Career & Money

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Courtney Cooke
By Courtney Cooke

I remember growing up with the desire to get married and then start a family. I actually WANTED to be a stay at home mom, taking on the role of room mom when my kids (at least 3, maybe 4) became school age. I don’t believe this desire was based on the stereotypical “gender roles” since the female role models in my life (mom, grandmothers, and even one great-grandmother) had all worked outside the home. I always thought that I’d go to college, meet my future husband, get my degree, marry, then have a baby right off (I think I might have watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a few too many times). So, when that didn’t happen, my plans had to change.

At the time, I was 2 years into college, but still was no closer to identifying what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” So, I reasoned that I’d be better off quitting school until I had an idea of what degree I wanted since I had already taken all my basics. Why go into debt just to keep going to school for an unspecified degree? Therefore, home I went.

Luckily, the company that my mom worked for needed a temporary in her department. I had temped there before, so knew the ins and outs. I was hired. That particular gig ended, but another department in the company needed someone and the temp agency slid me over into that spot. I bounced around (actually getting some GREAT exposure) for about 2 years, but by then I was ready to have a “real” job. I put my application in on several open positions within the company to no avail, but soon had an opportunity present itself somewhere else. I jumped!

This new adventure took me to a newly acquired commercial property management office. My days were filled with going through and organizing the files of the previous management company and making sure the office and building ran smoothly. It was awesome… for about 8 months. By that time, everything was so smooth that I was BORED about 80% of my day. I began to look at the job postings at the company where I had previously temped and found, interviewed, and landed a job that then turned into a 12-year career.

During that 12-year stint, I met my husband. We dated, married, and made the decision to hold off on having kids. By this time, I was fully immersed in a career and my priority to learn to live with my husband before we added a baby to the mix was much higher on my list. In fact, we told our parents to give us at least 3 years before they started hounding us for grandkids. They kept their end of the bargain and we ended up having our first child a month before I turned 29. And if I knew then what I know now, this is the advice I would have given my younger self:

Research your job opportunities

I was lucky that the company I ended up with had an amazing benefits package for its employees that included high quality insurance, maternity leave, and PTO accrual. My advice to others who want to have/adopt a child, would be to shop around (if possible) for companies that offer solid benefits to women before, during, and after childbirth, with adoption assistance, and childcare assistance. You can research prospective employers by looking on their website, looking at reviews on sites such as Glassdoor.com, or even finding a connection that works/worked there by searching on LinkedIn.com.

Did you know the average cost of an uncomplicated childbirth in the US is $10,808 according to Business Insider. I had 2 C-Sections due to complications and the bill was definitely higher, but because of my awesome insurance, I paid a low deductible and insurance picked up the rest. The more benefits your employer can provide you, the less you will need to spend out of pocket. However, if you find yourself in the situation where your employer doesn’t provide stellar benefits, you still have options. Open enrollment in Marketplace plans for 2019 will be available starting November 1. There are also medical cost sharing ministries that are available, but these typically have religious qualifications for their members. Regardless whether you have great insurance or none at all, I’d recommend making sure you’re saving up the out of pocket expenses beforehand. A great place to save this money is in a qualified HSA account.

According to American Adoptions, the average US independent adoption cost $34,093 and the average US agency adoption costs $39,966. The costs involved with international adoptions vary. If this is the way you choose to create your family, there are many employers that offer adoption assistance. I would also explore whether time off for bonding due to adoption is covered under an employer’s “maternity leave,” if they offer it. Again, regardless of whether your employer has a robust assistance program or not, there is assistance available for parents seeking to adopt in the form of grants and organizations whose sole purpose it is to coordinate fund-raising events to support your adoption. Simply Google “fundraising for adoption” or a ton of great ideas and websites.

Plan your exit strategy

Once you’re in a comfortable place in your pregnancy or adoption process, start talking with your HR department and/or boss to determine the policies and procedures for ensuring a smooth transition through the birth/adoption. The earlier you start these conversations the better. Pregnancy isn’t predictable, and I assume not all adoptions go perfectly either. It will be in everyone’s best interest if you ensure that your job responsibilities are covered while you are out with your new kiddo, and not only covered, but covered well. Who wants to come back to their job after 6 to 8 weeks off to a mess! Not me! Part of planning the exit strategy is determining who in your organization is capable of handling each task and making sure you have plenty of time to train someone if that is needed. In this way, when you are at home, getting no sleep whatsoever and worrying whether that color of poop is normal, you won’t have the added stress of wondering if Company A was paid on time. Also, now is a good time to plan on whether you want a slow exit or work up until you’re in labor. The slow exit allows for you to slowly taper off your work load but increases your need to get your backup up to speed. Working until you go into labor extends your time in the office to tie up loose ends, but sometimes babies have other plans! Either way, your employer may have policies in place that may impact your ultimate decision.

