Missing out? (Particularly for those of us with biological clocks)


A close friend of mine has just told me that's she's pregnant. I'm really, really happy for her, of course. But I'm also having a weird and awful emotional reaction.
I recently got engaged. My fiance and I had decided to put off the wedding until I submit (9-12 months away). He has a job he likes and is looking to relocate to an even better one at the end of the year. So we have this idea of new life, new job (fingers crossed), new place, newly wed all in about a year's time. Then we thought we might try for a baby once I am established in academia (ha ha!) and he has settled into the job - say 3 years time.
Then this comes along and suddenly that feels like a lifetime. My friend is younger than me, married, with a career and now going to have a baby. I know it's terrible to have the green-eyed monster take over but I feel overcome with sadness. It feels like doing the PhD means putting off living and may even mean missing out on the things I want most in the world. I had no idea I would feel like this - it's such a shock. I just feel heart-broken that my life is on hold for my thesis! I don't know what else to say. Anyone else (particularly the women out there!) feel this way?

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======= Date Modified 21 Mar 2010 19:52:16 =======
Hi Florence. I'm guessing I'm quite a bit older than you, I'm 40, but I can very much relate to your post, even though I am single so children are not on the agenda for me, maye in another life, but not mine as it is at the moment.

I feel that life is passing me by because I am so poor, and will be until the PhD ends, which could take another 4 years - I am part-time and self funded. It means I worry constantly about money, I can't pursue interests such as yoga and dancing the way I want because I can't afford the classes, and there are social things I can't afford to do. Some of my friends have this whole other life apart from me, and I can't wait for the day when I can join in with them. Maybe even go on holiday once in a while.

I think if you want children with your fiance more than anything in the world, then that is what you should prioritise. Why not have a baby during the year most of us willl spend when the PhD is finished and we are looking for another job? You could still do some research, get some work published. I have heard that baby care and research/writing can sit reasonably well together. Or you may be able to get matrnity leave as a PhD - possibly this is a very good time.

I am a firm believer in the positive power of jealousy: It tells what we really want in life. I get jealous of people with good publication records and who give brilliant papers. I'm also jealous of people with beautiful open plan Frank Loyd Wright style flats by the sea, with spare rooms for their friends and office space. I don't know what that says about me!


I am totally with you Florence. I'm in my second year and really thinking about suspending/quitting as I just feel like academic life is not compatible with my personal family values. I'm 25 with friends settling down and having children and I do feel like I'm missing out in life and I want to prioritize - I don't want to be trying for children in my thirties to find out I can't have them.
Sorry for rant but needed that!!


Hey Florence, I know what you mean. I will be 29 when I finish my PhD, which isn't old, but my friends are well ahead of me in terms of settling down with their boyfriends, buying houses, getting married, and having babies. I am really happy with my situation at the moment but I do wonder if I will meet the right person any time soon and also how I would incorporate babies into my career plan! I would love to have children and will be gutted if I don't, but it's also really important to me to get my career going as well. I guess it's not really an issue for me right now because I don't even have a steady boyfriend, but I do look at my friends and think how nice it would be to be settled, in a serious relationship, with my own house etc. I guess it's important to just remember that everyone goes at their own pace, and things will happen for you when they are meant to. Not much consolation I know, but you have the foundations in place (a fiance, the beginnings of a successful career etc) so keep your chin up and it will happen when it's meant to! Best, KB


I know this more of a ladies thread but I'd just like to say that since I started my MA (I'm now doing my Phd) I have fathered 3 children in 3 years. To the same lady of course.


Hi Florence,

I'm 22 so am not in a rush to have babies but in the past year and a half since starting the PhD I've become more and more aware of the sometimes huge personal sacrifices you have to make...Things which I never seriously considered before I started (for example having worked about 10 hours a day, every day, for the past 2 weeks). Because it's not just the PhD is it? If you manage to finish it in any sane length of time then there's the hurly burly of academia, or, conversely, trying to persuade non-academic employers that having a PhD will not harm your ability to do a 'normal' job *rolls eyes*.

I've thought about this quite a lot recently and whether just having a regular job and reading and thinking in my spare time would be enough and I came to the conclusion that it wouldn't, right now. I want my work to be out there, I want people to read it, I want to debate about the things I care about rather than carrying it all around in my head with me. And right now that means more than anything else (health and family aside, of course).

