If you’re looking for a tidy list of prerequisites and conditions that must be met before becoming parents — a certain number in your bank account, a couple of letters behind your name, a cozy home in the right zip code — you won’t find them in this article (or anywhere else). Which sounds odd to say because there are some tangible prerequisites that can frame other big decisions in our lives, such as buying a house or a car. We prepare exhaustively for virtually every other milestone in our lives — surely creating a whole human being with an immortal soul calls for a bit of forethought and preparation?
Shortly after returning from our honeymoon, family members began bombarding my husband and I with that well-meaning but anxiety-producing question, “When are the babies coming?” I came to dread family functions simply because I knew I would have to field that question. It wasn’t that my husband and I didn’t want children; we both love kids and knew we wanted to have a family. I just didn’t know how to answer the question, how to put into words the excitement and fear I felt at the possibility of having a baby, or my paralysis in front of the enormity of starting a family.
I’ve prepared exhaustively for basically every milestone in life: SAT prep before sitting for the test, driver’s ed before getting behind the wheel, marriage prep classes before tying the knot. I would prepare meticulously for every job interview and indulge in some Facebook stalking prior to going on a date. I’m used to studying, preparing, and worrying before any major decision — which are tendencies I’ve realized afford me a feeling of control. But I didn’t know how to think about starting a family. There wasn’t a manual for me to pour over, or a multiple-choice test that could tell me if my husband and I were ready for kids. There were just the incessant comments from family members asking when they could expect little ones pitter-pattering around the house.
It was actually a chance comment from our landlord that helped us in our journey to start a family. My husband was sharing with him that we were looking for a house and soon would be moving out of the apartment we had rented from him. He asked if we were planning to start our family, to which I replied, “Not yet — it doesn’t seem like a good time.” Our landlord leaned in and said, “You know, there’s never really a good time to have kids. You just have to go for it.”
This random comment took so much pressure off of a decision that had been weighing on my heart. I had been looking for — and expecting to find — certainty in this decision. Rather than expecting the stars to align or for the clouds to spell out B-A-B-Y in the sky, though, I realized that navigating this decision called for open conversation with my husband and honest discernment in prayer.
My husband and I discussed what we wanted our future would look like and our goals for ourselves and for our family. We tried to steer away from considering hypothetical factors beyond our control, and instead focused on the more concrete and known facts in our lives: my mental health, required business travel, and other serious realities. What constitutes grounds for avoiding or seeking pregnancy will vary from couple to couple, so it is essential to communicate openly and honestly.
After a couple of months, my husband and I again reevaluated and came to discern that we wanted to start our family. Because we use natural family planning (NFP) for family planning rather than hormonal birth control, we were quickly able to pivot from avoiding pregnancy to achieving pregnancy. Using NFP also gave us a wealth of information about my menstrual cycle and general health, which helped in pinpointing any potential challenges to conceiving.
When we realized we were pregnant, we had just moved from a one-bedroom duplex into a small house. We were both in jobs we hated. We had no way of knowing that we would be bringing our baby home weeks before a global pandemic held the world captive. The simple truth is that no matter how hard we might have tried to find the perfect moment to start a family, there’s no way to know what the future will hold.
There’s always more money to be made, or a nicer house in a better school district, or a career advancement to the proverbial corner office — but in the words of Lemony Snicket, “If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” My husband and I discovered that there really is never a “right” time to have a baby — the perfect conditions don’t exist, and there are always challenging conditions to be weighed seriously. That space between the “perfect” and the “challenging” is grey and requires a lot of reflection and prayer and conversation to clarify.
It helped me to look for a desire — small and barely perceptible at first — growing in my heart. This is the place within where God’s voice meets our lives, and it takes effort to attend to it. Once I noticed that desire, I learned to explore it with self-reflection and conversation with my spouse. We asked ourselves: What was driving that feeling — was it fear, or something bigger? When did we feel it most strongly? What happened when we took that desire to prayer — did it change?
Discerning when to grow your family is a process of dreaming what the future could hold, which is both exciting and terrifying. And just because you may discern that you want to grow your family doesn’t mean that the road is smooth — many couples face infertility or other complications that send them in new directions. But if your discernment roots your decision in love and not fear, then you can trust that this desire has been planted in your heart for a reason — and that God will be walking with you on this adventure.