How to plan a career to accomodate having a child?
February 23, 2011 5:14 AM   Subscribe

I know that life is what happens when you're busy making plans, but how do you (as a woman) build a career that can survive having a child?

When I hit 27 my hormones went batshit crazy, and a formerly abstract idea (kids would be nice) turned into a full-on immediate priority (BABY. NOW.) The catch is not only is it impossible for my partner and I to live on one salary (is it really an option for anyone?), it's very much important to me to have a working life. So kids are part of my hazy five year plan. That said, I saw my sister in common-law lose her lucrative and senior marketing position when she became pregnant. It was eye-opening to see a talented, driven and focused woman forced out of her chosen profession because she decided to have a child. She's suing for wrongful termination now, but it still spooked me a little.

I've come across the odd magazine article and blog post on timing a family, but found their responses (any time is a good time; babies don't cost that much etc) glib and unsatisfying. I know that, at some point, you can't overthink it, but I also know that having kids has a big impact on a woman's professional development in a way it (often) doesn't for a man. My question is: how do you plan your career to accommodate having a child? Should you mention it to an employer? If so, when? How did you recover professional momentum after having a kid? I want to hear your advice/experiences.

Here are my snowflake details: I'm currently trying to break into a new industry (advertising) after finishing a doctorate in the humanities. How I go about doing that is a totally different question, but I'll operate under the optimistic assumption that I'll make it in. My partner is an academic, employed and doing well. We have a good relationship, and we talk often about having kids and, importantly, when we want to have kids. We will either be in the Netherlands, England or Australia in the next five years, so there are different maternity leave laws to consider.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a lawyer. I had a baby. I swore that I wouldn't let it affect my career. No one in my office cared that I had a kid - most of the women I work with had a kid. However, for me, having a kid changed everything. I didn't want to work as hard, because my kid is awesome, and fun, and I don't want to miss out on seeing all the little things. So I went part time. Again, no one at my office cared. I knew I didn't want to not work - full time SAHM is not a good idea for me - but I didn't want to put in the kind of hours I had been.

The reason no one cared, I think, is that I had been working there for several years, and I was good at my job. They decided they would rather have me part time than not at all. And I was willing to be flexible - when your workplace is flexible with you, you have to give a little to, you know?

So here's my advice: don't work for assholes (like it sounds like your SIL did); be good at your job; when and whether you mention it to your employer depends entirely on your relationship with your employer (I told everyone immediately when I found out I was pregnant because they were happy for me); and recognize that having a baby might change your mind about some things.

Ultimately, I quit that job, not because they were upset about me having a baby, but because having a baby meant I wanted to be closer to home. That meant making a HUGE lifestyle adjustment. Because the other thing you said - that it's impossible to live on one salary - that just isn't true. It especially isn't true if you have to pay for daycare. One salary isn't for anyone, but it's certainly possible, if you adjust your lifestyle. Having a kid causes all sorts of lifestyle adjustments. You might be surprised.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:23 AM on February 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

but it's certainly possible, if you adjust your lifestyle.

It might be true for the OP if there are huge academic loans to be paid back.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:26 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The saying actually goes that there's no good time to have a baby, but I do think there are slightly more worse times and less worse times. It seems to me that a period in which you're trying to break into a new industry is not one of the better ones. "I'm pregnant and on the job market, what do I do now?" is a different question than "I'm on the job market and want to have a baby, what do I do now?"

The other thing that seems relevant in your situation is to take advantage of your partner's situation when the time comes. It depends on the field, I suppose, but in my experience academia is fairly accommodating of work/life balance (for example, that professors will work part-time from home is the norm rather than the exception); in fact, academia, in its rather progressive social attitudes, maybe even especially accommodating in terms of support for fathers' active involvement in parenting. For this to work to your advantage, of course, your partner has to be truly on board with the idea of being an equal or even primary caregiver, and you have to be willing to let that happen as well.

