I remember thumbing through (what I was told was) The Pregnancy Bible — What To Expect When You're Expecting — when I was only weeks pregnant, feeling waves of panic as I scanned through the "Before You Conceive" chapter — filled with things I was supposed to have done/considered/planned before getting pregnant. It was Chapter 1 of a guide meant to help me, and I was already having an anxiety attack. How could I continue with this pregnancy when I failed CHAPTER FREAKING ONE?
There are things we tell each other that we need before getting pregnant — whether it's from our families or religious texts or just general social norms. But I'm just going to say it: No you don't. You might prefer it or expect it, but need?
I've heard enough stories from young (and formerly young) moms to confidently climb up on this soapbox and declare through my megaphone: You can be a perfectly happy mother/woman/person without these things. It's easier for society to group people together with scripts and stereotypes — and, in some respects, it's easier for us to have our lines and cues clearly marked — but you don't have to live inside those imaginary constraints to reach your goals.
You can accept your unique narrative and know that you're not the first or last person to enter parenthood without your checklist neatly and orderly marked.
Here are are 10 things society says we need to do before having a baby, but we totally don't:
1. Have a marriage certificate
I understand the religious expectations and the heavy weight of guilt and disappointment that might come from having a carriage before marriage. But if I can cut through that fog for just a minute...
Listen — a marriage is a beautiful foundation to start a family, but it's not the only sturdy one out there. In fact, if you're looking at current statistics and opinions of the up-and-coming Millennials, a marriage certificate certainly doesn't hold the weight that it used to. Not that it's unimportant, but that it isn't the end-all-be-all for a healthy relationship and a happy life.
You can raise your child in a loving two-parent home without that signed legal document, like Heidi.
You can have a child with your boyfriend and then go on to get married a year or two down the road, like Darlene and Caitlin. Or you can get hitched during your pregnancy, like Melissa, Chaunie, and I did.
If you're single and pregnant, that doesn't mean you won't go on to find happiness — just look at Krishann and Kay. And if you're feeling alone in your single-motherhood journey, you have plenty of other young moms who understand — like Tania, Cecilia. and Emily.
I refuse to believe that young unwed mothers are the biggest detriment to our society — and a lot of you agree.
2. Complete your pregnancy bucket list
I've certainly said this before, on pretty much any outlet that'll let me vent: MOTHERHOOD IS NOT THE END OF YOUR GOALS/AMBITIONS/SELF. That idea of a "pregnancy bucket list" (or a Leap List, as Honda advertises) is infuriating, only because it's one of the top prevailing myths about pregnancy.
Motherhood doesn't have to symbolize the closing of one book and the opening of another. Instead, it can be a momentous milestone that shifts your perspective, refocuses your goals, and makes your accomplishments that much more satisfying.
3. Have a cushy emergency savings, and life insurance, and a 401K, and enough money for a college fund...
I didn't have a job when I got pregnant. I didn't have health insurance. SAVINGS? Haaaa. I graduated college and hours later I was impregnated — so talk to me about timing.
Would it be easier with those things? Totally. And if I were carefully planning my life, I would have some money before adding the extra expenses — at least a job, for goodness sake — but if that's not your story? If you unexpectedly got pregnant and struggle with the assumption that you'll never have money, you'll never achieve your career goals, you'll never break through the obstacles that suddenly sprouted into a cage?
It might be more challenging, but if there's anyone up to the challenge it just might be you — with your youthful optimism and energy. There's also something to be said for children watching their parents build a life from the ground up. Tenacity, resilience, a strong work ethic — these are important lessons that they can learn from you.
And to top it off: Is financial security a prerequisite for good parenting? I'm not quite sure about that — considering finances can be grown over time, and don't our well-off grandparents have war stories of struggles and money issues from the early years? Despite what society says, young motherhood isn't a life sentence for poverty and government assistance. You can continue to build your life — just at a a different pace.
4. Finish your college degree
While I'm a big proponent for young women having a means for financial independence and finishing any education they might need, it is possible to balance school and motherhood — whether it's your undergrad (like Emily), your Master's (like Tara), or your Ph.D (like Megan).
Heck, Darlene even traveled abroad for a semester WITH HER TODDLER.
Society likes to define status and intelligence with a diploma, but we all know that's not always the case. Don't let them dictate who you are and how far you can go.
5. Reach a certain career status
And did you know that mega-star Sofia Vergara was a young mom? (Bet they told her she'd amount to nothing.) And what about all of these super successful bloggers who started their families at a young age?
6. Have all the baby stuff
No, you don't need a $700 stroller. No, you don't need a $600 crib. No, you don't need all the baby stuff. You need a place for your baby to sleep (which could be your bed), a place for your baby to live (which could be rented), food for your baby to eat (which comes from your body), and SO MUCH LOVE (which is in you, right now).
I understand the temptation, especially if you're comparing yourself to other moms in your neighborhood or even just to the glossy magazines in the OB office. But please trust me: Those baby years fly by so fast, and suddenly you're left with a $1000 Bugaboo stroller that collects dust. Stick to IKEA, thrift stores, and hand-me-downs. It's a much smarter choice.
7. Own a house
Raise your hand if you're renting an apartment/house! (My hand is raised right now.)
We all know it's a much better investment to own than rent, but not always. Maybe your career is still young and the possibility of job relocation is floating around — and you really can't commit to a 7- to 10-year investment. Or maybe you're just started out and the crushing weight of a mortgage threatens to spread your finances too thin.
Don't stress. Renting is just fine. Priorities.
8. Find yourself
"Babies having babies," they'll mutter under their breath.
"The 20-something years are for being selfish and finding yourself!" they'll loudly proclaim.
Except maybe motherhood can be the strongest force of personal growth — reevaluating everything you once thought was true. Maybe the best way to "find yourself" is to finally see yourself in the (very honest) mirror that children hold up. Maybe motherhood will create the urgency you need to make the right changes.
Motherhood isn't the only route to self-analyzation and growth, but it's certainly an underrated one.
9. Plan it
I had an unplanned pregnancy and so did A LOT of young moms on Early Mama, like Gemma and Chaunie and Ashlee. In fact, 37% of U.S. births are unintended and about half of all 20-something pregnancies are unplanned.
Despite how it feels, you're not alone.
And sometimes it's the unplanned moments that teach us the most important unexpected lessons.
10. "Be ready"
What does this even mean?
No one is ever fully ready to have a baby. Ever. There's always more money to be made and personal growth to be done — and there are advantages and obstacles no matter when you decide to start a family. So just keep your mind on the positives and accept that fact that "readiness" is rarely a reality.
Your turn: What else does society say we "need" before having a baby?