When Elise* was 23, she began dating a man named Josh*. While they hit it off at first, the red flags began appearing after they were together for about a year. In particular, she felt pressured by Josh to have children, even though she thought she was too young and was more excited to pursue the career in business she was just beginning than having children. Josh was devastated when she got an IUD, and their relationship ultimately ended after three and a half years because of lifestyle differences and the pressure he was putting on her. Now, at 31, Elise is rising through the ranks at her company and happily engaged to a man named Adam*, with whom she shares similar priorities around careers and family planning.
Elise's story isn't unique: Between 2000 and 2014, the average age at which women gave birth to their first child rose from 24.9 to 26.3. For women with a master's degree, that average age reached 30. And when it comes to women who want to pursue their professional passions, 40% believe it's better to wait to have kids until they're "well-established" in their careers (and 20% say it's better not to have kids at all), according to a 2015 survey from Pew Research Center. (Not to mention, research suggests that having a supportive partner, who has similar priorities to yours, can make all the difference.)
But still, despite the fact that more and more women are waiting longer to have children (for a whole host of reasons), the myth persists that women are usually the ones pushing for babies in relationships, which is clearly not always the case. So, we spoke with Elise to learn more about how this particular dynamic played out in her relationship.
Will you tell me about your relationship with Josh?
"It was my first serious relationship, and we became serious pretty quickly. We moved in together not long after we started dating. He bought a house about a year into it. After that, he started to bring up the issue of kids. At the time, I was 23 and he was four years older. Early into our relationship, we enjoyed things like going out downtown with friends, going to concerts, and traveling. We had a lot of fun, but once he bought the house, he wanted to get serious and put an end to our 'fun' lifestyle. He was very driven and came from a very religious family."
So was it a surprise when he began pushing the issue of children?
"He asked me before our first date if I could see myself having kids in the future. I said 'yes,' because I was 23 at the time and thought, 'Well, anything's possible in the future.' After a few years of seeing my friends get pregnant and the lifestyle changes that go along with that, I became pretty turned off to the idea of having a baby. I told him this, and he said, 'If you don't want children, what is your purpose here on Earth?' I couldn't answer that, but I knew I wanted more in my life than children."
I think many women assume they want children when they're young, and then as they grow older and understand the responsibilities that come with it, realize waiting or not having them at all is the best choice for them.
"Totally. I said 'yes' because I do see myself as a mom one day, but it’s hard to wrap your brain around being a mother when you're in your early 20s, starting to make money, and establishing yourself professionally. Children were not on my radar yet at all. While I wanted to go out and travel, Josh wanted to have dinners with his friends who had children. He hoped I would look at how cute the babies were and get baby fever. I knew he had the capacity to be a great dad, but he had issues with anger and drinking that he needed to figure out before I'd even consider marrying him or having his children. We had obvious and glaring issues in our relationship that would never be fixed with marriage and a child."
How did he react when you explained you weren't ready for children?
"He dismissed it. He thought once I'd matured a bit I'd want kids. He was irritated when I got a seven-year IUD implanted, because he had plans to start having kids within a year of us getting married — he talked about kids way more than he talked about marriage. I didn’t include him too much in the IUD decision, which was probably a red flag for our relationship. We should have talked it out more, but I also thought, 'It’s my body; it’s my uterus. This is my choice, and this is what I want.' He was counting on his fingers how old we’d be if we waited seven years to have them.
"First of all, I am so tired of having to explain how IUDs work to men. It’s like I have to draw them a diagram. And even if divine inspiration struck and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I want to be a mom tomorrow,' I could get it removed. He was very stuck on having a son like him. He heard rumors about women being less fertile after 30, and he wanted to get started as soon as possible so we could have multiple children."
Was the IUD the nail in the coffin?
"Sort of. He just wouldn't let the subject go. I technically left him, but he forced my hand. He said he wouldn't build a future with someone who didn't have kids in their long-term plan. I told him I didn't have a long-term plan, and he said he wouldn't take the risk of marrying me and then me not wanting kids. If he were asked why we broke up, he would say 'Elise didn’t see herself wanting kids.' And that was one piece to the puzzle, but there was so much more than that that lead to us breaking up. It’s like, do you want me or do you want a baby factory? We split in 2011 after three and a half years."
So what's he up to now?
"He is married with a toddler and another one on the way, currently. He’s not a bad person; he just wasn’t right for me. People generally don’t change. If you’re looking for a huge personality shift after you marry someone, it’s not going to happen after you marry them. It truly was for the best."
And how about you? What's your life like, and how do you feel today about having children?
"My career is going great. I’m engaged to someone amazingly suited for me. My fiancé and I are getting married in July, and we have attended a few seminars on foster care and adoption. We may eventually try for a biological baby, but we both know we have a lot of love to give and would like to care for a child who is already here and needs love. I love kids and volunteer with two different child-focused organizations. It was never a question of not liking kids — for me, it's more of a question of: 'Am I ready, physically, emotionally, and financially?' Thanks to waiting, when the time is right with my current partner, I will be."
*These names have been changed to protect their identities.
Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about or passing on kids, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.