I think the thing that is kind of a myth is having a really high-octane career and being a magazine-cover SuperMommy at the same time--the old "having it all" image. That doesn't mean you can't have a strong career and be a mom. But there will be times when you have to pick your priorities: you might decide to pass over a job opportunity that would require frequent travel, for example (or you might not, but you would need a certain amount of internal fortitude to suppress the implication that doing so makes you a bad mom).
posted by drlith at 5:43 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of course it's possible, but I don't think it's possible in every industry.

Babies and a 50-60 hour work week just don't mix. Even 40 hours a week just won't happen very easily for the first few years. You'll have to sacrifice the job, kid or your physical/mental health.

IMO, you should consider a career that's going to be a bit more family friendly than something as competitive as advertising. My wife and I both work in admin at a state university and the place has been great. There's less pressure to put in the long hours expected in private industry, more vacation, more flexibility, a worker friendly HR department, etc. Since people tend to stick around here for decades it's a little less important that you get that promotion THIS YEAR so that you can move on to the next thing.

It also helps to be surrounded mostly by boomers with kids. It's a more understanding environment than one where your coworkers are all 25-35 and don't understand the realities of parenting. You won't get the "kids are a lifestyle choice and you still have to pull your weight" attitude nearly as much.
posted by pjaust at 5:52 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

it's very much important to me to have a working life

My wife thought this before we had kids. Most of the young women in that first baby stage of life that we knew thought the same thing. I'd guess that 3/4 of them had different priorities after they had the child. We certainly did.

If you both make $80K a year, then yes, it will be impossible to maintain the same standard of living on one income. So you adjust. However, if your partner makes $80K and you make $40K, you might be surprised how little change you'll need to make. After our second child (this is 15 years ago) I made a spreadsheet detailing all the costs of my wife going back to her $20K a year teaching job. I was making in the low 30s at the time. Once I factored in daycare, transportation costs, work clothes, lunches, etc I calculated that we netted $200 a week from her working. So she stayed home I made that up easily by delivering pizzas 3 nights a week.
posted by COD at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

i don't have any children and don't plan to. however, i did start out in advertising (in accounts) after i finished college. the hours sucked. i was the low (wo)man on the totem pole and i often had to stay long after the others left, either to finish up someone else's work, or to assist an account manager who had to stay late. it's very much an industry where "face time" and how many hours you log in at the office matters to get ahead. i absolutely hated it. so much in fact that i'm a designer now and i avoid advertising design because i disliked my time working for an ad agency so much. just something for you to consider since you want to enter that field.
posted by violetk at 6:12 AM on February 23, 2011

I'll second the "don't work for assholes" and also throw in, don't be married to an asshole. If you're lucky, and don't work for assholes, and your husband isn't an asshole, it will work out just fine. Speaking as a husband married to a very busy VP. He boss is great, and her husband is, well, totally awesome.
posted by Blake at 6:28 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I knew children were a priority for me and that I also wanted a fulfilling career too. I chose to finish my education, choose a family-friendly workplace to work at for a couple of years and have my children young (from my mid-twenties to mid-thirties). I continued to work for family-friendly workplaces, including quitting three jobs that were not; full-time to begin with, dropping down to part-time after the third child. Now my youngest is over two I have gone back to school to upgrade my education in the same field (while working part-time) and I plan to move into a full-time management position in my field in the next two years.

I am very glad I timed it this way. I feel that I could have spent the same amount of time "in the trenches", building up years and skills on my resume while working full-time, without being much further ahead career-wise then I am now. And there would always be another promotion to chase after that would make having a baby in Q4 unattractive. Not to mention fertility issues and the stress of those fertility issues even when you are't actively trying to get pregnant. I am also very, very lucky to have a supportive husband who has chosen to now stay home with the children so I can focus on my career. It sounds like you two could trade off the way we did, for now focus on your husband's career and have babies, when he is settled in his career/tenure and the children are a little older re-focus on your career (which in advertising has a pretty short-term memory anyway).
posted by saucysault at 6:32 AM on February 23, 2011

I had no trouble combining a job with having a baby. I was afraid of daycare at first, but it turned out to be great. I took off five weeks after my first baby was born, seven after the second. My husband proved to be an equal partner as a parent. Neither of us was interested in working a super high-powered job, but we each worked at least forty hours a week. It was fine.

