If you’ve made your way here via late-night Google searching, do me one favor: Forget every other article you’ve read on the subject. Forget the quiz that produced a statistical “readiness assessment” based on your hobbies and sex habits. Forget the checklists. Forget the quotes from experts who swear they know better.
They don’t; no one does.
I do know how you feel, though. The uncertainty. The second guessing. The Googling hard questions, hoping for a clear answer.
Not only was I unsure of my readiness, but so was the world. I didn’t look like the “established” moms smiling from glossy magazines stacked in my OB’s waiting room. I didn’t iron my husband’s shirts each morning, or earn a six-figure salary, or cook very well. Did I need more years to be selfish? Or was I maybe too selfish? Would I live to regret this?
I know a little more now — at the very least, I have a wider perspective. It’s been seven years since I first saw my fate reflected in a plastic pregnancy test, since I first asked myself that question: am I ready?
I’ll tell you this much: I wasn’t ready for sleep deprivation, or to spend my hard-earned savings (what savings?) on a baby. I hadn’t prepped my body with months of folic acid. I wasn’t even married. I failed by all “Ready for a Baby” standards … and yet I did have a baby, loved that baby, and successfully saw him through six years of life and counting. And we’re doing just fine. Better than fine, in fact.
Looking back, I was probably more ready than I realized. Maybe not in dollar signs or external milestones, but there are other signs, too:
1. You’re willing to make sacrifices for something/someone outside of yourself.
Notice I didn’t say you are making sacrifices, or you’ll easily make sacrifices, but are you willing?
If you’re still unsure, ponder this: The most basic definition of love (according to my wise therapist) is extending yourself on behalf of someone else. It’s sacrificing doing what you want to do for another person’s benefit. And so, in my experience, love can fuel the sacrificing because that’s what love is. If you would have asked me, “Do you want to attach this human to your nipple every hour around the clock?” I would have furiously shook my head no. No no no no no. And yet when it was my baby who was hungry, my baby who needed me, that love stepped in and had me willingly sacrifice more than I thought I could.
But that brings me to …
2. You have the capacity to love.
This might sound like a silly sign, but it’s an important one. It’s harder to give our best love if we weren’t nurtured and loved as kids. Some of us (a lot of us) have wounds so deep and painful we forgot we buried them under temporary band-aids. We unknowingly built walls to protect ourselves from chaos and uncertainty and trauma, but as we get older those walls morph into barricades preventing love from flowing in or out.
When assessing if we’re “ready” to have a baby, maybe it’s just better to ask if we’re able to love. And being really, really, really honest about it.
(Note: If you’re one of those wounded souls doing the best she can, as many of us are, don’t expect a baby to fill those holes or to replace the love you never received. But with enough self-reflection, honest awareness, and a bit of therapy, motherhood can be the best motivation to heal our pasts for the betterment of our kids. You’ll see.)
Childhood traumas aside, love is our birthright. Love is possible. Walls can be torn down, wounds can heal. And if we have love to give, then we already have enough.
3. You know how to take care of yourself.
The single best thing we can do for our kids is to be our healthiest selves, not just physically but emotionally. The more clear-minded and stable we are, the more we can offer our kids. Can we keep ourselves healthy? Are we ready for that?
4. You love yourself … or you’re working on it, at least.
We can’t fully love anyone else until we love ourselves — as cheesy as that sounds. When we know how to nurture and act kindly toward ourselves, then we understand how to extend that to other people. So instead of stacking your bank account or traveling the world, maybe it’s best to simply practice loving yourself.
Or maybe you’ll be like me and only learn how to love yourself through the lens of loving your child. Either way, self-love is more important than all the unchecked boxes on your Baby Readiness Checklist. If you struggle with this pre-baby, you can certainly learn on the job. For most of us, it’s a life-long lesson.
5. You have a support system in place.
No matter what it looks like. And if you don’t have one, you’re willing to build one.
6. You’re open to learning, changing, and growing.
Motherhood is a growing machine; it can’t help but change us. There’s really no way to be ready for that, other than the willingness to say YES. YES to change, YES to growth, YES.
If you’re someone who digs her heels into the sand and will not be budged from her perspective or opinions or sense of identity, then buckle up, sister. Get ready.
7. You can be responsible.
There’s a deep, raw responsibility that comes from having a baby, in that you’re someone’s mother. Your life affects another life about as deeply as it possibly can. Our choices, words, attitudes, experiences — all of it! — affects how our kids develop, forming the structure of their central narratives. I mean, how can we be ready for something like that?
Good news: You can clean up your act. You can be responsible. Like, today. Right now. Are you ready?
8. Somewhere in your heart, you want to have a baby. (Even if the thought is really, really scary.)
Of course deciding to have a baby is scary; it’s just about the biggest life change we’ll go through. That, and it’s cloaked in uncertainty, unpredictability, The Unknown. It’s branded with life and death. Even the people who feel unequivocally ready — the people who yearn and beg to be parents — have moments of fear and doubt. We’re only human.
But I also think that women know what they want, below the static of societal pressure and stigma, beyond the conditioning of life. Instead of asking if you’re ready to be a mother, ask if you want to be a mother. Listen to the answer.
As for the rest of it, you’re capable of so much more than you think you can handle.
From where I stand — as someone who was overwhelmingly unprepared for motherhood — I can see the truth: There’s no way to know if you’re ready. You’re probably not. How can you be ready for lessons you haven’t learned, physical exhaustion you haven’t experienced, responsibility you haven’t carried? You can’t prepare for what you don’t know is coming.
But I’m 97 percent sure you’ll figure it out as you go, as we all do. There are so many examples of mothers who initially felt irresponsible, broken, scared, and decidedly not ready — look at Rebecca Woolf, Meagan Francis, Glennon from Momastery. And there’s me, of course. Our babies have been our teachers, our inspiration, our muses — “readiness” be damned.
Bottom line: If you wait until you’re totally ready, then get comfortable waiting … and waiting … and waiting. There’s always a reason to not turn your life upside down, to not leap into the void.
I’m so glad I jumped.
Ready or not.