Having a baby can get in the way of establishing your rock-solid legacy as the next Steve Jobs or most-doughnuts-eaten-in-a-single-seating queen, but it is time to get serious about some of the more concrete logistics of your legacy, namely a will (and an accompanying trust, if you live in California) and some life insurance.
These are unpleasant subjects on a good day and, during the hormonal, nesting days of pregnancy, probably even more unwelcome. I had to stop watching Law & Order while I was pregnant because it was just too dark. I wasn’t about to take on a lengthy decision-making process related to my and Ramon’s mortality. But if you can stomach it, like moving, it’s easier to do before the baby arrives than afterwards. See if you can at least knock off one of the two at least before Little Darling makes an appearance. It’s a favor to your future self.
Life insurance is probably the easier of the two since it doesn’t involve making the difficult decisions about who will take your child in the event of…well, let’s leave it unsaid. There are two main decisions you’ll have to make. First, between term and permanent insurance. Term is for a specific period of time (usually 20 or 30 years), at which end point, the policy expires if it hasn’t been paid out. Permanent insurance is much more expensive but has no expiration, so it will pay out eventually, no matter what (hence the added expense). My only advice here is to relay our financial advisor’s note that she has never heard from any client who was glad to have invested in a permanent policy (you can borrow against it and essentially use it as an investment vehicle but the rate of return at least in your childbearing years is not better than other investments). That said, if you have piles of money lying around to get a permanent policy, great, do it.
The other decision is for how much you’ll insure yourself and your partner. Ten times your annual income is the industry guideline, but in reality, parents buy as much insurance as they can afford. The younger you are, the cheaper it will be (and those rates will be fixed for the length of the policy), so if you’re under 35 and in good health, get as much as you can reasonably afford now and thank your lucky stars you got in early! I got my policy pre-40 and it’s a fraction of Ramon’s, who is over 40. Think about how much your lost income will be needed until baby is 18 or 22, realize that that is an impossible number to fit into your monthly budget, and shoot for what will let you and your partner sleep at night.
Wills and trusts are harder, mostly because you’ll need to choose someone to take care of your child and, unless one of you has wonderful and young parents whom you both adore, this is going to be a tough one and possibly a source of arguments between you and your partner. I suggest having a brief, time-limited conversation in which you both throw out the names of people you’re considering. Don’t respond. Just put them out there for both of you to think about. Come back to it in a couple of weeks.
Something to consider: your life insurance money will go with your child, so the financial status of your child’s potential guardians aren’t the #1 priority. That said, I was wisely advised to consider how difficult it might be for financially-challenged guardians to raise a child with more money in the bank than they have themselves, especially if they have their own kids on that separate budget too.
Also consider what you think of prospective guardians’ kids (if they have them). If their kiddos are hellions, even if you love the parents and their parenting philosophy, do you want your child growing up with siblings who are trigger-happy with the squirt gun or, worse, bullies? Loving your child is a must for a prospective guardian, but these more pragmatic questions may help you decide among your frontrunners.
Oh – and make sure you ask your prospective guardians before writing it all up in ink. They may not be up for it and that’s fine. Just keep the conversation quiet, private and give them an easy way to say ‘no’ without affecting your friendship. After all, taking on another child is a big deal and you want them to want to do it.
In California, all wills automatically go into probate unless there is an attached trust. Your state might be similar: check around. All you need to know about probate is that it takes a while and costs your estate money, so skip it and do a trust at the same time as you do a will. You don’t need to know all the ins and outs before meeting with a lawyer: they will help you sort it out. You can get both in place for a few hundred dollars if you have pretty cookie-cutter needs. If you have substantial property or a complex landscape financially, do hire an individual lawyer but be prepared to pay in the $5-10K range.
Even though they’re inexpensive, be careful about using online forms for serious legal documents. I don’t know a lot about this, but I’ve heard mixed reviews about how iron-clad DIY wills/trusts should there be, God forbid, challenges to it later. You might check with a lawyer friend, if you have one, about your own state’s restrictions and requirements.
These are emotionally difficult questions to consider and not many friends or family want to discuss financial matters openly, so direct advice can be hard to come by. Go easy on yourself and start with small educational steps. My first foray was great: I went to a seminar overview offered by my mom’s group center. It was run by someone who knew quite a bit about all of the above and had been in the life insurance market. Parents’ or community centers often offer these seminars for a relatively small fee.
