Postponing Pregnancy in a Recession

Categories: economy, maternity leave


A different kind of depression is affecting women these days–economic depression. I, like everyone in America, have been hearing about this depression/recession nonstop for months, but until this week it was still something that was happening to other people, not to me. Then, on Monday afternoon, I stopped by my office to say hello and show off my little guy and discuss with my supervisors my impending return to work, and that’s when I got the bad news from a coworker: Instead of the modest end-of-year raises we’re sometimes blessed with, this year the lucky ones among us got 10 percent pay cuts–“lucky” because that means we weren’t the ones who got laid off. As my maternity leave dwindles, I’ve had all the usual jitters about getting back into the swing of things after a prolonged absence–including taking a financial hit for returning only part-time–but I never thought this would happen. 

And yet, it’s hard to complain too much (or at least too loudly within earshot of management) because thank god I still have a job to return to, right? But still, a pay cut at any time and in any circumstance is never a good thing, and of course it’s hitting my little family especially hard now that we have an extra person to support on this super-downsized salary that we never accounted for when deciding to get pregnant in the first place. As of this afternoon, my spouse is looking for more work; as for me, I’m in negotiations with the space-time continuum to eke a few more hours out of every globe spin so I can cram in extra freelance gigs between nursing sessions. (And that’s assuming there’s even freelance work available; a combination of fewer opportunities and more competition in the strained workforce might mean I’m out of luck).  

So, there’s the mortgage and the diapers and the $40 co-pays at the monthly pediatrician visits. There’s gas and dinner and one pair of jeans to fit my post-pregnancy body. It seems like everyone is talking about where they can afford to cut back their monthly expenses, but I wonder how I can possibly do that when I’ve just given birth to a living, breathing, permanent expense. Now that the baby’s here, we have to make it work, of course, and while I wouldn’t trade my son for all the riches in the world, I do wonder if, knowing then what I know now, I’d have made a different choice a year ago. Perhaps saved the money for prenatal vitamins and spent it on condoms instead? It’s a sad thought–postponing a family because of widespread financial crisis–but it’s one that many people are facing now.

New York Times Magazine, WebMd, and Work It, Mom have all featured stories about how economic recessions negatively affect birth rates and the numbers of children per household. Expanding a family–whether the old-fashioned way or through fertility treatments or adoption–is expensive no matter how you cut it, and in addition to the three major costs I was stressing about last fall–maternity leave, childcare, and health insurance–there are dozens of other financial factors that might influence a couple’s decision to have a child…or not. Can you afford a bigger house to accommodate a bigger family? Can you afford to relocate for a job? Can you afford to become, at least temporarily, a one-income family to alleviate sky-high childcare costs? Can you risk taking maternity leave when your company is restructuring and downsizing? What happens if in losing your job you lose your health insurance?

It’s heartbreaking to think of the dreams being deferred in the wake of something that is largely out of our control. Has the economy affected your decision to have a(nother) child in the near future? Or are you saying to hell with it and ignoring Wall Street to following your gut? Or, have you discovered the secret to making babies affordable? (Oversized fig leaves instead of diapers? Giant plastic bubbles intead of health insurance? Monkeys for nannies?)

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15 comments so far...

  • We’re cloth diapering our second kid in the same diapers we used on the first… and also trying to grow a garden. I do think more children are in our future I just don’t know how (adoption?) or when.

    beck  |  March 11th, 2009 at 9:01 am

  • I’ve always been of the mind that you are never financially prepared for a child. You just gotta jump in and do it. But this recession has made me rethink, which says a lot, because I REALLY REALLY want another child. We could afford diapers, formula, clothing etc. Paying for daycare may be just about impossible (daycare for 2 would cost more than what I bring home now). But even then, I get that “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” type feeling. What makes me hesitate is, I work in the construction industry, mainly new homes, and business is SUPER slow. I’m going on 2 years with my company, and know that again, there will be no raise. But I love my job, so I can handle that. What sucks is we are all sitting around wondering when there will be another round of layoffs. Health insurance through my husbands job is too expensive for our family. So our child and I are insured through my job. So what if I got pregnant, and then got let go? Then I’d be pregnant, with no health insurance for prenatal exams, or the birth, or the doctor appointments every month for an infant.
    I’m almost 29 and had really hoped to have my 2 children by the time I was 30. But with this recession, its looking less likely to happen. I’m hoping maybe next year, maybe things will get better. My hubby is convinced we should just be happy with the child we have because he doesn’t think we’ll ever be able to afford another one.