This post probably wasn't in any way helpful but I'm not sure I can offer constructive advice. Just to say that you're not alone.


It's an issue I've given some thought to recently as well - I'm 29 and will be starting a PhD this year. I would quite like to have a child some day, but it's not an all-consuming desire for me as apparently it is for some women. Also I made the decision that if I had to choose between the PhD/research and having a baby, I'd choose the research, I guess because I feel any silly girl can churn out babies, but not everyone can do scientific research, and I feel I'm making more of a contribution to our collective future by doing this than by producing yet another unnecessary human being in an already overpopulated world.

But then I hold my cousin's little baby girl, and my heart melts and I wish I could have a little one of my own. Hopefully there will be an opportunity - I hear the final year of the PhD is not a bad time for it! But I'm not going to miss out on opportunities just so I can reproduce, I think I'd regret that more than I'd regret not having a child, and would end up resenting the child for it. I guess I'm a bit influenced by my mum, who was a real star academically and loved her research - she could have gone far, but gave it all up not long after her PhD to have children, and was never anything more than a (reluctant) housewife and occasional part-time school teacher. I felt she never really forgave us for that, though of course it was her choice.


Well I am at the other end of things than most of you guys. I graduated before many (most) of you were born and did what everyone with an economics degree did in the 80s - went into finance. I fairly soon realised it wasn't for me but it took me 16 years to get out (well the salary did help) during which time I took an MA at Birkbeck (evenings) and had my two children. I realised that I wasn't happy and that I didn't want my obituary to say "Accountant" so I quit, took an MSc with the intention of taking a PhD but funding became an issue. I got a job lecturing and have just (at the age of 44) started my PhD.

My point is that at different times different things are higher priority - those of you who are in your twenties can devote time to your PhDs - I am finding little bits of time here and there and am having to cut corners as I go - I would love the luxury of going off to investigate areas which may turn out to be dead ends. You still have plenty of time to find someone, fall in love, have babies. I met my husband when I was 27, we lost 2 pregnancies and finally had our first when I was nearly 33 and our second when I was nearly 35. If you are in your early twenties, enjoy it, don't get fixated on the future.

At the moment I feel that I am not being a good enough Mum (what with working full time with a two and a half hour round trip commute by car, and the PhD) and am not being a good enough PhD student. An example is holidays which have to be planned to incorporate my research - as one of my (part-time PhD student but with much older children) friends said "I can't believe you are dragging the children round national parks for a holiday while you do PhD research".

Listen to your heart it will tell you what you should do (but your head might tell you to wait a while).


I am a female and I definately do not feel this way. I don't ever want to get married, and have no interest in having a child. I may want a child one day. but I'm not interested in getting married. I do get irritated by my PhD holding me back sometimes though. My partner is about to go travelling without me for 6 months because I have to stick around and finish this thing off. I also get very envious of friends who have 'real' jobs and can afford lots of nice things.

Sorry you feel this way.

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This has been very much on my mind. Up until recently I have been adamant, that although I will have kids cos my hubby wants them, I would do it just to please him and I would look after them but have no emotional attachement - I'm the youngest in my family and I've never held a baby or really even seen one up close! And it seems to me that my dog is far cuter than any child - and more clever, she can sit, beg, spin, shake your hand(paw), lie down, fetch, bark on command etc etc. Babies can't even hold their heads up.

But, I got married last year and my 20 year old sister in law has just announced an unplanned pregnany (its a bit of a scandel in the family :p ) which has made me think I should be thinking about a family. I don't think I should think about it though until I am officially a Dr. - I know many people who are on their 7-8th year of writing up because they had babies mid-way. So I am using it as motivation to get the damn thing handed in.

At the mo I am more annoyed by the fact that all my friends who didn't do PhDs are earning A LOT of money whilst I'm a rubbish stipend that is due to finish in October. There are NO academic jobs in my field at the mo. This leaves me with basically having to do temping and get an office admin job in my area, my field is quite specific and a bit too 'fancy' for any of the industry in my local region. So basically I'm going off to find a job that I could have done probably without A levels. The wage will probably be less than my stipend. I feel like its all a complete waste and if I had gone on to be a consultant like everyone else me and my hubby could be living the high life with nice holidays and doing up our house how we wanted, rather than having to botch everything and get it done for cheap.


There is never a "right time" to have a baby. There's always something you will need to do, other commitments, money being tight, going up for promotion...

