When I found out that I was pregnant at the start of my senior year of college, precisely two things went through my mind:
1.) Oh, crap.
2.) Did I just ruin my life?
Immediately, visions of everything I had planned for my life flashed before me, from the study abroad semester in Italy to the cute downtown apartment to the job where I would stride across the street, coffee in hand, like the opening to every romantic comedy ever made. I feared that having a baby would mean the end to my own life as I knew it, and throughout my entire pregnancy, I mourned the loss of all the things I thought I “should” do before having a baby.
The idea that motherhood means an end to, well, pretty much anything adventurous, is so prevalent these days. In fact, some women are actually creating pre-baby bucket lists, filled with things like eating raw cheeses in France and traveling to soak in hot, bubbling springs. But when it came to my first pregnancy, I have to be honest with you: I didn’t even have time to make a pre-baby bucket list before I was already knocked up.
So, did it hurt me? Am I forever bitter that I didn’t get to check rock climbing and volunteering in a third-world country or writing a book off of my life list? Will I live the rest of my life in endless regret?
Contrary to what I assumed the night I took the pregnancy test, I’ve still been able to accomplish goals that have made me very proud. I’ve been able to run races, start a successful business, give back to others and make a difference, travel to places I had never dreamed about, and yup, even write that book. Quite honestly, my actual “post-baby bucket list” turned out to be way cooler than my pre-baby bucket list would have ever been.
Now that I am, at 32, a veteran mother (ha), I have been thinking long and hard about what I would advise other women contemplating motherhood to do. Should you make it a hard and fast rule to do some kick-ass things before you plunge into parenthood? Or should you go with the flow and adjust your bucket list as you go?
The answer is, I think it depends. Like so many things for women, defining what life will look like after having a baby is very complex and personal. Everything from a privileged status to childcare support to educational level to geographical location and opportunities will all affect what kind of life you are able to create as a mother.
For instance, I didn’t mourn my inability to travel the world pre-baby, but I also had family members who were able to care for my kids when the trip opportunity of a lifetime came around later. I may have not penned the Great American Novel before I popped a kid out, but I had a partner whose insurance provided us with stability so I could try my hand at writing eventually.
I hate to even use this word, but I think checking off that elusive pre-baby vs. post-baby bucket list really comes down to balance; a balance of hitting some goals before pursuing parenthood while acknowledging that there’s no reason to check off every box either.
Mandy Lange, 28, a Denver mom of two children, admits that while she is glad she studied abroad before having kids, she also acknowledges that becoming a mother actually motivated to try things completely out of her comfort zone too.
“There’s so much I never would have tried, like pursuing writing, running a marathon, and moving across the country, if I had just followed the normal course I had planned out for my child-free young adulthood,” she tells Babble.
On the other hand, Erin Heger, a 29-year-old mom from Kansas, explains that she while hasn’t felt “too restricted” by motherhood, it has been challenging to see how much life would change after a baby.
“In general, I’m team ‘you can do whatever you want with a baby,’ but that is also coming from a place of privilege, and while I do think it is true to some degree, I didn’t realize how much harder it would be,” she says.
There is no easy answer to how much you should accomplish before having a baby, but I will say this, based on my experience as a mom of four who has also endured two miscarriages: Kids grow up and nothing is ever guaranteed.
In other words: You could check off every item from a theoretical pre-baby bucket list and then never actually have a baby. You could decide to have all the babies and then realize that you actually kind of hate everything your “bucket” list. You could decide that there’s no reason to wait on your bucket list while having babies and check them both off together. Or you could be OK with not checking everything off your life list in your 20s and wait a few years for the kids to grow up.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that life doesn’t end when you have a baby. So, check off the bucket list, scrap it, shelve it, or just keep working away on it — baby in tow, if you want. But don’t think that you need to have everything “done” before you have a baby. Because the truth is, the adventure is just getting started.