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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barren Advice: Twenty-One

This is the 21st installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel,

I am a 32-year old stirrup queen, just finished with my 4th clomid cycle. I live in a major East Coast city. DH and I are planning to stay here long-term and we're thinking about buying a house. We can't afford to buy a house in the city, so we're looking in the suburbs. The problem is that we don't know if we'll finally get pregnant next month or 5 years from now or never. I'm ready to move to the suburbs and raise a family there. But I don't know if I'm ready to move to the suburbs without a family. I'm tired of putting our lives on hold as we wait for our miracle baby, but I don't want to be stuck in the suburbs for years with no kids, and I don't want to be upset every time I see the extra bedroom just waiting for baby furniture! What do you think- stay put in our 1 BR rented apartment in the city until we get pregnant, or move now to a house in the 'burbs?


Let's tuck away the fact that you could find a veeeeeeeeery nice deal on a house in this market and just look at the decision from a best-for-the-heart point-of-view.

What you're essentially asking is if it's better to wait to do something because of infertility and my answer is almost always going to be no. Don't wait to take that trip, don't wait to buy that car, don't wait to buy the house. At least, not because of infertility (it's fine to make those same decisions due to money). Because what happens is that you start giving up more and more and more for infertility and you are already giving up so much. I feel the same way about all sort of emotional painful wait--waiting for a partner, waiting for parenthood, waiting for...anything outside your control.

You already have to give up a specific amount of control and recognize that it's out of your hands. There is only so much you or a doctor or an adoption agency director can do--there are steps that are outside your hands. That said, you don't have to give infertility control over other aspects of your life. It's like being told something costs $3 and giving the cashier $10 instead. Infertility already has a cost and you need to accept that cost. It even has hidden costs that life will try to collect from you down the road. But you don't need to open your purse and offer infertility more than what it says on the price tag.

I think answering this question based on your situation means sitting down and picking a Plan B and a Plan C and possibly a Plan D out of infertility right now. The only time I would caution you not to immediately choose a home with more bedrooms than you need is if the possibility is on your list to living child-free after infertility. Sometimes, a person doesn't know that this is the choice that will feel best and work best in the moment, but knowing what you know now, could you see yourself choosing to live child-free in the future?

If the answer is yes, I would perhaps put a small hold on the move and revisit it at a predetermined time down the road (six more months)? The other point I would make is whether you always see yourself living in the city (and if that is a place you'd be happier if child-free). If the answer is no, that you've always seen yourself as moving out to the suburbs at some point, I wouldn't put it off much longer than that six month window to approach the decision cautiously. And truly, if the answer is no and you'd want to live in suburbia regardless of your parenting situation, I don't even see the need for the six month thinking period.

On the other hand, if the answer is that you would take the other paths out of infertility before you'd live child-free, I would tell you to look at this time period in the house as temporary. It is painful, yes, but temporary. And sometimes knowing that the pain will most likely end can get you through the moments when you don't know when it will end. Because not knowing the end date is awful. Barring exceptional circumstances, if you are determined to become a parent and willing to try every path to reach parenthood, you will become a parent and have a child in your house. There is never a promise, and finances may give out before determination, but I am thinking positively.

Will seeing an empty room be painful? Of course. But not seeing an empty room will be equally painful.

This thought obviously won't cheer you up, but infertility is painful. It is emotionally difficult regardless of what you do to cocoon yourself. There are things that will be exquisitely horrible and I urge you to avoid doing those activities (such as hanging out all day in an OB's office). But there are plenty of other neutral activities and spaces that will become painful simply because infertility is painful. And empty rooms are one of those things. In and of itself, your house will not be emotionally painful but being anywhere--your apartment in the city or a house in the suburbs--can become a reminder rather than a refuge. It is a huge feat to not allow a space to take on negative connotations when you are feeling so crappy emotionally.

Which is a long way of saying that you should stay in the city because you're not ready to leave your neighbourhood or because it's easier or not a good time to secure a loan. But don't put your life on hold simply because all pieces are not in place.

It may help to consider this idea: are you the sort of person who makes decisions and trusts that things will work out in the future? For instance, at some point you chose your college or moved to this city without knowing if you would meet a partner there (this assumes you wanted a partner and that you're not high school sweethearts). You just trusted that things would work out or not work out, but you'd be in a space where you'd be happy (or happy-ish).

You'll need to take the same step now in buying a house. Buy the house because you want the house, not because you have all the rooms filled. And trust that either it will work out or not, but you'll be in the space that makes you happy (or happy-ish).

Unless, of course, as you read this advice and the comments that you realize that happy (or happy-ish) is actually in the city. At least for now.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


areyoukiddingme said...

