I’ve received quite a few questions about how we balance working and not-working in our family and why we’ve made the choices we’ve made regarding childcare and work. Many of our friends are currently going through the same process we did of trying to figure out how to best balance life and parenting, and I know that there aren’t a lot of candid discussions out there about how to make one income support a family. So I thought I might spend several posts talking about that exact thing: starting a family, balancing career and baby, choosing home over work or home and work, and using one average income to support a family. I hope the series will be interesting to those not in this stage of life, and I hope it will be helpful to those who are. I hope to create some discussion and generate a new look at work and the family for everyone, not just those of us who are in the thick of it. I also hope to put out some posts which are a little bit more creative in nature and not just straight-forward to the point non-fiction. I look froward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.
Today, I want to start with how it all began.
When we were first married, Chris and I had a five year — minimum — plan for having children. We were married young, just two weeks to the day after graduating with our bachelor’s degrees; then we moved cross country so that he could earn a second degree in the culinary arts which, at the time, was intended to be another four year degree. We figured I would be the “bread winner” for a while, supporting him through school and until he landed the dream job which would allow me to quit working and stay home with our children. Oh, how plans change.
A year into his program, we realized that him doing another four year program instead of just two years would be financial suicide, and, anyway, Chris was itching to get out of the classroom and back into the kitchen. Perfect timing for his five month culinary internship: the day after our first wedding anniversary, he moved a state away to work in a restaurant while I stayed home working at my job in New York. I was able to visit him only three three-day weekends that summer (during which he worked every day) because of my busy work schedule and the high cost of traveling. When he finally came home toward the end of October, we both agreed we would never live in different states again. And let me tell you, there is nothing like only seeing your husband for nine days in the past five months to make you ready to…err, reconnect, if you know what I mean.
Timing what it is, I was nearing the end on my birth control prescription and hadn’t yet found a doctor I liked in New York. So we talked plans. And suddenly, four or five more years just seemed like an incredibly long time to wait when I already had a bad case of baby fever and, gosh by golly, if I don’t have any birth control pills… Not to be all TMI, but who really wants to use condoms when they’re married?
I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. We were sitting on a hand-me-down couch from my mother in our new living room, surrounded by piles of packing paper and the last odds and ends waiting to find a home. Our legs tangled together, feet resting on the coffee table; I leaned against Chris resting my head in the hollow below his shoulder bone. It was the beginning of November. Cool, but not yet really cold. We had the window cracked to help with still very fresh paint fumes, and I said for the hundredth time, “I love our house.”
Oh, did I love it. The rental house that wasn’t, since our landlords were our friends who, in the process of renovating it, had let me pick everything from countertops and tile, to paint, light fixtures, and appliances. It was our house.
“Yeah, it’s pretty great,” Chris said, gazing gleefully through the doorway to the kitchen and the brand new, five burner gas stove.
“I could live here forever,” I said. Of course, there were things. There’s always things. Like the baseboards we were still waiting for in spots. But everything was minor, especially compared to the bat-infested, moldy-basemented, and slightly off-kilter rental we had just moved from across the river. “Or at least until we have too many kids. But I could definitely have kids here, not like the Fairview house.”
The last house was the kind of house where you wouldn’t want a to put a baby down; no crawling on the ancient carpeted floors, getting close to questionable outlets and likely lead-painted baseboards. And after waking up in the middle of the night nearly a dozen times in a year to flashing blue and red across the street, it was also pretty clear that the last house was not in a neighborhood ideal for raising a family. Our new house had none of that. It was clean, safe and new, and on a quiet country road lined with our landlord’s family.
We talked about that for awhile. And then I said, “You know, if we were to get pregnant now, you will have graduated and would have a couple of months to find a job by the time the baby would be born.”
He paused. Chris paused for a long moment. He paused for so long it made me sit up to get a better look at his face. “I’m not going to be making enough money right away for you to stay home.”
He was right, of course, and I knew that would be the biggest deviation from our plan.
Our plan, before we even got engaged, was that I would stay home with our children. It’s something I’ve known I wanted for a long, long time — think high school — and something Chris equally felt was important. To deviate from that was not a small thing; but the more I thought about tiny fingers and toes, the more I couldn’t wait, the more I craved feathery baby hair and sweet froggy legs. And having just spent five months away from my husband, I think part of me was ready to make sure that never happened again. Ever.
We sat on the couch that night and talked for a long time about what having a baby would mean for our finances, for our life, and would I really be okay with putting a baby in daycare? We didn’t really decide anything then, except that it might be okay for me to not find a doctor for a new prescription and that we would keep talking.
We talked a few more times about a baby over the next few weeks. The more we talked, the more I was sold on the idea, and Chris was coming around too. It seemed like everything was falling into that perfect place where a baby would just instantly fit – my good job, Chris finally finishing school, a great new house, relative financial security… So, like responsible adults, we decided the best course of action was to do nothing. Not really try to have a baby but not really try to prevent one. (Uh-huh, we all know what that means.)
I remember, we even discussed how, for some people, it takes months and months to get pregnant. I’d been on birth control for a number of years, who knew how long it would take my body to get back into the normal swing of things? And of course, we weren’t going to try to get pregnant. Right. By the time I actually did get pregnant and nine months after that a stork appeared, I figured we’d have had plenty of time to figure out the little details — in the meantime let’s just let fate decide.
I stopped taking the pill mid November. Five weeks later, on December 18th, in the early morning quiet between our morning departures, two little lines showed me just what happens when you “don’t try” to have a baby.