    Erica  |  March 11th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

  • I am due in about two weeks. And yes I am scared. I would be nervous anyway about the possibility of job loss (not that I have a reason to be, but who isn’t ??) Still with impending maternity leave will I have a job to return to? Should I shorten my leave time? Work from home while I am technically off on maternity? I think “yeses” now to both. A year I reasoned that I could always find something else if something happened and I lost my job, but now.. not so much. It’s really a tough time for any new parent and there are so many more financial worries.

    Andrea  |  March 12th, 2009 at 9:30 am

  • Leah, I am a fan of your post but this article is depressing.
    Really depressing. I am aware of the financial situation and strongly believe that you should be able to afford children before you have them and not just have them and sit in poverty.

    However, as you said, you still have a job to return to.

    The fact is the USA citizens went from one extreme to the other. They went from being ridiculous overspenders, not knowing how to manage money, live within their means to all of a sudden realize how stupid and costly that is and now panicking.

    The fact is, no matter how good or bad the economy is, you got to live within or below your means. Those that practice that are doing ok now.
    Those that didn’t, are in big trouble and that is just inevitable.

    vera babayeva  |  March 12th, 2009 at 9:36 am

  • We’re newly pregnant - due late October/early November - and while sure, I’m worried about the extra expenses and while I pray I’ll have a job to return to (just started a new one this year), we’re excited and this was a planned pregnancy. We’ve always said that there’s no “perfect” or “right” time to have a baby. We were ready for our daughter to be a big sister and concerned about waiting too much longer with spacing. I’m sure we’ll really be feeling the crunch more than we did with our first, but I refuse to let that extinguish the joy of a new baby.

    Audrey  |  March 12th, 2009 at 11:10 am

  • Vera–I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s that simple. There are plenty of people out there who were living within or below their means but find themselves struggling now because their means are no longer what they used to be, and not through any fault of their own. No one plans to lose a job or receive a pay cut or have the housing market crash underneath them. That’s what’s so devastating about this: the economic climate is affecting the responsible and thrifty as well as the foolhardy overspenders (who will ALWAYS have a tough go of it). If this post is depressing it’s because the situation is depressing.

    Leah  |  March 12th, 2009 at 11:31 am

  • Our choice to have a second child was completely affected by the economy. My husband lost his job last week and we didn’t see it coming at all–he was one of the best performers at his office. We were going to have another child this year, but now with only one income it’s just not an option. We may reconsider as soon as he finds a new job, but until then we’re on hold.

    It’s disappointing, because in twenty years is the economy right now going to matter? I’d like to think that it won’t and what would matter was whether I had another child or not. But when finances (or lack thereof) sometimes affect marriage and can sometimes cause divorce because of added stress, I don’t think we’ll risk it right now.

    Stacey  |  March 12th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

  • Yes, Leah you are right, the situation is depressing and I am one of those responsible ones that is certainly feeling it.

    We will get out of it. It will just take some time.

    vera babayeva  |  March 12th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

  • We are expecting our second kiddo in the fall and the economy is definitely on our minds: my husband is separating from the military and I will make the only guaranteed (military) income.

    We’ve had frank discussions about the need to cut back on spending (including settling for smaller house at the next duty station), and his needing to find work ASAP (to supplement our income AND allow to us to qualify for the lower on-base daycare fees for two little ones). I will most likely breastfeed for as long as possible, so that expense in the first year of life is minimized.

    I am a bit stressed and wonder if now is the right time … but, at the end of the day, it’s about our family and my son’s need for a sibling … so that they can be a source of support for each other as they grow up and when they are older. (Some of my most comforting moments in hard times are when I call my sis and we talk through a troubling issue!)

