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How Prepared is Too Prepared to Have a Baby?

Oct10

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Amy,

Having not yet had any children, and not having many close friends who have had children, I am in need of advice from someone who can offer a rational-to-somewhat-emotionally-influenced answer. After reading along on your blog for a while, I’ve concluded that person is you!

My husband and I are in what I’ve been referring to as a “planning period” for children. We’ve been together 10 years, married for 5, and are in out late 20’s with successful careers. We’ve talked a lot of things out, crunched numbers, increased our saving, gotten vaccinations, discovered and addressed some of our fears, crammed in tons of stuff that we won’t be able to do for a while (nights in cigar bars, roller coasters). My husband is  very much a “planner,” always has been, and he’s dragged my intuitive, by the seat of my pants self into those ways with him over the years. I’ve come to appreciate the freedom that I find in the moment when I am well prepared for something.

Up to a point. All the things we’ve done so far have been reasonable-to-borderline-over prepared. We arrived at the EVE of our “trying” when he said he wanted to open up a conversation about testing options for our as of yet non existent baby for genetic disorders and other problems. Which opened a whole can of worms of percentages of risk and rates of divorce and ended backing us up logically to a decision to wait and him demanding that we both undergo full genetic screening for every disorder possible, though we have no family history, before anything can possibly happen so we can make sure to identify the minute possibility that 2 recessive genes that have never shown themselves on either side of the family would combine. We’ve consulted 3 doctors who have said that no testing is necessary, and we might regret the info if we did have it, but my husband is insistent.

At this point, my concern is more about my husband’s mental health than anything. I agree, in theory, that it would be good to know as much information as possible before walking down a road that will change our lives forever. But I can’t help feeling that this response is not normal, and I’m not sure what I should say or do. Is it that I’m letting my impatience and impulsiveness get in the way to being supportive, or is he just flat out crazy? How does everyone else deal with these fears for their children and still keep having kids?
Me

No, your husband’s response here is not normal, or even reasonable, given your circumstances and what three (threeeee!!!) different doctors have told you. No, it is not “impatient and impulsive” to decide to have a baby without full genetic testing prior to pregnancy when there is no family history or any real reason to suspect that there is some terrible condition lurking in your recessive genes.

Most of us get knocked up, show up at the OB’s office and fill out a little family history form with a bunch of checkboxes and then the doctor glances at it to see if there are any red flags that would necessitate further testing of the fetus down the road. Some couples still opt to skip the testing altogether. Others have it done and then make a decision re: terminating or continuing the pregnancy in the face of not-good results, while probably the vast majority of couples get the happy all-clear news they were hoping for.

Your husband is a planner, but there’s definitely something troubling about the AMOUNT of planning he’s insisting on here, that tells me he isn’t really emotionally ready to have a baby, or is struggling with a high amount of anxiety about the prospect of fatherhood. When is it going to be ENOUGH, I wonder? Because yeah, even if you go ahead and find doctor number four (foooouuuurrrr!) who is willing to subject two healthy adults with no family history of genetic disorders to a barrage of testing (that your insurance will probably balk at covering)…what about the stuff that could STILL go wrong? Chromosomal disorders, physical birth defects, Autism? Not everything is hereditary, and I feel like the more you go along with your husband’s borderline-control-freak ways, you’re just going to keep on finding yourself getting stuck over another issue that he’ll invent down the road.

You seem to be putting your way of approaching the world (intuitive, impulsive) down quite a bit, as inferior to your husband’s need for plans, plans, plans. And while sure, sometimes it’s good to stop and think things through, sometimes you do have to let go of the plans and the flowcharts and the risk/reward scenarios and just DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, lest you get stuck in an endless loop of what-ifs and then-whats. Having a baby — while a huge, life-changing thing, yes — is one of those times. A leap of faith that everything is going to be all right, even if the timing isn’t perfectly ideal or you haven’t checked off every last item on the pre-baby bucket list. The fact that pregnancy just HAPPENS for so many couples who might not even have been Officially Trying or were using birth control or whatever, and those couples have gone on to be perfectly thrilled with their perfect surprise baby, should be reassuring that hey, life finds a way, and you guys are waaaay ahead of the game here, with all the planning you’ve done thus far.

