Making it Work

“Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face.  You have to be fully committed.”  ~ Eat Pray Love

It was rainy yesterday.  And sometimes, when it’s rainy, all you want to do is wear pajamas and watch a movie like Eat Pray Love.  Paint your toenails.  Eat…yogurt?

I don’t know.

The point is that I netflixed Eat Pray Love because I could and this particular quote jumped out to me.  Mostly because I thought it was hilarious.  Secondarily because it had relevance to my life and a certain psychological battle I’ve been dealing with recently.


Yay, babies!  Right? Everyone likes babies.  Babies are nice people, I’m sure.  And I like babies–other people’s babies.  They’re great.  And I’m pretty sure I’ll have my own baby(ies?) in the future at some point.  But, the thing is, I’m not planning on having one any time soon.

And the reason is two fold.  First, most of the time I don’t feel like it’s the right choice right now and neither does my husband (which is as much of a reason than anyone needs, in my opinion).

But, secondarily, we both also think that our little family is not financially stable enough to feel confident we could do a baby good.

Mostly, it’s because we’re transitional.  Husband is finishing his PhD in something esoterically academic which means we’ll (hopefully) be setting out into the transient life of post-docs.  If he can’t get a toe into the post-doc circus, then I’ll set out to find a position in my more marketable specialty.  The preference is for him to find his academic toe-hold first, since my career is much more universally applicable.  If I go all “single-provider” now, then he might not get the experience he needs to build his dream career.  But, if he goes all “provider” now, the chance of us both finding fulfilling jobs in the future is much higher.  See?

Anyway, the point is that we aren’t poor, we’re both educated, but we definitely are not stable.  So, even if we did feel like “the time was right,” we both agree that we would still not start our family because it wouldn’t feel like a smart or responsible choice (we’re moving? health insurance issues?  will there be any job for either of us? etc.).

Enter the naysayers!

However, I have heard waaaaaaaay more than a few stories from friends and family about how they “made it work.”

“Neither of us had a job and Bob was still in school and we had to go on Medicaid, but we made it work.”

“I had three little children and we were so poor that I cried when I accidentally broke a bottle of milk, but we made it work.”

“We literally ate beans and rice for dinner six times a week, but we made it work.”

Now…I want to be clear here.  I have a tremendous respect for the stories that “made things work” when there was no other choice.  For example:

“We had four kids and John lost his job.  So John and I went back to school to get our degrees.  It was so hard, we were on food stamps, but we made it work”

See…that’s amazing and heroic to me.

I guess, I get confused at the stories that indicate that there was a choice, the protagonists were fully aware that they were in no way financially independent, and yet they chose to disregard these issues, have a baby, literally cry over spilled milk, and eventually rise to accept our community’s holy patina of “just having faith.”

The pragmatist in me winces.  I can’t help but recognize another paradox in our faith–one where we are told to just trust conference talks God and everything will work out vs. where we are told to not go into debt and to adequately provide for our families.  Usually, I’m way more into the latter than the former–because it’s logical and I dig logic.

Yet, there are moments in time when Husband and I look at each other and say, “We could do this.  We could do this right now.  We could make it work.”  And in those moments I want to switch off the pragmatist and the accountant in me, buy up a bag of beans, and start trolling Craigslist for used cribs.  I see that there really can be something spiritual and wonderful in the idea of making it work, in suffering through some inevitable and potentially super-lame worldly troubles for the sake of something bigger and grander like nurturing the life of a child.

I feel like Tevye sometimes:  “On the other hand….on the other hand…but on the OTHER hand.”

So Husband and I stay on the safe side of things and I’m okay with that.  I’m not okay with people calling our choice “selfish” since that is actually the opposite of our intention.  Our choice is not for the sake of our own procreative desires but rather for the well being of our potential child…but I’ve come to accept that there will always be people who feel threatened if my life doesn’t mirror theirs.

Regardless, I guess what I’m wondering is:  What are your insights or opinions about “Making it Work”?  What are or were your choices and why?  What good can you see in what I’m calling the “Safe Choice”?  What good can you see in “Making it Work”?


  1. These are such real and immediate questions. You surely didn’t REALLY intend for a bunch of strangers to jump on here with contradictory advice. But… just in case you did…

    as you noted with your Tevye quote – this is an issue that requires more than two hands.

    In my experience there is *never* going to be a convenient 5 year time slot that is going to just *happen* where all the stars align: financial stability, mutual desire for children, fertility of both partners, an “open schedule” for the caretaking parent, a clear divine “Go Ahead The Time is Now” sign from Heavenly Father, a year in which the mother isn’t really doing anything else and could devote full-time to gestation, childbirth, and nursing… etc… SOME of those stars are going to align but maybe not all. Your calendar is not going to start glowing on the date you should begin trying to conceive/adopt. Entering parenthood is an act of faith. You do not, I repeat DO NOT, know how it will turn out.

    That said, I think in some circumstances it comes down to determining what is the Lord’s will and timing for your family – which may be sooner or later than your will and timing – and moving forward faithfully trusting, even if some of those stars haven’t lined up yet. In my opinion some of them are more important (consensus of both spouses, spiritual confirmation) than others (financial nest egg in place, abundance of available time, presence of extended family nearby).

    If it helps I’ll tell a small part of my story – my husband and I got married partway through my education and I was considering grad school. In the same week I got a grad school acceptance letter… and a positive pregnancy test. The choice could not have been more stark. Can I make both of these work at the same time? Should I defer my offer? What’s the Lord’s will here, does he really want me to multitask my way through both motherhood and my graduate schooling? For me, the answer was: yes. And that’s been the right answer even though I won’t pretend it wasn’t brutally hard now and then. But yes, we made it work. It is possible.

    And don’t worry about what people will call your choices. People say all kinds of dumb stuff. The people that matter here are: you, your spouse, and the Lord.

  2. jeans: No no. I really want to hear about all the hands because I think I’ve thought through about 56 different Tevye hand options. And I totally agree that there will probably never be a time when all the stars will align.

    I guess, like you said, I just think that if you KNOW that ALL the stars aren’t aligned…is it such a bad idea to wait till at least two align? Also, I think some stars, to continue this analogy that I’m making super awkward, some stars have more “weight” (or mass?) than others.

    So there’s definitely a range of alignedness that I think you need to be open to when it comes to becoming parents.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I’ve been married three times, bore three children and mothered two others. If I had it to over again, I would never marry and I would never have children.

