Ellen Marakowitz (anthropologist, Columbia University; independent researcher); Alicia Svigals (Klezmatics violinist); Benjamin, 2 1/2
Income: $100,000 to $135,000 (combined)
Health insurance: Ellen and Benjamin provided by one of Ellen’s employers; Alicia $325/mo.
“The intrauterine insemination was a bargain!” pregnant Alicia Svigals said, talking about her recent experience. “$175 for the prewashed sperm, $25 for thawing, and $150 for the procedure—less than a month of child care!”
A financial discussion was going on in the dining room of the family’s rambling Upper West Side apartment. Benjamin, 2 l/2, came in with his savings in a polka-dot blue piggy bank.
Alicia, 35, is expecting a child in January. Benjamin was born to Alicia’s partner Ellen Marakowitz, 40. The sperm for both children came from the same anonymous donor. Because of the high costs of having children, Alicia and Ellen are thinking about money more than ever.
Back in 1989 they were investing heavily in a French restaurant—by eating there all the time. “All our money was going to Les Routiers with no returns,” Alicia said. “We had just met. We were living across the hall from each other. I was earning $23,000 as a secretary. Ellen was still a grad student. We were starting our romance, so we were having fun. We ended up with a rather substantial credit card debt.”
The debt is nearly gone, Ellen said. She handles all their money. “Ellen finds money an emotional topic. Maybe because it was a female job in her family,” Alicia said.
Ellen, the daughter of a chemical plant manager in North Muskegon, Michigan, remembers that when her father was dying, he said everything they had financially was due to her mother’s management.
Alicia grew up in an eight-room colonial house in Spring Valley, New York. Her father and mother were, respectively, arts superintendent and special-ed evaluator for the NYC Board of Education. For whatever reason, Alicia is slightly more nonchalant about money. Once Ellen found a $2500 check that had been sitting for weeks in Alicia’s violin case.
Ellen wanted to merge their finances on the first date. “But I held off,” Alicia said. “You know, later I found out about an interesting mathematical theory about merging. I call it Svigals Law. If you’re a couple and at some point you merge, it comes out to be the exact same thing as if you merged your money on your first date. It all mushes together. Before we merged, we would keep these elaborate records of who owed who. It would take hours and hours of calculations and often it would come out that somebody owed somebody 36 cents.”
They were driven to finally merge by conjunctivitis. “We were both horribly sick with 104-degree fevers. There was no one to take care of us except each other. At that moment, we decided to merge.”
Now their lump sum of money is going primarily to pay babysitters. Though Alicia said they spend at least 30 hours a week each on child care—more than most of their peers who have nannies—babysitting ran more than $13,000 last year. When Benjamin is in preschool and their second child is born, they will be paying $16,000 to $18,000. They are also planning second-parent adoptions, legally adopting each other’s biological child, which can run $3000 to $5000 a piece. Ellen said, “We’ve waited because we thought it might be more financially efficient to do them together.”
Then there are the therapy bills. Alicia goes twice a week, which comes out to $7500 a year. The family has two other counselors, making a total of $11,860.
“But we’re doing all the therapy so the children won’t have to,” Alicia said, sliding down in the dining room chair, a little morning sick but smiling.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 14, 1998