When to have Baby #2?
August 25, 2011 12:26 PM   Subscribe

When to have Baby #2? (Welcome to my personal/professional snowglobe.)

Alrighty. Here's some background:

My husband and I have one child, a 4-month old, and we’d like to have one more. Trouble is, I'm 34 years old and completing a PhD dissertation. I expect to finish up and go on the academic job market in about a year, at which point I’ll be competing for a demanding teaching job. So when the heck should I have this baby?

There are two options, as I see it:

1) Get pregnant soon (say, in five or six months) and have my second while still in graduate school, thereby consolidating babytime before I undertake my career.
2) Wait 3-5 years until my career is semi-established.

Yup, I know: Fertility can’t always be micro-managed, and my aging or otherwise recalcitrant ovaries might render all these considerations moot. But let's just assume for a second that it's really possible to family plan.

Pros of having Baby #2 soon:
-Consolidate babytime (diapers, sleeplessness, etc.) and then move forward with career.
-Kids will be close in age; this is probably hella difficult at first, but it sounds pretty great in the long-term.
-We can afford a babysitter 12-15 hours a week, so even with two, I’d still be able to make some progress on my dissertation and maybe even teach a class here or there, thus “staying in the game” and very slowly moving forward with the degree.
-carpe diem, fertility-wise. I know fertility drops off sharply at 35, and that at 34 my chances of conceiving aren’t exactly fantastic anyway-- heck, it took me 8 months to get pregnant with my first. [That said, the ladies in my family tend to be rather fertile; my mother had her last child at age 44. And at the risk of getting too nitty-gritty, I already have my period back again, and my baby’s only four months old and exclusively breast-fed (Does this mean I’m a fertile goddess or just exquisitely unlucky, or both?).]

Cons of having Baby #2 soon:
- Potentially hard on my body to give birth again after 18 or 19 months. I’m in very good health, but I'm a bit concerned about this.
-Potential risks to second baby’s health (I’ve read that a closely spaced second baby can be at risk for low birth weight, etc. However, I eat like a champ and take my cod liver oil and folic acid, so I think I'd be able to provide a second baby what he/she needs.)
-By having a second baby now, while still in graduate school, I might somehow lose touch with my profession, my career, and drift forever and ever into mommyland and never ever make anything of myself professionally.
-Delaying going on the job market or pausing after I have my degree to have a baby could somehow prove a professional hazard.
-Jobs in my discipline are not exactly a-plenty. It’s possible I won’t actually land one. Shouldn’t I find that out sooner rather than later? I’m in my thirties, and I have one baby already. Shouldn’t I try to get out there and see what happens, then let the timing of number two take care of itself?

Pros of waiting until after I am semi-established to have Baby #2 (i.e. 3-5 years)
-I’ll be able to move forward more quickly right now with finishing my dissertation and applying for jobs. Having two small children while preparing applications, job talks, campus interviews, etc. seems daunting to say the least. It'd be much easier with one.
-Rather than staying in mommyland for another 2-3 years and wondering if I even have what it takes to get a job, I’ll be able to get a move on things and test my prospects.
-Baby #1 will be more an older toddler/small child and thus more independent before #2 is born
-More time to enjoy Baby #1 before the wee interloper.

Cons of waiting:
-Declining fertility.
-Could be so engrossed in a hard tenure-track job that managing a new baby would be utterly exhausting.
-Could be so busy that I’ll somehow never get around to trying.
-It could take me a while to even land a job, let alone get settled.
-Starting for a second time with the whole diaper/sleeplessness rigmarole.

To answer a few pertinent questions: Yes, we can afford to have a second child and part-time childcare. And yes, my partner is supportive. He also wants a second child but is much less concerned about when it happens than I am. He works a full-time office job, so much of the childcare would fall to me. When he is home, though, he’s awesomely involved.

And, yes, I enjoy being a mother, but I'm also really looking forward to finally being a salaried professor someday.

But even outside of my own specific universe, what are your thoughts on…

-close baby spacing (under two years)?
-deferring one’s career to get the child-bearing out of the way?

All thoughts are welcome, but I’m really interested to hear from people who have experience with the humanities academic job market - either as a candidate or a committee member. Side question for you folks: If I decide to try to have the baby sooner rather than later, would it be less detrimental professionally to do so *during* graduate school than after I receive my degree? I’ve heard that post-doc gaps in the CV are sometimes regarded unfavorably by hiring committees.