  4. This is so wonderfully/horribly applicable to my life right now. My husband is going to start grad school this fall, possibly in another country and an unplanned pregnancy would make our lives exponentially harder.

    I’m in the same boat as you – we’re both educated, I work full time, he goes to school full time and does an internship as well. If an unplanned pregnancy reared its head, we would “make it work.” I would probably need to lie down in a dark room somewhere, hyperventilate a while, and likely get extremely vexed with God, but afterwards I’d reemerge and get to work preparing for my spawn.

    My trouble is that so many other people don’t understand my point of view – that having a child right now is NOT something that I want. I’ve had members of our ward mention my lack of children, and when I’ve responded that I’m not planning on having any – God willing – for at least another couple of years, several have reacted in surprise, and even outrage. I’ve had more conference talks quoted at me than I care to remember. Even one incredibly nosy coworker has brought up the subject of having children to me. A student employee in my university office who is three years my junior and just barely married took it upon herself to lecture me about my opinion on not having children – did I see red that day!

    This sort of thing irritates me because I often feel conflicted: I’m a practicing LDS woman who doesn’t want children in the conceivable (ha!) future. I’m supposed to, according to most of my RS lessons and most of my neighbors’ opinions, but I don’t. And it’s okay that I don’t. I just with others would stop worrying about what’s going on up my frock.

  5. Since you introduced yourself, and since you asked about how we made our decisions, here is a brief introduction:

    I’m about 3 years into my postdoc; we live in Seattle; I have 4 kids; the first was born about 1.5 years before I started graduate school and the others born during graduate school; we like to say that the fourth child came 15 months early—we had always planned to have 4, but didn’t plan to have the fourth when I was in the middle of writing my thesis!

    But…we made it work.

    Yes, I can see your point about the phrase getting overused or poorly used. But here’s what I like about it:

    When I looked at the expense of living in Seattle with 4 kids on a postdoc salary, I thought it was impossible. Likewise the idea of writing a thesis with two babies in the house (newborn and 15 months). Likewise balancing grad school with the demands of family. And so on. All of it seemed impossible.

    But other people made it work, right? Surely we would not be the only family of six living in Seattle. Surely other people had completed grad school and cared for their family. If they made it work, then why couldn’t we?

    You asked, “What are or were your choices and why?” We both wanted to have our kids while we were still fairly young (20s). The older I and they get, the more I appreciate the value of this timing. We also wanted them fairly close in age. And, frankly, we wanted to get all the pregnancy/childbirth/newborn stuff over with as soon as possible (once you start, go go go until you’re done!).

    You asked, “What good can you see in what I’m calling the “Safe Choice”?” Grad school and postdoc is very stressful. Being poor is stressful. Having kids is stressful. Etc. Etc. At some point, you could over-stress yourself—take on more than you are able. We came close a few times…close to total breakdown. I don’t believe that having kids caused that, but I did worry (at the time) about how having stressed-out parents affected my kids. So by waiting, you may spare your kids that stress.

    You asked, “What good can you see in “Making it Work”?” I was a much better grad student because of my kids—they ground you, keep you focused and driven. Same is true as a postdoc.

    At whatever point you choose to have kids, they’re going to bring “trouble.” Thus, you’re going to have to make it work—whether you’re 25 or 55 when your first is born. You’re just choosing what kind of “making it work” you’re going to have to do.

    I’ve found that it is extremely rare to hear anyone say that they wished they had waited to have kids. Think about that for a moment: it’s a heavy, stressful, expensive, life-changing decision, and yet hardly anyone ever regrets it. I can’t think of any other decision that enjoys such a high approval rating.

  6. Apame:
    I understand your feelings exactly. We got married in the middle of our Master’s degrees, and now are both in PhD programs. We’d like to have kids, but are trying to figure out the timing w/ exams and research abroad and so on. I think that no matter when one has children, one has to “make it work.” I do think that certain situations can be easier than others, and I’d rather that something so huge and difficult be, well, a bit easier than otherwise. And yes, this makes me feel guilty and conflicted personally, professionally, and spiritually.

    BrianJ: I actually know quite a few people who wish that they had waited to have kids, including my own parents. Not regretting having children and wishing that you had waited aren’t mutually exclusive.

  7. I spent the first five years of my marriage hearing about how my husband and I were selfish for waiting to have children, and waiting was in direct conflict with the Lord’s teachings, and that we would never have “enough” time or money, so we might as well have children now.

    We were married five years when our first child was born. We have two, and our family is complete. I take a lot of crap for that, too. Apparently, having a small family is selfish, too.

    I don’t regret my decision to wait to have a child. In fact, I probably should have waited another year. Money has nothing to do with it; we have never had much, and it will be a long time before we will. The bottom line was that waiting was the right thing for me and for my family. I am confident that we made the right decision, and I have had to learn not to care what other people think.

    We have used those social safety nets a couple of times; medicaid when a pregnancy turned into a three hundred thousand dollar affair, and unemployment when neither of us could find work. I’m not ashamed of this; I believe that those programs exist for people who find themselves in circumstances where they need help. I do not agree with having children with the intention of using government programs to do so. I also recognize that those people have the right to receive revelation for themselves, and maybe that really was what the Lord wanted for them, so I keep my opinions to myself.

    I think the point of my ramblings is that I agree that others feel threatened when our lives don’t mirror theirs. I try to remind myself often that we all have access to personal revelation and agency, and that our choices are individual. I can’t worry about what anyone else thinks about what I’m doing with my life. All that matters is that the Lord agrees.

  8. Zillah:

    “Not regretting having children and wishing that you had waited aren’t mutually exclusive.”

    I think that’s an important point that often gets conflated.

    ogdenmom: I’m totally on board with you.

    Also, I honestly have trouble understanding the argument that fewer children = more selfish. Same as I can’t understand: waiting to have children = more selfish.

    Anyone want to shed light on this for me?

    Maybe it’s because I think any choice that has anything to do with parenthood will, by its very nature, preclude selfishness. Whether you’re deciding to have more kids or no kids at all.

    For example, I have many friends who chose not to have any children–their reasons are all very unselfish (concerned usually with overpopulation, overtaxing natural resources, acknowledging that there are already too many children already born who need a home etc. etc.). I also have friends who decide to have more kids because they want to care for one of Heavenly Father’s spirit children, give that spirit a chance to have a body, etc. etc. Either way, the reasoning is always unselfish…

    I think maybe the “S” word is just the worst thing you could call a Mormon, so it gets used a lot in debates?