Some years later, though, our son began having problems in after-school care. I ended up adjusting my work hours so that I went in to work at six in the morning, and came home early enough to be with our son after school. This worked fine in my job, in which there was a good amount of freedom, but wouldn't have been possible in some jobs. Maybe I'd have had to go part-time, if I'd had a different job.

I can't imagine having a baby while trying to get started in a difficult field. I'd try to do only one of those at a time. My own field was not so difficult, and I was already reasonably established when I had my first baby at the age of thirty-one.
posted by Ery at 6:38 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

It might be true for the OP if there are huge academic loans to be paid back.

Well, that certainly makes it a harder decision; it did for us. I didn't mean it to sound snarky. But it is a matter of priorities, and those sometimes change with kids. We found that kids, while increasing some expenses, decreased others, especially entertainment. Then we decided we could live with older cars, a smaller house, and generally less "stuff", if it meant more time with the kid. Like I said, a huge lifestyle change. But three years ago I would have said it was impossible to live on one salary, too. So it's wroth figuring out if it's really true.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:44 AM on February 23, 2011

Is your SO going on a multi-national academic job hunt soon? If you have any say in the matter, the Netherlands sounds like the absolute best place in the world after maybe Sweden or France to have a child if you qualify for state benefits.

Check it out [pdf]: 16 weeks maternity leave at full pay, three more months unpaid for BOTH parents with a guarantee that you get your job back. Subsidized child care from an early age, full health care coverage.

These sorts of things make a big difference in the calculations about whether you need one or two incomes. In the US, it's usually two incomes because we pay more out of pocket for health care (most births in a hospital cost easily into five figures with insurance covering only part if you're lucky) and we have no paid maternity leave or childcare benefits except a few tax breaks.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2011

As others have mentioned, academia is much better about work-life balance. I was able to be the parent I wanted to be generally for my kid's first 2 years because of academia's flexibility. With my new 9-5 gig, not so much.

There is a lot of shit to do as a parent that takes up work time - illnesses, preschool tours, dentist appointments... and even flexible understanding bosses can be annyoyed with this.

So, tl;dr, I don't know, but IME it was much easier in academia than non.
posted by k8t at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2011

This is a U.S.-centric answer, so take from it what applies. First, it IS possible to live on one salary, even in the U.S. where benefits are, by most first-world standards, pretty shitty. You commit to a smaller house, older car, fewer vacations. I know families who do it on a considerably SMALLER single salary than we do.

Probably my best LIFE advice, not just "having kids" advice, other than getting a comforter one size bigger than the bed, is to budget and plan your life on a single salary as much as is humanly possible. Rent or buy a house on one salary. That means the other salary can go entirely into savings and you can pay outright for things like cars or massive basement water damage repairs, or one of you can stay home with children for a while if necessary or desired. Maybe daycare has to come out of the second salary (daycare costs an asston in the US), but then you've ideally still got some left over to be saving. Etc.

I'm not sure how translatable this is to other countries (I would expect it varies considerably based on size, city distribution, and governmental set-up), but look at a city like Grand Rapids or Raleigh-Durham -- a secondary (or tertiary, if you like), regional city that's really fairly large but definitely not a Chicago or LA or D.C. What we have found living in one of these regional cities (actually, since I went to college, I have mostly lived in these regional cities, which are often where elite colleges are located in the U.S.) is that family life is considerably more intact in second-tier cities; litigators like my husband work 60-hour weeks instead of 80-hour weeks, and his office is only 10 minutes from our house-with-a-yard so he can come home for dinner and go back to work if necessary and we're not losing time to commuting. Judges will reschedule hearings if they conflict with ballet recitals (not even kidding! the judge's kid was in the same recital as the lawyer's!). Things are less-frenetic, move a little slower, and the social life of the city is more family-focused than in a larger city with a more exciting nightlife. These can be, I think, very hard places to be single, but they are very good places to raise families. Salaries are typically smaller and opportunities more limited; the flip side is that professionals often move up into positions of responsibility faster because the job pool is more limited and organizations tend to be smaller. Also housing is waaaaaaaay cheaper.

