’t born yet is not worth giving up my life as I know it.

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