  9. I wish I had waited to have kids. I also wish that I gotten a master’s degree before I had kids. And I wish that I didn’t have as many kids as I do; I don’t feel like I have the mental or emotional energy to comply with all the demands of motherhood.

    That said, I do love each of my children, and they are having a good and happy and interesting childhood, each of them, but at a huge cost to their parents, and especially me, their mother.

    But, every decision every step of the way was taken with much prayer and after receiving clear inspiration: the decision to get married when we did, the decision to start having children when we did, the decision (after acing the GRE!) for me not to apply to graduate school, the decision to take each step in my husband’s education and career and to make each of three moves across the country to places far away from extended family.

    For whatever reason, these decisions were the right ones for us. But because they were the right decisions for us, I can’t imagine anyone feeling like they need to make similar decisions, or feeling miffed or threatened because someone else made a different decision for themselves. That’s absurd, and it always puzzles me to hear that people give others a difficult time about their family choices. It’s none of their business!

    I do feel, on the other hand, that it is the business of the church to teach the principles of eternal families, the importance of having families, the importance of being righteous within our families, and the importance of seeking inspiration in the decisions involved with our families, but none of those principles should in any way stretch to members of the church gossiping or being judgmental about the timing or number of children in other peoples’ families.

  10. I think Mormons think of the no or postpone kids/no or postpone marriage as evidence that the world/society/satan influences us, sometimes not in good ways. Realizing that it is our (American) culture that helping shape our view of what is good and what our choices should be is important. We should be able to admit that it factors in.
    It is hard work to be a parent. Very true.
    The other day I was talking with my husband and we tried to imagine our life without kids. I would have used all these years towards a career and be making money, right? But we noticed that my single siblings with no kids all have less money (financial security) than us. Why is that? Different daily decisions.
    These years will tick by whether you have a baby or not. Sometimes, waiting a while can be really wise for your overall life plan. However, sometimes you can wait too long.
    There is no magic formula. It sounds like you are close to being ready.
    The planets really won’t ever all align. If there is an important planet that needs to line up and it will be soon, then it might make sense to wait.
    If you are hearing from older parents….I have to point out that the baby stuff doesn’t last forever. You may be trying to find the perfect timing for a pregnancy or an infant or daycare years. You can’t even begin to coordinate the timing of your children’s middle or high school years……yet those are just as important to your family. So, all the careful planning before children just ends up seeming like such a small thing.
    Yet I know it is super important because it is a big step. I waited a while. Prayer was important and being on the same page as my husband was important.
    Good luck!

  11. We made it work because we had to. Birth control failed and we found ourselves on the path to parenthood much sooner than planned. But we did choose to just go with it and 4 kids later I look back and wonder why we felt like we were on a runaway train at the time. All or nothing sort of feeling. But I’m glad for the sacrifices in the end I suppose.

  12. I don’t really get “making it work”. Things either can work, or they can’t.

    We had our kids young, close together, and 2/3 were born while my husband was in school (undergrad!). It worked. But there was no doubt it would work, we had the budget and the support in place before choosing to do so. I can’t really say we “made it work”, though I agree that we did this, and it worked. But what does it even mean to say “it didn’t work”? Does anybody ever say “we had a baby in grad school and it didn’t work out?”. Seriously, unless you sent the baby back, what would it mean to “not work out” ?

    I hope that makes sense. Here’s more of my case – the kids are really close together in age, and one is autistic, and neither of us parents ever felt like a “kid person” or “baby person”. We had kids because at the time we earnestly agreed it was the right thing to do. We’ve had serious challenges (emotional/marital) along the way and frustrations with how this path limited our options. But we’re now the young parents of big kids, both of us with high paying careers, kids in private school, able to travel, etc so things have worked out pretty well. Maybe we “made it work” or maybe this path “just works”.

  13. Like Random Mormon Mommy, I too wish we had waited to have kids. Our kid was born a few weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary while I was still an undergrad. I had grand plans on graduate school and internships and careers and traveling, but for now I have a kid, I get to work a great part-time job I love and that’s OK too, though looking back I would have been more vigilant about birth control. Whenever my newly-married friends talk about how baby-hungry they are, I always tell them that too… I would have waited 10 years had I known how hard and life-changing being a parent is. I am sad my husband and I will never know true “newlywed-ness” and a young life without being pregnant and having a child.

    That being said, we are making it work… but we also have resorted to food stamps and Medicaid and all those other sweet programs that help you out. My kid is 18 months and my husband has another year left of undergrad, and I have firmly decided no more until he is done and we are stable and I’ve had a little chance to breathe and get my life back and feel totally, 100% ready to devote not just my physical self but my emotional self to another child (firmly decided, and had an IUD put in).

    And I totally disagree that it’s selfish to not have kids right away and close together and young. I think it was more selfish of me to get pregnant… not only does it mean I spent months resenting that precious little creature for taking away my life and future educational opportunities, I also have had to rely on hand-outs and have not been able to be very self-reliant. I wasn’t really thinking of my future child when I got pregnant… I was thinking of myself and how I wanted to show everyone how awesome I was by having a natural birth, breastfeeding, and carrying my baby in a sling. Moreover, I think it was selfish of me to get pregnant when my husband was iff-y on the whole thing, considering he’s done a good majority of the parenting while also trying to finish his degree I’ve been working and supporting him in school. We’re both tired all the time and frustrated with each other a lot of it, and without a strong foundation of years of marriage it’s been hard, and life doesn’t have to be this hard.

    Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest. Phew.

  14. Well, you asked, so… I agree with those who have said that there is no perfect time. Children will never be convenient. There will never come a day when having a child will not adversely impact you financially and professionally. I remember having similar thought processes and truthfully, it now seems kind of naive. I think you are doing the work of “studying it out in your mind”, but I also believe that you have to rely on the Spirit, period.

  15. I also think that you, like many before you, may underestimate the risks/other downsides to waiting. The biological clock winds down very quickly.

  16. It took us so many years to have our first child that we’d basically given up when I finally got pregnant. Given the difficulties we’d had, when our second child made his appearance shortly after our first, we were floored. Very pleased, but very surprised.