Beyond that, pick a place to work that's supportive of parents and that isn't super-frenetic, and ideally that has excellent childcare on-site or nearby. Also if mom and dad can work reasonably nearby each other and near the daycare (another benefit of a smaller city), it's easier to arrange daycare pickup tradeoffs as necessary, which helps.

Also, and this is something you have only limited power to arrange, but -- my friends who are doing the highest-pressure jobs while parenting without having to slow down, take a step back, or miss endless days for ear infections live RIGHT NEARBY THEIR PARENTS. Or in-laws. Anyway, built-in childcare in the form of retired grandparents makes a HUGE economic and practical difference and gives you a lot more freedom to pursue your career.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 AM on February 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

If you have any say in the matter, the Netherlands sounds like the absolute best place in the world after maybe Sweden or France to have a child if you qualify for state benefits.

Yes and no. To this Australian, who has also lived in the UK and the Netherlands, Dutch women return to work rather quickly, and the absolute majority of women work part time. Great if you are planning for a less-demanding career, because you will not have to fight to go part-time.

My husband is an academic. Should I have a child much of the responsibility will fall to him as I have a job for which I am fortunate to work at home for, but with the flip side of frequent far-flung travel that would have to be carefully negotiated. Academia in Europe is indeed flexible about working from home, generous leave - much more so than Australia I find.
posted by wingless_angel at 7:15 AM on February 23, 2011

it's very much important to me to have a working life

Don't discount this just because people tell you your priorities will change. For some people they do, for some they don't, and for some (myself included) they change a little but not fundamentally. Before, my blackberry was glued to my hand. Now, I leave my work at the door when I get home.

However, my three months at home with the newborn only confirmed that I would go absolutely, positively bonkers as a full-itme, stay at home mom. Not good for me, nor my family.

Heck, even if my pay didn't cover the costs of childcare, I think the following conditions apply:
- The loony bin (for me) and therapy (for kiddo) would be much more expensive down the road
- Working now means I'll be much more employable in a few years when kiddo goes to school. The longer you're unemployed, the worse you look to a potential employer: skills have atrophied, impression is that you're less "serious".
- If my husband ever lost his job, at least we'd have another income stream, and a source of health insurance

As for making it work -- I'd underscore what other folks have said: it's really important to be in an environment where people KNOW you're going to do great work even if you're not burning the midnight oil every night. Getting into a new job, much less a new industry, is tough. Ideally, I think it's best to cultivate a reputation as an awesome contributor for a few years before having a baby. Obviously that doesn't always work, but I think it's what works best.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 7:22 AM on February 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

No one in my office cared that I had a kid - most of the women I work with had a kid. However, for me, having a kid changed everything. I didn't want to work as hard, because my kid is awesome, and fun, and I don't want to miss out on seeing all the little things.

Count me among those who thought it's very much important to me to have a working life before my son was born. I was home for 12 weeks leave after he was born, and cheered in the car on my first day back to work. However, within a very short period of time it became clear to me that my priorities had totally shifted.

I'm stuck working 40 - 50 hour weeks, because I'm the primary wage earner in my family (basically I make all the money but my husband works for a company with gold-plated health benefits, so we both continue to work). If I had it to do over again, I would have focused on rearranging our lives so that I could work from home/do consulting/be a SAHM/work part time.

