Which should I start on first - a baby or a new (first) career?
January 5, 2010 11:21 AM   Subscribe

29 year-old, typical Gen X-slash-Yer, confused and frankly a bit terrified trying to figure out which she should start on first - a baby or a new (first) career?

I'll turn 30 this summer. My husband is 38. We'd like to have 3 children and we'd like to get started fairly soon. Within the next two years. If it gets too late to sqeeze a third child out, we'll adopt.
My husband has been ready for us to get pregnant from day 1, but he's left it up to me to decide when the time is right because he realizes that pregnancy will disrupt my life a great deal more than his.

I have a degree in Useless (thanks to another mefite for that apt description), but will be finished an IT diploma in May 2011 and hope to start my IT career out as a programmer. For now, I work full-time and take night classes. We intend to move permanently to another province in August 2011. My husband has a stable career and makes enough to get us by on one income (supplimented by EI) during my mat leave.

When, oh when, should a woman who is just starting a new career, especially in IT, get pregnant / give birth? If I do it all before I find a job and begin the new career, I'm afraid that I may be regarded as being behind in the latest technology, or out of practice as a new graduate with a sigificant time lapse between the schooling and the job. I'm also afraid that an employer may think twice about hiring a new mother, as she may be tired and distracted. Surely that's discriminatory, but it's still a concern. On the other hand, if I get pregnant after I begin the new job, how soon after? Will I be thought very poorly of (i.e., dishonest) for starting a new job and becoming pregnant shortly thereafter? Could that cost me the trust and respect of my colleagues? I'm sure some of these questions sound really naive and foolish. The truth is, I really, really don't know anything about all of this.

Please, please help me to see how I might time this all out intelligently. I can't wait to start a family, but having a satisfying job and career are extremely important to me too. I want my life to feel settled and stable so that I can be happy with a child and not a constant stress case.

Thanks in advance for your information, advice, stories, etc.
posted by kitcat to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to watch this Youtube video. It is based on the research of Ralph Keeney and Dinah Vernik about the best way to approach this type of decision.
posted by bove at 11:26 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

BTW, here is a link to the article the video is based on. If you have trouble getting the article let me know and I could email it to you.
posted by bove at 11:29 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest that if you want a career, you'd pop the babies out as soon as possible. Lets say if you decided today that you're going to start, and you have 'irish triplets' you'd have three toddlers on your hands before your 34th birthday.

Now the question is, if you had those children, would you want to go back to work? I know most women who I've worked with (who had a partner to cover living costs) radically changed their minds when they had the first-born, going from "I'll be back fulltime at work in six weeks" to "I'm looking to move back part-time in the next six months." With three children I'd imagine that's an ever harder decision.

If you didn't change your mind and you did get back to work, you'd have the rest of your working life to build and grow that career, you're not starting from behind because it's new.

The flip side, as I see it, is if you wait until you're on a career path, then have the kids, you'll have to start a rung or three lower when you get back onto your work path, especially if you're in the tech sector, so long-term you'll be a few years lower on the career path.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:35 AM on January 5, 2010

I found this article from Facebook's COO interesting:
You might too.

Also: there is never a right time to have a baby; sometimes conceiving a baby is harder than expected; in hindsight I wish I had had my baby earlier becuase I would have liked to stay home longer, but since I already have a career, am finding it difficult to give it up; keep in mind you are not eligible for FMLA leave (if you're in the US) until you've been with a company a year and worked a minimum number of hours (unless they have a different maternity leave policy, or you're in a state that has different leave/maternity laws).
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:45 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can sum up what I'll say very briefly
Step 1: have a plan
Step 2: be prepared to change it

Mrs. Plinth and I didn't have a child until she was 34. We'd only intended to have one. We chose, four years later, to have a second. Mrs. Plinth started a new career at 33. She came back to that job afterward and then a year later resumed her previous career. Then after our second child, she went into business as an independent consultant in her career.

Her/our current plan is way different from her/our original plan. Biology is hugely analog and will make your plans go non-linear very quickly. Be prepared to be surprised and be ready to love the surprises.

