Pre-tenure pregnancy?
April 10, 2012 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Timing of pregnancy - pre or post-tenure?

We are considering having a second child. I'm going to be starting a tenure-track position in the fall. I'm entering with a record that indicates that I could go up for tenure quite early (chair & dean confirm). (I'm 3/4th of the way there with papers already published & have many things in submission. It is possible that I could go up in 3 years.) By all accounts, department is very family friendly.

Some of my academic mommy mentors says: "Have baby now while you have this running start."

Other says that I can either go up for tenure early OR have a baby pre-tenure, but probably not both.

It wouldn't be the end of the world to not go up early, but I'd like your opinion on this too.

So, would you get pregnant sooner or later under these circumstances?

Why earlier?
- I'm still in my early 30s (I don't think that I'll have fertility issues, but you never know)
- Child 1 is 4 years old (we're in the trenches already, have some of the gear still, closer in age could play together, etc.)
- I have a buffer of publications as described above

Why wait?
- I could wait ~3 years and ENSURE that I have tenure locked down
- I'll have more time to build a reputation
- I'll have more knowledge of how to make this work within the department politics and more credibility with department
- My topic is hot right now and might not be as hot in 5 years, so it could be argued that I should ride the wave as much as I can early on
- I didn't get much done in my last pregnancy/first year of babyhood
- We'll be more settled - financially, time-balance, etc.
- Child 1 will be more self-sufficient than now

What would you do?

(Would prefer comments from those that are familiar with tenure track pressure/politics please. Although general comments like "Ha! Kids aren't more self-sufficient at age 8, you idiot!" are fine.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1) There is never the "perfect time" to have a baby. Never. Once you figure out one thing that you think is a major reason to wait, then something else comes along. If you know you want a kid, now is always the best time to start trying.

2) My wife went through this exact thing recently. My wife was just about to get tenure (and was on track to get tenure quite early), had a baby, and even took a leave! She still got tenure on time (early, as planned); she just had to petition the 0.3 credits or something that she was short. She didn't miss a beat during her leave, either. If you are into a hot field, you will still be doing a lot of things surrounding it (I know how you academics are :-D), even while you are trying to figure out how to sleep again.

Have the baby now. Well, start trying to have the baby now. Even if your first pregnancy was planned like clockwork, you have no idea about the second. You could get pregnant this weekend or in 16 months...

After saying all that, the only actual downside I could see is finances while being adjunct. While my wife and I started having children before she was full-time, we waited to buy a house until she was full time because, well as you must know, adjunct work in some fields is so hit or miss that you cannot rely on it as steady income whatsoever.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:38 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

In terms of getting along, the siblings I know with wider gaps (8-10 years) get along extremely well. It's not guaranteed, obviously, but it's not something I would worry about either.

I can't say much about tenure! Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:41 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

My kids are about 5 years apart and they were great together and still are. So grateful not to have 2 in diapers.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:43 AM on April 10, 2012

Fertility declines rather precipitously around your mid-30s. Yes, many women have no problem getting pregnant at 40, but by about 35 your likelihood of fertility problems or high-risk pregnancy is significantly higher.

There's rarely a "convenient" time to have children -- but it sounds like you have a situation where it's possible without seriously disrupting your long-term career goals.

Also consider the relationship your children will have. I was a little over four years younger than my sister. We were pretty good friends growing up and played together pretty often. My wife has siblings who are 12 years, 8 years, 4 years, and 2 years younger than her -- the type of relationship she had with each one growing up ranged from buddy-buddy to semi-parental. Neither are bad, but do consider what kind of experience you want your older child to have.
posted by jdwhite at 8:44 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I forgot to address this:

I didn't get much done in my last pregnancy/first year of babyhood

With your second, it's all different. I didn't have time for anything with my first, either, and neither did my wife--her work really struggled.

With the second, it's the whole "been there, done that." My wife has gotten more academic work done from home with two kids in a few months than she ever did with the first kid being around for three years. You get really involved with every minute of the first, but then the second has been walking for a week and you don't even notice.

