The idea first came up in 2004, when enugent was looking at childcare options for her daughter and knew we were going to start trying for a baby right after Blackpool. She and her husband didn't have the spare room to do it, but she thought it might be a good option for us. It's nice to have friends who actually give good advice, as opposed to the kind more commonly available. Mindful of a conversation I'd had with another friend in the mid 1990s that revealed that daycare for their baby was the same price as rent on my 1-bedroom apartment, I decided to check it out. I was sure I'd need childcare in a little over a year, so I requested information from various agencies right away. The universe then proceeded to have a good long laugh at my expense.
Once it was finally clear that there would be an actual take-home baby, the au pair option was still the most attractive. If you already have the extra room it's comparable in price to day care and about half the price (and much less hassle) than hiring a private nanny. You get to pick someone from a pool of available candidates to give your child one-on-one attention, and you have an agency (and to some extent the government) doing the background checks and vetting.
As we've gone through the process I've felt better and better about our choice. We've selected a young woman from Thailand to be our au pair. She's 26, the maximum age for the au pair visa program, she has experience with infants, and she also has a master's degree in tourism. This is where being in a first-world country really pays off. By selecting someone from Thailand we can get a well educated young woman who sees being an au pair as a career move, whereas if we'd gone with someone from Europe we'd have had an 18 year old looking for a gap year abroad and who might look on the child care as the chore they need to do in order to travel as opposed to the job they are being hired to do. Of course we have yet to meet her in person, but I've been pretty encouraged by our email exchanges. I certainly feel much better about it than I would about dropping my baby off at a daycare center with a room full of infants.