On the life insurance question, set up a meeting with your existing insurance agent (car, home, etc.) about life insurance (coverage with the same company can yield discounts) and be up front that you want a clear overview, quotes for a number of levels (length of time + amounts of coverage) all within reasonable health categories (not Bionic Man level rates, which they often offer first – most companies call it “Super Preferred”), and that you won’t be buying a policy at that first meeting. If it goes badly or if you just want a second opinion, meet with another agent elsewhere. Big companies may charge a little more, but unknown, cheaper ones may go under – remember, you’ll need them to be around for the next 20-30 years! For wills and trusts, ask for reputable legal references from your local parents’ boards or, again, at new parents’ centers.
Unfortunately, addressing these issues won’t get any easier by delaying them and, at least for the life insurance, it may well get more expensive. As well as riskier and, as such, detrimental to your peace of mind, so bite the bullet and get it done as soon as you can. You need these things in place to safeguard your new little one: it’s the financial equivalent of putting up safety gates at the top of your stairs and locking up the bleach.
I’m thinking about you and wishing you well! Good luck!
In San Francisco, Day One offers overview seminars periodically.
(disclaimer: I have not attended one of Amy’s seminars yet)
October 14, 2011
- High chair
- Utensils and Peter Rabbit plates and sippy cups
Babyproofing especially comes up a lot. Keep in mind that you baby will stay where you put him until he can scoot or crawl, which probably won’t be until he’s about six months old. (Beware rolling off beds before that!)
Sure, yes, it’s a good idea to think through some furniture rearrangement while you’re sorting out a nursery space, and, yup, that glass-top coffee table you nail your shins on on the way to the bathroom in the dark will also not be a good friend to your new baby. “Have that removed!” But no, you don’t need to research the babyproofing market while you’re pregnant and you certainly don’t need to Super Glue all your cupboard doors shut to protect your immobile infant from the Windex (and, on a bad day, yourself – or is that just me? Hello?)
August 17, 2011
Morning sickness is not nearly as nice an introduction to pregnancy as your all-natural Playboy Mansion cleavage. It was much rougher than I thought it would be – and is not even a little bit restricted to the morning! – and that’s coming from someone who’s had some stomach problems over the years.
The good news is that this too shall pass. By Week 14, you will likely be beyond it, so take a deep breath and don’t do what I did, which was go read and then obsess about the poor women who have it for their entire 40 weeks. That is rare. Really rare. Just focus on taking care of yourself and making it to 14 weeks. (You’re welcome for putting those women in your head too!)
My morning sickness hit before my first OB appointment, so I didn’t know what to do about it besides return to the arsenal of ginger ale, Jell-O, Saltines and Swanson’s broth that carried me through previous bouts of nausea and stomach upset. That worked some, but woman cannot live on clear liquids alone (even when you throw in some crackers with them and especially with a baby to grow). When I finally did see my doctor midway through my sentence, she suggested Morning Sickness Magic.
Morning Sickness Magic is an all-natural combination of herbs, and it worked, if not wonders, then well enough that I didn’t feel like I had to lie down all the time, and that was good enough.
Good luck! Feel better!
Offline: Any store that skews healthy, like Whole Foods or your local grocery co-op
San Francisco: Rainbow Grocery, Natural Resources and Giggle all carry it.
P.S. I tried Sea Bands as well, as recommended by a lot of places, but they didn’t work for me. If you’re still having issues though, $8 is a small price to pay!
August 17, 2011
So you’re pregnant and waiting to see your doctor. Along with what you should avoid eating, there are some guidelines for your liquid intake as well.
We’re really talking about three things here: caffeine, alcohol and water.
Let’s start with water, since that’s a positive message. Drink lots of it. You probably don’t drink enough. Start. You know what got me drinking water? Three glasses of water in the fridge, one with a Post-It that said “9-12,” another with “12-3,” and another with “3-6.” It worked.
Now the bad news. We all know you shouldn’t drink alcohol while pregnant. We all also have an aunt/mother/grandmother who will note scornfully that she drank two martinis every evening while pregnant with her children and they turned out fine. (She’s the same one that will helpfully tell you not to stress about a car seat because her babies came home in a cardboard box in the back seat.)