As kids get older, they are just as needy if not more, in different ways...
posted by TinWhistle at 8:45 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Which scenario would bother you more, not getting tenure, or being unable to conceive a second child?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:51 AM on April 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

i would simply say that you should wait.

you're "why have kids now" list is a list of ways to SURVIVE having said kid#2 (IE i have publications buffered) whereas your list of why wait is a list of ironclad pros for waiting (IE hot topic now, fast track to tenure etc). you should re-read those 2 lists with an eye on your own language.

as for #2, we experienced the opposite. #2 was way more of a struggle than #1 even though we thought we'd been there and done that. #2 had some colic, teethed at 3 months, is a cryer, not a sleeper... in every way the more difficult antithesis of #1...

mixing in the sentiment that there is never a time where having kids will be more convenient or easier, and that there's no guarantee of fertility, even now, suggests you should go with the sure thing (career) and just start trying when career timing is better. there are always lots of options should you be unable to have #2 when the time comes along (ie fostering, adoption etc... just pointing out that "having" a second kid inst the only method of "obtaining" 2nd kid - goodness that sounds clinical)
posted by chasles at 8:51 AM on April 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I will say that all the genetic testing that comes into play when you are over 35 really sucks. Big plus if you can avoid it.
posted by yarly at 8:53 AM on April 10, 2012

... and i should have added, having a second kid was a wonderful joyous thing. i wouldn't trade the experience for the world, but in retrospect i might have attempted to time things better, along the ways you suggest regarding career etc.

all in all, you are picking between 2 wonderful paths, and its a nice problem to have.

good luck.
posted by chasles at 8:53 AM on April 10, 2012

Other says that I can either go up for tenure early OR have a baby pre-tenure, but probably not both.

I guess Other is probably right, but is there a good reason not to try? Especially since this isn't your first child and therefore you won't have to manage your department's perceptions in quite the same way you would with a first-time pregnancy (having another kid already means that you're not facing that inevitable, even if contemptible, worry that you're not going to be spending every second on your work anymore). It may also be easier to balance work with pregnancy this time around, as you won't be on quite as huge an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Most of this does, as others are saying, boil down to realizing that there's no "right" time and no one right answer to this question. An academic career and a young family are just very hard things to balance, and this will be true after tenure as much as now. But there is one counter-argument that seems worth seriously considering among those you listed here: "My topic is hot right now and might not be as hot in 5 years." This seems like it needs a bit of thought and career planning. You really should be trying to fit in as much publishing and conferencing as possible while your topic is in high demand; such opportunities sometimes happen only once in a career. If you think you might end up regretting not riding your research's fashionability through its one big moment because you were pregnant (and you think the moment is likely to be this brief), then this is a real reason to consider waiting a year or two before re-evaluating.
posted by RogerB at 9:00 AM on April 10, 2012

I'm a male in academia. We have 4 kids under 4 (twins born while I was finishing up my PhD, 2 singletons born during my first 3 years of my TT job). Overall, my feeling is that you should have the baby ASAP and go for tenure at the regular time. Like others have mentioned, there is not perfect time to have a new baby and you never know how long it will take to get pregnant -- it took us 4 years to have the twins, but the others have followed quite easily, so you may or may not have trouble getting pregnant with #2. Babies 3 and 4 for us were easier, but this was after having twins, so take that with a grain of salt.

FWIW, one of my friends was in a similar position as you -- she started a R1 TT job with a child already in tow and she just had #2 at the end of her 2nd year of the job.

If you decide to go up early for tenure, you need to make sure that there is a policy in place to protect you if you don't get it. Would you be eligible to go up again? Or would you be expected to look for a new job? This is the biggest argument against going up early, regardless of your confidence in getting tenure or your child decision. Good luck!
posted by puritycontrol at 9:03 AM on April 10, 2012

At my school, people get an extra year to go up for tenure if they take a leave for medical reasons in their pre-tenure years. (Having a baby would count as a medical reason since in your case you're going to be going through childbirth.)

So, while you are on track now to go up early, there isn't any particular need to do so if you have no fear of not getting tenure, and if your school has a similar policy, you could get yourself an extra year on the regular time in case you needed it.
posted by zizzle at 9:06 AM on April 10, 2012

I'm going to be starting a tenure-track position in the fall. I'm entering with a record that indicates that I could go up for tenure quite early (chair & dean confirm). (I'm 3/4th of the way there with papers already published & have many things in submission. It is possible that I could go up in 3 years.) By all accounts, department is very family friendly.