    I spent nearly every day of my second pregnancy vomiting and swearing that I would never, under any circumstances, have another child. Now–of course–part of me, at least, wants another child. (It’s amazing, and little frightening, how rapidly cherubic open-mouthed grins erase the vomit and labor pains from one’s mind.) But we’re facing the other end of your dilemma. We have a long history of fertility problems, and I’m almost forty. Even if I could get pregnant again, are we willing to take the risks involved in a pregnancy this late in life? How old do we want to be when our youngest graduates from high school–and college? In the meantime our second child, who’s only seven months old, has started to develop some troubling medical issues, and I have a long history of depression. Could I really handle a third, especially hard on the heels of our second, possibly medically fragile child, as he or she would almost certainly have to be?

    I have no answers, for myself or for anyone else, but I’m constantly amazed at the diversity of people’s life experience. I’ve seen people have kids young and old, I’ve seen people have kids by IVF and adoption, and I’ve seen people manage family, education, and careers in almost every imaginable sequence and combination.

    When I’ve felt that my decisions are right for me and my family and acceptable to God, I’ve found a great deal of serenity in the face of whatever thoughtless remarks or outright disapproval I might encounter. But sometimes it’s a long, hard road getting to that decision and that serenity–and of course, often circumstances are just thrust upon us, and we have to make our peace with them.

    I’m on that road with you. I guess, in our own ways, we all are.

  17. Well, it’s kind of a self-selecting group, right? If it all “worked” (an utterly meaningless term), everyone’s a happy Molly. If the baby triggered a complete financial and personal collapse, that would tend to drive one to the social fringes of Mormondom and maybe call into question the whole religio-cultural edifice. So you probably don’t hear from those folks as often.

    I always wonder what’s so incredibly important about having a baby super early that it justifies extreme financial vulnerability and intentional welfare dependency. What’s the big deal about waiting a year when you’re 23? (Make that “work”.) If you’re getting up in years, it makes perfect sense, but for these college students I just don’t understand at all. I figure they all have rich parents to bail them out if it goes awry.

  18. #12, I can think of a lot of ways it could not “work”– here are a few. Bankruptcy. A PPD meltdown. Having to ask one’s parents to make serious financial or personal sacrifices to support you. Being such an immature parent that it causes permanent trauma to the kid or spouse. A medically unadvisable pregnancy leading to death or severe disability (e.g. Abbie Dorn).

  19. My two kids were not exactly planned so it’s not as if there was a lot of conscious choice involved. I have zero regrets, and yes, we of course “made it work.” But given your characterization of your situation, I personally would vote (do I get a vote?) for your current, pragmatic, accountant-friendly approach. True, you might find when you eventually do start trying that you have fertility issues, and rue the lost time in trying to conceive. But there are risks either way. And while there may not ever be an absolutely perfect time to try, I do think some basic stability, which you are likely to achieve in the not too distant future, is worth waiting for.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  20. Z, those are certainly bad things, but I don’t see them as relevant to “making it work” versus “not making it work”. Disease and PPD happens to you, or it doesn’t. You can’t prepare your way, or wait your way, to a better outcome. Individuals of all ages cause trauma to their spouse or kids. Bankruptcy strikes families of all ages and for diverse reasons.

    Look, I can only speak for my own case, where we married at age 19 and 20 (non-mormons, FWIW) and only did so because I had comfortable savings and an excel spreadhseet budget proving we could support ourselves. We started on children right away, and it worked out. Or rather, the bad thigns that came our way were not related at all to our ages. Autism and paternal depression, for example, are not correlated to the parent’s age at childbirth.

    I just don’t like the phrase “made it work”. I think everybody tries to make a good life, and sometimes good things happen and sometimes bad things happen, but not because some of us “made it work” while apparently other folks “couldn’t make it work”.

  21. Perhaps it’s useful to think about having children (or marrying, or going on a mission, or doing so many other things in life) as taking a leap of faith. Sometimes you just know it’s time to take that leap–whatever the very reasonable arguments against it, whatever anyone else might say. But sometimes a leap of faith is simply foolhardy. It’s flinging yourself off the temple and praying for the angels not to let you dash your foot against a stone, so to speak.

    I think it’s terribly hard to know the difference in one’s own life, let alone in anyone else’s.

  22. Well, for the record, I had a complete PPD meltdown after the birth of my first child. Given my personal history I think I almost certainly would have had a PPD meltdown whether I had that first child at age 15 or at age 43. That said, I do think I was somewhat better able to cope with my PPD meltdown at 37 than I would have been at 15, or even at 25. I also think I’m a much better mother now than I would have been ten years ago, but that’s not saying much. I would have been a terrible mother ten years ago. Now I’ve simply reached passable. And there are undeniable disadvantages to having one’s children later in life. I don’t think I was quite this tired all the time when I was twenty.

    In short, I doubt it’s possible to make any generalizations to anyone else’s life on the basis of my own.

  23. I’m in roughly your same boat, Apame, and I’ve had many of the same thoughts. My husband and I could definitely make it work: we’ve got a decent income and a decent education and a decent marriage and could probably raise a baby decently. Sometimes I worry about being selfish, one way or the other (like when I read this thread!), but then I tell myself that the ultimate selfishness is not putting myself and my desires above my husband’s needs or my baby’s needs or my community’s needs but putting my desires above God’s desires, and God hasn’t commanded me to have a baby yet. So I don’t worry about it any more: I will have a baby when God tells me to have a baby (whether through a realization of the “perfect timing” or through a dream or through baby-hunger or what-have-you) and that will be that.

    Of course, this sort of thinking also means I can’t judge anybody else’s choices (which isn’t a bad thing!), as it means neither young parenting nor old parenting is particularly selfish, just going against God’s will, and how can I know God’s will for other people’s timing?

  24. I don’t have time to read all of the comments right now, but I loved this post.

    What are or were your choices and why?
    My husband and I were married for five years before stopping birth control. I am now five months pregnant, and we don’t live together. We haven’t lived together for the past two years, because he couldn’t get a job within commuting distance of my PhD institution. “Making it Work” means I fly to see him every other weekend and on school breaks (my schedule is more flexible than his). “Making it Work” means being apart for much of the pregnancy, because the time was right and apparently I am crazy fertile. “Making it Work” means that I will write my dissertation from home, in his state, when I’d rather live near my school, because I want to live with him and have a baby.