I agree with the short the house you want when it calls to you. You can live anywhere, but eventually you will find a place that is truly home (unless you're my husband, who just likes a change of scene every few years). Once you're home, you will make accommodations as your family or attitudes change.

Jendeis said...

Thank you so much for this advice. I find myself in the same boat and just needed someone to urge me to go with the decision in my heart.

kate said...

I fully agree with the advice Mel gave, and would add that I find myself on the other side of that decision now. I bought the 4 bedroom house with the acre and a half of land, and I bought it because that is the kind of place that I want to raise a family.

BUT, when I did the exercise Mel suggested (thinking about how far I would go to have a child), my answer was quite different than it is now. In the intervening two years since we bought the house, I determined that, in fact, I might be willing to live child-free if it never happens for us. So now, it's not so much the empty rooms that mock us, it's the fact that this house is WAY too big for two people, that I'm a fiscally and environmentally conservative person, which means that if I could live within walking distance of downtown, I'd be much happier. But we didn't even look there because of the fact that at the time, kids seemed absolutely inevitable, and to me, it was important that they have wide open spaces to play in (gah, so frickin' American of me, I know).

Of course, in the mean time, I have fallen in love with this house, and all of it's nooks and crannies and weird little things about it, etc., so I probably wouldn't go back and change things now anyway.

I think financially the most sound decision would be to assess the market and perhaps buy a house that can in the future be easily resold (maybe even at a profit with home prices so low right now) if you determine that you won't be having a family and that you'd rather live in the city. Either way, like Mel said, the decision will haunt you- there will always be reminders of the costs of infertility, but if you go ahead and buy that house in the 'burbs now (and you stay for at least 5 years), at the very least, you are building a sound financial portfolio (from which to take a second mortgage to fund your IF habits, right???), and putting money back in your own pocket rather than the landlord's, right?

And ever-so-slightly unrelated, here is a link to an extremely comprehensive website having to do with the ins and outs of buying a home, including whether it is financially better to keep renting or to buy, and just about every other topic you can imagine concerning homebuying (except, of course, infertility is obviously not covered there, but you've got Mel's advice on your side so I think you're covered there). It's a little wacky, and after poring over this site for a few days, I came to realize that I actually knew the author- and that he happens to be just a touch creepy, but yet I still recommend his site, so the content is clearly good since I am willing to ignore the weirdness of the author and still show other people this site... Anyhow, the site:

Best of luck on your decision!

Sarah said...

I don't have any advice to give, I am in a similar situation and I did choose to have the extra empty bedroom. I do plan to designate it as a baby room and while part of me finds that a bit creepy (a room furnished and decorated for a nonexistent baby) another part finds it comforting. I need comfort right now. I feel good about this decision because I have decided that one way or another I will have a baby for that room. I just wanted to say that I appreciate your advice and your is reassuring.

annacyclopedia said...

This is great advice, Mel. Like Kate, I am on the other side of this fence - we recently bought a new house that is much bigger and nicer than our previous house. And while at the moment we are looking at it as "preparing our nest", it does help to remember that I love this house and am much happier in it than in my old house. And that my happiness counts in all my decision making, too. We bought this house because we both really liked it, and it will accommodate a family larger than our current two plus dog and therefore we won't have to move again if we are lucky enough to have children. But in the past little while I've been having pangs of regret - it really is a large house for just two humans, and what if, what if, what if...

This really helps to just settle me down. All I know is how I feel right now, and right now, I love my new house.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am on the other side of this decision. With regard to the house: we've made lots of use of our extra bedroom(s) in the years of infertility and waiting to adopt, including having exchange students live with us and giving down-on-their-luck friends a place to crash for a few weeks. The only time our extra bedroom(s) REALLY bothered me was after our first adoption failed.

On this side of the decision, we are extremely glad that we stayed in our house with a good school district and didn't give into the temptation to move downtown into a crappy school district while we were dealing with IF.

The only decision I regret is selling my Miata. You can't put a baby in a Miata, no back seat. We sold the Miata WAY too soon and I have been regretting it ever since. There would have been plenty of time to sell it and buy a car with a back seat after baby was home (unless you're a one car family, that is). :)

Guera! said...

I agree. Don't put things on hold because of infertility. I thought Mel's advice was excellent. It was interesting to read the comments from others who did buy the house.

SarahSews said...

We faced this before we realized we were infertile. We bought a house with a room we intended to use for a child. We bought a car that was intended to be a family mobile. That car is now 5 years old and we've lived in the house for 3.5 years. The baby that finally, finally, came, is 6 months.

There were times during those years that I hated seeing that room and what it was supposed to be. But it was there and ready when the child finally came and for that I am grateful.