Personally, I dropped out of the tech industry after the dot com crash when I found myself near unemployable when I was at the top of my game. Four years later, I joined a very small company and got up to speed with new technology for their problem space really damn fast. Organizational skills don't go obsolete. Abstraction doesn't go stale. APIs, UIs, and tools obsolete quickly and should be considered to be easily replaceable.
posted by plinth at 11:59 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

From experience:
If you wait until after you start your career, you're going to run into a bunch of other considerations (I'm almost up for a promotion; I'm trying not to be laid off; etc.) and that will put the baby off even further. You're never going to be like, "Time to rest on my laurels."

Go ahead and try for a baby when you are ready and be confident that you will cope with whatever comes. There's also the possibility that being a parent will influence what type of work schedule you want or even where you want to work.

Also, if you do have a baby before starting the career, your interviewers are not going to know, and they probably can't ask whether you have a family (I don't know what country you live in), and you won't volunteer it. Unless you are like me and have to bring a breast pump to your all-day interview.

On the other hand, if your country and company offer good leave policies and if you need to rely on insurance to pay for the baby's delivery, it can help to be employed by someone. Certainly a failsafe in case your husband's job situation changes.
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:09 PM on January 5, 2010

I'm your age, with the three kids.

I am a stay at home mom who will be returning to school when my youngest starts Kindergarten. My husband and I decided to go for the family while we were young and then go for the career after.

This works for us. We live a lot more frugally than we did when we were first married and both worked, but honestly don't miss it. We have traded the theater for rented videos and long outdoor adventures for afternoons at the lake. We don't really miss the other stuff that much. Sure we would like to have more money, but our kids are amazing and have taught us so much.

You only have so much time on that biological clock of yours and even though you say you will adopt, you still need to have the energy to chase after those babies when they turn into toddlers. Plus, there are lots of studies to show that there are risks to the baby after the mother turns 35. I recommend having your kids now, and going for the career later. You may run into 'ageism' down the line, but the problems with that seem less than the problems you could have by waiting for children.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:26 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a fellow majored-in-Useless (English Lit!) but-actually-doing-IT woman (although I started that in high school) who is just a year older than you, I say go for the kids now.

I worked my butt off in my twenties and then had a kid at 28 1/2. After he turned a year old and finally started sleeping more regularly, which helped restore some of my sanity, I started working part-time from home doing IT work for small clients. Realistically, my days of working full-time at a big corporation like I did in my twenties is over until he and my future kids (we want three, too) are in middle school, at the earliest. But there's a lot to be said for being one's own boss and having flexible hours and being able to work from home. IT, of all jobs in the world, is probably the best for that and thus terrific for moms who want to keep one foot in the homemaker camp and one foot in geekland.

So, tl;dr: go get knocked up. The Internet will still be there for you later when you're ready to do more, but you can't necessarily say the same about your eggs.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:32 PM on January 5, 2010

I know most women who I've worked with (who had a partner to cover living costs) radically changed their minds when they had the first-born, going from "I'll be back fulltime at work in six weeks" to "I'm looking to move back part-time in the next six months." With three children I'd imagine that's an ever harder decision.

This is almost exactly what I came in to say. My advice is "have the child(ren) first". Speaking for myself -- I had a great career, and then a great second career, but after my son was born (I was 38) my personal goals radically changed and it has been very, very difficult to get our family to a place where we no longer need to rely on my income. In essence, I'm bound to my career by financial obligations -- which was fine, back when it never occurred to us that I'd ever in a million years want to be a stay-at-home mom, but which, now seem like chains holding me to something that I really actually don't want to do anymore.
posted by anastasiav at 12:44 PM on January 5, 2010

1. you have no idea how long it will take you to get pregnant. Don't revolve life plans around "well I'll do this because surely I can get pregnant in X amount of time." A year of trying = no luck. We were very, very lucky with the infertility route. Some are not so lucky and stress has a huge part in whether or not you can get pregnant and carry.

2. will the employer look bad on your for getting pregnant so quickly? Your bedroom habits and biology is none of their @#$ business. Sometimes an "oops" happens. They can deal and not fire you because of it. Who cares what they think. If you come back (or not), that's your choice.

3. one or three babies---I would say get through the first one. We had NO IDEA how hard it was since we have zero support in help. How's three days without sleep sound? Do I want another? Sure do. But it definately cut into my original baby #2 timetable. We decided to wait.