This is also a great time to explore FMLA (Family & Medical Leave Act). Not all employers are required to offer FMLA, so it’s a good idea to talk to your HR department to find out. FMLA offers eligible employees the ability to take off an additional 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for the birth and care of a newborn child, the placement of a child for adoption or foster, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or to take personal medical leave if unable to work due to a serious medical condition. What’s great about this particular program is that the 12 weeks do not need to be taken consecutively during the 12-month period. I had a girlfriend whose son was in NICU for an extended period of time following his birth. She was able to take sporadic FMLA absences to care for him as she needed. This allowed her to care for her son without concerning herself with the possibility of losing her job in the process since she’d already burned through all of her paid time off. Her employer was required, by law, to maintain her position or provide her with a comparable position upon her return.

Lastly, you’ll want to start checking out childcare options, if you haven’t started already. Just like doctors, not all daycares are accepting newborns into their programs. And this will be another, shockingly high expense. On average, the cost of full time day care for a newborn is $1000/month. Check with your HR department to see whether your employer offers childcare/dependent care assistance. This pre-tax savings plan was instrumental for our family when planning for the care of our children (we stopped at 2, by the way).

Plan your re-entry

Preferably before you even go out on maternity leave, it’s a good idea to have started planning your re-entry strategy. Your employer will probably want to know whether you are planning on returning to work once you’ve given birth or taken custody of your bundle of joy and when. As I said before, talk to your HR department and/or boss to explore your options when it comes to returning to work post-baby. Some employers have very concrete policies in place, but some are flexible in working with new moms (and dads) to craft a slower transition; i.e. return on a part time basis for x number of weeks then move to full time or perhaps a mix of on-site and at-home work. If a policy at your employer doesn’t currently exist, you could be setting the standard for everyone that follows you!

In addition to the logistics of when you return to work, where you’ll work, and how long you’ll work each day/week, you also need to plan for childcare, doctor’s visits, and (if you choose to) breastfeeding/pumping. Whether you’ve chosen to take your child to daycare or have in-home help, it would be in your best interest to have a back-up. There will come a day when your child will spike a fever or be throwing up constantly. In either case, you won’t be able to drop them at daycare for fear of getting all of Junior’s classmates sick as well. If in-home care is your jam, one day they will call to tell you that they (or their own little one) is sick and they cannot come. On those days, if you don’t have a back-up, you (or your significant other) will be calling into work and staying home with the baby. Always have a backup! Doctor visits for a newborn seem like they are all. the. time. You will need to either work with your personal network to cover all the visits or ensure your employer and boss are well aware of the times you will be out to make sure Junior is hitting all the milestones. Lastly, your employer is required by law to allow you time and a private location (that isn’t a bathroom stall) to pump, unless they meet certain requirements. Make yourself well acquainted with your rights and talk to your HR department if you have any questions. My employer had specific lactation rooms in each of the buildings on campus and I was provided a key to the room. Each room had a schedule so that you weren’t disturbed by another mom. This was a large corporation, so it made sense. Smaller organizations may set aside an unused office or conference room for your use during specific times. Along with a great breast pump, you’ll probably want to invest in a few clothing pieces specifically made for breastfeeding and a great nursing bra. Some nursing bras are no more than a glorified shelf bra that really does nothing for your figure (at a time when you might still be wearing maternity clothes, ugh). Look for a bra that fits well and gives you support but is also easy to use. Oh, and don’t forget nursing pads and nipple cream!

Well that’s about all I can think of, but I’d love to hear from you. What advice would you give your younger self, or women who are planning to have children in the near and not-so-near future?

Courtney Cooke
Courtney is a wife, mother of two boys, and an employee.  She has a degree in Business Administration which she obtained while working full time in Quality Management for a multi-national, multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company.  While there, she was awarded...Read More
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