Baby Blues: You're Ready, He's Not!

Love, Family

He wants kids—just not yet. How to handle the question of when to start a family.

It's not as though the obsession is unwarranted. On the subject of procreation, you could say that Emily and I are like two companies that have reached an agreement in principle but are still negotiating over the details. For starters, we both know we do want to have kids, preferably two of them, ideally one of each sex. We also both want to be young parents, a desire that is, for me, rooted in my own childhood. My father was almost 40 by the time I was born. As a 12-year-old, I remember being faintly embarrassed by his bad back and outdated sense of humor, and envying the kids whose dads could throw a spiral and tolerate popular music. Emily had the opposite experience: Her parents had her when they were in their twenties, and the relatively small generation gap shows in her close relationship with them.

But there's starting young and then there's starting now. I'm all for the former, but not quite reconciled to the latter, and that's where our conflict, such as it is, arises. Every time Emily tells me that another one of her coworkers is pregnant, or informs me, pointedly, that a couple in our social circle has stopped using the pill and started trying for a baby, I feel a little tug of apprehension, knowing what comes next: "Why does she get to have a baby? When can I have a baby?" (Echoes of my mother, circa 1987: "Why does Suzy Florsheim get to have a cleaning lady and I don't?")

It's not that I don't feel ready to be a father. Modesty aside, I'm great with kids, and a lot better equipped to raise one than plenty of first-time fathers I've known. It's more that I'm not ready for my entire life to change, and I don't quite understand why Emily—so similar to me in so many other ways—is.

Work is certainly part of it. I spent the first five years out of college toiling away at a series of low-paying, unglamorous jobs before finally landing one that paid me a decent living and offered a reasonable degree of fulfillment. Having finally gotten my career pointing in the right direction, I'm uneasy about the prospect of putting it on autopilot in order to focus on something else. Having a baby to go home to needn't affect my nine-to-five performance, of course, but it would mean an end to the routine late nights and after-hours socializing that seem to be expected of anyone with an ounce of ambition in my field. For Emily's part, as a medical resident, she has the more demanding job, but her residency is of fixed duration, and taking a few months of maternity leave won't set her back.

Money, too, is a consideration. Together, we earn enough to support the two of us, but add a third and it's going to get dicey. Again, having finally gotten used to having a bit of cash left over at the end of the month, do I really want to go back to that post-collegiate feeling of "can I really afford this sandwich?" And that's before factoring in childcare, which, in New York City, often means a nanny.