Q&A: Deciding to have a baby

Abby writes:

"As a baby-crazy late-thirty-something childless woman, I love your blog.  My partner and I are talking about starting a family (well, I'm talking and he isn't running out the room anymore).  His biggest fear (I think) is that he is supporting his impoverished father and my job situation is currently unstable (though I have plenty of earning power if I weren't so damned picky).  I think he is also afraid of the enormous disruption a child causes.  On the flip side, he is fantastic with children and has a very strong sense of family.  So he has asked me to help him figure out what he is signing up for if we abandon contraception -- he doesn't even know what questions to ask.  I'd love to hear from you and your readers answers to any and all of the following:

1. How did you decide to take the plunge and start down the road to children?  What did you do if you weren't both ready at the same time?
2. Are there any good resources for us to figure out how much the first few years would cost (ex-child care: either I'll be earning bundles of money or home with the baby)?  We aren't interested in going overboard in the baby-industrial complex.  My understanding that with the child tax credit, all costs other than child care net out to approximately zero at first, but I could be totally wrong. 
3. Are there any good resources for people contemplating fatherhood of the committed full-partner variety?  I've seen books on fatherhood targeted to men who need help getting on board after a fait accompli, but none for the potential father who wants to do everything "right" when the time comes but wants to make sure he is prepared for what he is signing up for. 

My attitude is that one can never be prepared, parenthood is one of life's great mysteries, and I know the two of us are fully equipped to handle the challenges life throws at us.  But that doesn't seem to persuade him!"

This line really pinged my radar: "my job situation is currently unstable (though I have plenty of earning power if I weren't so damned picky)." I wonder if your partner isn't extremely concerned that when a baby comes you'll continue being extremely picky and he'll be left holding the entire financial bag for this child. Before you continue trying to convince him to have a baby, YOU need to be straight with yourself that YOU are ready to have a baby. Once you have a child, there is no more room for extremely picky. There isn't even any more room for moderately picky. You do whatever it takes to take care of your child. Whether that means getting up and going to a job you loathe every day, taking a load of warm puke in the eyes at 4 am, sleeping in three-hour chunks for two years--that's parenthood. You may have to do a job that you don't like. So unless you can show that you're absolutely ready (not just willing) to carry your share of the load, I doubt your partner is going to get on board with this.

So, to your specific questions.

I don't know how people get on the same page. It's a risky proposition to force one partner into it, so if you're both not ready I think you'd have to both promise to explore it more and then set a date to reopen discussions. Has anyone been in this situation? How did you resolve it?

I think any resources you find are going to be averaged across the country, which doesn't so much help you since child care costs vary so wildly. (I'm assuming you're in the USA since you mention child tax credits.) If your insurance covers the birth (and you have a normal vaginal or c-section with no complications and no NICU time or that's all covered by insurance), then your expenses are diapers and clothes, and formula if you can't or don't breastfeed fully. And then child care, if you go to work after maternity leave. Those costs vary so wildly--a good full-time nanny in NYC costs $600 a week (and some daycares are more than that), while a lovely home daycare situation in other parts of the country can cost $200 a week. Readers? What does child care cost where you live? And what expenses am I forgetting for a first year? (Assuming the crib, carseat, etc. are sunk costs and they have generous family and friends who give them a baby shower.)

I think the best resources are just hanging out with men who ahve children, who are good dads. Those guys will be honest about how being on call 24/7 is, the affect having a child has on your relationship, what shouldering the financial burden feels like, how pregnancy can be for a man, and all the other aspects. I don't know that there's a book out there that can really do it justice, because there are so many varied experiences that hearing it from one person can give him a skewed view. So have him ask his dad friends what it's really like, and then seek out more men to ask. Read dad blogs. Ask the guy in line at the grocery store with diapers in his cart.

I'd also like to recommend the work of Randi Buckley, who does a course for women about discovering if they really want to have a baby called Maybe Baby, in particular this post, "Afraid of Whom You Might Become in Motherhood." Some of the fears and ideas Randi works with with women might be helpful for your partner, too.

Readers? What's your advice? How can Abby help her partner get a real picture of what it's going to take to have a baby? Were you in a situation like this? How did you resolve it? And how much does childcare cost where you live?