Dear Virginia,

My wife and I have been married 12 years and have always wanted a child. By living pretty frugally – not smoking or drinking, no foreign holidays and so on – we've got to a point where we could afford one. She is 38, so her biological clock is ticking. But she now says it's too late, she'd be too tired, and she doesn't want to perpetuate her parent's genes – her mother was mentally ill. She says I should have a child by someone else, but I love her, and I'd love my own child. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Patrick

You say you love your wife, Patrick, but I notice that you say nothing about whether your wife loves you or not. And I can't help wondering – does a woman who urges her husband to have a child with someone else really care that deeply about him?

I'm also wondering whether this refusal to have a child by you, with all the attendant excuses, might be something to do with your wife feeling that there's actually something wrong with your whole relationship, which she's loath to tell you about, which makes her feel she doesn't want to risk bringing your child into the world.

Because it does seem really weird that she's suddenly coming up with all these excuses – excuses that would have been perfectly valid years ago. It's unlikely that, at 38, she could be that tired, frankly, and although I don't know what mental illness her mother had, it would surely be worth finding out about screening.

It's not as if you haven't been preparing for a child, after all. You've spent years, as you've said, scrimping and saving, planning, no doubt, and waiting for this big moment ... so it's very odd that she's suddenly changed her mind.

Could she, perhaps, be alarmed at the idea of childbirth? Could it be that she's frightened of rocking a happy boat? Is she suffering from depression and feels that she'd be a worthless mother? Or could it be that, after years of frugality, penny-pinching and a piggy bank existence, she's found you perhaps to be rather too ascetic for her tastes? Could it be – most likely I fear – that it's not that she doesn't want a child, but that she just doesn't want a child by you?

There can hardly be a mother who, before getting pregnant, didn't have at least some doubts about the advisability of the whole process. Most of us have a vague idea that it's the thing to do, and then just take the plunge, completely unprepared for what happens next. But I've yet to meet a woman who's actually regretted having children – and I bet your wife hasn't met one, either. So what's going on in her head?

I think you should suggest marriage counselling to find out what's really motivating your wife's sudden cold feet. It may be something that you don't want to face up to, but it may be better that you discover it now rather than later when it might be more difficult for you to find that other someone, that your wife seems so eager for you to get together with, young enough to have a child at all.

Readers say...

A baby isn't everything

It's a sad business for all. After 12 years it should have been clear what the plan was. Sorry to sound clinical, but assuring that you can afford a child financially is only part of the plan, even though a sensible one.

Your wife's "biological clock" is only ticking if she wants a child. If she doesn't, she's just getting older. Not all women want or need to be biological mothers and she has an equal say in the matter, especially concerning mental health issues. After all, she does the carrying and giving birth bit.

You have many options, but the baby by someone else sounds fraught with emotional danger and sets alarm bells within your relationship ringing. There's more to a child than the procreation and a baby. You might not even be able to have one. And children are not possessions, they lead their own lives, too. Other options are fostering and adoption, which is not for everyone. You could also sponsor multiple children up to the annual – enormous – cost of raising a child; be an emotional and financial support for friends and relatives who have children and who need help; make sure that young people are protected and developed to their maximum potential where you work, by the caring colleague who looks out for them and champions them.

If you don't end up having children, accept this and get on with your life, not feeling that it's second best; it's just how things turned out. You have health and security, which is more than a lot of people. There's more to life than having children, rewarding though that is. Don't waste your life on regret and recrimination.

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Find the real problem

Growing up with a parent who has mental health issues can make a child feel worthless, guilty, and worried that they too may be tainted by an affliction or hand it down. You sound like a lovely and attentive husband, so talk with your wife about the fears she will have been carrying for a long time. You might both seek reassurance from a health professional and from counselling. Acknowledging the problem is the first step to its solution. By not drinking or smoking you are already showing good parenting skills, and a child born to your care will be lucky indeed.

Christina Burton


Don't give up hope

If your wife seriously talks of you having a child by another woman, then you have a real problem. This is more than a 38-year-old being alarmed at the thought of having a baby, this is a terrified woman with a huge fear of motherhood. It is possible to find out if your mother-in-law's illness can be passed on, but most mental illnesses cannot.

Is she fearful of giving birth because a friend had a difficult experience? Or is there a crying child next door that keeps her awake at night? You sound like a sensitive man who could get to the bottom of her fear, but if that does not work then a counsellor might be able to help. But I don't think that giving up your dream of a family would be a wise option.

Ainslie Walton



Enjoy life for once

I don't think it's your wife who possibly carries the madness gene, I think it's you. You have lived frugally for 12 years only to be told that she's changed her mind. If she is willing for you to have a child with another woman, are you prepared to live frugally for the next 20 or so years?

There's never a "right" time to have a baby but if two people really want one together they will find a way without necessarily depriving themselves of some of the good things life has to offer. If I were you, I would buy a bottle of Cristal champagne and a box of Cuban cigars and go on a world cruise, then reassess the situation.

Anita Ashford

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