But I don’t think you’re ever going to be ahead of the game ENOUGH for your husband. He’s psyching himself out and over-thinking EVERYTHING, big time, and if this fixation on genetic screening wasn’t going to be the sticking point, something else probably would be. You absolutely cannot control everything about pregnancy and birth and parenting — who your child is or what kind of impact they will ultimately have on your life — and I bet this is pretty frightening to your husband. But he knows YOU want a baby, so he keeps telling himself that he’ll be ready if you can juuuuuuust cross a few more things off his mental to-do list, but then you’ve crossed those things off and he still doesn’t feel ready. And so he’s reaching and digging to add more things that he hopes will bring about that feeling of “readiness,” and somewhere along the way those things stopped being reasonable or “normal” or remotely logical. (Financial stability? Good. Nights in cigar bars? Fun. Vaccinations? Uh…okay, I guess. Three different doctors’ appointments about unnecessary testing because he’s concerned about the divorce rate among couples who have children with genetic disorders? Yeahno.)

Instead of a genetic counselor, I think your husband should talk to a regular counselor. His fears and anxiety level for your not-even-conceived baby (and what it will do to his life and your marriage) are excessive, no doubt. You cede an incredibly amount of control over your own life once you have a baby, and this is probably a TERRIFYING prospect for him. It’s scary for a lot of parents-to-be, of course, but most of us are able get to a place where we decide that it will be worth it and okay, let’s just quit the pill and see what happens. I wonder if your husband is going to be able to get himself to that place on his own, and I think you have every right to put your foot down and say ENOUGH with the planning, the doctors are right, it’s time for some intuitive impulsivity and that’s not always a bad thing.  You can’t force someone to be ready to have a baby, but you can at least push them in the right path of getting ready. For your husband, I think that path is one of confronting a few more fears and control issues with a therapist, and that this path of genetic testing is just another wild goose chase.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “How Prepared is Too Prepared to Have a Baby?”

  1. J Oct 10 at 5:27 pm Reply Reply

    I would not have a baby with this guy until he sees a therapist (and frankly, I’d like to have some joint therapy too so we could discuss the subject together with another rational person in the room).

    But yeah… babies are unpredictable, totally. You can’t really control them, stuff happens that you don’t plan for (and isn’t always THAT big a deal when you’re used to babies and children, hello 3am emergency room visit)… but it sounds like at this point, there’s a BIG potential for you (and your baby) to be utterly miserable down the road because of all the incessant planning and nail biting over things that might happen — can you imagine what he would be like when the baby starts crawling?! Or when he hears that there’s flu going around preschool?!

  2. Lesley Oct 10 at 5:51 pm Reply Reply

    Also…what happens if you or your husband DO show some predisposition for one disorder or another? Do you then not get pregnant and not have kids at all? Do you have to terminate every pregnancy that shows a chance of some kind of “disorder” during a quad screening? Amy is right. It will never end unless you put a stop to it before it even starts.

  3. Marni Oct 10 at 6:09 pm Reply Reply

    While my husband wasn’t that extreme, his primary concerns / fears boiled down to one thing: What can we do to avoid having a baby who is somehow physcially or mentally challenged. And, honestly, many of my friends’ husbands had the same fear, so I don’t think that it’s abnormal, though your husband seems to be taking it to an extreme. I don’t know why exactly, but in talking to my DH, it seemed like he was already a little afraid he wouldn’t love the baby, and that if the baby wasn’t “perfect” it would make it that much harder. Now that we’ve been thru it and have been parents for a little while, I don’t think the fear will be nearly as strong the second time around. I wonder if the planning and “what ifs” happen in other parts of your husband’s life? Does he bring a lot of extra clothes/medicines/etc when you travel, “just in case”? Does he have contingency plans for the backup plans, “just in case”? I would agree that some counseling to get past these issues is a good idea, whether they’re just in the baby planning or in every aspect of his life. Babies are inherently unpredictable, and you can’t ever plan for everything, so he’ll need to absorb some of your seat-of-your-pants attitude.

  4. Anon Oct 10 at 6:56 pm Reply Reply

    Or you could Wait forever and have all the testing done and still end up with a1 in 100000 rare cromonsoal disorder like my baby. And you realize that I still love him no matter what. Life can’t be planned. . .

  5. Anon Oct 10 at 6:56 pm Reply Reply

    Or you could Wait forever and have all the testing done and still end up with a1 in 100000 rare cromonsoal disorder like my baby. And you realize that I still love him no matter what. Life can’t be planned. . .

  6. radiem Oct 10 at 8:41 pm Reply Reply

    Yup, this guy needs to see a counselor or psychiatrist. He’s letting normal anxieties and fears spiral out of control, and he’s ignoring multiple experts’ advice, in favor of…more worrying. It sounds like a mental health problem that should be addressed before going forward on any baby plans. 

