The Ticking Biological Clock: When To Stop Taking Birth Control

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Sex Advice: Birth Control Methods & Contraception
Want to get pregnant, like, yesterday? Not so fast ...

It's a scenario we've all heard before. Jane and her boyfriend, John, both successful professionals in their mid-30s, are in a committed relationship. They know they are going to be together for the long haul and that they will, eventually, get married. So they buy an expensive loft together in the city — perfect for their fast-paced life of happy hours, fine dining, art exhibits and traveling.

Then it happens. One by one, Jane's friends begin to have babies. She's invited to countless baby showers, baptisms, and brisses. Jane realizes with a start that her own biological clock is ticking. She thinks, "Maybe I should stop taking birth control and just see what happens." One day soon thereafter, she broaches the topic with John in a fairly casual manner — after all, their relationship has run smoothly up to this point, right? Imagine Jane's alarm, then, when the conversation doesn't go as planned. John says that, of course, he wants to have children someday. But that now is definitely not the time. He's not yet willing to give up the lifestyle that they so carefully crafted for themselves. And he certainly doesn't want to leave such a big decision up to chance, just "seeing what will happen" if Jane stops using birth control. Jane tries to change his mind, giving him all sorts of statistics about infertility in older couples. But John doesn't budge. Stalemate.

Many women find themselves in a similar position: They are ready to stop using birth control as a first step toward having a child (or another child), only to learn that their partners are not on the same page. When this occurs, it's easy to start catastrophizing, thinking in all-or-nothing terms, and focusing on the worst-case scenario. ("If we wait any longer, then I'm never going to get pregnant!") All of a sudden, the only thing they think about is their longing to get pregnant. The waiting and the uncertainty can be excruciating — and can put pressure on the partnership.

It is tempting in this situation to discontinue birth control, anyway. "My partner will never know, right? If we do get pregnant, I can just say that it was one of those rare accidents and that the pregnancy must really be meant to be." As attractive as this option might seem, I unequivocally recommend against it. Most women find that knowingly being dishonest with their partner is fundamentally inconsistent with their values, principles, and the person they strive to be. They would be starting the next, and very important, chapter in their lives on a note of secrecy and deception. If their partners find out about their dishonesty, there is a strong likelihood that the trust and good will that have been built up throughout the course of the relationship will be significantly diminished. Pregnancy is stressful enough without the added worry of relationship distress.

What should you do if you find yourself in this situation, when you want to stop using birth control, and your partner does not? First, check your thinking and see if you are focusing on the catastrophic outcomes I mentioned above. Although it can feel as though the situation is dire — that you must take action right away — the reality is that taking a few months to work through the issue with your partner will not significantly decrease your chances of getting pregnant when the two of you are finally ready to start trying. Fertility is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, and you do not "miss" the chance to get pregnant forever if you do not try in any given month. If you are over 35, should you and your partner begin to firm up a plan to start your family? Yes. But do you need to do something drastic, like discontinue birth control against your partner's wishes? No.

Couples find that many issues arise as they make the decision to stop birth control and try to have a child. Some of these issues are as follows:

  • The state of the relationship: Do you both feel that the relationship is on solid footing? Are you both committed to taking their relationship to another level by adding a child?
  • Finances: What are the additional expenses you would expect to incur by having a child? Can you afford to have a child?
  • Trade-offs: A newborn requires a great deal of time and energy (in addition to money). Are both of you willing to give up some of your individual pursuits and luxuries in order to make room for the new addition to the family?
  • Pros and cons of trying now versus waiting: What are the advantages and disadvantages of discontinuing birth control now? What are the advantages and disadvantages of waiting? Do both of you see the advantages and disadvantages in the same way? Keep reading...

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Article contributed by
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Dr. Amy Wenzel

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Amy Wenzel, Ph.D., ABPP is author of Anxiety in Childbearing Women: Diagnosis and Treatment and co-author of Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood.

Dr. Amy's highly anticipated next book, Infertility, Miscarriage, and Neonatal Loss: Finding Perspective and Creating Meaning, will be on sale soon.

Location: Rosemont, PA
Credentials: PhD
Other Articles/News by Dr. Amy Wenzel:

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