Some women say they can’t afford to have a child right now, while others feel these stressful times aren’t right for a baby.

By Brienne Walsh
Woman holding pregnancy test that says "maybe later"
Credit: Maitane Romagosa

Last year, when Jamie, 42, received $20,000 from a loved one nearing the end of his life, the Brooklyn-based Pilates instructor knew it was finally time to start trying for the baby she had always wanted. Her business was thriving, and she had enough private clients to sustain her even if she needed to modify her hours during her pregnancy or after the birth.

So Jamie (who asked Millie to use only her first name to protect her privacy) began researching in vitro fertilization (IVF) and assembled a support network of friends. The plan was to begin the process of getting pregnant this summer. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she lost many of her clients and quickly realized that she might need to tap into that $20,000 gift for her living expenses. And that meant IVF was off the table, as one round can easily cost $20,000.

Plus, with all that’s happening these days, Jamie wonders if she could emotionally handle a baby. “The stress of daily living right now is overwhelming,” she says. “It’s really difficult to focus on having a baby when you’re so worried about everything else.”

Jamie is not alone in delaying a family until the economy recovers. A survey released in July by Bankrate found that more than one-third of Americans have delayed a major milestone due to the pandemic; of those, about 5% say they’re delaying having kids. And research from the National Academy of Sciences shows that when unemployment rises, the birth rate declines—a trend we saw during the last recession. In 2007 the U.S. birth rate was 69.6 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44, but by 2009 it had fallen to 66.7.

No doubt, women understand that kids are expensive—the average cost of raising a child through age 17 is more than $233,000, according to government data—and a recession makes it even more difficult to afford that price tag. “It’s hard not to want to give your kids everything,” says Mitchell Hockenbury, a financial planner based in Kansas City, MO. “In the current moment, a lot of people are unemployed and no one feels security in their lives—this is a lot of scariness to bring a baby into.”

Security was an issue for 26-year-old Kitty,  who had wanted to try to conceive this summer. She and her boyfriend had planned for her to go to school during her pregnancy, while he supported them on his investment banker salary. And though his pay hasn’t been affected yet, Kitty does not trust that the good times will last. “There’s a potential that investment banks will start laying people off if the economy doesn’t recover quickly,” she says. “I don’t want to be in a situation where … we don’t have any money coming in.” Kitty says that her plan now is to wait until the pandemic is over to conceive.

For 35-year-old Amanda,  the stress of trying, again, to get pregnant doesn’t feel right in these already stressful times. Even before the pandemic, she’d struggled. In 2017 doctors found cancerous tumors on her ovaries; she froze her eggs right before her ovaries were removed. In 2019 she began implanting embryos she had created with a former romantic partner. The first round of IVF failed, and the second round led to an ectopic pregnancy and emergency surgery that December.

Doctors told Amanda she had to wait six months before trying to get pregnant again, and she eagerly looked forward to the date in early June when she could implant one of her two remaining embryos. Then, in early April, Amanda moved from her apartment in New York City to her parents’ house in Maryland to wait out the pandemic-induced lockdown. The date when she could try to get pregnant again has passed, and Amanda has no plans to begin IVF in the coming months. “I still want to have a child,” she says. “But the pandemic has affected how that might happen, and the timeline.”

Amanda’s also worried, given her past experiences with pregnancy, about the potential anxiety of trying—and failing—to get pregnant again. “It would be really devastating to lose another one of my embryos,” she says. “Why would I want that added stress now—I mean, I’m living with my parents!”

For some moms, plans to have an additional child have been put on hold. Jessica, 38, a hair stylist based on Long Island, brought an ovulation test kit on the cruise that she, her husband and their two young daughters embarked on in February. She was ready to begin trying for a third child. Now she feels lucky she didn’t get pregnant on the trip—and she has no plans for a third child anytime soon. “I couldn’t have a third without some kind of extra help,” she says. “With the pandemic, our older family members can’t risk coming into our house, and I don’t want to hire a babysitter—how could I trust he or she is staying safe outside of work hours?”

Of course, many of the women who have been forced to delay having a family still plan to have children in the future. But the delay can be agonizing. Jamie puts it quite simply: “I’m really frustrated.”