In terms of close to being a right time, certainly after you relocate and once you're in a job with good maternity leave benefits and you're out of the qualifying period, so probably at least year after you start the job.

I think - and this is just my own opinion and I'm sure there's many who can prove me wrong - that you have a choice of either sacrificing time with your children for your career, or sacrificing your career for your children. At the moment I'm in kind of the reverse situation to you - my life (and career) is on hold because I have two children which means I am extremely restricted as to what I can do, where I can go, how much time I can spend on things.

I did feel like you did before I had my second baby, and I remember it well. It's horrible and it feels irrational and crazy, but there's nothing you can do to change how you feel. On the plus side, you've got a perfect opportunity coming up when your friend gives birth to get some extra baby experience under your belt before you're thrown into the lion's den yourself :)


I think I know what you mean. I'm a bloke, so the biological clock thing isn't quite so fundamental for me, but I'm going to be 30 by the time I finish my PhD. Then a couple of post-docs with limited-length contracts and the financial instability that comes with them, and I won't be earning a proper guaranteed wage until I'm getting on for 40. I don't know yet whether I want children, and I'm single so it's not relevant at the moment, but I do feel that working in academic research can really impact upon your hopes of having a settled family life. I have friends who work in law and banking, and they're my age, but own houses, are in long-term relationships with stable employment, and it all feels somewhat unfair really.


This is such a great thread. I'm genuinely sorry you're feeling frustrated Florence, but I'm also rather grateful to you for starting this one off!
I agree with the others that there's rarely a truly "right" time to have a baby, there'll always be another rung to climb on the career ladder, there'll always be something going on with family, geography, etc, when a baby comes along life simple gets rearranged because it must. Three years won't feel like a lifetime if you find your occupation for those three years fulfilling. But if you're filling those three years simply to pass the time, then maybe re-think your plans? Getting established in academia could happen within three years, but equally, you could be ten years down the line without a permenant job. I don't mean to sound negative, only that life (especially in academia) is uncertain, and I think we spend a lot of time building models of our lives, based on vast numbers of "ifs" and "maybes", when the truth is that with all the logic in the world, we simply don't know. "the best laid plans.." and all that.
It's like my decision to give up a better phd for one near my husband and his daughter - I'm here in our home alright, but for most of the three years his work has taken him away most of every week. I actually might have seen him as much if I'd taken the phd further away.
I've never been that keen to have children, but at the same time, I come from a large extended family and love it. If I don't have my own kids I guess that will die out to some extent. Regardless of children I've come to doubt that academia is for me, I simply don't feel I have the heart for that alternative rat race. I want balance and stability in my life, and I'm just not sure research would be conducive to that.


Hi Florence,

I'm not in the same position, but thought I'd comment.

I'm young (25) and nearly finished my PhD (8 weeks and counting), and have absolutely no intention of having a child until I'm at the very least 30 and have a stable career and income, and own my own house. My partner really wants children but we have agreed to wait until we're settled. I think you're decision to wait 3 years until you're settled, is a very reasonable one and I really don't think anyone should rush into having a baby without giving it considerable thought.

It's understandable that you feel broody - we all do at times, but I think when it comes to children, you have to follow your head at times. I think too many people rush into having children, and then find out how much hard work it is. Children require 24 hour attention, a stable home and family, and a lot of love and patience, and I think it's best to wait until your positive you can provide that before deciding to have them.


Hmm, well for me 'waiting' is going to have the opposite effect, as I have the stability you all talk about right now (long-term relationship, we own our house, we both have well-paid professional jobs) and I'm about to throw it all away (well, the job anyway, hopefully not the relationship etc!) to embark on a PhD and hopefully a research career. If anything I've probably waited too long, maybe it would have been better if I'd had the baby earlier. But if I'd done that, maybe I wouldn't have felt I had the freedom to choose the PhD, I would have felt trapped in a career I hated because of pressures to be a proper responsible mother. There's a lot to be said for not having children, I am starting to feel, not least the freedom to follow your own hopes and dreams, and fulfil your own potential.

It's a shame to have to make that choice though. I hope I haven't left it too late, and there will stlil be an opportunity for me in the next few years. Maybe. For all the media scare stories about infertility and the dangers of being an older mother, there are plenty of women having babies in their late 30s and 40s with no problems at all. It's not the ideal age physically, all other things being equal, but in real life other things are not equal, and there are many other complicating factors.