    KC  |  March 13th, 2009 at 6:33 am

  • My husband and I were married in early June. We had discussed trying for a baby this summer. A week after we returned from our honeymoon, he was laid off. He was only working part time while he completed his degree, and he receives unemployment….but couple that with the economy in general - and baby making plans came to a screeching halt.

    Your comment about not wanting to complain to management because you feel lucky just to have a job, resonates with me. Like many, I am experiencing a combination of feeling trapped and voiceless in my place of work. This for me is reason enough to wait.

    So for now, I just continue to read mommy blogs and get sad : )

    BDS  |  March 13th, 2009 at 10:55 am

  • This is a great topic and a great post. Our son just celebrated his first birthday (MAH BABY MAH BABY!) last week and my husband has been out of work since July. I’m the only one working and don’t bring in nearly enough to meet our basic needs. Yes, we’re panicking. I love my son more than life itself but I’ve found myself wondering the same thing you mentioned “If I knew then what I know now. . .?” and it’s hard. I went into early labor at 30 weeks, was in the hospital for a week and on bedrest the remainder of my pregnancy, which ended with my son being born 5.5 weeks early and in NICU. That’s A LOT of unforseen expenses right there lemme tell ya. Not to mention the one-income-out-of-left-field aspect as well. I do agree, you’re never 100% fully financially ready to have a child but these circumstances today are beyond that. We’re waiting A LOT longer than we originally thought to have a second. For sure.

    samantha jo campen  |  March 13th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

  • Heartbreaking is right. My “babies” are 22 and 17 now. I’m more worried about my college kiddo finding a job right now, and hoping she doesn’t start her family any time soon — for financial reasons as much as any other!
    Good luck to you; your little one is worth every sacrifice.

    Daisy  |  March 14th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

  • The economy is not really factoring into our decision to have another child, maybe only about 20% of that decision is based on the recession. we plan on trying for our second sometime this year, not really sure when. But, there are many other factors going into our decision and it mostly relates to whether or not my husband wants to keep his position or move to another position (which would mean relocating and trying to sell a house in this economy). Okay, so maybe the economy is playing a larger role in our decision than I originally thought. However, I think we would be willing to sell the home at a loss and take the hit, so I think we could sell it, but it would still be disappointing to do that.

    Anyhow, I agree with the fact that there is no perfect time to have a child (financially speaking). Ultimately, there are never any regrets to having children, they are truly a blessing in life, just make sure you have some kind of safety net if the worst should happen (i.e. an emergency fund to cover six months or more of living expenses).

    Jen  |  March 16th, 2009 at 4:30 am

  • This is something on my mind pretty frequently these days, and by “pretty frequently,” I mean “almost every waking moment.” A couple of months ago we started fertility treatments and with any luck we’re hoping to be parents by the end of this year. I’m sure some people who know about it are thinking what bad timing we have, but time isn’t a luxury we have, as I just turned 40 last month. It just so happened to be that right when we were able to afford this, the economy decided to poop on us.
    It’s a good thing we are good at being poor. I have the feeling we’re soon going to get to put all our practice to good use.

    Kim  |  March 17th, 2009 at 9:40 am

  • We have a one year old and I am due in August. We have been very fortunate in this recession; my husband is active duty military, and that seems to be about the only secure job right now!

    Even still, we’re always looking to cut costs and live on less, because, even in a “secure” job, you never know what’s around the corner…

    I agree with another poster - we cloth diaper. It saves an astronomical amount of money, especially when used for more than one child. And, my daughter is clothed in clearance, eBay, and garage sale clothes! All her furniture came off Craigslist and will be used for the new little one as well.

    I think clearance shopping is one of the biggest money-savers - I have pretty much her entire wardrobe for next winter (including coat) already in the closet, which I bought at 75% off sales this spring! Likewise, I have had her swimsuit since last fall! I know it’s hard to justify the money when it’s not “necessary” right now, but in 6 months when she needs a winter coat, that one I bought on clearance will save me paying full price then!

    Sara  |  March 18th, 2009 at 10:47 am