Susan Higgins: I want to decide about babies

Name Susan Higgins
Age 30
Occupation Beauty PR
Relationship Married
Goals To decide whether or not she really does want to start a family, and to check her fertility levels

Susan’s story

‘Through school, university and then when I was starting my career, I’ve had it drummed into me that getting pregnant would ruin my life,’ says Susan, a beauty PR. ‘Now suddenly the message has changed. I keep reading that leaving it too late could ruin my life.’ Susan feels she should try for a baby, but is unsure about it. ‘It feels strange to go ahead and do something I’ve been carefully avoiding for years.’

Susan and her husband Ian appear perfectly poised for parenthood. Recently married, they have successful careers and have just refurbished their house. ‘I’ve always seen my life as having children in it and now seems the natural time to start.’

Career-wise, it’s also an ideal time for a break. ‘I’ve reached a comfortable place where the next logical step would be to either go for a promotion or to stay where I am professionally and have a baby.’

However, both Susan and Ian are daunted. ‘I don’t feel broody or excited about the idea of being pregnant,’ says Susan. ‘We’re worried about becoming smug marrieds who only talk about their kids, and don’t want to change our identities. There’s also the fact that I love my work so much – if I stopped doing that, who would I be? People have asked why I haven’t just got on with it – and maybe there is an element of trying to put it off.’

Finally there’s the nagging fear that getting pregnant won’t be simple. ‘I have no idea whether it will happen,’ says Susan. A recent visit to her practice nurse didn’t help. ‘If you need to lose weight or stop smoking, you can go to your GP, so I thought if you’re planning a whole baby, they’d have something to say! The nurse told me to take folic acid and come back when I was pregnant!’

Baby coach Beth Follini says

At the heart of Susan’s dilemma is a worry about how having a baby will change her sense of self. Right now her identity is very tied up with her career – and both she and her partner are very independent. Having a baby will change that. Women at this point are often so caught up in the life they have and the immediate impact of a baby – but they need to step back and look at the bigger picture. I’ll ask Susan to visualise who she’d like to be in 15 years’ time. Who is her ‘future self’? What’s her life like? Who’s around her?

Then we’ll unpick her fears of having children or of not having them. How realistic are they, and what contingency plans can she put in place to address them? Some women say they’re undecided but actually don’t want children yet worry about how they’ll be viewed. A man with no children but a dynamic career is often admired, but a woman may be pitied or thought of as hard and unfulfilled. With these women, we’ll really establish her sense of self, her own values, so she’s confident enough to deflect other people’s comments and judgments. Other women do want a baby but are scared of losing their careers – so we’ll look at the strategies working mothers have to enable them to keep going.

Many women want everything mapped out in advance. We’re used to a lot of control in our lives, so I raise the idea that not everything can be planned when it comes to parenthood.

First steps to deciding if children are for you

· Shut your eyes and imagine yourself in 20 years’ time. Now ask your future self: What stands out most about the last 20 years? Are children there or not?

· If children are there but you still have mixed feelings, write down everything your inner critic tells you about having a child. Then imagine your future self is there – how would she reply to this inner critic?

· Worried about how your relationship will be affected? Sit with your partner and write down, individually, what you value about your relationship and what you fear you could lose. Share answers.

Fertility expert Zita West says

People used to come to me because they were experiencing fertility problems. Now I’m seeing women in their late twenties, early thirties who are simply thinking about having a baby.

Susan has been frightened by the stories about fertility and age. She’s read about MRSA and is anxious about maternity wards. She’s worried the pregnancy will take a long time to happen – but also that it will happen straightaway! Ironically, worrying is one of the worst things you can do. Getting pregnant is easiest when it’s an unconscious thing. I often advise couples to lie in on Sunday, have a cup of coffee, a croissant and sex in bed.

Having said that, it’s no longer enough to tell women to ‘go away and have sex’! They want more than that – expertise from the beginning. I’ll look at Susan’s lifestyle, weight, fitness and stress levels, and her medical and emotional history. If there’s anything that looks off balance, we can correct it.

We do have a fertility MOT. There are fantastic tests, like an anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) blood test which shows egg reserve, but I won’t start unless Susan has been trying for at least six months. We don’t want to focus on tests and results unless we have to.

First steps to boosting fertility

· If you’re coming off the pill, don’t wait to get it out of your system. Evidence suggests that you have a better chance of conceiving in the first few months.

· Don’t use temperature charts to map your cycle. Get to know it through understanding your body.

· Many women don’t suffer an inability to conceive – just an impatience. Relax; as much as possible, and leave it to chance.

Interviews: Anna Moore

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