    Six and a half more weeks until cohabitation!

  25. Trusting God is specific to certain circumstances. Using our brains is general. God would never ask us to throw away our agency, but He does ask us to postpone it at times.

    The key is to remain open to revelation. If you (as a couple) are willing to do the Lord’s will if the prompting comes, even if you don’t feel prepared, than you’ve done the work. And you’re the only ones who can determine that, and you’re only answerable for it to God, not your neighbors.

  26. Your post could have been written by me (except insert both of us having health issues instead of finishing a Ph.D.). We just bought a house a month ago, and I think maybe people in our ward think we’re infertile or something. Or they’re just polite enough not to ask.

    We’ll get there some day. We just need some time to get a few things sorted out first.

    I had a rough day about this yesterday, but my husband is wonderful and supportive, and we made it through. Thank you for this post.

  27. My wife and I did it. 2 children while still in college followed by 4 more later. Little or no health insurance. Very little money. We made it work blah blah blah…

    Now that 3 of my own children are married, I would not encourage my own children to do the same thing.

  28. I just wanted to tell Caitlin thank you for her comment. I’m glad you were able to express your doubts as well as your strengths. I really appreciated your honesty. Thank you.

  29. I think that in American Mormon culture we have developed a bit of an obsession with things being ‘hard’ in order to be ‘worth it’. I worry sometimes that people seem to assume that good things must be hard, or even irrational. I’m not denying the necessity of sacrifice, but sometimes the hardest answer is not the best one. Two years ago when we reached the point where we were done with school, my husband had a full-time job, and we bought a home, I felt guilty for several months because thing were easy and we were getting what we wanted. Obviously there are other hard things in life, but I think sometimes the ‘making it work’ comments are more about sacrificial one-up-manship than anything else. Or they can be people who feel insecure about their choices and so they are threatened by yours and need to feel better by proving themselves superior.

    We had our first child after we had been married for two years; we had just finished our undergrad degrees and my husband was starting an MA program. I had our second almost three years later, after completing my MA coursework but before writing my thesis. We just had our third last year, when we weren’t in school and owned our home. While it was much nicer to have a child after we had a stable income and comfortable home, I’m still glad I didn’t wait eight years before having her. For me, having kids at a young age was more of a priority. We have three kids and are done, and I’m only 32.

    What I have noticed is that people tend to prioritize different things. For some, having kids often and early is more important that being financially stable and independent. I’ve known other couples that have waited to save up money to pay cash, because they don’t want to use Medicaid. Other couples I know have taken out massive student loans or relied on family rather than government assistance. Some have on spouse working full-time and going to school too because they don’t want the mother working out of the home. When I think of ten different young couples that I know, I can think of ten different ways that balancing children, education, and careers can happen. As other people have pointed out, there won’t be a ‘perfect time’ and some things are more out of your control than you think. I think the most important thing to do is figure out what your priorites are and go from there.

  30. It sounds like many of you are of the opinion that, if you had kids, you don’t reget it (because, hey, who would ever want to say that they regret their children, right?).

    However, if you had to give advice to someone who could choose to wait for more stability, you would tell them to wait.

    Sort of like: anyone can “make it work” because you have to and it will be okay in the end. But, if you don’t HAVE TO “make it work”…then don’t get on that boat.

    Addressing cchrissyy’s more linguistic complaint about the very phrase “making it work”: I only use it here because it’s the phrase that everyone seems to defer to when they’re describing having a family when budgets are more than tight. I understand your point that things either “work” or they “don’t” and that it’s weird to say “MAKE it work”.

    However, I rarely hear people who had children young and in difficult financial times say that it just worked, since that would imply that it was easy. Their choice to use the phrase “make it work” implies that it was difficult.

    So my question in the end is, why put yourself in a “make it work” situation if you don’t have to?

  31. I’m all intrigued now by FoxyJ’s idea that things need to be hard in order to be worth it, otherwise you feel as if you’re doing something wrong.

    Also, the sacrificial one-up-manship idea.

    ::ponder face::

  32. Apame, I think you’re very smart to wait until you’re more prepared. You know this, everyone knows this, but having a baby is HARD and EXPENSIVE. At a basic minimum, you have to be ready to shell out $12-$15K/year/kid for child care if both you and your husband want to keep working. Or forgo someone’s income, which is even more expensive. And you want to be fairly settled, because uprooting yourself and having to find a new nanny/child care provider is hugely stressful.

    We’d been married 7 years when baby #1 was born. I was still in grad school, and the first 2 years of my son’s life were the absolute worst of mine. It makes me sad to say that, but it’s true. We weren’t ready financially, I was still finishing up a hellish dissertation, and dealing with major anxiety. Contrast that to baby #2 – I was done with school, working, had enough money to pay for stuff, had a great babysitter already lined up. Much happier! I didn’t get pregnant the first time because I thought it was God’s will – I just wanted to do it because I thought we’d been married “long enough” (even though I was only 28). I’m really bad at knowing what God’s will is, so that being the deciding factor could never work for me. In hindsight, waiting another 2 years would have made things so much easier.

    Cultural pressure/expectations were a reason I chose to get pregnant, and I think it wasn’t the best reason. But, of course, I don’t regret it because I think my son is so delightfully wonderful (really!!). I’m very happy with the 2 kids I have, and feel that our family is complete. But I feel the cultural/religious pressure to have more. My sister said to me, “You should have more kids because if you do you’ll never regret it, but if you don’t you might regret that.” I didn’t even know how to respond (except to get an IUD).

  33. I think I’d be half way to enlightenment if I could but remember this simple phrase and abide by its counsel in regards to other people’s choices:

    Are you person Xs life partner or deity of choice? If so, feel free to offer input. If not, shut up and think about something that is your business.

    Ideally, not only would I get the hang of this myself, but manage to spread the sentiment throughout the land.
    The factors that play into folks reproducing are plentiful as the microbes on a door handle, and I need to cut some slack as I would have other give slack unto me. Non of us understand everything that’s going on in another person’s life.

  34. Comment Part 2:

    Since I’ve been married for nearly 6 years I’ve had all kinds of “input”: from exclusion, to mild confusion, to vigorous berating. That’s the price for abnormality, and as a nerd of some esteem I would be betraying my principles if I suddenly got popular and fit in.

