How I talked to my boyfriend about having kids
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl (2012)
You know what else Cool Girls do? They hate the idea of having kids, are ‘terrified of getting pregnant’, religiously take care of birth control, and then, by the time they’re about 35 (and definitely not younger) magically transform into a Cool Goddess of Fertility and give birth in a glow, all in the span of exactly 10 months start to finish.
As much as I hate her, here’s a confession: I want to be a Cool Girl too. I’m 31 and I want my boyfriend to think of me as carefree, fun, understanding, hot, and young. Talking about how I secretly worry that my ovaries are shrivelling up and how every cycle reminds me of another shot at a baby that we’ll never get back is the polar opposite of a Cool Girl.
1 in 6 couples have trouble conceiving, with age being the number one leading cause of issues (Freya, 2020). 27% of higher educated women in the Netherlands remain childless (CBS, 2019). Ask any doctor, and they’ll tell you that a massive factor in those numbers is that the men ‘aren’t ready’ to have kids until it’s biologically too late for the women.
As much as we are equal, there’s one excruciating biological fact that we can’t deny: women stop being fertile before men of the same age do.
Sure, sperm quality declines with age too (Harris et al, 2011), but not as unforgivingly irreversible as running out of eggs.
So as much as I may hate it, if I want to be ‘on time’, the responsible thing to do is to talk about having kids, and have a plan. This is not in any way science, but I thought my experience might be helpful for others. Here’s how I did it:
Step 1: decide for yourself how much you want kids.
Growing up I always sort of assumed I’d have kids someday. I got a ‘Baby Born’ for my 4th birthday, and that was that. As I got older, the idea of sacrificing my sleep for diaper changes and exotic holidays for saving for a Volvo started getting less appealing.
We’re probably the first generation where having a kid isn’t a logical next step, but a decision every individual can and should think about.
Babies are great (or so I keep being told), but they are also a LOT of work and sacrifice. It’s not a given that our kids will live happy lives (climate change, anyone?), and it’s more and more acceptable to want to grow old with your friends instead of with your family.
Step 1 in talking about fertility is understanding if and how much you want kids. If you can imagine a happy life without kids - good for you! Maybe you’re willing to wait longer and take more risk than if having a baby equals your main purpose in life. Both options are totally valid, but we don’t often talk about them. There’s no shame in really wanting kids, and there’s no shame in not wanting kids at all. It’s just *really* helpful to be aware of your preferences.
I personally am on the fence. I could probably live without kids, but I’ve got pretty big FOMO that it’s something I’ll regret later. I’m not sure if I want kids, but I’m very sure that I want *the option* of having kids.
Step 2: get your facts in order.
If you want to have a conversation with your partner that doesn’t end up in you saying ‘but I feel now is the time’, and them saying ‘I feel it’s not’, you may want to have some facts to fall back on.
Science is pretty clear: if you start before you’re 30, about 96% of couples will eventually have a healthy child. That number goes down to 80% for couples who start at 38 (Eijkemans et al, 2014).
In the Netherlands, the average age that educated women now have their first kid is 34 (CBS, 2019). For most women that’s fine, but for some that’s too late. Fertility is personal. Some women are fertile until a later age than others, and so *average* decline isn’t very useful. Jesper Smeenk, gynaecologist in Tilburg: ‘There are women who get pregnant without any issues at 45. But there’s also women who hear at 32: you’re out of eggs. And you can’t replenish those.’ So you’ll want to find out *your* fertility.
Shameless plug: my Grip test results were an incredibly good conversation starter. I wanted to know more about my hormonal health for me, but I won’t deny that I loved the fact that I now had a hard truth, undeniable fact sheet with my declining fertility spelled out. I’m in the bottom 30% of women my age when it comes to ovarian reserve. That doesn’t mean anything bad, but it does mean we probably shouldn’t wait until I’m 38.
I got my boyfriend a sperm test for Christmas. Not exactly romantic, but it made planning for the future feel like a shared project that we’re equal partners in.
Step 3: have The Talk.
“Calm down babe, it’s just your hormones talking.”
- what I thought my boyfriend would say
“OK so realistically we need to start by the time you’re 35, right? If you’re not ready, let’s split the cost of freezing your eggs.”