And no platitudes, please, however well-meaning. I don’t want to be urged to relax or reminded that there's never really a good time.

Thanks very much, guys.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My gut instinct is to do it closer. If you wait until you're entrenched in your career. . . what if you get adjunct, part-time jobs for three years? In terms of it being demanding to do applications &c with two small children, let me tell you, the older one will be the more demanding one; the older one needs to be actively engaged, while the baby just needs to be attended to.

Mine are four years apart, and modulo other concerns, I think that's pretty perfect. But I have friends who have kids 11, 15, and 19 months apart, and they all say that the first year SUCKS but then after that it's awesome.
posted by KathrynT at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our kids are 3 years apart and that's been ideal (just so you know my personal bias in answering this). Another benefit to waiting - and it's a big one - is that in 3-5 years, your first child will be able to do a lot to help out with the new baby and the home in general. You point out in your list that you realize the first child will be a toddler, but seriously, a toddler of four or so? You can get them to do genuinely helpful things around the house (getting diapers for you, helping keep things tidy, etc.). That enhances their relationship with their sibling, too, because they're taking part and that makes a very big, positive impact.
posted by jbickers at 12:48 PM on August 25, 2011

I think having them together is easier in the long run. As they get older, they'll be in the same school, in the same routines, etc. There's more likelihood that in your family time, you can all do one activity, instead of splitting up because one needs a nap or one is too old for a certain activity the other one loves.
posted by Sukey Says at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2011

You have done a terrific job of laying out the pros and cons.

My kids are also spaced 3 years apart, and I like that. But I didn't have your other considerations. Friends who have had them closer together have said exactly what you did: it's very hard for awhile, and then you're glad you spaced them closer. Both from the perspective of getting it over with, and the perspective of the kids being close together in age. It's not a huge deal, but I have 3, with a six-year age spread, and it gets tricky because the youngest isn't old enough for some activities the older ones are, and so on. I think there might be some logistical things (like them being able to go on the same rides at the fair instead of one being on the little kid rides while the other is on the bigger kid rides) that would be a little easier with closer spacing. Nothing huge--just little things I notice in my life. (Sukey Says has it right, I think.)

Also, again in my experience, if you space them widely enough, you can get so far out of the baby lifestyle that you're not willing to go back again. In the few months before our #3 came along, I was starting to feel like if it took much longer, we were going to pass the window of time during which we were willing to take on all the work and trouble of a baby again--our second one was over 3 by then, and life was getting so easy. I think #3 came in the nick of time! This might not apply to you, but on the other hand, it might be more of an issue because you are more committed to a career than I was, and that might contribute to a feeling that, having gotten out of the baby/toddler period, it's too much to take on to go back again.

I also have a suspicion that in your field, it might be easier to slow down a little in grad school than to do it as a post-doc or faculty member. It's relatively easy to take fewer classes or defer working on a thesis (I did the latter when I was having a difficult pregnancy, for instance); I think it's harder to go at half-speed once you're in a job.

Also: #3 came right before I turned 42. I think it's easy when you're in your mid to late 30s to imagine that in another 10 years you'll still basically be you, and that having a baby later won't be a big deal. But I really notice the difference in energy, moods, and coping ability now that I'm in my mid-40s and in a hellish perimenopause that came on quite suddenly. Caveat: I was also sick for almost 2 years until last December, and my experience of the hormonal changes taking place may not be typical. But still: you never know! I had no idea perimenopause could come on so fast or be so challenging, and having a preschooler to deal with at the same time has been really draining. In addition, I find myself noticing that I'll be 60 when she's 18! Retirement feels a lot closer than it did 10 years ago, and I observe that we'll still be dealing with college expenses when we should be planning our ritual post-retirement cross-country Winnebago trip. 10 years ago, I didn't think that mattered; now that I'm really trying to figure out how we're going to make it all work, I think it does.
posted by not that girl at 1:19 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I realize I said in my first line that I like the 3-year spacing, and then spent many paragraphs talking about what I don't like about it. What I do like about it: in general, a 3-year-old is pretty ready to deal with a new baby, and has the skills to listen to you and defer getting her needs met while you nurse or care for the baby. Developmentally, it has felt like good timing, like the transitions with the new babies were easier than the transitions of friends whose kids were spaced 18 to 24 months apart. And you're less likely to have two in diapers at the same time with wider spacing. But I know lots of moms who have had kids closer together--including one friend who had 7 at more-or-less 18 month intervals--and they seem to do fine.
posted by not that girl at 1:22 PM on August 25, 2011

If you think you're likely to forget to try, then perhaps a second kid isn't the priority it might seem to be. In other words, if having a second child turned out be difficult or impossible, it sounds like you'd be okay with that.

