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Are Women More Ready Than Men to be Parents?

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"Are you ready for fatherhood?" my friend emailed me. "Feel free to answer yes, but then I will know you are either a fool or a liar!"

I read my friend's email to my wife, covering my soon-to-be-father nervousness with a chuckle. It's not like I shouldn't have seen it coming. Sarah is eight months pregnant.

But in that moment it hit me like a tonne of dirty diapers: Am I ready to be a father?

Last week I was a grad student living with roommates in Boston. This morning I woke up beside my pregnant wife in Toronto. We've been doing long-distance through the pregnancy. Now that we're finally reunited she seems a lot more pregnant. Little Peanut will come at some point in the distant future, I kept saying to myself.

The future is now, and Little Peanut is growing. Soon she'll be off to college. They grow up so quickly, I'm told.

When I moved back to Toronto and into our condo it was crawling with baby gear: pink onesies, cute little skirts, pampers, knitted tops and matching booties.

Standing in our bedroom, holding a breast-pump I wondered how this all happened so quickly. As a mechanical engineer, I also wondered how the gadget worked. Pumping the handle and feeling a gentle suction against my chin our relationship flashed before my eyes.

* * *

We met in Mr. Holm's biology class in high school. We went to prom together. Except for two dating sabbaticals in university, we have been co-pilots ever since Gr. 12 (14 years ago). She's my girl. And I'm her guy.

As undergrads we had a brush with babyhood.

"I'm late," Sarah said on the phone during final exams period. "What do you mean you're late? You're a metronome. How late?" I asked. "About a week," she replied after a guilty pause. I spent the final days of my final exams fretting. How could this have happened? How am I going to support a baby? I'm screwed. After our last exam we met in the university common area where she gave me a big hug, whispering "I've got my period. I must have been late because of exam stress."

Are you ever ready to be a parent? Is there ever an ideal time to start a family?

In that parallel life, Little Peanut would be a 10-year-old. Surely as a 31-year-old I'm more prepared now to be a dad than when I was 21, but for some reason, I feel as ill-equipped.

Like many of our DINKS (dual-income-no-kids) peers, we put off having babies through our 20s. We were too busy having fun: travelling, moving cities, changing careers, and exploring together. We retired before we retired -- freedom 25.

On two occasions during this time we had written-off kids altogether. The first time was sipping care-free margaritas in hammocks somewhere tropical. Kids would certainly cramp our lifestyle, we thought. The second time was somewhere in a developing country where we concluded that humanity is unjust, overpopulated, and has already seen its best days. Why bring a kid into this crazy world?

Eventually, these feelings faded and we got more excited about being hypothetical parents and shifting from a couple to a hypothetical family.

Sarah's ovaries joined our Saturday morning latt├ęs when she hit 30. Lacking in vocabulary, but clear in message, they cried one word, "BABY!" I took notice and wondered if women were naturally more ready to be parents than their male partners, or did they just feel more pressure because of the incessant tick-tock of their biological clock?

Sarah's talking ovaries and ticking-clock solicited my understanding. She works at a medical information center and brought home a stack of peer-reviewed medical literature on talking ovaries, from which I learned four things.

First, the average Canadian woman gives birth to her first born when she is 29 years old, which is older than I anticipated. Second, because of Western medicine, the risk to a pregnant woman in her mid-30s is only somewhat increased. Third, the health risks to the child increases if the mom is beyond her mid-30s. Finally, a woman's fertility rates decline beyond her mid-30s.

We "pulled the goalie" last August hoping to be pregnant soon...with one catch. I moved to Boston to start grad school and Sarah kept her trendy lifestyle in Toronto. We planned our visits around her fertility cycle and on her second conjugal visit to Boston we scored a goal!

Feeling Little Peanut's first kicks was like watching a meteor shower or the northern lights. I was never sure if there'd be more action, but each flash was magical, and put a smile on our faces. So did the 150 beats per minute of her little heart that we heard through the fetal Doppler. Despite the long-distance, it's been absolutely magical!

I'd be a fool and a liar to say that I'm ready for Little Peanut, but is anyone ever ready for parenthood, really? I'm confident that my co-pilot and I will manage fine with our new passenger. But it would be helpful to have some tips from the veteran pilots out there!