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8 Things You Think You Need Before Getting Pregnant

"When is the right time to have a baby?" women all over the planet have wondered/Googled. We want answers, we crave guidelines, but maybe that's because society has always acted as if it has cracked some code. We have checklists to complete—things to learn by age 25, experiences to have before age 40, bucket lists before we die. We enjoy the illusion of control and of being "on track."

We want to make sure we're planning our lives correctly, as if there's a universal map to follow. And we grow up thinking that there's a simplified series of events that everyone should follow: go to college, get a good job, marry your soul mate, have two children and a dog, live happily ever after.

And yet the older I get, the more I realize that the maps were always imaginary. The checklists, too.

RELATED: Getting Pregnant in Your 20s Could Be Good for Your Career

Life is more nuanced than black-and-white statistics and broad-stroke studies would have us believe, although that doesn't stop society from coming up with all sorts of standards and expectations.

Like, say, when you're supposed to have a baby. The rules have changed throughout history—women are now expected to start a family much later than a few decades ago—except new standards still exist. New rights and wrongs.

So many of us go into motherhood believing that we're already behind, failing, less than. Or, perhaps even more tragically, we put off having children—waiting, waiting, waiting for the perfect time that never comes. Frozen in fear for what might happen if our ducks are out of order and not in a row.

Here is where I'd like to call bull. Despite what you've been told, you do not need these 8 things before having a baby:

1. A marriage

Marriage is a beautiful foundation to start a family. I think most of us would agree that, given the choice, we'd start a family within a healthy partnership—someone who balances our lives, witnesses the progression, shares in the responsibilities and memories. And yet that's not always an option, no matter our intentions and efforts. That's OK.

Just because you don't have a signed legal document doesn't make you any less loving as parents. (Babies don't ask for documentation, in case you haven't heard.) Many women get married later down the road, or they divorce partway through, or they decide to stay single. It's all OK.

There's so much guilt and embarrassment that comes with starting a family without a ring on your left finger, but in the scheme of things, it's an unnecessary burden to carry.

2. A college degree

It might be more difficult, but it's entirely possible to finish a degree while tackling new motherhood—women are doing it every day, all over the world, successfully. Society likes to define intelligence and accomplishment with a diploma, but that doesn't have to dictate who we are and how far we go.

There are no rules to follow, no standards to fall short of, no storyline to compare yourself to.

3. An established career

In fact, getting pregnant at the beginning of your career can have some significant benefits in the long run. Who knew?

4. All the money

I didn't have savings when I got pregnant; I didn't even have health insurance. Heck, I didn't have a job! And you know what? I made it through just fine. But that doesn't mean I was immune to panic attacks over the sad state of my finances. Shouldn't I have six months in savings? A 401K? A college fund in place? I'M SO BEHIND! I'M SUCH A FAILURE!

Yet I've learned that finances really can grow over time. And never underestimate the motivation of motherhood to better our lives and tackle big goals.

5. All the baby stuff

Trust me, I understand the allure of trendy baby nurseries and shiny gadgets, but they do not define you. Stop scrolling through Pinterest, put down the glossy magazine and hear these words: You do not need a $700 stroller that will collect dust in two to three years. You do not need a $600 baby crib and matching décor. Your baby does not give a single damn, I promise you.

Boiled down to basics, here's what you need: a warm place to sleep (which, let's be honest, could be your bed), a safe place to live (which could be small and rented), food (which could come from your body) and LOVE (which is already inside of you). Everything else can be thrifted, handed down, borrowed or forgotten.

6. A prenatal bucket list

I am mother, hear me roar: Your life is not over once you have a baby. You have plenty of time for adventures, discoveries and long-reaching goals. Pinky promise.

7. Readiness

You will never be fully ready to plunge into the unknown. And just because you don't feel ready now, that doesn't mean you won't figure it out as you go. Life has a funny way of changing us in ways we never saw coming, slowly preparing us along the way.

RELATED: Unexpected Lessons from an Unplanned Pregnancy

8. A plan

Having a set-in-stone plan before having a baby sounds awfully responsible, but, more than anything, that's probably setting you up for some big-time disappointment. Pregnancy and motherhood are lessons in flexibility, resilience and blind faith—no matter how intricate our plans might be. After all, some of the most important lessons come from life's unplanned moments.

Bottom line: There are no rules to follow, no standards to fall short of, no storyline to compare yourself to. You can be just fine, just as you are.

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