Inside the article: Having a baby is hard. Having a baby in graduate school is its own kind of hard! Finding time to study, attend class, and complete projects or just having time to myself. Impossible! I give you all of the juicy details of my survival story and how I kept my head afloat. Read my story of how I survived having a baby in graduate school.
This Wasn’t The Plan
Anyone who’s been around this blog (or me) for any amount of time knows my son was a happy little accident. I had just decided to go back to graduate school to study counseling and discovered his presence in my uterus just two days into my projected several year stint back in the education world. FUN!
I won’t go into too much detail about my adventure of a surprise pregnancy. That story does a great job standing alone. In this post, however, I’ll give you a firsthand recount of my experience having a baby in graduate school.
Let me also say this: my graduate school experience may be different than other graduate degrees. I am no stranger to the time commitments and serious academic rigor of some programs. While I’ve learned a ton, mine was more relational and less all encompassing.
Having said that, here is my experience surviving having a baby in graduate school. If I can do it, so can you!
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Pregnancy And Pure Exhaustion
I have to admit something. While being pregnant in graduate school held its own lovely list of challenges that I am about to disclose, this was the easy part! I had no need for finding childcare, working around naps, or being awoken 6 times at night. I did, however, have a host of other fun things!
You see, when I started graduate school, I was still working full time. I had dreams of working my way through school. My job at the time was in-home parent education, which involved traveling to homes and teaching parenting skills. Pair a newly pregnant lady with tons of time in the car and you’ve got yourself a million potty breaks and a vomit cup at the ready. No thank you!
In my program, all classes take place in the evenings and I was taking two. By the time I got to campus at 5 PM, I was totally fried. The added fatigue in pregnancy is no joke. I also don’t tolerate being nauseous very well. So, as the morning (no, all day) sickness started creeping in, I knew I had to do something to stay afloat. I am NOT a medical doctor, but Diclegis is a wonder drug and saved me from becoming a jobless dropout.
It crossed my mind one time and one time only to take a semester off when I found out my due date. September 16th, aka smack dab in the middle of my second semester. It was so difficult making decisions around such an unknown time in my life. What if I never slept but still had to perform well at school? What would happen if I couldn’t leave my baby without having a breakdown?
The biggest challenge here was not being able to give my professors a straight answer. Sure, everyone on the planet knew I was pregnant at this point (in part due to the fact that I was the size of a planet). As a planner, it was impossible to be certain of how much class I was going to miss (inevitable) and what I was going to need to make up (a lot). This was honestly a pretty stressful stage for me. Who likes going into the unknown? (Cue Frozen 2 soundtrack.)
Life took the reins. My son was born at 5:18PM, 18 minutes into what should have been my Monday night class. Classes missed so far: 1.
Newborn + Graduate School = ?
It’s funny. When I started to write about my experience with having a newborn in school, I sat here staring at my screen for several minutes until I realized something. I don’t remember…
Wow, how helpful, Linley!
Ok, but in all seriousness, I’d like to look at this as a good thing. It couldn’t have been that bad if I can’t really remember AND kept on going, right?
I can slightly remember that finding time to do homework was strategic in nature. Someone would have to watch my son for me to get any work done. He napped pretty exclusively in someone’s arms for the first few months, meaning put him down and he will protest heavily. So, I would either hold him while doing my work (skill, if you ask me) or take advantage of help when it came.
I can’t speak for every graduate program out there, but I can say for me, the most time consuming piece was readings and projects. Small, “busywork” style assignments were either totally easy or nonexistent. Strategizing when I would get these things done took effort, but given that my load was naturally light, it felt manageable. I think taking two classes (part-time) instead of three (full-time) was a clutch move here!
Some Mental Health Wins
As this is a mental health based blog, and I am nearly considered a full blown mental health therapist (come on, Summer 2021!), I want to take this time to reflect.
From this experience, I learned how to be realistic with myself about what I could accomplish. This required a lot of letting go of previous expectations (all A’s) and recognizing that I would still get the same degree that was given to everyone else regardless of my final GPA. I am not my grades.
I also have an unfortunate personality trait of rushing through things. With plans to max out my schedule, I had the goal of getting through as quickly as possible. My sweet baby boy forced me to slow down, and I’ve gotten to be more than just a graduate student.
Having a baby also paved the way to me quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom. I was having a lot of burnout from my previous job, but I don’t think I would have justified quitting had my baby boy not come along. I was able to just focus on being a graduate student (well, and a mom, of course!)
Finally, half of my graduate experience has been amidst the pandemic. While this stage of my life (and everyone’s) has been extremely challenging and painful in many ways, I’m grateful that my coursework moved online, allowing me more time with my son. He has made many virtual appearances! And while this isn’t a factor of having a baby in graduate school, it was a huge blessing.
Go Get It, Mama
If you’ve found this article looking for a firsthand account of graduate school and babyhood, I would encourage you to trust that everything works itself out. In life, you’re never fully ready for anything, and certainly not for a baby. If you have to take a break, take a break. Say you want to reduce down to one class, take one. If you need to find an online option, go for it!
I hope this helps someone considering having a baby in graduate school, or someone being blessed with a surprise addition before your graduation date. It’s certainly a challenge and quite different than my first graduate experience, but it gave me so much in return!