Can't give you advice one way or another anyway, but wanted to point that out.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:27 PM on August 25, 2011

I have no personal experience of this, but I just wanted to say that I agree with the young rope-rider, and to say that to me it comes down to this: if you are 100% sure that you definitely want another child, do it now, or there is a chance (that for whatever reason - fertility, career, whatever) it won't happen. If you're ok with the fact it may not happen, then maybe this means that your reasons to wait outweigh your desire for another child.

Or, another way to think of it - which would you regret more, in 10-15 years' time? Not advancing with your career as much as you perhaps could have, or not ever having a second child?
posted by schmoo at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

You are 34 year old, in 1 year you will be 35 and officially "Advanced Maternal Age". How do you feel about that? Being Advanced Maternal Age means an increased risk of chromosomal anomalies and infertility problems.

Want to get scared, read some of these websites - March of Dimes, or "Fertility Facts" from the Healthy Living channel. They give me pause, and I'm years from being 35.

The second link contains the cheerful point that at age 35, "approximately 1 in 2 eggs are likely to have chromosomal abnormalities, and about 90% of eggs are abnormal in women 42 and over."

Of course, as the MOD link points out, most women over 35 have healthy, normal babies, but just thought I'd throw out these facts for your consideration. I think these concerns would likely outweigh the issues you noticed about second babies and low birth weight, or stress on your body, but you have to judge for yourself.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2011

have it soon. you'll thank yourself for the fun and the ending state (two kids close together can at least gripe about their parents together and understand each other)
posted by zombieApoc at 2:01 PM on August 25, 2011

I'm an academic and had a baby in grad school. Me mail me if you want to talk but...

Have baby 2 now. You'll never have the flexibility that you have like you have now. Job prep is tough with 1 baby or 2. Interviewing sucks when you're breastfeeding. Moving sucks with one baby or 2. You're going to be way more stressed being pregnant and taking maternity leave while also going for tenure.
posted by k8t at 2:02 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and a post-grad gap would be very bad. Stay affiliated and in the good graces of your department.
posted by k8t at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2011

I know it sounds cruel, but you need to really prioritize what is more important to you: career or children.

The only reason I'm saying this is based on the experience of my own wife, who's desire for a second child was very, very strong. You may find that, after choosing to get established in a career you will start to regret waiting to have that second child, but it may be very, very difficult to conceive again because of your age. That can be emotionally devastating.

So, you've got to look into your heart and soul and try to figure out what ultimately will make you "happier" at the age of 40.

I don't think this is a decision you can make within one year of giving birth, by the way. Hormones already play so much havoc.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:14 PM on August 25, 2011

I'm a bit "behind" you (I'm a 40-y-o doc student with a 4 and 7 year old) but I would tend to come down on the side of doing it sooner for all the practical reasons posters have mentioned above.

I would recommend against, however, freaking yourself out by going to websites and looking up stats on "advanced maternal age." Gah.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:08 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you what... We have a two and a half year difference.... its short enough that they are close together in age, but it was at a point where there are definitely pangs of neglect for either kid (not actual neglect, just ... well... you can't necessarily explain to a two year old that you can't get down the crayons at this exact moment - despite it being a crayon emergency - because the baby has just thrown up on herself...)

There is a lot of micro disaster associated with two kids - close enough in age where the oldest has to adjust to not being an only child, but is young enough that he really can't grasp either his emotions, explore their roots, or be verbal enough that he can explain completely the ones he has... Heck - we have an invisible bear.

Nor am I saying to have two right away. Two is... a big adjustment. That second kid may not be anything like your first kid in temperment and personality. In our case, I think the adjustment was pretty simple for us (minus the pangs of bad parenting as stated above), partially because our first was so active... The new baby is EASY in comparrison. If we had had the two kids in reverse order... well... lets just say we understand why some animals eat their young....

