Twenty-Nine Weeks, Six Days ~ September 17, 2004
~ Reality Checking
Back when we found out we were having twins, I made a bunch of thrilled phone calls to people who I needed to tell our news to RIGHT away. After that, it was emails, to a stack of other people, all of whom I also wanted to know about our news. One of the first of the emails went to our financial advisor. Twins! We'll need a new plan! Help! All my old financial fears came rolling back over me.
To back up a little . . .
We're like a lot of people, I presume. While young and relatively innocent, we didn't save much at all, and spent way more than necessary, in hindsight. All that income from new salaries, such RICHES! Yeah, right. Blinded by the dollar signs. Sigh. Unfortunately, like a lot of people I know, we weren't very good at managing the spending within the so-called 'riches' of our salaries. Still, we were doing okay, until Gabe was born. Then, we decided that Will was the best suited to staying home with our new baby, not me. We were too new to this to trust a daycare, he was too precious to risk on an unknown. So Will it would be. Me, my career was just taking off, and Will was in the midst of changing from computer programming to architecture - easy choice, there. Aside from that, he was better at housework, and I was far more at risk of depression if I stayed home. All around, he was the better choice.
Unfortunately, that also meant we lost 2/3 of our income in one whack. We managed to tweak our budget to reduce costs by a large portion. Almost half of what he was taking home, we managed to drag out of the things we were spending on that we didn't need to be spending on, not REALLY. Not compared to the value of daddy staying home with baby. But that still left a substantial shortfall. So, we went into debt.
Good plan, bad plan. Good, because we really did learn a great deal from having Will be the SAHD ('stay-at-home-dad'). It taught me to let go of the need to be in charge of everything regarding our baby. I learned that he was a good parent on his own, and didn't need me hovering to make sure he did things my way. His way, while different, was also good. In some areas, he was rather a lot better than I. In others, my strengths were greater than his. Together, I learned, we made a superior team, filling in areas of weakness, and where we were both strong, providing a very solid foundation for our family. That was an invaluable lesson for me. It also gave him the opportunity to learn how hard a job staying home is. He wasn't oblivious to the concept, even to start, but he knows first hand how exhausting it can be to 'just' take care of a baby all day.
I also learned some important lessons about going back to work. For example, I'd always prided myself on being able to put myself into someone else's shoes. I knew, I thought, what it means to the breadwinner, the provider for the family. NOT hardly! I was stunned by the depth of the fears about my job in my first week back, fears that continued to track me for quite a while. If I got fired, what would happen to our family? I had to be perfect, I had to move my salary up as fast as possible to cover the debts we were accumulating. I had to WORK WORK WORK to provide what my family deserved. Making a mistake, even a small one, was enough to shake me to my core. My whole world was riding on MY shoulders. Or so it felt, at least, and that was an eye-opener. As Will gained compassion for those who stay home, I gained compassion for those who were the only income source.
All of those lessons were very important. The cost of them, however, grew daily, as we had to put more and more of the basics on our credit cards. The level of daily fear about finances started to climb. After about a year, Will went back to work, in his new career - as an intern without a completed degree (he was going to school at night). We got his income to add to the mix, but it wasn't much. It covered daycare, plus a bit. The fears were still there, part of my daily reality.
After a while of struggling, and stressing out on each other, and worrying a lot, we decided to get credit counseling and cut up the credit cards (except one that was to be used for emergencies only, since we had no cash reserve). That helped. Our payments dropped, and we started paying down the debt. My salary had continued to climb, and Will's had climbed a bit as well (rather more slowly - architecture isn't as rich a field as people like to think!). That helped, but not enough. We finally talked to a financial advisor on the phone, but she was only interested if we had a thousand dollars a month to invest. Ha! Not likely! Then, another advisor from the same company called me. I'd put my name in at his booth at a conference, and he had called six months earlier. I'd said 'not yet, we're not ready' . . . the fact that he called us back, six months later, caught my attention. After seeing what he came up with in our initial (free) visit, we hired him.
In two years, he has moved us from negative net worth and having to use credit cards to make ends meet, to having positive net worth, fully funding our retirement, seldom using credit cards at all (and being able to pay them off when we do), being able to keep at least one kid in private school at a time, and being able to look at our finances with more of a smile than a wince. We still have to work hard at it, but it isn't nearly so scary to balance the checkbook anymore.
That is, until we discovered we were having twins.
TWINS! Reality check time. All those hand-me-downs we'd planned to employ as each child moved up into the next age and ability level? Clothes, great - we've got enough for two kids at a time anyway . . . after all, we're at the bottom of a funnel of 11 cousins. But how about bikes? Two kids sharing one bike seems like an unlikely situation. And the other costs . . . How about daycare? Around here, that's about $220 a week for an infant. Now it is $400 a week, including the multi-kid discounts. We don't have that kind of money just floating around loose! Diapers? For one baby, we can manage. For two . . . well, cloth starts looking a lot more interesting! (especially since my mom has volunteered to come over to wash them during the week . . . ) How about the private school we have put both the other boys in, because our feeder school is nearly the worst in the state? How about (eek!) college? Two at a time suddenly doesn't look so easy. It is enough to make me cry. And that doesn't even consider the possibilities of medical bills for preemies, NICU time, and extended unpaid leave from work if they haven't come home by the time my paid leave expires (I only get a few weeks).
That's why one of my first emails was to Brian.