  7. Katie B Oct 10 at 9:27 pm Reply Reply

    As someone with what my counsellor refers to as a highly anxious personality *and* a baby, I just want to echo Amy’s excellent advice and the advice of the other commenters. For people with capital “A” anxiety, no amount of reassurance is enough – we need to find other strategies to deal with irrational, but very real-feeling and consuming worries. Second, babies are inherently unpredictable. And that can be overwhelming sometimes, but it is so, so worth it. 

  8. LBH Oct 11 at 9:38 am Reply Reply

    Marni, I think you are on to something there, too. My husband felt exactly the same way, to the point of, OK let’s quit while we’re ahead and not have any more babies b/c we’ve managed two already and have avoided any screwups so far (Not said in that form of Jerk, but in essence.. yeah).

    I feel bad for this guy–he clearly needs reassuring and it’s just not ever going to be that cut and dried.

  9. JD Oct 11 at 9:58 am Reply Reply

    i echo everything above…if this is what the OP’s husband is like when there isn’t even an empryo, imagine what it would be like when a baby is actually concieved and birthed, it’s going to be a whole new can of worms with the big bad scary food the baby needs to eat, or the clothes the baby needs to wear, should the baby ever be taken out of the house? sorry no you can’t hold the baby and please don’t breathe within a 6ft radius of the baby beause you haven’t recieved your vaccination for that virus that is only found in in 1/1000 of the population on that tiny island off of australia…this child will end up a bubble wrapped kid until they can leave the house legally

  10. andrea Oct 11 at 9:58 am Reply Reply

    As someone with some major anxiety issues, counseling would be a great idea.  I did a year of counseling prior to having our daughter and it helped me so much in dealing with the pregnancy, the inlaws, and everything else that happens.  I still refers to my “textbook” and stop occasionally to see if I am “jumping to conclusions” or “trying to put words in someone’s mouth”.  I completely understand being so paralyzed by fear that you do nothing, but as my counselor explained that too is making a choice.  I wish you both luck!

  11. JD Oct 11 at 10:01 am Reply Reply

    oops, embryo*

  12. ER Oct 11 at 10:26 am Reply Reply

    I’m a planner, but one of the best pieces of advice my friends gave me before my baby was born was that not everything was going to go according to plan & the best thing you can do for yourself is let that be OK. I had planned on a natural birth (ha!), breastfeeding for a year (ha! ha!) and a boat load of other things that just didn’t work out according to plan. I was disappointed on a few occasions, but I let it go and focused on my wonderful, healthy little guy instead of the “plan”. You can drive yourself crazy planning & I am not only worried about your husband, but also you and the amount of pressure he is going to put on you when you do get pregnant. I think having you both talk to someone is the best course of action to move forward. Good luck!!

  13. EW Oct 11 at 12:16 pm Reply Reply

    ER makes a really good point, and this is why you guys need to deal with this now.  Your husband needs to be able to deal with birth and everything else not going as planned.  It is a lot better to talk to a counselor and figure this out now than when you are in the delivery room or when you are both exhausted with a newborn.

  14. Clueless Oct 11 at 4:17 pm Reply Reply

    And…. What if you have done all this planning and box checking and then have difficulty conceiving?! We were going to get pregnant in August so that I would have the summer with the baby before going back to my public scho job. 10 months and a lot of stress later we actually got pregnant. Over planning and lack of flexibility will definitely be a problem during the baby making and baby raising part ofyour life.

  15. MK Oct 11 at 6:32 pm Reply Reply

    So I was the one who was biting my nails when I got pregnant. I was terrified about genetic disorders, birth defects, everything. The one thing my doctor told me is simply that testing does not yield 100% accurate results. He said that with the testing they do, even if you get an undesirable result from a test, and you decide to do a second test – like an amnio – you probably eventually get the test result you were looking for. So, if you are looking for problems, you’ll probably find problems. If you are looking for a second test to eliminate your fears of potential problems, you’ll probably get a second test result that will tell you that there are no problems. On top of that, most of the test results are percentages – they aren’t black and white. They only yield results in terms of the likelihood of issues.

    The vast majority of babies are born healthy. And that is the best you can hope for. And, you also have to have faith in the fact that you and your husband are smart, resourceful people ( and good planners), and that if you do have a baby with special needs, you are going to find a way to adapt. No matter what, you are going to love that baby to pieces.

