Anticipating becoming a parent

Men and women talked about whether or not they had expected, wanted or planned to have children. They discussed how they had felt about the idea of having children before becoming a parent, and if they had taken a deliberate approach to having a child or experienced an unplanned pregnancy. A few people talked about negotiating with their partner about when or if they should have children. People who were single, experiencing fertility problems, or in same-sex relationships faced additional decisions about how to become parents.

Many parents described having felt a strong ‘drive’ to have a child, or ‘always knowing’ they would become a mother or father. For Matthew and Daniel, same-sex attracted men who were fathers through surrogacy (separately), the desire to become a parent had made coming to terms with their sexuality difficult when they were younger, as they had assumed they could not have children. A few others who said they had not wanted to have children had changed their mind once they met their current partner.

Lara wasn’t sure she wanted children until she left her marriage to be with her current partner.

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A few people described being ambivalent about having children or said they had not been ‘in a hurry’. For some, growing concerns about age-related fertility facilitated their decision to have a child. Friends becoming parents prompted some people to consider having a baby.

Beth had not imagined having children with her partner. As she entered her 30s and her friends began having children, she started to think differently.

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Many parents described a planned approach to having children. Some had very clear conversations with their partners, such as Andrew, now a father of four, who said: ‘We were both very direct – yes, we want to have children, and, yes, we’re getting on. So then we got married, and started to try for children.’ People in same-sex relationships or confronting fertility issues also discussed at length different approaches available to them to have children.

Susanne and her same-sex partner not only had to agree to have a baby together, but also had to decide how they wanted to go about it.

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Several parents conceived after stopping with contraception or becoming ‘less careful’ about trying to avoid pregnancy. This was often following general conversations with their partner about having children in the future. Most people said they and their partner were happy when they conceived, but for some the news of a pregnancy brought complications.

Kirsty’s partner initially did not share her ‘urge’ for a baby as he already had a child from a prior relationship. When they had an unplanned pregnancy, they both took some time to ‘think about it’ before deciding whether or not to go ahead.

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Other people faced social or family pressure to have children, or simply expected they would become parents. This was particularly the case for some parents from diverse immigrant backgrounds. Several people entered marriage or long-term relationships assuming they would have children with their partner. If men and women in these situations discussed having children with their partner, it was to decide on when to have children or how many children they wanted.

Ajay and his wife waited two years after marrying before having their first child. This made their family members back in India worried that they had ‘medical problems’.

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A few parents experienced ‘unplanned’ pregnancies, including three people in their late teens. Some people’s relationships broke down following an unplanned pregnancy, but for others the pregnancy strengthened their bond with their partner. Many people who were in relationships talked about negotiations over when to begin trying for a baby. Some couples differed in their opinions on timing. Several women with older male partners felt pressured by their partners to begin having children earlier than they preferred. Other women who wanted children earlier than their male partners then experienced fertility issues and struggled not to feel resentful.

Jane’s husband was not ready to have children until they were in their early 40s. During intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatment, she described getting very ‘cross’ with him each time she menstruated.

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A few people had to decide whether to become parents together. For some, this was because the pregnancy was unplanned and each partner had differing views about keeping the baby. In other cases, one partner wanted to start a family while the other wasn’t sure.

Although Luke initially wanted his fiancee to give their unplanned baby up for adoption, he had a ‘change of heart’ in the last trimester.

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A few parents had to overcome social or physiological hurdles to have a baby, including not being in a relationship, experiencing fertility problems, or being in a same-sex relationship. After unsuccessful IVF treatment with a lesbian friend, Matthew, a single gay man, became a father through surrogacy. Some heterosexual single women had not met ‘the right person’ by their mid-30s but had a strong desire to have a baby. Sian underwent IVF as a single woman while Kahli’s friend agreed to conceive a child with her but with her agreement that he did not have to take on the role of father after the birth.

Kahli had always wanted a second child, but when she found herself single at 35, she started thinking about other ways to have a baby.

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Many parents who had difficulty conceiving tried IVF. While most conceived on the first or second cycle, a couple of people underwent up to eight cycles. After French miscarried following her second cycle of IVF she decided to pursue intercountry adoption, eventually adopting three siblings from India. Several people were concerned about the cost of IVF. In response, some set a time limit on how long they would pursue IVF, while others implanted two embryos rather than one.

Melissa and her husband decided to try IVF for a limited time. If they didn’t conceive, they were willing to accept a life ‘without children’.

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People in same-sex relationships explored different strategies for becoming parents. Lesbian couples had to decide who would carry the baby, who would provide the egg, and how they would obtain sperm (from a known or clinic donor). For gay men, whether single or partnered, options included cooperating with a female friend willing to carry the baby or be a co-parent, or surrogacy. Men who chose surrogacy needed to make decisions about who would carry the baby and how they would obtain a donor egg.

A single gay man, Matthew explained the different pathways to parenthood he explored before settling on overseas surrogacy.

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