    I could write at least 20 pages about the factors that my husband and I continually evaluating, but here’s a few highlights:

    1–We’re going to need money in the future. I’ve got a disabled mother, an uninsured father with poor health and no retirement plan that I know of, and a nephew without a stable home life that could end up with us. These problems may require large amounts of money tomorrow, or in 15 years, but at some point it’s going to cost.

    2–If we don’t take #1 into account, there’s still money worries. I don’t have maternity insurance. So, we could pay cash for prenatal care and a normal delivery at a birth center with a midwife. However, we couldn’t pay for a complicated pregnancy, a complicated delivery, or a baby requiring physical or development therapy or interventions.

    3–Depression runs in my family (I know, what with dysfunction, disability, and ill health why aren’t they triumphantly blogging every moment of their lives ;-)). I’ve found that if I stay busy with work and school I’m dandy. However, after I finished my undergrad I found myself unemployed for a pretty decent stretch. I did not do well. Then I found a grossly underpaid position as a ten-hour-a- day nanny caring for a toddler and an infant. I was better than I was when I was unemployed, but also not at my best. If I quit work and school to stay at home with babies I’m afraid I will dissolve into a mess. If I become a mess, I won’t be able to get any help because I quit my job and spent all of my money on the baby(ies). I think any potential offspring deserve better than one-step-from-the-edge mommy.

    In conclusion, random people who are always telling me when to reproduce (but aren’t reading this blog, so this exercise is largely meritless), if I get pregnant tomorrow, are you prepared to:

    Take care of my needy family members for me?
    Pay for any complications that arise with the pregnancy or the baby?
    Take care of my child and pay for therapy and medication if I have a complete postpartum meltdown?

    ‘Cause hubby and I don’t have anyone to take care of us but us.

    PS- No, I didn’t hurt the children I was paid to rear. I did, however, read them a whole lotta picture books, take them for a whole lotta walks, and try out half a dozen different homemade play clay recipes in efforts to subdue the ennui.

  35. You know how people used to drive in cars without seatbelts, and now talk about traveling across the country in their station wagons with all the kids lolling about the the back? And they say things like “We NEVER wore seatbelts!” Well, those are the people who lived to tell the tale.
    In a similar manner, those who “made it work” are those who didn’t die, I guess. But maybe it was really hard, and if they had the choice to do it over again, knowing what they know now, they might, in their heart of hearts, plan a little differently.
    I didn’t have my first child until I was out of graduate school and had my clinical license. We only have two children (total underachievers in our ward). And, if I had to do it over again, I might have not put off quite so long, and had another baby. At the time, it did really seem like the best decision, the ‘right’ decision. Now, we’re at an age where I feel too old to have any more children. Is that a lack of faith? Maybe. But when I think about trying to ‘make it work’, I make a compelling argument for choosing to be done. Best of luck to you trying to figure it out.

  36. “but, if you don’t HAVE TO “make it work”…then don’t get on that boat.”

    I feel like I waited a long time (26 when I gave birth), but maybe to this crowd I didn’t. I didn’t wait until my husband was done with school. It wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t too hard financially either. The hard stuff to me is all about becoming a parent and adjusting emotionally and physically. Also, I was working with the baby so that was stressful with PPD. Also, I didn’t have a support system of friends with babies (and I was working too much to find one). That would have been nice.
    I am SO glad we didn’t wait any longer. Really, there are drawbacks to waiting. Not just about infertility and having babies in your twenties.
    I don’t dwell on it, but if I had my choice to have my 1st baby one year earlier or one year later I would choose earlier.

  37. Apame: “So my question in the end is, why put yourself in a “make it work” situation if you don’t have to?”

    This has always been my question, too, not just about this but about other big, big issues, like, why would you marry someone you fought with the whole time you were engaged?

    But anyway, I was never in your shoes, because my husband and I didn’t start dating until we were both done with graduate school (masters in CS for him, JD for me), and got married when I was 29 and he was 27. Had our first four years later and then had secondary infertility, had our second five years later through IVF when I was 38, then had a surprise third child when I was 40. If I’d had control over the situation, I might have liked to space them a little differently. I never thought I’d be out of the work force this long. Well, truthfully, I originally thought I’d be out for a four-month maternity leave and then back to work full-time, but that didn’t happen and that’s one thing I haven’t regretted.

    I have had family members who’ve done it differently and “made it work,” but only barely. Like, married at 22.5 and 21, first baby at 32 weeks gestation less than 13 months later who turns out to be not just a preemie but have a random mutation genetic disorder requiring a significant degree of intervention, second baby 14 months after that after being on bedrest for four months while living with my parents while my brother was working out of the country, etc. etc. etc. Life is definitely more stable now, but I know it was almost fatally difficult for their marriage and for them individually, and while I haven’t asked them exactly this question, I feel quite certain that they would have waited at least a few years to start having children. There is enough uncertainty built into reproduction that I think it’s helpful to have everything else under your control more or less in place before taking that huge, huge risk.

  38. I think that in American Mormon culture we have developed a bit of an obsession with things being ‘hard’ in order to be ‘worth it’.

    Indeed. We often mistake pain for virtue. I like to call the competition that ensues from this confusion the Suffering Olympics. In every ward in North America there are women going for the gold.

    (Maybe men too, but most of the men I know seem to prefer football to the Suffering Olympics. Wisely, in my view. Although I personally don’t have much use for football–sorry, Ziff–I have far less use for the Suffering Olympics.)

  39. I think a lot of this is a matter of one’s tolerance for risk. Are the people smugly congratulating themselves for “making it work” just the lucky winners of the no-health-insurance lottery? I think a lot of people barely even understand the level of financial risk they undertake– maybe that’s why they’re so sangune about it.

  40. We had our first kid when we’d been married 2.5 years, just after my husband went back to grad school. Even though we’d saved some beforehand, we took out massive loans to pay for grad school (including school health insurance to pay for the baby). We’d moved 6 times before the oldest was 2.5 (and have moved more since then), had our second kid when the oldest was 17mo, and the third 22mo later. If I had it to do over again, I would do it the same, but if anyone asked my advice I would never recommend they do the same. I think the key part of your post is this:

    “First, most of the time I don’t feel like it’s the right choice right now and neither does my husband (which is as much of a reason than anyone needs, in my opinion).”

    The reason I made the choices I did is because I had strong impressions that they were the right choices for us. There have been major drawbacks and major benefits to the choices we’ve made, and I just hope that the benefits (like my boys being close in age and really good friends) outweigh the drawbacks (like me being barely functioning and somewhat neglectful for most of their first few years of life).