I agree with Anastasiav. I'm in the same boat. I thought going back to work was no big woop. It is a big woop. I miss my son every moment where for the last 7 months, I have zero interest in work but we rely on my income so I'm screwed. If you can cut it financially, your IT career can be contract, consultant, part time, freelance which will give you greater flexbility. However, one of the OBs on my birth team couldn't wait to go back after 3 weeks of giving birth. To each is own when it comes to career/motherhood.

Good luck with your future and love every moment of pregnancy/parenthood.
posted by stormpooper at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2010

We started trying for our first when I was 29. I finally gave birth when I was 31 and a half. Eighteen months, two miscarriages. I'm 34 now, and we've been trying for the second for a year, with two MORE miscarriages.

If you want three kids, START NOW. I cannot emphasize this enough. You could get pregnant the first time you shoot for it, or you could end up working at it for two or three years. And while plenty of people conceive spontaneously in their late thirties or early forties, it's a really different thing than your late twenties or early thirties.
posted by KathrynT at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have absolutely no opinion on whether you should start by having kids or getting your career going; that is a purely personal decision without a right answer. But if you are 30 and plan to have 2-3 children there really isn't a lot of time to wait. Every year decreases your fertility and increases the risks of childbirth and birth defects.

That is not a reason to say ZOMG MUST HAVE KIDS NOW. But it is a reason to consider that, if you decide you definitely do want kids, you should probably start sooner rather than later. Biology sucks sometimes. So you need to decide your priorities and we can't help with that. We can only help with the facts and, unfortunately, the facts aren't always what we want them to be.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Holy consensus, batman.

Let's say I did start 'now'. Does anyone have any ideas about whether it would be best to finish my diploma now or wait until the child was, say, 6 - 9 months old and could be looked after through daycare or by relatives while I attended part-time classes? I definitely need this diploma as I am not a self-taught, established computer geek.
posted by kitcat at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2010

It might be better to finish the diploma now so you'll always have it, and you might be able to finish it easier when you are not trying to recover from months of sleepless nights. Also, you might not care as much about it when you have your li'l baby love. Maybe you will - I don't think I would have, so it's good I finished first.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:18 PM on January 5, 2010

Diploma now. Just because you're trying to get pregnant doesn't mean that you will get pregnant. FWIW, my sister became a Veterinary Tech while pregnant. So move on with your life while you are trying for those kids.

Oh yeah, and now is the time for you and hubby to travel. Trips to Europe for two people who are willing to stay in hostels is sooooo much easier than a young family. And cheaper.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2010

As a mommy and grad student, I'd say have those kids now.
posted by k8t at 3:04 PM on January 5, 2010

I don't have any advice, except, you're not alone. I have this conversation all the time with my girfriends who are in their late twenties. Nothing seems to be decided except everyone is doing it a different way.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:28 PM on January 5, 2010

Are you working in an IT-related field right now, or something else? Do you have any experience at all in the field?
I generally agree with those that say start trying now, just because you want to have 3 kids, and you should have the option to have a little break between them if possible (ignoring the adoption piece for a moment). But if you have not worked at all in the field, well... let me say this: I would not be surprised if that degree would quickly become useless without rapid onset work experience. If you actually have no IT work experience yet, and you are relying on a degree to get you a job, it's already a bit of a crap shoot. Taking time off, especially significant time off, between the actual earning of the diploma and looking for work... You are really going to be making it very very hard to get a job. I would have no qualms about interviewing/hiring a new mother (and I would not resent a new hire getting pregnant soon after hiring), but I would be hard-pressed to see why I should interview someone with no work experience who earned his or her degree a while ago. And I am a woman who really wants to hire women, at a big company that encourages greatly the hiring of women and returning mothers and whatnot, so this is in many ways the absolute best outlook you could hope for from an employer sense.
So, I think you would be better off getting a job and rolling the dice on wanting to return to work/your coworkers impressions/etc, if it weren't for the fact that you are 30 and want to have 3 kids. But you should be really, fully cognizant of the fact that if you start trying now you may never have a career at all. On the other hand, if you're actually committed to being willing to adopt the third, then don't let the boogeymen scare you from postponing a little bit the attempt to have the first. I really think the "omg you'll be TOO TIRED to chase them around!" trope is silly, and while yes fertility does decline with age, I've personally done the research and decided that the 30 to 31 (and even to 32) reproductive declines are a risk I, an otherwise healthy with no ladyparts issues woman, am willing to take. YMMV but I guess I will be the dissenting voice in this thread. Still, I am also the type of person likely to interview you (or read your resume and send it to the reject bin), so there's that.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:24 PM on January 5, 2010