  16. LB Oct 12 at 7:51 pm Reply Reply

    My husband is also a planner and it takes him an excruciatingly long time to make big decisions (well it’s excruciating to me, I like to plan, but sometimes I just want to jump in and see where life takes me). For instance, we decided to get married and have kids during a late night conversation a full YEAR before he actually proposed. We talked about stopping birth control before we got married, and a year and 10 months later (and about 4 years after that late night discussion) we were still using condoms because as much as he wanted kids he wasn’t ready to make the decision to actual try to get pregnant. Well, I’m 9 weeks pregnant right now with a surprise baby and we’re both thrilled. He keeps saying that if I miscarry that we’ll “try again”. I don’t remind him that we never were trying. Sometimes decisions aren’t really made, they just happen. Good luck to the original poster!

  17. Jah Oct 14 at 2:08 pm Reply Reply

    When I first saw this post, I got excited thinking that I was going to hear from someone who’s a type-A planner like me. Although I’m a far cry from the questioner’s husband, I can definitely relate to what I’m assuming might be his underlying need to do what he can to not screw up too bad as a first time parent — it just seems that he’s taking it to the extreme!
    I think the advice given is great, but I just wanted to say that I’m with Clueless. After so much time spent preparing to be a parent, my husband and I finally start trying to conceive. We’re now in month 7 of trying to add to our family and I can say without a doubt that you can’t plan for everything you might encounter as a parent, including the fact that you might not be able to conceive. It’s been pretty humbling for me, and I’m learning to let go and just live. I say it’s time for you two to throw caution to the wind and just go for it (assuming you can convince your guy to forgo the genetic testing)!

  18. Eliza Oct 15 at 12:28 am Reply Reply

    Say you were to go ahead with the genetic testing and it reveals that you have a 1 in 100 chance of having a child who has some unnamed disorder.  Or a 1 in 1000 chance.  Would your husband still want to have children?  Would you?  I think you should consider what you would do with that information, because what if you would still want to have children, but he would not?  You run the risk of introducing a host of problems into your marriage that can be avoided by having a frank conversation now about whether or not you (as a couple) are truly ready-emotionally, not logistically- to have children.  Wishing you the very best going forward!

  19. Nelly Oct 17 at 7:55 am Reply Reply

    Sounds like an extreme version of what most men seem to go through. In my husbands case he worried about what would happen if we found out there was a problem while I was pregnant. He worried about the actual childbirth. My husband is NOT a natural planner. When I found out I was pregnant he was talking diaper genie pros and cons before I had even wrapped my head around the idea of having a baby. I think some men just go a little nutty and it sounds like your husband is one of the extreme cases. Counseling doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

  20. Heather Oct 24 at 12:42 am Reply Reply

    Yep, sounds like natural worries taken to the extreme. Story of a struggle with OCD and Anxiety, the subtitle on the book of my life.

    Suggest that something you guys should do, for the sake of the baby and those terrible divorce rates, is to seek couples counseling before getting pregnant to ensure you’re each and the relationship is in tip-top shape. Perhaps discuss with a counselor the need to have private as well as couples sessions, sooner rather than later so you can discuss with the counselor the fears you are having without doing so in front of your husband first. Then bring it up in the couples part, then he can talk about it in his own session, and finally, hopefully, he will be dealing with his “stuff” enough to move forward. Ensure that your goal with the couples’ counselor is clear: Step 1 is to get us ready to have a baby. Sooner the better, but without “rushing it.”

    The best part of this plan is that as the baby becomes a source of anxiety, he will already have established a dynamic with this counselor who can help guide him through it.

  21. Tabitha Apr 20 at 7:46 pm Reply Reply

    As a prenatal genetic counselor I just want to chime in here.  So the genetic screening you are talking abut is specifically “carrier screening” and though the chances are pretty low to have a baby with a specific condition, it is still possible.  While many of the people I see are pregnant when they do carrier screening, some are preconception.  

    Preconception is actually more ideal because depending on what screening you are doing results can take kind of a while to come back (around 2 weeks for one person) and then if one person is a carrier screening for the other person can take 2-4 weeks depending on the type of screening they are doing.

    Recommended carrier screening for everyone at this point is only for 2 conditions: cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy.  These are the most common conditions we see.

    Other “universal” carrier screening is available, but it is not recommended because a person’s chance to be a carrier for any of the more rare conditions will be significantly lower.  It is still available though, and at this point screening through Counsyl or Inheritest or Good Start Genetics is not particularly expensive at this point.  Doing the screening will give your husband probably some peace of mind, but it will also take away this excuse.  

    It does seem like he’s a little too anxious about this- maybe because he is a planner, maybe because of his profession, or maybe because he has other concerns.  Hope that helps a little.

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