scorecardI put off having kids and prioritized my career instead. Now as an older parent, I wish I'd done things differently.
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I put off having kids and prioritized my career instead. Now as an older parent, I wish I'd done things differently.

Jen Glantz   

I put off having kids and prioritized my career instead. Now as an older parent, I wish I'd done things differently.
LifeInternational4 min read
  • Leslie Dobson, a psychologist, prioritized setting up her career over being a young mother.
  • Dobson faced fertility issues, underwent IVF treatment, and had her first child at 33.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dr. Leslie Dobson, a 40-year-old psychologist. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I always knew I wanted to be a psychologist. In my 20s, I was laser-focused on finishing my degree, attending graduate school, and completing my doctorate program. I knew I also wanted to have children but needed to find the right partner first.

I met my husband at 25 when we were both in the middle of our doctorate programs. We agreed that our priorities were setting up our careers and having financial stability. We decided to put off having children until we were both licensed clinical psychologists.

After getting my bachelor's degree, two master's degrees, and a doctorate, I was 29. I had spent 11 years in university and came out with over $500,000 in student-loan debt. I knew the best way to deal with those loans was to work for the government and be a part of the 10-year loan repayment plan. My husband did the same.

I started work as a psychologist in government-funded jails, prisons, and state hospitals. We eloped in Hawaii when I was 31, then had our first child when I was 33 and our second when I was 38.

I always wanted to find a career that I loved and use that to define who I was, instead of having that definition from a husband or kids, but now I'm 40 raising a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old. Looking back, I wish I had done things differently.

I had trouble getting pregnant, and I didn't expect that

I have three sisters, and as I went through my schooling, they were having babies. I watched them become moms and raise my nieces and nephews. I was happy for them but never jealous.

When my husband and I started trying, I couldn't get pregnant. I had an emergency abdominal surgery in 2015, and I didn't realize the surgery had led to scar tissue, injury to my fallopian tubes, and the loss of one of my ovaries.

I was not educated on fertility at all. I began fertility treatment and IVF and went through eight cycles, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I ended up getting pregnant naturally with my first child, but my second child was through IVF.

Having kids in my late 30s was harder than I imagined

I wish I had frozen my eggs earlier. I decided to freeze my eggs at 32, 34, and 36, and the process is harder to recover from the older you are. It's grueling on your emotions, your ability to maintain interest in life and in intimacy, and even your desire to see your loved ones because you're so exhausted.

My pregnancies were rough on my body. It took longer to heal from my C-section the second time, and it took way longer to lose the weight I gained. I also felt like I lacked the same energy and patience for the infancy stages and needs.

I remember spending so much time playing with my nieces and nephews in my 20s, but it's hard to focus on playtime with my kids at this age. It feels extra tiring for me to remove the doctor hat and put on the mom hat.

There are a few benefits

The greatest thing about where I am in my life is that I have stable income and can afford childcare. It's so helpful, especially if you're career-driven and want to work after you have kids.

I also can afford other help, like a nightnurse. The accrual of lost or broken sleep over months as a mother can make you anxious and depressed. With my second child, I hired a night nurse for $38 an hour so I could sleep.

Another benefit is my oldest sees me working so hard, in a career that I love, and I think it influences her. I want her to see the strength and confidence that comes from my work. On the days when I wish I had kids earlier, this is what helps me feel at peace.

If you want to have kids at any point, set yourself up for success

Before having kids, ensure you have a strong support system, including the people around you and your habits. Have a stack of healthy ones, whether going to the gym, meditation, or journaling, that you can lean on as you go through the process.

Kids are expensive and it helps if you use the time leading up to having children to grow your financial health and set up your career.

I like setting SMART goals — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound — for both my personal and professional life. If you want to put off having kids, at least do initial fertility checks, so you can be aware of things like your egg count or your partner's sperm count and health. The results can help you make a stronger decision about whether to wait or not.

I should've listened to the guidance around me

I wish I had kids closer together and closer to 30. Still, I wouldn't have rushed anything if my decisions had given my children the best life possible with safety, financial security, and present parents.

However, I still get sad thinking about being 52 when my daughter graduates high school.

I thought everything I was thinking and doing was correct. I went full-force on my career and pressed pause on everything else. When my sisters had their children earlier, I under-valued the older and more experienced people around me. I immaturely judged them. That was a big lesson to learn.