    Like others have said, nothing is ever going to be exactly perfect, and only you and your husband (along with God) can weigh the cost and benefits of whatever timing you choose to decide what’s the right time for you. Having kids is always going to be a challenge, but choosing to mitigate the challenges where and how you can is, in my opinion, a good idea. Hopefully you can figure out what will work best for you!

  41. Vada, don’t forget she also said this:
    Yet, there are moments in time when Husband and I look at each other and say, “We could do this. We could do this right now. We could make it work.” And in those moments I want to switch off the pragmatist and the accountant in me, buy up a bag of beans, and start trolling Craigslist for used cribs. I see that there really can be something spiritual and wonderful in the idea of making it work, in suffering through some inevitable and potentially super-lame worldly troubles for the sake of something bigger and grander like nurturing the life of a child.
    I don’t think we necessarily have to have huge answers to prayers about everything. In my marriage we waiting several years and then we picked a time to start trying and we both felt good about it. It was definitely workable and I never bought any beans.
    It is hard to know Apame’s actual circumstances and how different things would be if they started trying now vs. waiting, so only they now how crazy the choice would be.

  42. Yeah, I’m in the boat with the people who had several children very young.
    I’d recommend against it.
    Of course I love my kids, but I had them so young (22, 26, 27) that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t the kind of mom who wants to be home full time (as I hear children playing with play-do in the kitchen) but I feel stuck now. I know I’m really not stuck, but it feels that way.

    There are days when I realize that I’ve ignored my kids (kept them busy but not paid attention to them) all day and wondered how much value I’m actually adding to their lives?

    (As a side note, today been good. We’ve played and read books, so I guess that’s why I feel comfortable enough to say this aloud).

    Wait as long as you can. You can never go back to carefree childless years.

  43. I had my kids at 26, 28, 33, 37. I feel like I had enough carefree childless years and I am glad we didn’t keep on waiting. But we actually did wait a while, we just didn’t wait until everything was perfect.

  44. I had my 3 in my early 20s and felt deeply “stuck” like Jessawhy, and I figured out too late that I was at all not cut out to be a SAHM. But then I launched a career and the kids got big enough for school and travel and I’m re-claiming a lot of that freedom now. I would have liked some carefree childless years but it’s ok, I’m getting them in my 30s. There are so many ways do do this.

  45. I am one who Made It Work, but I had Making It Work thrust upon me. I didn’t choose Making It Work. It all worked out, of course (because we Made It!), but there was a whole lot of luck involved. I don’t recommend intentionally jumping into something you think you are not really financially prepared for. You will probably never be psychologically prepared. 🙂 But getting into a good place financially–health insurance being an absolute must–is always good preparation for having kids. It’s not selfish. It’s responsible.

  46. (Not reading the comments, don’t have time, this will probably be repetitive because it’s obvious.)

    One could make the argument that having a baby when you know you’re likely to be stressed out is selfish. We don’t have kids to “make it work”. We have kids to thrive together and have beautiful lives together. The baby and toddler years are very stressful at the best of times. They shouldn’t be treated as something you power through. It doesn’t matter to the baby when it’s born and if you’re not planning on maximising the number of kids you can biologically have, what’s the rush? All a baby wants is loving, happy parents. If you think you can do that on beans and rice every night, go for it.

    People can make almost anything work, that’s the incredible thing. But just because they CAN, doesn’t mean they should. Just because I can experience and survive torture in Guantanamo doesn’t mean I should seek out that experience. Just because I can make a marriage work with someone not ideally suited for me, doesn’t mean I should just because I’m really getting up there at age 25 or 30 or whatever.

    Since when is something being DOABLE a logical or spiritual virtue??

  47. It seems likely to me that the pressure to have children early and often was or has been (or is) connected to the pressure to have large families. If you’re aiming for ten kids, you probably need to get started yesterday; after all, if you’re twenty-two and have them at two-year intervals, you’ll be forty-two before you’re done, which also means that on the off-chance that you’re going to hit menopause early, and with the increased health risk of women having kids in their forites in mind, you might want to cut the interval down to eighteen months. Six kids by 28, anyone?

    I have a lot of friends who (like the ZDs) grew up in families of six to ten kids, but I don’t know anyone in my generation who feel that they’re expected to have such large families themselves (I know some who want to, but that’s a different thing). But the whole rhetoric of not delaying starting your family seems to be in service of this — having time to have a large family before your ovaries wither up or whatever. If you only plan on having, say, three kids, why not wait to get started until your late twenties, when you have a steady job and reliable health insurance? The idea that you shouldn’t delay, that you should have kids now, and make it work, seems to me to be an artifact of a now-dying assumption about how big you intend your family to be.

    (Of course, I don’t mean at all to make a normative statement that you should wait to have kids until you’re “established”; I just think that, all things being equal, it’s an equally good decision.)

  48. My husband and I have been married for eight years and still don’t have kids. My husband has chronic pain and fatigue and can’t work. I work not-quite-full-time. We live with family because we can’t afford to live in our own place. Neither of us have any sort of college degree; that ended when he developed the pain and fatigue. There’s no way he can take care of any kids while I’m at work. We have several other reasons, but the number one reason is that God has told us that now is not the time. And that’s reason enough for me.

  49. Hmm, tough debate. I had 3 (20, 21, and 23) while I was working on my nursing degree. I went on to have 2 (26, 27) more while I finished my bachelor’s in nursing. I went to graduate school and after graduate school I had 2 (31,33) more. So 7 in all. I would not recommend having children while young and in school. My first 3 kids did not get the nice mom that my last 4 kids got. Life was not easy then and life is not easy now so….each their own.
    I do have to say that I get sick of hearing the sacrificial one up manship that happens (at church and not). I work 70 hours a week and I support my family. Blessed to have a stay-at-home dad willing to be at home with our children. We have kids who have developmental issues. Thankfully they came after I had a real job making real money with real health insurance. This makes our life unusual and un-cookie cutterish and I find going to the lds church difficult because of this.
    At some point you have to blow off the holier than thou’s and be okay with the decisions you make in your life. No right decision but no going back once you have kids. The kids I had later in life have faired better in life then the ones I had while I was young and in school.