Again here, you’re playing the odds. Alcohol is demonstrably most destructive in the first trimester and least destructive in the last. Within the medical community there’s conversation about this that doesn’t make it into the zero tolerance messages to the public at large. I was in marketing, so I get this. You can’t put up a billboard that says, “If you drink a quart of tequila a day and show up at your local bar at 11AM, you should stop drinking. The rest of you can get away with a glass of wine here and there, more so late in your pregnancy. But we really mean ‘here and there’ and you should keep track because social drinkers probably underestimate how much they actually consume.” That’s a crap ad campaign. It’s easier to say, “Quit drinking,” so they do.
My doctor said to skip it in the first trimester at least and just watch it the the second and third. Which is what I did. It was hard at first but as the pregnancy moved along, I lost my taste for it anyway and I still don’t have it back nearly two years later, so solace yourself that you’re a healthy cheap date!
Caffeine is pretty straightforward. One or two caffeinated beverages a day is generally OK. But not venti black coffees, ladies. Two normal cups. And don’t forget to count caffeinated colas. Cut back to half-caf if you have to. You’ll get there. (A friend’s doctor said, “no caffeine” which seemed just mean given that you’re up five times a night to head to the bathroom. My personal take – and my physician’s – was moderation.)
August 17, 2011
You’re pregnant but won’t be going in for your first OB appointment for a week or two (or four!) While you wait, what should you stop eating in deference to your new little tenant?
Food. You’re not alone: the recommendations are extensive and can vary from doctor to doctor and country to country. If you try to track down every single thing you put in your mouth, it can get pretty stressful.
The rule of thumb is to avoid raw or unwashed foods that are more likely to carry harmful bacteria than cooked and washed foods. Generally that means nothing uncooked or undercooked, so skip the following
- raw fish (sushi)
- “raw” cheese (unpasteurized)
- “raw” milk (unpasteurized)
- raw meat (no carpaccio and, sadly, all your steaks must be well-done for the next 40 weeks)
- raw eggs (caesar salad dressing, hollandaise, soft-poached eggs)
- raw shellfish (oysters and, to be extra safe, mussels and clams that the restaurant might have undercooked)
All of this is because of a bacteria called listeria, which you’ll see referred to in most articles about pregnancy eating. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill food poisoning salmonella and is pretty nasty, particularly for people with reduced immunity, meaning the elderly, the very young (your baby) and you while you’re pregnant.
You should be smart about avoiding listeria but also be sane: about 7 out of every 1,000,000 people are infected each year. It lives in and on foods that aren’t clean and is killed when they’re cooked. The snags are that a.) you don’t cook all your foods (like cantaloupe, which was home to a scary outbreak earlier this year), and b.) some industrially cooked foods (meaning, not cooked by you or a restaurant just before being served) can be exposed to listeria again in the packaging process, so skip these:
- deli meats
- pate (one end of the spectrum…)
- hot dogs (the other end of the spectrum!)
- packaged smoked or cooked seafood (lox, packaged crab)
None of those are very good for you anyway, so just chalk your abstinence up to virtuous eating choices!
As you can tell from the number 7-in-a-million and from what I’ve been able to find out in my reading, FDA monitoring catches a lot of the cases of listeria headed for the open market, which means your greatest risk is from homemade or home-prepared foods. The biggest outbreak in the US before the cantaloupe-spread one was from homemade Mexican cheese. So don’t buy that! But also remember
- thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables you consume since listeria doesn’t just live in meat, fish and cheese.
The last note is on fish, which can be contaminated by its water supply or is just naturally high in mercury, so in addition to giving sushi a miss, avoid
- any locally caught fish that might come from a polluted body of water
- fishes high in mercury, including white tuna (light tuna is better but don’t have it too often)
There’s a list of mercury-dense fish here + very specific tuna guidelines if you’re a big fish eater or, like I did, you’re traveling to a country (Fiji) that eats primarily fish while you’re pregnant!
Next: What to Drink (Or Not)
I referred to the American Pregnancy Association’s site often and found it reasonable.
Info on listeria here.
August 17, 2011
You’ve just found out you’re pregnant but won’t see your doctor for a few weeks: what medications can you keep taking in the meantime?
Prescription medications. I know you read, “Talk to your doctor,” everywhere and it sounds like a cop out on offering any kind of concrete advice, but really, here, talk to your doctor. Don’t stop taking anything cold turkey that you’ve been prescribed by your regular doctor – that could be more dangerous than keeping on for a few more days while you sort out a plan with your OB. Put together a list and call your obstetrician and walk through it with him/her or the on-call nurse as soon as possible. (If you haven’t settled on an OB yet, call your doctor and start there.)