As for waiting... well... heck, for me, having kids wasn't about me. It was about them. How old did I want them to be when they would realistically have to deal with me dying? Yeah... morbid thought. But ultimately, that was my cutoff. There is a chance that at 40 you might not be able to concieve - but - there are also a lot more 40-something new parents than there were 30 years ago. There is technology there for it - yeah, it may not work for you - but it may also be a non-issue. I can't commment on your fertility, nor what methods of control prior to your initial conception that may have hindered your efforts, nor on your health or your diet... I can say, that my wife and I did not have any problems concieving the second because there was no inbetween maintenance...

When it comes to babies, the internet is not your friend. There is too much information and not enough of a filter on what is good and bad, nor what is actually applicable to you. There's a scene in "Into the Wild" where the protagonist is starving and eats a plant he identifies as a food source, before realizing that it makes him deathly ill and that he has mis-identified a poisonous plant. I don't know how else to put it, except I think the internet works in reverse. Everybody on the internet tells you about the poison to the point that you spend your time second guessing everything and not relying both on SCIENCE! and the likely probability that things will be ok.

So look... take a look at your parents and grandparents and their siblings. Average the age of their death from natural causes. That's what I use as my rule of thumb genetic target for my death. I back calculated out how much of my kid's adult life I would like to see and witness and when those things would likely occur. My cuttoff was higher than 35, so - all things being good, I should have the opportunity to spend some time with my kids and maybe even their kids as well.

And... I'll fit in some more schooling next year.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:26 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Look for jobs that have great childcare setups and find out how long you have to work there to qualify.

My current boss enrolled his son in the staff kid depository seven months before the birth. He parks the kid there by 9am and retrieves him shortly after 5pm. I'm sure it's a squeeze, but he seems pretty happy with it overall.
posted by tel3path at 4:24 PM on August 25, 2011

Seconding k8t here. Career wise, it's much easier to manage a baby while you are at the "you can defend when you're ready" phase of graduate school than at any time of the tenure-track process. My first was born 6 months before I defended my PhD and my second was born 2 months into a tenure-track professorship (with a few years of postdoc separating the two).

It was MUCH harder to have a new baby as an assistant professor than as a late-phase graduate student, for me, anyway.
posted by u2604ab at 4:45 PM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had my babies spaced way closer than that, and as hard as it can be, in the long run I recommend it. The kids tend to be friends with each other, and my three were all in high school at the same time. It was a lot of fun.

Go for it!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:14 PM on August 25, 2011

My kids are 23 months apart, and I'm in undergrad full time plus my husband and I started a business so when I'm not doing accounting or marketing or sales, I'm taking care of them. But close is the way to go. The small one is 7 months, the older is 2.5, and it's honestly not as hard as I thought it'd be. I know a lot of people for whom the second is being put off longer and longer, and I'd have done the same if we didn't bite the bullet. And being done, done, done with infancy is FREEING, even though I love babies so much.

Protip: I have a small room I turned into a playroom, so I can sit the smaller one with some soft toys and the older one with trains and put a gate up and get things done, and just throw in a raw steak once in awhile.
posted by kpht at 7:24 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, I don't have personal experience with the academic job market (yet!), but I have discussed the baby-timing issue with several successful female academic mothers whom I consider role models. Their unanimous response: it's cool to have a baby before you're tenure track, and it's cool to have a baby after you get tenure, but ye gods will you be miserable if you have a baby while you're actually on the tenure track. If you're still a year away from finishing your dissertation, it seems likely that you're looking at quite a bit longer than 3-5 years until you actually have tenure, right? Like, two to three times longer than that?

As one of my professors put it, plenty of people lose a year somewhere along the line while they're dissertating, often for no better reason than that they're procrastinating. Taking two more years to finish your dissertation instead of one shouldn't make any difference. And if you think you'd be able to keep making progress on the degree shortly afterwards, then so much the better!

This seems to be in accord with what k8t and u2604ab are saying. I'm voting for baby #2 asap.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:32 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My sister and I are 4 years apart and I think that is way too far. When I was starting junior high, she was still in elementary school. When I was starting high school, she was still in elementary school. It wasn't until I was an uber-cool (sarcasm) sophomore in high school that she even started junior high. We've never really had much in the way of shared experiences and I've always wished we were closer in age.

I vote for baby #2 soon!
posted by bendy at 9:09 PM on August 25, 2011

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