  50. First of all, Melyngoch, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize your name before. I used to read the board all the time back then and have a close friend who use to be on it, though I can’t remember if your times overlapped. I was totally surprised to see you here! And no, I never commented there with this name.

    Second, I wanted to reply to this thread ages ago and didn’t do it and now it’s super long! Apparently everyone has a lot to say. I had two kids very young and now feel very much trapped at home even though my husband and I both work. It’s suffocating to not have enough money and it’s terrible to know that money wouldn’t be half so big a problem without the kids. I try to remember that they’ll be out of the house in my early 40’s (knock on wood) and then I’ll get to relax and have a little fun.

  51. I am the child of the proverbial families that seem to horrify you. I have six brothers and sisters, and my mom dropped out of BYU. My dad is a mechanic. I’m sure by your standards, i grew up poor. And try not to immediately write me off as overly optimistic, or a history rewriter. But listen. I had a wonderful childhood and I now have a happy and balanced life. Kids made fun of my clothes in jr. high school. And we never went out to eat, or went on vacations. But it didn’t ruin my life. In fact, I consider it all to be a blessing. To be honest, I have one sister who still complains about growing up poor, and still seems to hold it against my parents. But the rest of us don’t. My parents were good parents, and they sacrificed their entire lives for us. They didn’t so much want a lot of kids as they felt like they ought to. It wasn’t at all selfish. It was the opposite.

    The truth is you could feed and care for a child at any time in your life. And it won’t hurt the child one bit. But it will be a sacrifice for you.

  52. the make it work thing blew up in my face and left me with student loan debt that i can’t pay off, terrible credit and an ex lds wife who is nary on our child being raised in the Church. Now that I’m single again-which is blessing in some ways-in other ways I WISH I could go back and do it all over again because as a divorced single guy in the Church with that stigma I am useless to the Church until I get married again and even then you can’t do stuff because you have been divorced.

  53. The truth is you could feed and care for a child at any time in your life. And it won’t hurt the child one bit.

    The evidence is overwhelming that this simply isn’t true. You don’t have to look far in any neighborhood or ward to find children being hurt a great deal because their parents simply can’t care for them properly, whether because of financial crises or marital crises or other children with disabilities or severe emotional problems.

    It’s great that your family situation worked out so well, Nate. But it’s undeniable that dumb luck played a role in your childhood happiness, as it plays a role in all of our happiness. Your parents could have been afflicted with any number of problems that could have sent them over the edge–problems that can happen to any of us at any time.

    Sometimes you just aren’t in a situation to make a child, or another child, work. Sometimes the cost of making it work is just too high. (And money is the least of it.) Acknowledging one’s limits and acting accordingly isn’t wimping out on a required sacrifice. It’s prudence and the exercise of good judgment.

  54. Conifer — That’s too funny! I suppose it’s what I get for only ever having one pseudonym and using it everyone. (Which reminds me — Petra and Katya are also Board alums; I assume they don’t mind me outing them, because they’re also here using their Board ‘nyms.) Thanks for the shout-out!

  55. That’s pretty funny. Now that you mention their names, I remember them, too, but yours is so unique I think I’ll never forget it.

  56. I swear I will stab the next person who tells me “There’s never going to be a perfect time”

    I’m not an idiot, please do me the favor of not talking to me like one.

  57. the jane austen quote is coming to mind: “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

    as people have been saying, there is no one guaranteed way to do things. some people will do everything right and have it explode in their face. some will do everything wrong and have wonderful children with wonderful lives.

    whenever you have children is of course entirely up to you and your spouse (and the lord). the real answer is probably to find some middle road between waiting until everything is perfect and throwing caution to the wind. probably the best thing is just to read other peoples’ stories.

    so here’s mine! i am currently pregnant with my first, and yes, we are taking a chance. i am educated, like you (MA degree) and my husband is pursuing his PhD. we decided it was a good time.

    we did have a few conditions – like we needed health insurance (thankfully my husband’s school provides the good stuff for grad students…yes we live in a lovely, liberal state). we needed not to be in debt (another blessing, we’ve been able to get educated without going into debt). we needed some level of financial and emotional stability.

    we do not have geographic stability. he will finish in a few years and we will have to move to wherever there is work (please god, let there be work in five years). we certainly don’t have a lot of money. i have only been able to find a part time job that doesn’t bring in much, though it has been enough so far. our apartment is quite small. these things are going to be a challenge, for sure.

    but yes, we are resolved to make it work. in the end, what else can you do? just learn as much as you can, then write your own family’s story. you’ll figure it out.

  58. the jane austen quote is coming to mind: “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

    I have to point out that this is said by Charlotte Lucas, so it may not be a sentiment that Jane Austen agreed with. Indeed, if Austen had actually felt that way, she would have had Lizzie accept Mr. Collins’ proposal instead of (spoiler!) ending up with Mr. Darcy.

    Of course, Charlotte is an “old maid” of 27, so perhaps she has to be more pragmatic in her outlook. (And now we’re back to the “Dating Advice” thread. 😉 )

  59. katya – yes i know. i normally wouldn’t feel the need to say ‘yes i know’ except that i love jane austen and i did know. 🙂

    i didn’t mention the character source of the quote because it wasn’t particularly relevant to this discussion (although as you mention it might be to others because yes, charlotte was an ‘old’ single for her day), while the quote itself is.

    all i meant, however, was that happiness in marriage/childbearing really probably IS mostly, if not entirely, a matter of chance.

  60. When you have your kids is nobody else’s business. I got so tired of people bugging me and my husband about that, and we only waited four years after we got married to have our first child. Now everyone is bugging us about when we’re going to have the next one…

    If you don’t feel it’s the right time, go with your gut. The idea that “there will never be a perfect time to have kids” is only partially true. There will be a BETTER time to have kids, and when you get there, you will know it. There is no spiritual reason to start pumping out kids before you’re ready. If YOU want to do it because of any number of reasons (you want to get it out of the way, want the kids to be close age, you have a insatiable appetite for disaster, for example…) the by all means. But nobody else knows your circumstances or your reasons so they have no right to tell you what you “should” do.

    I do, personally, think that you are simply being responsible. That’s great that so many people can “make it work”, but why would you purposely load a whole ton of stress on yourself if you don’t have a good reason to? There is plenty of time to have kids. My husband and I both have Aunts that began having kids at 32 and still had four. Consequently the maturity level of their parenting appears to have had a good impact on their children.


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