Want to have a baby within five years? Downscale your lives now and concentrate every dollar you have available on becoming debt free and living on only one salary - because either way (SAHM or Daycare) one salary is going to go away - either you decide to stay home, or you spend as much as you can afford to put your child in the best care situation you can afford.
posted by anastasiav at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I will jump back in to say that MOST of my friends are working full-time while spawning. It's hardest when they're babies, gets easier with time. Most of them prefer this and would be bored at home. Priorities do change, but they may change to getting home earlier, not to staying home completely. One of my friends, the sort who's always posting on facebook about how much she loves her child and her kid is so super-awesome and all that, got her dream of staying home by taking a sabbatical and discovered, to her horror, that SHE HATED BEING A FULL-TIME MOM and it was SO INCREDIBLY BORING she couldn't stand it. (And then she had all this internal drama because she created this outward appearance of a certain kind of mom and couldn't bear to let people know she "failed" at at-home parenting and I was just like, go back to work already, crazy woman.)

I am at-home MOST of the time (I teach some classes nights and weekends, and I have some unpaid political work) and I think I'm temperamentally well-suited to it, and it still is pretty boring by times, and what people don't really tell you is that because so few parents stay home anymore, it's kinda lonely. Not like when I was growing up and most families on the block had an at-home parent. Also, I'm a little jealous of kids in daycare, they get so much enrichment and socialization and I worry about whether I can give my kids as much.

It IS possible to do it on one salary if having a parent at home is what you want to do, and you CAN figure that out. But many women are much happier and better mothers when they're working full-time, and you can figure THAT out too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:01 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

My partner is an academic, employed and doing well. We have a good relationship, and we talk often about having kids and, importantly, when we want to have kids.

Does he talk about what he is going to sacrifice? What he is going to change? How much he is going to do? Much of what happens with you and your career and what will primarly affect what options you have and how much work you get done is how much work the other (whether it is your partner or as others mention, another caregiver) people tasked with raising your children will be doing.

If that person/people are not willing to clean and cook, change diapers, feed and soothe a screaming kid, do laundry instead of watching something they feel is important on television and the like, it is going to be a problem, and will drastically affect the choices you are able to make.

Whoever will be caring for the child a lot of the time besides you - talk with them about these things explicitly. Today.
posted by cashman at 8:01 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Men should do more parenting so that having a kid would affect their careers the same way. Life should be more balanced so that people could have meaningful lives and meaningful work. Until Americans take that to heart in the way they manage businesses and legislate, parents will suffer and so will their kids.

I went back to work full time when my baby was 6 months old. I became a single parent when he was 5 years old. There were tradeoffs, but being good at my work, working hard, and having good day care all made it possible. Having some backup for sick days (Thanks, Aunt B_) made a big difference when he was school-age.

My family means way more to me than my job. The American way of work - not enough holidays, not enough vacation time, too much work commitment required - doesn't strike me as healthy. Don't forget the protections afforded by the Family Leave Act. Progress is slow, but there has been some progress.
posted by theora55 at 8:04 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's so different for everybody.

We make it work even though we both have fairly demanding careers because our jobs are flexible in terms of when and where we work. He goes to work early and comes home early to pick up the kid; I go to work on the late side and leave on the late side and do morning dropoff; we both work from home often, especially in the evening after our toddler's bedtime.

Reliable childcare is a must, ideally with family (for us that's not possible, and it makes it difficult when the kid is sick or we both have major work commitments at the same time).

Check out this talk by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO. She makes some great points, especially her last point about not backing away from career opportunities because you're worried that they might interfere with your family obligations.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have not found it possible to have the same kind of career (in finance) that I did before the kids came along. We are blessed in that we get along easily on just one income and I can take jobs and consulting work at my leisure without regard for the bottom line, sorta speak. But it still hasn't been easy. In my case, my husband's job has little to no flexibility, so the lion's share of the sick kid duty falls to me, even when I am working. This has represented a huge problem for me as my kids catch every single bug that walks by them it seems. And the fact is that I cannot compete with people who are reliable-because I'm just not. And it shows in the lack of progress my career has shown since I've had children.

