How to cope with family pressure to fall pregnant

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"My family has been patient, but my friends are indirectly making me feel that I have nothing for myself to show to the world." Photo: Getty Images
"My family has been patient, but my friends are indirectly making me feel that I have nothing for myself to show to the world." Photo: Getty Images

Having children at the right time with the right budget is a beautiful thing - and even better for new parents who have a good support structure, a stable job and enough time to plan having children. 

But when is this "right time" to have children? Should you wait until you finish school, start working or get married?

Some women work hard in their 20s to secure a great source of income and gather all the necessary resources they need. But when they are ready to settle down in their 30s, they struggle to conceive, have a series of miscarriages or are diagnosed with infertility.

Obviously, there is no perfect formula to starting a family, but society makes it seem there is something missing in a woman who doesn't have children.

'I feel like a failure'

Parent24 spoke to women who struggle with this dilemma, and they poured out their hearts.

Nelisiwe is a master's graduate in African languages who told us: "I am over 30. I have no child, no husband and no job. I desperately want progress in my life, but the education that I have did not do anything for me."

"My family has been patient, but my friends are indirectly making me feel that I have nothing for myself to show to the world. I feel like a failure."


This article is one of a series on Infertility in South Africa. Find the complete series here.

Read: Would you wait till your 50s to have a child, just to avoid debt?

My mom wants her grandbabies

Siziphiwe told us she decided to ride solo from a very young age because she was not bothered by the "abantu bazothini" (what will people say) mentality.

She said: "My older sister had a child when we were in high school and my mom and dad kicked her out. My brother waited until he was married at 37 to have children and he had twins."

"Two months after that, he was involved in an accident where his wife tragically died and he was crippled and couldn't work anymore. His happily-ever after, as he would say, was cut off."

But, she said that when she finds a good partner, she will have children. "My mother would be so delighted as she has been pressuring me, saying she wants her grandkids."

Continuing the family legacy

Father of six girls, Sintu, said: "My wife and I have been trying to have a boy child for many years now. Every time we conceive, it's a girl."

He said he did not mind it but that his father was a well-known, wealthy man and wanted Sintu to have a son so that when he died his son could continue with the family legacy.

But, Sintu said, after six girls, he and his wife decided to stop trying.

Also read: 'We hope it's a boy': How the patriarchy increases the pressure on mothers 

Obtaining social grants and supporting family

Some families send their families to school, hoping that it would change the situation at home, only for the child to drop out due to teenage pregnancy. But what happens when children see childbearing as the solution to hunger at home?

Anganathi, a teen mom of two, told us that for her, having children was a way to provide for her family. She said that after having her second child in Grade 11, she dropped out to look after her toddler and focus on her pregnancy.

"My aunt was not angry. She just asked me if the father of the child was the father of my first child. Having the social grant for my child keeps me going as I do not have to worry about where my next meal will come from." 

Society's expectations  

Parent24 interviewed Dr Serahni Symington, a healthcare practitioner specialising as a registered counsellor in Durbanville, Cape Town, to find out how couples were dealing with fertility issues while under pressure from friends and family.

Symington said many couples experienced pressure from society to go through certain "expected" phases in their relationships, such as falling in love first, getting married and then having children.

She noted that, in recent times, it hasn't always been so easy for couples.

"Life has changed so much in the last couple of years. We have different types of families," Symington said.

Finances are a factor in relationships and parenting

Many families have two income streams because both parents are working. Other couples choose to have children later because they want to be financially secure before parenthood, she said.

She added: "Others live with stress and taxing occupations and prefer not to expose their children to a life where parents are never there due to their jobs."

Despite the fact that society and family situations have changed and shifted along with new demands of life, Symington said society often thought of developmental progression as the "normal" way of life.

Must read: Can using different birth control methods affect your future fertility? 

How to cope

1. Focus on what is important

Symington advises couples to only focus on what is important for them as a couple.

She said: "No one can control fertility, nor the choices you make for the life you are living. You are living it and not these voices who are surrounding you."

She said focusing on what you want as a couple can often be very emotional for those who struggle to conceive, because this evokes feelings of loss, shame and guilt for not being able to fall pregnant and for not being a part of the "family life cycle".

2. Help break the stigma of infertility

Symington believes that if families and social support structures provide care and love for individual couples who do not have children, it will make a huge difference because feelings of loss, shame, and guilt are horrible emotions.

She stressed that we need to normalise the fact that not all couples can have children, and stop putting pressure on couples through persistent questioning.

3. Create new social norms and reject society's expectations 

Another tip is to create new narratives by creating new social norms, and rejecting society's hurtful and judgemental expectations.

For instance, you find that you are having girls and somehow your family wants you to have boys or vice versa, Symington said,

She suggested that such couples should stay the course and stick to their own truth because feeling guilty about others' expectations can be exhausting.

4. Consider your own circle

Symington also suggested another way to navigate expectations: considering your own circles of control.

She explained that we have two circles in our lives that surround us:

The one circle holds all that we have control over with things that we can manage and change (my own words, my actions, my responses, my thoughts). 

The other circle holds things in life that we have no control over - such as choosing the sex of our babies, controlling others' responses and so on.

She advised: "When others place their expectations on you, choose a circle to place these in. If it is in your control circle and you can and want to do something about it, then do so with planning and preparation, motivation and action."

But then again, if others' expectations are outside of your control (circle two) then actively decide to let it stay in that circle and not affect you because you have no control over it, Symington said.

Next:  'In black families, it is viewed with suspicion': Adoption as a solution to infertility

Find the complete series here: Infertility in South Africa

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