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I want kids — and my husband is waffling

Couple agreed to wait to have children. Now, he is stalling again. Dr. Gail Saltz has advice on trying to break the impasse.

Q: I am eager to have children, but my husband wants to wait. We are in our early 30s. I worry my age will soon become a health issue. We have been together for 14 years and married for four.

For the first two years of our marriage, we put our family on hold to fulfill my husband’s dream of traveling. He promised that, in return, we would fulfill my dream of a family. And yet here we are, still waiting for the “perfect time” for parenthood. I feel he is stalling. What should I do now?

A: It’s good that you discussed the issue of children early on. Everyone should, since it’s a make-or-break decision in terms of marriage and whether you have the same vision of your future.

But if you continue to wait indefinitely, you may find yourself unable to conceive. That’s the reality. It’s reasonable for you to be concerned.

Often, a spouse merely needs a nudge. If one partner feels ready for children, that certainty alone is enough to give confidence to the more reluctant one. In your case, this doesn’t seem to be happening.

You need to take action. You should make your husband aware of the medical facts. You should also make it clear how intensely you want children.

If you wait so long that a medical issue arises — such as miscarriage, infertility and possibly impaired babies (which becomes increasingly common with age) — you will end up massively resentful of your husband, blaming him for damaging this life goal. It’s better to resolve this now so you aren’t hashing it out when you are in your 40s and seeing symptoms of menopause.

First thing to do is figure out what your husband is waiting for. “Let’s wait” might not mean that at all. It might mean “I am terrified of fatherhood” or “I will never again be able to travel” or “I can't handle the financial burden.”

With these facts at hand, there are things you can do to assuage his fears. For example, you can make it clear you will be the primary caretaker. Or that you are willing to let him travel alone a few weeks a year. Or that you will make whatever financial adjustments are necessary.

It’s also possible your husband really is waiting … for something specific. So set a time frame (as long as it is not too far off): You will start trying to conceive as soon as the car is paid off, the promotion comes through, or whatever is the case. Or pick a firm date, like next January 1.

Of course, he could try to waffle and push things off again. And in this regard the fact that he is not honoring his end of the travel vs. baby deal is worrisome.

It might be that he changed his mind — or agreed to fatherhood someday without really accepting that the day would really come.

If he is vehemently against being a father, for whatever reason, and you can’t resolve this beyond continuing to wait for that murky and mythical “perfect time,” you should go for marriage counseling.

One important matter: You should not trick him by claiming contraceptive failure. It’s possible that forced fatherhood will make him realize how delighted he is once he has a baby, but it is more likely he will be angry and resentful.

The reason I suggest counseling is that this is unlikely to be an easy negotiation. The decision to become a parent is a life-altering one, and there’s no way to meet in the middle. You either go ahead with it or you don’t.

Indeed, a fundamental difference about this issue is enough to end a marriage. And that is something you may have to face: If you cannot resolve this issue in counseling, you may decide you have to get out of this marriage and move on to someone who shares your dream of parenthood.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Figure out why your husband insists on waiting to have children so you can start figuring out a resolution.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.