Don't underestimate the ability to finish your program while pregnant, or even while you have a baby. Or your ability to obtain or retain a job. People do it all the time. Also, it's not like you're having this baby alone; mr. kitcat doesn't expect you to take the full load of childcare duties. I'm sure you and your husband are smart, resourceful people and will be able to take care of kitcat, jr. even if she's born nine months from tonight. I don't really see any appreciable difference in you trying to start your family immediately, or waiting until next year, except for the fact that you'll be older later. Life will always get in the way, but only if you let it.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:42 PM on January 5, 2010

ch1x04: you're speaking really directly to my concerns about the diploma-job time lapse.

My field right now is IT-related, but it's not at all a technical position. I'm a project administrator for an IT consulting company. I get to do lots of different stuff - I'm attending JAD sessions next week - but I'm only a passive observer to the real technical stuff. While I'm pretty sure this will help me land a job if I interview directly after graduating, I don't think it will help much to make up for a year's gap between graduation and interviewing.

Thanks, all. Don't stop weighing in.
posted by kitcat at 7:02 PM on January 5, 2010

I'm in a very similar situation and now 4 months pregnant. I finished my Masters (in Useful, mind you) and went right ahead and knocked myself up on purpose without commencing a career first. The career issue was one of the hardest choices, and one that my academic mother is going off the rails about, but I figured I want to follow my heart.

My philosophy is that I don't think I'll ever find myself saying "Damn I wish I'd waited with the kids and worked more first." Once they are here they'll be an endless source of joy and if you need to struggle a bit more work wise then so be it.

I don't know much about IT but is there any feasible way you can stay current whilst birthing and nursing the babies, perhaps by taking small online courses or reading up on updated curriculum to make sure you stay on top of it?
posted by heytch at 2:00 AM on January 6, 2010

Can you see if your current employer will let you do some technical projects with an eye on trying to transition into a technical role there? That might help you get around the work experience problem that I think you will probably face if you get the degree and immediately take time off. I really can't stress enough how important I think relevant work experience is going to be for you, especially if maternity leave in Canada is an entire year as you imply above.
Feel free to memail me if you want to discuss this further, I'm happy to help you look at your resume or whatever.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:41 AM on January 7, 2010

Thanks, ch1x04. I think I will memail you.

Just to give a final update on the thread, I can work on any technical projects in my current job since we don't do technical stuff - we're in management consulting and we work with blended teams where other vendors or the client do the technical stuff. I get to watch it happen, but I'll never get to do it with this company.

There are other options for hands-on experience, such as a co-op through my school. I'd have to quit my job to do this, but it would be worth it in the end.

Thanks all. I think I've had my head in the sand about this for a while. I can see now that finishing my diploma, moving across the country and then working for a year before I have a child will put me at 32 and this is probably just not feasible for someone who wants 3 kids. On the other hand, I feel that ch1x04 is correct in saying that it's very important to have some work experience in the field before I have my first, thereby putting at least a year between me and my diploma.

Also, my husband has suggested that we split the mat leave - I would take 6 months off and then he would take the next 6 months. This can be done in Canada, but I don't know it that's the case in other countries.

Good luck to us mommy-to-be, career-aspiring women!
posted by kitcat at 11:11 AM on January 7, 2010

Ack! That first line should go: "I can't work on any technical projects in my current job..."
posted by kitcat at 11:12 AM on January 7, 2010

To piggyback on this: If anyone finds a working model from the Biological Clock Decision paper that bove mentions above, I'd be very grateful for it. Mind you, not the article, but the model from the article. I'm trying to find it, but I think it's been taken offline.
posted by gakiko at 2:29 AM on January 8, 2010

And to answer my own question: here it is, in the sidenote on the right.
posted by gakiko at 2:15 AM on January 22, 2010

Fun follow-up:

It's three weeks later and guess what - I'm pregnant! And almost certainly was when I posted my question. I guess I had pregnancy on the brain for a reason :) Isn't life grand?
posted by kitcat at 3:56 PM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

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