- what my boyfriend actually said
Boys aren’t the enemy, and the stereotype of men not being interested in having kids is unhelpful and outdated. A big issue with the Cool Girl is that she’s in the head of women more than the head of men. A relationship is teamwork, as is having a baby. If you can’t trust the future father of your children with your emotions, then you should maybe reconsider the whole having kids thing altogether.
I remember a rainy afternoon where I effectively broke down once we finally breached the topic. I cried big frustrated tears because I find it so incredibly unfair that I am by default the party that is going to limit our dreams and adventures as a couple, because my ovaries determine the timeframe in which we have to ‘settle down’. My boyfriend was understanding, also worried, and my life has gotten a lot easier since.
The simplest way to talk about when to have kids is to be open about how you’re feeling. Vulnerability is scary but helpful. “I am worried about waiting too long” is a good way to start. Taking the weight off the conversation using the facts you got together in step 2 helps.
I’m not going to advise you to stay calm, because it’s obviously a very emotional subject and you’re allowed all the feelings, but.. maybe try to stay calm? Your goal here is to understand both of your preferences from step 1. Remember that your partner is allowed to have different views than you, as heartbreaking as that may be.
Step 4: make (not) having kids a shared decision.
Once you know how much you want to have kids, how much he wants to have kids, and roughly when you should start to accomplish that, you can start making plans.
Whatever you decide, make sure you decide together. You can disagree, but whatever your conclusion is, make sure you commit to that outcome. Saying ‘yes’ when really you mean ‘no, but I’ll trick you later’ is a recipe for disaster.
Maybe you both find out that you don’t want kids. Maybe you both find out that based on your preferences and the data about your health you should start trying at a certain age to have a reasonable chance at having a great life without kids, but still a shot at having a family of 4.
My boyfriend and I agreed that we both would like to have kids, but neither of us think we’ll be ready in the next 5 years. Based on my otherwise good results but low ovarian reserve, that makes me nervous. We’ve decided that I’m going to freeze my eggs now that I’m still young and they’re high quality. I’m aware that this might mean we’re spending a lot of money on something we might never use (as I’ll hopefully still be fertile by the time I’m 36), but it’s helped me feel a lot more comfortable about our decision to wait.
Biologically, your age and health really do make a big difference in when you need to come to a decision. If you’re 25, all healthy, and he’s not ready, then you can probably safely wait a couple more years. If you’re 35 and have reason to believe it’s going to be harder for you, then you may want to tell him that he has to choose now or you’ll have to move on.
If one of you wants kids, and the other one doesn't (yet), then you’ll have to decide if your relationship is worth staying together. Again - there’s no right or wrongs here, there’s just being open with what you want out of life, and finding someone who shares those beliefs. If neither of you are willing to give in on your preferences, then that’s a valid reason not to stay together.
This all sounds simple, but is obviously excruciatingly hard. In reality you’ll barter, manipulate, try and convince yourself and him, and let this process take probably years.
That’s it. That’s how I talked to my boyfriend about having kids. We’ve got a plan, and I hope we can stick to it, together.
Before you all think I’ve kissed the Cool Girl goodbye and now live in some zen-like state of harmony with our time line in an Excel document: I wish. In reality I’m still scared of having waited too long, of not waiting long enough, of him leaving me because I’m putting too much pressure on, and of course of him changing his mind by the time I’m too old to find someone new.
Talking to him hasn’t fundamentally changed anything about my personality, and I’m as much trying to be a Cool Girl as I was a year ago. I’ve just told myself that the Cool Girl anno 2020 is strong not skinny, only eats Impossible Meat hotdogs, and is extremely open about her worries about fertility.
Why else did you think I wrote this blog?
If you want to do a Grip test to understand your personal fertility risk profile, click here.
Harris, I. D., Fronczak, C., Roth, L., & Meacham, R. B. (2011). Fertility and the aging male. Reviews in urology, 13(4), e184–e190. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3253726/
Marinus J.C. Eijkemans, Frans van Poppel, Dik F. Habbema, Ken R. Smith, Henri Leridon, Egbert R. te Velde, Too old to have children? Lessons from natural fertility populations, Human Reproduction, Volume 29, Issue 6, June 2014, Pages 1304–1312, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deu056
Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (2019) https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/nieuws/2019/19/leeftijd-moeder-bij-eerste-kind-stijgt-naar-29-9-jaar Freya (2020) Vereniging voor mensen met vruchtbaarheidsproblemen https://www.freya.nl/