Friday, August 14, 2015

Thoughts on recent loss and child-rearing...

Sorry I have not been updating nearly as frequently as I had hoped this summer. I accepted a new job, we moved out of state, and now I have started my new job. All-in-all, it has been a good (but very busy) summer.

However, we had a bit of a rough week this week. My husband's best friend was let go from his job at the beginning of the week. He and his wife are expecting a baby this winter. While she continues to work, they budget based on two incomes. His sudden job loss had a huge impact on planning for their baby's arrival in a few short months. We were heartbroken to learn this.

This was also a terrifying thought as we think about planning for our own family. We are working on paying off some debt (a car loan) before we begin saving money to grow our family and beginning trying to conceive. This whole experience of our friends' was an excellent reminder that 1.) income can never be taken for granted and 2.) we need to plan ahead for the potential of job loss and job search while pregnant or parenting. Although we had already planned to begin growing our savings pre-baby, this made us re-evaluate our thoughts about timing conception. I think I would like to wait until we completely have the car paid off before we begin trying. The fewer monthly bills we have, the better position we would be in to survive on one income if we had to during a pregnancy or during the time we have a newborn.

As I mentioned previously, I also just started a new job. This experience reminded me of the importance to opt-in for short-term disability coverage, as this coverage would provide income for up to 26 weeks maternity leave. It is important to note -- for anyone job-hunting while also trying to conceive -- my short-term disability coverage with my new employer would not cover a "pre-existing condition." This means if I was pregnant when I was hired, this benefit could not be used to cover maternity leave (yikes!). Without this coverage, I would be able to use any accrued vacation and sick time, plus they add on 10 additional paid days. But anything beyond those 3 - 4 weeks would be completely unpaid. If you are job hunting while planning to start a family, it is important to find out what coverage they offer for pay during maternity leave -- otherwise, you might have to take a very short maternity leave, drain your savings, or try to live solely off your partner's income. Find out how long the waiting period is also. My short-term disability coverage has to be carried for three full months before I can use it.

The other loss we experienced was the sudden death of an old co-worker (and close friend) of my husband. He briefly became ill and died within just a few days. This news came as a complete shock, as he was only in his early 40s. He leaves behind a wife and 3-year-old little boy. The day he died, we were both at a complete loss for words to explain our grief. He was a wonderful father, who was very committed to loving and raising his little guy. My heart is still grieving for his wife, mother, child and all those who knew and loved him. You hear about people suddenly passing away at a young age from rare complications and illnesses, but you never expect something so tragic to hit so close to home. When it hits so close to home and you can picture his wife and son in your mind, the tears just flow freely. You also feel a sudden sense of urgency to do something for his family, although you know that there is not anything beyond comforting words to lessen the devastating pain associated with this loss.

This loss also significantly affected me as I thought about raising a family, in that sudden, devastating losses can sometimes completely change the plans and goals you have for your life. I have taken a significant amount of time thinking and journaling this week about how to even plan or think about this magnitude of loss, and how we would even possibly plan for something like that to happen. I even felt a twinge of guilt writing that down, because it sounds so selfish and egocentric. But it made me realize that once we become parents, it is not just the two of us we have to worry about anymore. If I were to lose my husband tomorrow, I could just focus on my own grief. If we had a child, I would be the one solely responsible for caring for that child while actively grieving, helping the child make sense of the loss and begin their own process of grief, and planning how to care for that child for the next decade or more without my partner. While I logically knew all of this, watching this type of loss unfold before you is inexplicably difficult.

This reminded me about the importance of life insurance while I was opting-in for benefits through my employer. With this new job, I will be the primary "breadwinner." If something were to happen to me and my husband became a widower with a young child, it is important to me that he could take care of my funeral expenses, pay off his remaining student loan debt, and have a cushion to at least support himself for the next several months (if he felt he needed to take time away from work). My employer automatically covers 1.5x my salary in life insurance, but I opted to take out a smaller supplemental policy through them to bump that coverage to 2x my salary. Because of my age, that additional bump was very affordable and is worth it for the piece of mind to know that he could be financially stable if something happened to me.

I recognize this post is very different from the more fun and light-hearted posts I have posted to this blog previously. However, planning to start a family also takes emotional and financial work and planning. Although I think it is difficult to emotionally plan for either of the situations we unfortunately witnessed friends experience this week, it is an important reminder to consider those things (e.g., short-term disability insurance, life insurance) that may help slightly cushion the blow of a sudden loss. Whether that loss more minor and replaceable (a job) or priceless and devastating (a partner), pre-planning a basic strategy allows the immediate aftermath to just focus on emotional grieving and healing, rather than scrambling financially and adding additional stress.

I questioned whether or not I should add this, when I realized that I do not hear many people my age talking about loss often. And if they do, even less time is devoted to thinking about planning or anticipating possible loss in the future. Prior to being in this stage of our lives, I thought about pregnancy and parenthood in more general and abstract concepts. Now that we will hopefully have the reality of raising a child soon, these important considerations will allow us to hopefully care for that child financially. While we also are not in what I would consider an absolutely ideal financial situation (as we still have student loan debt), I recognize our jobs afford us the possibility of preparing for this stage of our lives in a much different manner than people who do not have access to these benefits.

Regardless of your financial situation, I believe all couples who are seriously considering trying to conceive take out a life insurance policy. At the very least, I believe you should consider taking out enough to cover funeral and burial expenses and a few months' living expenses for your partner (so that he or she can take bereavement leave from work, if necessary).