This is the kind of thing I didn't really think about when we were childless and decided to move across the country to a place with no family to play safety net for us. So I'd think about that before you have kids-be prepared for your priorities to change and for your employer to know that and respond accordingly. It may not be fair, but it is the way the world is. If I knew then what I know now-I'd have picked a different career, something where part time is a real option and 60 hour workweeks were not the norm.
posted by supercapitalist at 8:29 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, you asked "should I mention it to an employer": Absolutely not. The time to mention to an employer that you'll need some accommodation because of your family obligations is when you actually do, for instance, you're several months pregnant and are informing them about maternity leave, or a family member is really sick and you need some flexibility in your schedule to care for them. Do NOT go into a job interview saying, "I already know I'm not going to commit 100% because I'm going to have a baby one of these days." (Seriously, watch that Sheryl Sandberg talk.) Do ask someone at a potential job you're interested in what their work-life balance is like, but make it an informal chat with someone you feel comfortable with and who you feel won't hold it against you.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2011

There are a lot of pink collar professions that have adapted to this kind of thing. I would suggest teaching at a secondary level, since you already have a PhD.

If you have a PhD in the Humanities, then my assumption is that getting a teaching position at a university would be a little difficult and not as lucrative or baby-friendly as being a PhD who teaches humanities at a fancy prep school (which could pay more and they like PhDs on faculty and there would be a little more vacation time) or at an affluent public high school.
posted by anniecat at 9:04 AM on February 23, 2011

I have to disagree about teaching high school. While people at work will be more understanding, the workload is pretty crazy and the stress is incredibly intense for the first year. My lightest weeks were 50-60 hours, and that was after I figured out what I was doing. New teachers (first two years or so) work more like 60-70 hours a week. While there are teachers who manage to have babies, they usually have many years under their belt first. I wouldn't even think about it until after 4-5 years of teaching, but YMMV.
posted by smirkette at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2011

I'm going to join the ranks of people questioning the compatibility of a career in advertising with your goals for growing your family. In fact, I'll go a step further, since I've established my career in agencies and worked in advertising for a long time.

One thing I noticed in advertising is how young the vast majority of the workforce skews. When I was in my 20s I didn't really notice it, but by my mid-30s I looked around to find that my peers were few and far between, and (at the last ad agency I worked for) those in their mid-30s to 40s who were still there were literally all male except me. The 1:7 (women:men) proportion in leadership roles seems pretty average for the industry based on my experience, and it isn't a coincidence.

Advertising is an industry dedicated to finding and shaping the latest and greatest trends and definitions of "cool". The work product is inherently short-lived, and you're constantly hustling to find that idea that's innovative, memorable, clever, on-brand, impresses clients, wins awards... it's a never-ending treadmill of ideas and energy, fed mostly by the excited and trendy younger employees, and shaped/developed by the experienced veterans. The hours get a bit better (60 rather than 80/wk) once you've become an experienced veteran, but even then nobody would go as far as to call it a balanced lifestyle.

Last year one of my younger employees had a baby, and I was amazed at how gracefully and professionally she handled the never-ending barrage of work. If she was exhausted and uncomfortable, either from pregnancy or (after her maternity leave) from caring for her constantly-sick infant, she never complained. She knows there are a line of applicants waiting to take her low-level position if she can't do the job or put in the hours, and she's a hard worker trying to balance as best she can for now.

But she's clearly giving up a lot in terms of missing out on spending time with her kid, and on compromising her own health, stress and happiness, and from the outside it doesn't look sustainable for her in the long run. In an especially candid moment, she admitted it's really, really hard, and that she feels like her low level of experience at work and her family choices are two reasons she feels she has to prove herself constantly at work. I'm sure she's entertaining her options outside of advertising (in the 2 minutes of free time she has each day).