True to form, he came through for us. Things we never thought of, he started off with. Little and big, things that will give us more cash flow in the short run, enough to cover the reduced pay of disability leave, and maybe give us a little slack for unpaid time. We'll have to change some of the long-range plans, definitely. We may need to add some debt to cover the gap, but we can do so and still get back out. That's reality. We can't do it the way we could have with fewer kids, or even with the same number of kids but stretched out over a longer span. But there are benefits, financially, as well. Two more deductions on the taxes. More financial aid if they are both in school at once. A little help, here and there, enough to make reality not quite so scary as it seemed.
And to think I used to feel that we didn't have enough money to pay a financial advisor. (snort!) I now look back and laugh at that concept. How naive I seemed . . . Brian pays off his annual fee in the first meeting, every time, and his advice keeps paying US back, every month after that. We can't afford NOT to have a financial advisor. That was a very nice reality check. Our reality, financially, isn't quite as scary as I'd imagined it to be. It won't be easy, or simple, but it definitely can be done. Phew!
There have been other reality checks this week, as well. I've been having more braxton-hicks contractions, enough that on Monday, I had to collapse at my mom's house and wait for the on-call OB to reassure me with what I already knew. Four to six contractions in an hour isn't good, but if you can get them to stop, you're okay. They stopped. But that was a reality check. This is real. The risks of preterm labor are real. I can't forget, I can't let things slide for a day, and even though my appetite is pretty much gone most of the time, I cannot neglect to eat. And eat. And eat. I never thought eating would be such a tedious chore! I've always loved to eat. Not now. Even the very best chocolate doesn't thrill me. My favorite tofu ice cream tastes awful to me. I can stand in front of a bounty of fresh, ripe fruits and veggies and find my appetite fading away. I eat because I must. That's the reality.
I also finally got my 3-hour GTT results back. I'd failed my 1-hour, by only 6 points. Not much over the line, but enough to have to go do the three hour. Ugh. It took me three days to recover from the test - nothing like not feeding a pregnant woman for 12 hours, then giving her 100g of straight glucose, and then making her sit for three more hours. Kind of a whole-system whack, there. But I passed! My numbers were far inside the top margin, so I don't have much to worry about for blood sugar. Just keep eating. Sigh.
In addition to all that, I got a good reality check from my OB. I was still feeling a little antsy about whether I would be 'allowed' to use whatever birth position I preferred during the twins birth. He'd mentioned that the hospitals prefer to use the lithotomy position (flat on the back, legs in stirrups) for twins. For starters, that seems like a bad plan. Flat on the back, don't they tell you NOT to do that when you are hugely pregnant? Doesn't it affect blood supply to the babies, make them more prone to distress? It seems a prescription for 'needing' a c-section. "See, the babies aren't tolerating labor!" (Of course not, they're compressing their own blood supply!) But when I brought it up again, and mentioned that I had a sexual abuse history as well, and that a lithotomy position was NOT going to make me feel comfortable and secure (just the reverse!), he smiled and said that they'd rely on whatever was in my birth plan for labor and birth positions. He put it in my chart, so even a backup OB will see it. Front page. I suspect, from that and other things he said, that when he'd said the hospitals preferred that position, what he was trying to say was that HE didn't prefer it, or require it, but that we should expect them to propose it (whereupon we'd decline). He said he doubted that there would be anything in my birth plan that he would be unwilling to support. Reality? He's a great OB, who is 'on my planet' - I like that reality.
The other reality check I got was about the support system for twins in the area. Reality, as I know it from reading online and talking to the few twin mommies I know casually, means you need support to cope with having twins, at least during the adjustment period. I went to the Mothers of Multiples club meeting, and was completely surprised by the group. They aren't a bunch of natural birthin' mamas, as one of my coworkers describes me, but they were practical and well educated - not in the traditional sense, with advanced degrees, but in the day-to-day life of twins and their families. (Why was I surprised? I don't know - maybe because I'm used to the vast range of parenting approaches that having 'just one baby at a time' permits . . .) That means that they were opposed to elective c-sections (practicality is that you can't afford to be ANY less able after the babies arrive - so if you need a c-section, you deal with it, but you don't ASK for one, because you are going to need that recovery time to be as short as possible, and as easy as possible). They were also highly practical about breastfeeding, and again, in a way that took me somewhat by surprise. Practicality requires that preemies get breastmilk, in their collective experience. That is the way they'll come home fastest, be healthiest, grow best. So if you aren't 'into' breastfeeding, or it doesn't work for you, the collective wisdom of the group says that you PUMP. And you pump until you can't pump any more. And then you either breastfeed from there, or formula feed from there, or both, or, if they're still not at full growth, you get milk from the milk bank. Practical is based not on what's convenient, but what gets results. Period. They were very clear that it isn't about what YOU want, right now, it is about what will make it possible to get along through the days ahead, and healthy babies is a huge factor in that. They didn't resent the fact that the babies ruled their existence in the first year or so. They accepted it, and rolled with it, and relied on each other to get through it. I felt like I'd dropped into a different reality, all of a sudden. One I liked, rather a lot. These women had their worlds shaken by the arrival of their twins (or quads in one case), and for some, nearly shaken apart, but they grabbed that new reality and worked it back into something they could not only live with, but something they could love with a passion.
This new reality of ours is going to take a lot of effort. But I'm with them. I can make it mine, and love it, no matter how different it is from what I imagined it would be. The reality is that we'll get through, and make one heck of a life of it as we go.