Oh and our home is not large -- it's tiny. But it was meant to be the house where we had babies and when we didn't for a long while it was tough, but not as tough as being in a giant house too big for two people.

Shinejil said...

I'm so with you, Mel/Lollipop. In fact, IF has forced me to think even harder about what exactly I wanted from the parts of my life I could (sort of) control. A recent pg loss spurred me to discover a new possible path for me, one that also includes buying a new house.

So, I want to concur: If you really think you'd enjoy living in your own home, buy one. If you're not ready or not sure, don't be seduced by the market; wait. Perhaps just looking somewhat casually (if only online) would be a helpful part of the process. Maybe you'll see just the place, a home you love for you, as you are now, but that would also be able to accommodate changes in your family.

My two cent's worth.

Cassandra said...

I live in a giant house. People constantly come over and ask, "Is it really just the two of you here?" Why yes, but if you and eight of your friends would like to sleep over, we've got room.

One thing that's helped is that the "baby's room" is fully furnished as a proper guest room, rather than obviously being in transition. (I mostly refer to it as the guest room, but occasionally I'll say "the baby's room" and my husband will look at me blankly.)

Something else that's helped is that there aren't many kids in the neighborhood. I've known people who moved into suburban neighborhoods where every house had kids exactly the same age. Most of the homes without children are empty nesters rather than young couples, but it's way better than seeing strollers stroll past constantly.

And so, anon, I would urge you if you seek the house in the suburbs (you can always take a look and see if you like anything without committing yet) to make sure it's not a neighborhood where every single house has young children. When there is a kid in your house eventually you may wish that there were more same-aged kids around, but right now it would probably be best not to be the only childless couple on the block.

Oh, and the pragmatist in me has to point out both that this is a good market in which to buy a house and that the Fed majorly slashed interest rates today.

Ellen K. said...

All of the advice has been great.

I especially like Cassandra's warning to not buy a house in a neighborhood with lots of young children (you can easily tell which neighborhoods these are based on the amount of plastic Little Tikes stuff in the backyards). One big consolation during IF has been the fact that we live in a (city) neighborhood with plenty of single homeowners, some families with older children, some with younger children, empty nesters, elderly people, and gay couples. At no time have I felt left out. Bonus: Now that we do have our long-awaited twins, there are plenty of middle-aged and older neighbors who are very glad to come over and help out, without making comparisons or wanting to trade labor stories and all that crap.

We bought the house we liked; it has room for a small family; it worked for a childfree couple too when we were considering that path to IF resolution.

Tash said...

Haha, this is kinda funny, because we moved to the 'burbs thinking we'd have kids, and it took a while. (5 years) By which point we were really effin' sick of the 'burbs and moved back to the city to raise our family.

(Of course we moved into an enormous house with one child, while pregnant with #2 and then she died, and now we're three bouncing off walls. But in a city. And that's another tale, I suppose.)

I actually found it much harder to micromanage the week to week schedule than the big stuff -- should I plan this thing two weeks from now, or will I be ovulating/testing/happy/depressed/doing IUI/etc? That's what really ground me down. I somehow always felt frozen or that I had made the wrong decision.

nonlineargirl said...

It is normal to put life on hold while you wait to be pregnant (and on the upside it saved me lots of money as I spent a long time not buying new clothes because I might be pregnant). BUT - don't put the big things off. Do what you want to do and figure you will work it out if/when you do get pregnant. Learning this lesson made me a much happier person.

Rebecca said...

As someone who has put many, many things in her life on hold (good career decisions, bought the big house for the many babies to come which didn't, etc.) I can only say that I wish I had lived my life for me a bit more. My husband and I moved to the city we live in, in large part thinking that it would be a great place to raise kids. And it probably would be. We are now planning a move (career change for him), and this time around we will be moving somewhere that will be a great place for us. Because, really, if it's a great place for us, it will probably be the kind of place we would want to raise kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous who sent in this question. I just wanted to say thank you to everybody - - and especially Mel- for the great advice! This is a hard decision for me, because it's tangled up in all of my messy feelings about IF. But it helps to know that others are going through the same thing! You guys (gals) are a great community, and I really appreciate the support.

Bea said...

Just in case anon pops back... we ended up adjusting our spec in the face of infertility. Just couldn't bring ourselves to buy that big family home, but we bought a little one, just the right size for us and maybe one more, in a location we could live with either way. Good decision for us. We weren't always worrying about paying for treatments, because our mortgage was manageable, plus we didn't feel like we were knocking around in an empty house.

**Child mentioned** now we have our one more, and we are very much looking forward to living together in our cosy little home. If we're lucky again, we may have to adjust... but we feel fine about that, too.