A lot of drugs haven’t been tested thoroughly on pregnant women (who would volunteer???) so the FDA has put together a classification system for drugs taken during pregnancy. Safefetus.com has a quick reference table here, and Babyzone has a more detailed write-up here. You can look up your particular prescription’s classification on its web site but again, that’s information only, not a plan: consult with your doctor and decide on the right course with him/her.
Don’t panic in the meantime and assume you’ll have to discontinue all your prescriptions. (Well, birth control, yes!) I got very nervous about having to stop taking a mild sedative I take when we fly (I’m claustrophobic), but my OB said it was fine as long as I wasn’t taking it often. You won’t know until you ask. Your doctor might say it’s not OK in the first trimester. Or s/he can prescribe a substitute, like they did for the medication I take sometimes for migraines.
Happily, you might find that some of the health issues you had before you got pregnant will go away during pregnancy because you’re awash in hormones and that happy natural muscle relaxant, relaxin. I have a dislocated rib that’s often painful but I was pain-free during pregnancy. So the takeaway is, don’t quit anything the instant you find out you’re pregnant. Make a list, call your doctor and together figure out a plan.
Non-prescription medications. It was hard to know what was OK and what wasn’t because the recommendations vary within the same category. For instance, if your stomach is upset, it’s OK to take Maalox or Gaviscon, but Pepto Bismol is a a firm ‘no.’ So you have to look things up (or again, ask your doctor).
For me, the biggest shift was not being able to take aspirin (here’s why) or ibuprofen (here’s why) and shifting over to Tylenol for pretty much all pain relief. Since Tylenol has never done anything for me pain-wise, this was akin to recommending I take a glass of water. Thankfully, while pregnancy brought its own physical challenges, all those hormones kept a lot of regular ailments at bay.
My doctor’s web site has a basic list of approved OTC medications on their FAQ page that might tide you over to your first appointment. As with prescription medications, I’d make a list of what you have in your medicine cabinet that you are used to taking regularly and bring it along to run through with the nurse or your doctor.
August 17, 2011
Right at first, it’s hard to know where to turn for answers. Over the course of your pregnancy and your baby’s early life, you’ll get a lot of recommendations and probably find books whose tone you like and some authors you trust. But before you’re telling anyone you’re pregnant and before you’ve even been in to see your doctor, where do you look?
The Internet. Let’s all take a moment to remember that time you decided you had scurvy because you had a foot cramp and went on over to Yahoo Answers at 11PM. As ever in matters subjective and medical, the internet is not your friend.
At least not until you’ve calmed down a bit. Which will probably be when your child is six or seven.
As we all know, the crazies are out in full force on-line and someone is always available to tell you that you are irreversibly harming your baby by getting out of bed in the morning. Skip it if you can. If you can’t (I couldn’t), try to only look things up online during the day when you’re well-rested and rational and can contact someone not pregnant right now for a sanity check when you go off the deep end because some nut job posted that eating yams will give your child a cleft palate.
Books. Instead of the internet, get your hands on a good resource book as soon as possible. There are hundreds on the market but I quickly discovered that many of them were not for me. Prime example: someone will inevitably send or lend you a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Not to be too blunt, but I hated this classic. I think the tone is overbearing, the advice overly paranoid and the authors are not doctors, so, bottom line, the advice they present as the word of law is, in actuality, their personal preference for the very, very straight and the extremely narrow. It made me tense just reading a few paragraphs. That’s not what you want when you’re pregnant. (Or ever, really.)
The book my OB recommended, we loved. 1000 Questions About Your Pregnancy by Dr. Jeffrey Thurston answers all the basic questions expectant moms have as well as more complicated ones for conditions we thankfully didn’t encounter. When you’re worried at 3AM, a good index is a must-have and this book has that, albeit with a weird twist to keep in mind: the numbers in the index for each subject you look up refer to the question number, not the page number the answer is on. Other than that, the book was super reasonable, even occasionally funny and very thorough. The fold-out timeline in the back was a handy go-to for where we were and what to expect in the next few weeks. Loved it. Get it.
We also used the Mayo Clinic’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy but not often. As with many books and web sites, it frequently referred me to my doctor for an answer to what I thought should be a pretty straightforward question. I can understand their abundance of caution and unwillingness to set themselves up for a lawsuit, but it would be nice to get a little more specific information right this very minute.