One year ago today, Andrew and I were preparing to be married. One year later, we are celebrating our anniversary at home with our three month old baby boy, our tiny adorable tyrant who demands so much of our time and attention. We will not get dressed up and go out for a romantic dinner tonight. We will not celebrate by traipsing around Washington, DC for hours on end. We will not be out until the wee hours of the morning, knowing that we’ll be able to catch up on our sleep this weekend. No, instead our anniversary plans this year have been a lot more humble (and required a lot more planning). Before we were able to go out to celebrate this past weekend, we had to secure babysitters for the evening. The time that normally would have been dedicated to primping beforehand was spent laying out pajama sets and washcloths, preparing bottles and bedtime books, and attempting to soothe a fussy infant. Even after Andrew and I kissed John goodbye and goodnight, it took a solid half hour of worrying before I was able to really enjoy myself. And now, on our actually anniversary day, we will spend the evening with our beautiful baby boy, feeding and rocking him before we can settle in to exchange gifts and go to bed. Not the most exciting plans in the world, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Most couples don’t have a baby before their first anniversary. Most don’t even have one by their second or third. Nowadays, many couples wait until after their fifth or sixth anniversary to have their first child, sometimes even longer. The reasons for delaying children are many and varied, some reasons more prudent than others. But I think that there is one reason that really needs to be considered more deeply because of its often dangerous consequences: wanting to wait until the “perfect time.” I have seen the myth of the perfect time destroy marriages and families. I have met spouses who, after years of planning and preparing for children, learn that their years of contraception have rendered them infertile. After years of waiting for the perfect time to come along, they have lost every chance that they had of having their own child. I’ve also encountered couples, who after checking off every to-do on their pre-baby list, find that they are forty-five years old and facing early menopause. Now that they have their dream jobs, a comfortable bank account, a nice house, a cat, a dog, and possibly a hamster, they want to start a family. Now that they have everything that they assumed that they needed to start a family, they want a few beautiful children, only to discover that they won’t be able to have what they always wanted and the jobs, bank account, and house mean nothing in the wake of this loss.
The myth of the “perfect time” can, and often does, destroy marriages and families. Even on the small scale, it can be damaging. A couple might decide that they want six months of “us time” before starting a family, but that six months becomes a year, and then two years, and so on. A couple might be concerned about finances, so they choose to wait until they have another thousand dollars in their bank account, but that eventually becomes two thousand, then five, and so on. A couple might want a bit more job security before starting a family, so they might both elect to wait until their next pay raise, but one pay raise becomes two, then five, and so on. And without ever choosing to become the couple without children, their life as such is chosen for them.
That being said- I’m not saying that their aren’t prudent reasons to wait a year or two, or to choose to remain childless indefinitely. A newly wed couple anticipating a major move in a year might want to wait to have children. A couple that is already struggling to make ends meet might opt to postpone parenthood until they can afford the expenses that come with pregnancy and childbirth (Andrew and I are just learning how expensive these things can be, even with decent insurance). A wife who has just been hired for a brand-new position might decide that she needs a bit of time to settle before becoming pregnant. A couple might choose to avoid having a child indefinitely while the husband undergoes treatment for cancer. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to put off starting a family, but even in the most justified situations, there is always an element of danger.
It is easy to become complacent with our lives. It’s easy to tack on extra time, month by month, paycheck by paycheck. Even when a couple really wants to start a family, they might still fall prey to the myth of the perfect time.
Well, here’s the truth: there is no such thing as the “perfect time.” You can always be a bit richer, a bit more secure in your job, a bit happier with your life as it is. There are always plenty of reasons to wait. Life will never be perfect. There will always be elements of our lives that we can improve. If we are adamant that we need to wait until the perfect time to have a child, we’ll most likely die childless- unless we get a bit of a surprise. And sometimes a little surprise is the only thing that can teach us that there is no such thing as the perfect time.
I’ve had friends who have opted to have children even when they were struggling financially, when they had just been hired at a new job, when they were just months from a major move. Each of these couples chose to have a child even though their situations were not perfect, even though their situations were far from it. For most people, such circumstances would fall under the category “the worst time to have a child.” But for each of these couples, their decision to have a child when they did was one of the best decisions they have ever made. Because in 9,999 of every 10,000 cases, a couple will never regret their decision to have a child, to have their child. Because that’s the thing- even if the circumstances are not optimal for starting a family, once you have a child, that little boy or girl goes from being a child to your child. And no matter how difficult the circumstances of your lives, once you fall in love with your baby, there’s no going back.
John was born in less than perfect conditions, though there were many more advantages to the timing than disadvantages. I had been at my job for just about a year, and my boss was more than happy to make the necessary accommodations when JT arrived. I have been able to work from home several days a week, and once a week, John comes to the office with me. In addition, Andrew is not teaching this semester, allowing him to spend more time at home with John when I go to work alone. Both of our work schedules have a certain degree of flexibility, and our co-workers have all been very quick to provide assistance when needed. In some ways, the timing couldn’t have been better.
But in other ways, our timing was definitely found wanting. Andrew was just a few weeks away from taking his comprehensive examinations when JT was born, meaning that he was often unavailable to assist with feedings and changings during the first month (fortunately my mom was there to help me during that time). Andrew and I had only been married for two weeks when we learned that we were expecting our first child, a time frame that most people agreed was not long enough to allow for the appropriate amount of “us” time. In addition, I had only been at my job for a year when Andrew and I got married, and I was only just making the switch to full-time when we found out that I was pregnant. In addition to complicating my first year as a full-time employee, the short span of time that I had served at my parish meant that I was not eligible for most forms of maternity leave and my available sick and vacation days were few. As a result, I began working from home at just two weeks postpartum, and I returned to my regular work schedule after just six weeks at home with my son.
So no, our timing was not perfect, but no matter how difficult things have been at times, it has always been worth it. Despite the sleepless nights and heavy arms after hours of rocking a fussy newborn, neither Andrew nor I regret our decision. In the end, we wouldn’t trade our life with John for anything because now we simply can’t imagine a life without him. And so, during just one year of marriage, our lives have changed dramatically. Late mornings are a thing of the past, and late nights have become an unwelcome reality. The chances of Andrew and I sitting down to watch a movie before 9PM are slim, and even then, we’ll probably opt for a 30 minute TV show before bed. Our time is no longer our own to use as we please, but John’s existence makes every minute of every day so much more beautiful. And so, even though our timing was not perfect, our timing gave us the best gift imaginable- our beautiful baby boy, one of the two loves of my life, my little buddy John Thomas Whitmore. In the end, it was the best timing possible.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!