It has been said (by someone much wiser than I) that “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

But when something occurs to disturb those plans, you can end up feeling lost and confused.

Unsplash/Ben White

That’s what has happened to Mumsnet user SadOz, whose mother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. With only two to four years to live, the dying mom is pressuring SadOz to have a baby … as soon as possible:

I am 34, and — although we are close and I love her and I consider her a really great mother — ever since I turned 26 (the age my mother had me) she has been pressuring me to have a baby, saying things like: ‘If you don’t have children, what will my life have been for?’ And since being diagnosed, she has upped the pressure.

Because SadOz is the only one of her three siblings in a stable relationship, she’s getting the full brunt of the grandmotherly nagging. The problem is that her partner doesn’t want kids:

The main problem is that my partner of 12 years doesn’t want and has never wanted children. Although I always imagined myself with children, when we met in our early 20s it didn’t seem important and I hoped, although didn’t expect, for him to change his mind. I assumed I would at some point get broody, as my other friends had done, and that would force the issue i.e. I would have to make a choice — but the broodiness never kicked in.

Whether (and when) to have children was something she worried about even before her mom’s cancer diagnosis. With her window for having children closing, she’d come to a decision to “use the next year to travel and perhaps live in countries I have always wanted to live in, and I would have a baby (with or without my partner).”

Now, however, that calm, rational plan doesn’t have any place in her life:

However, now my mother is ill, the timeline I had laid down has been torn to shreds — and it isn’t just for her that I want to have a child while she’s alive, it’s also for me — I would really value my mother’s help.

But contemplating a baby seems to lead to a series of obstacles. Since her partner doesn’t want children, does she break up with him? Then what? She wrote:

But I don’t want to break up with my partner — although we have our problems like any couple, I can’t imagine being with anyone else. In addition, my mother loves him too and would be devastated if we broke up. I also don’t know if I would even have time to break up, heal, meet someone I could fall in love with, get pregnant and have a baby in the time my mother has left.

And that’s not her only practical worry. While she makes decent money, she works in an industry without maternity pay and doesn’t “feel ready” for pregnancy:

I also live overseas and I’m not sure whether I should move home now — but my partner can’t/won’t move due to his work, and my work is also tied to a certain location-specific industry. But I know I’ll look back and regret not moving back home and spending more time with my mother.

The whole mess has her feeling like a failure and wanting to hide:

I’m in an impossible situation — I really just want to go to bed, pull the covers over my head and not think about any of it. I feel that I have totally messed up my life and I can’t understand how I have let myself end up in this position. All my friends somehow managed to have careers and relationships and children and I feel like a total failure. I have no idea how to work out what I want or what I should do.

Dear SadOz,

First, you need to stop and take a breath. Under the circumstances, I see no issue with spending a day hiding under the covers. Personally, I prefer to disappear into the bathroom and stand in a hot shower for an obscene amount of time. This gives me the chance to yell “just leave me alone” in a melodramatic and satisfying fashion — even if no one is actually bothering me.

You’re dealing with a lot of things. Better grab some chocolate while you’re at it. And vodka. (To consume while you sit in bed, not in the shower. As the voice of experience, I should note that taking vodka and chocolate into the shower can lead to expensive plumbing issues, minor injury, and a killer headache the next day.)

But once you’ve taken a few hours to process the weight of the decisions you’re facing, it’s time to stop running. Because I get the impression you’ve been running from the big choices for a while now.

It’s easy to do. When there’s no particular reason to shake things up, coasting along with a good-enough job and relationship is comforting. The days and years can slip by, and (until you get to a crisis) you don’t really question whether your life is heading where you planned.

But now your mother’s illness has you contemplating your mortality. The prospect concentrates the mind, and things that were on the back-burner of life are now front-and-center. That’s why you’re questioning your job, relationship, and childbearing plans. And that’s why your mom is pestering you for grandchildren.

Because your mom is going through a crisis too. You say she has always wanted grandchildren, and the possibility of dying without seeing a grandchild is clearly preying on her mind. You obviously live far from her too, so the baby subject may be another way to feel connected to you.

But should you have a baby? I’m going to be blunt here: you sound like you want one, but are afraid to face what that might mean for your life and relationship. Of course, you’ve thrown up a lot of reasons why maybe you shouldn’t. So let’s deal with that first.

The fact that you never became baby crazy is irrelevant. The idea that at some point, a woman’s babymaking alarm goes off and they’re just “ready,” is a myth — like the idea that the clouds will burst open and birds will sing when you find your perfect wedding dress or the notion that it’s possible to eat just one doughnut out of a full box.

Some women who want to be moms never feel “broody.” Some women hated being pregnant, but love motherhood. Some women literally glow through their pregnancy, enjoy the experience, and snap right back to their former weight, only with bigger breasts. (Speaking as the sister of one of those women, it’s okay to quietly resent them.)

So discard the idea that there’s a magic feeling that signals it’s time for kids. It’s never time for kids. Because there’s never a time when they’re not messy, expensive, and exhausting (and worth it). The question is whether it’s worth taking all that on. Will you feel your life is complete if you don’t have children?

Notice I didn’t ask whether your mom’s life will be complete without grandbabies, but whether you will regret not having children. In fact, I wonder whether you’re putting this on your mother because it’s so hard to admit that her nagging hits something at your core.

If you decide don’t want children, then you’ll have to ignore the maternal nagging. You know best whether it’s worth revealing that hard truth to your mother. Some moms will understand and let it go.

Others are nagging ninjas, who will find new and inventive ways to make you feel guilty. (Hi Mom! Glad you found my column. Yes, I know I haven’t called.) They learn these things at Mom Academy, right after they get supersonic hearing that can detect your racing heartbeat when you lie about when you got home last night.

If you decide you do want children, then you need to be honest with your partner. Don’t assume that it will be the end of the relationship. It’s not unheard of for men who aren’t interested in children to make a big exception for “my own children with the woman I love.”

But don’t blackmail him either. It looks like you’ve been avoiding asking yourself whether you have compatible life goals. So this is going to be a hard conversation. If kids are out of the question for him — and not having them is out of the question for you — then yes, it’s probably the end of the relationship. You won’t be the first or last person to have to face that, but that won’t make it hurt less.

Finally, regardless of what you decide, you need to go see your mom. Spend time with her. She’s probably frightened and she definitely misses you. That’s why you’re getting the baby pressure. But it’s not really about babies.

How do I know that? If you had been trying for children, but were struggling with infertility, I doubt your mom would be pestering you to get pregnant. Nor would she suggest you leave your partner for someone who could knock you up.

She’s facing her own mortality and she wants to spend time with her daughter. But it’s a lot easier to say, “so when am I going to have a grandchild?” then it is to say, “I feel very alone and wish you were here.”

So call your mom. Visit her. Because I don’t know if you’re going to regret not having kids. But you’ll definitely regret not spending as much time as possible with your mom in the time she has left.

Do you have a question or problem you’d like to share? Please email me at malia@dearly.com. All messages will be kept confidential, and any published questions will remain anonymous.

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