It sounds like you are aware of the following with the third bullet in your 'wait' list, but there are in fact really a lot of unknowns here. You don't know the internal politics of going up early -- it typically invites more scrutiny. You don't know how what you were told in the hiring phase maps onto the particular expectations in practice -- of course hopefully it is exactly what they said. But for example, what about pressure to get grants, which you don't mention and I'm guessing don't have? If you weren't in a teaching position before (sounds like possibly not?) you don't know how your research will be impacted by the time involved in teaching / advising / service. To me it seems really hard to make a decision on this in advance of actually being in the department. The first year in a TT position can be a fairly difficult adjustment even without children. So my advice would be to wait at least until december and revisit.
posted by advil at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

My advisors always told us to either start a family while still in grad school, or post-tenure, but not in between. I think the reasoning had mostly to do with the logistics of possibly finding yourself back on the job market should you be denied tenure, and the idea that one should ride the wave of your research as non-stop as possible. I think you might want to at least wait and see how things are looking during your first year in your TT position and how strongly (or not so strongly) you feel about adding onto your family at that time.
posted by sm1tten at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2012

Yes, see if your institution stops the clock on your tenure track in the event of childbirth.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:10 AM on April 10, 2012

Are you sure that your pre-position publications can be counted towards tenure? I was under the impression that many institutions only start counting once you've started. Or maybe you meant these pubs are in prep or in review right now.
posted by stinker at 9:17 AM on April 10, 2012

I say start trying now, but that's from the perspective of someone who is experiencing the frustration and sadness of infertility in my early 30s.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:28 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not an academic so I cannot speak to the parts about fast-track tenure, but it seems that you should at least wait until you've been in your new position for some amount of time to get a lay of the land ... which is what I would say to any of my professional female friends.

Other says that I can either go up for tenure early OR have a baby pre-tenure, but probably not both.

I assume by "other" you mean your spouse/partner? Does he say that because of what he knows about tenure-track positions, or what he knows about your and your family's needs/wants? Does going up for tenure early put more on his plate than he is willing to take at this time? Does he have some insight into your career aspirations that you've not put into your question?

For some reason, I am reminded of a comment I saw around MeFi recently. I can't find it now -- but you probably could -- but the jist of it, as I recall, was that the commenter noted that her pursuit of the TT academic career was less than easy for her spouse and small child. So that makes me think that what your spouse wants (and can handle) is a pretty big factor. Maybe your spouse really wants to not wait any longer for the 2nd kid? Or maybe needs a breather before round 2? Maybe spouse wants to see you have a breather? I don't know your family, just thinking out loud here ...

Another thought ... I know that people often have to move to new communities to get that TT job. If that applies in your case, maybe another thing to consider is the benefit of feeling "settled in" (especially for spouse and kiddo) before adding another stressor to the mix. (Babies are wonderful, but they are stressful.)

Those are all just thoughts. If I were your personal friend, I'd tell you to hold off on specific plans until you've started the TT position.
posted by stowaway at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think this is the comment that stowaway is thinking of.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2012

(last line of that comment)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2012

In my university, both male and female faculty who have children get an extra year on their tenure clocks for each child (up to two births). Is this something you've looked into?
posted by mudpuppie at 3:13 PM on April 10, 2012

I would not count on being able to go up for early tenure, no matter what they are telling you now, before you start. Both my husband and I were told we could go up early no problem, while we interviewed, and the tune now changed (my husband showed up with a cv better than most full professors and they won't put him up early). We had one kid last year, pre-tenure and I stopped my clock, and hope to have another one in the next year or two, and I don't regret the decision at all. I've gotten very little pushback on the fact that I had a kid pre-tenure, and it actually has made me more efficient at work. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to chat!
posted by girl scientist at 5:47 PM on April 10, 2012

Just another voice saying: maybe wait a few months and verify you can go up early. I'm not a professor but have friends who are, and I know one in particular had received strong indication that some publications would "count" only to find out later that they wouldn't. Much like girl scientist's husband, my friend went in with stronger publishing than many tenured faculty, received indications that their publishing record would count, but was told later that officially only new publications would count.
posted by lillygog at 6:47 PM on April 10, 2012

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