Mixing advertising with baby-making is not a choice I would make if I were trying to set myself up for success and happiness either at work or at home.
posted by nadise at 10:54 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

(Background: I have a 3.5-month old, my husband and I both have full-time jobs in an academic setting, and I needed to skip lunch today to go to daycare and put some breastmilk up my son's nose because he was too stuffed-up to eat and the carers are not legally allowed to do that themselves.)

Agreed with the comments above that your partner needs to be a lot more part of this conversation than they seem to be right now. What I'm finding is that, with two stable 9-5 career-type jobs in the family and pretty equitable parenting, that we can just barely keep up with eating and sleeping and doing laundry. It helps if at least one parent has the flexibility to take an occasion afternoon off suddenly when the baby gets sick or something. We've both been in our positions for a couple of years, and started trying to get pregnant after we'd both been working in the same position for at least a year, which was enough for us to feel very stable and have the maximum amount of benefits.

I think, if it's possible, it's best to have the first year of a child's life happen during a professional time of life that will not require quite as much intense focus--in the sciences, a lot of women get pregnant during a postdoc (which my current position is, sort-of-not-quite), or after getting tenure, but not in between. Starting out in a new, highly-demanding field would not be that time.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2011

I have to disagree about teaching high school. While people at work will be more understanding, the workload is pretty crazy and the stress is incredibly intense for the first year.

That's pretty true for the first year in any career track job. She's better off starting in the field pre-baby and then going from there.

Also, I suggest OP avoid troubled urban schools where the workload will be insane and the students and colleagues emotionally draining. If OP teaches at a school already packed with high performers, teaching will likely be less stressful and more fun (unless the parents are insane).
posted by anniecat at 11:52 AM on February 23, 2011

another option is to wait it out. get your career started, settle into a community, build a life, start saving money like crazy. in five years you'll be established enough in your field to know what your options are for part-time/job-sharing/freelancing if you want to dial back your work life.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:54 PM on February 23, 2011

I can't emphasize how strongly I suggest you not go into advertising with the plan of having a baby. I've been in the industry for almost two decades and always thought I would be a working mum, so I looked for examples of women who were doing it successfully. I've found only one or two and they had stay at home dads. The industry isn't kind to women on the whole and down right tries to avoid hiring those who look like they might think of getting married/pregnant. The reason is because it's not unusual to be working til ten at night (or three, or four, or just sleeping inthe office couch and getting up to do it again in the morning). I spent years getting home at 11 in an office where if you left before 8pm, people would raise their eyebrows and say "early night huh!?".

The women who do have children organize their entire schedule around picking up their kids etc and as a result a dozen people regularly have their meetings pushed back till 8 that night so xyz can feed her kid and go back to the office. So no one gets to go home at a decent hour. On top of that, as a junior (assuming you're just starting out) you're expected to pull whatever hours they need, normally very late, on very little income with no complaint. In your 20s with no commitments, it's the best industry in the world, it's so much fun and you do heaps of cool things. Once you have family or people you want to go home to, or in fact any kind of work/life balance, it just doesn't work. All my female friends who are married and wanting kids are leaving in droves. We just can't make it work. And it's so sad because at one point, we all loved it.
posted by Jubey at 11:15 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
Thanks to everyone who has shared their experiences, it's been eye opening and helpful. One clarification: I am absolutely NOT planning on getting pregnant while looking to break into a new industry. To be blunt, it's a little condescending to suggest I'm naive enough to think a baby and a new career are compatible. Of course now isn't the time. I've just become aware that I want kids and work in my future, and I'm trying to figure out, if not the best time (as if such a thing exists), at least what a better time might look like.

I'm also slightly annoyed at the suggestion that my partner isn't a part of this conversation beyond the agreeing-to-make-the-sucker part. We talk about what we want in the future, and that includes what having a family would mean for *both* of our careers. I could go further defending my choices, but I feel like that's churlishness on my part when there have been so many helpful responses. I guess I hadn't anticipated what a charged issue this is!

Thanks again for sharing your experiences, it's been very helpful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:15 AM on February 24, 2011

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