Graduate school during maternity leave: good idea, or bad?
September 25, 2012 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I am 30, happily married, and in the middle of next year will be eligible for a year of paid maternity leave. Around the time I become eligible, I am also starting grad school (MLIS at U Wisconsin, Madison). I feel like I could probably manage any two things: work + school (part-time), work+baby, or baby+school.; but not all three. I am attending graduate school part time via distance education, and my work is supportive.. For those of you who've had kids in graduate school - to what extent do these two mix? What worked and what didn't? I feel like if I go to school part time (3 years or so) and then start trying for the kid, I'm pushing the age thing (I'd be about 34 - and I have mild endometriosis). If I have a year of paid maternity leave, could I use that time to attend school full time? Or just part time? This would be tricky in person, but I would have at least some additional flexibility due to it being distance education. My husband, for what it's worth, pulls his weight around the house (he's actually neater than I am) and is pretty domestic/clucky.
posted by jrobin276 to Education (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So, I just finished doing a graduate degree part time while working full time and promptly got pregnant (like, positive test on the same day as my last exam), and I keep telling my husband how glad I am that I didn't try to take a class during my first trimester. It is all I can do to work a full day and then go home and sit like a zombie for a while and then sleep for way more hours than I ever had time for while I was in school. There's no way I could mix in a problem set.

I've never had kids + job + school - I hear people say grad school is actually a really excellent time to have a kid because your schedule is so flexible compared to when you're working - but really think twice about the full-time work + school while pregnant. Building a human is pretty tough on your body and a lot of your energy will be sucked up by the whole process.
posted by town of cats at 11:12 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good point. Its going to be unavoidable unless I get pregnant soon, and then the best I could hope for would be to start school around the second trimester. Its possible Ill end up having a laparoscopy, which would be the best time to get pregnant, and would result in a similar timetable anyway.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:39 PM on September 25, 2012

I did FT grad school + PT work (TAing, adjunct teaching) + babies (as a single parent, no less). It was very doable, but that was with FT childcare.

A year of paid maternity leave is awesome, and as long as you are not too hung up with spending baby's first year cocooning and doing nothing but new mom/baby stuff, I think it totally makes sense to take advantage of it sooner rather than later and knock out a chunk of your grad school program. However, don't assume that because it's a distance education program that you can pop the baby in the bouncer and get through a FT course load without outside help.

And you should still plan to spend 2-3 months after the blessed event doing neither work nor school.

As town of cats notes, be prepared for the pregnancy itself to do a number on your energy levels and productivity. You can get other people to take care of the baby when you need to study after the baby is born, but no one is going to do the puking for you.
posted by drlith at 3:53 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have two kids and am trying to figure out the entire graduate school thing, and I work full-time. It's hard. It's really hard. And what makes it so hard in part is the cost of daycare and keeping my health insurance. In part I have to keep my specific health insurance because one of my kids has what could still be determined a preexisting condition were I to switch companies.

On the daycare end, were I to go to school full-time, I would still need full-time daycare in order to work part-time and attend classes. And there's no way right now to afford that.

We had one case in my department where a graduate student went into preterm labor. Her son was born really early unexpectedly --- 28 weeks or something like that. She dropped out of the program. I don't say this to scare you, but just to point out that pregnancy, babies, and kids in general can be incredibly unpredictable --- you may have a child with higher than average needs, you may have a complicated pregnancy, you may have a perfectly normal pregnancy but be exhausted. I also recommend you look through the hundreds of Metafilter posts on parenting young children and how much work it is for that first year. I think school or work with a little baby is possible.

But all three? In my life, I am not finding having kids, working, and going to school workable in the least --- mostly because all the programs I am interested in require a practicum or internship of 15 hours/week that would take me from work but I need to work to pay for the day care to allow me to do the 15 hours/week's a pretty terrible circle. So I'm holding off on grad school for the time being.

In many ways, if I could go back, I would do graduate school first, start my career, and start having children now (I'm a little younger than you). But in so many other ways, I'm glad my kids will be teenagers when I'm in my early 40s.
posted by zizzle at 4:37 AM on September 26, 2012

I think you should plan on doing only 2 things at a time. Work and grad school now and while pregnant - it could take a while to get pregnant. Then take the year of maternity leave and do nothing but enjoy your baby for sixth months (in my opinion, three months maternity leave is too little. By six months, you have a chance that the baby will be sleeping well, or you can start sleep training.) After six months, start up grad school again part time. Quit your job at the end of maternity leave and finish up grad school full time.
posted by yarly at 6:02 AM on September 26, 2012

could I use that time to attend school full time?

I don't have kids yet, but I can answer this one for sure - no. If you need to do school in a year and you plan to have a baby at the same time, you'd have to be able to time getting pregnant by within a month or so. That is a huge gamble considering even if you have perfectly normal fertility, your chances of getting pregnant every month are only 20-25%, and once you're pregnant, your chances of miscarriage will be 15-25%. I

t could easily take you 6 months to get pregnant even if you have no fertility problems. Definitely don't assume you can plan things this closely. You won't want to start trying to get pregnant until you're ready for it to possibly happen the first month you try, but it's not safe to assume you can work your life around a pregnancy plan until you've been successfully pregnant for 8-10 weeks already (when your risk of miscarriage drops to ~<5%.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:23 AM on September 26, 2012

I am a mom of eight month old, and I'm in graduate school part-time and working part-time. The only thing that makes it feasible is FT daycare. My husband is tackling easily more than half of domestic/child care, and still somedays (like today) I can barely believe I can do it. It's exhausting and I continuously feel guilty that I don't do enough with my child. In comparison grad school by itself with a baby would be a walk in the park, but there is no way we could afford it - daycare is expensive. In your situation if I could afford to not have an income while in grad school, I would try to get pregnant asap, take a year maternity leave, then go to grad school when my kid is older than one.
posted by Shusha at 6:56 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a three week old and am still recovering from a thirty hour labor plus a c-section. I cannot imagine doing anything other than caring for this baby right now. Seriously, it's a productive day when I get a shower and we go for a walk and I manage to get a load of dishes or wash in the machine.
I am breastfeeding 4-5 hours a day, every 2-3 hours (more when she had her growth spurt). I sleep no more than two hours at a time, which is beyond exhausting because I never get a deep sleep. My husband can't help with night feeding just yet, but he does help out with diapers and in the evenings. I spent hours this morning just getting her to sleep; now she's finally sleeping and I can't move because she's having one of those days where she can't NOT be held. I know if i move her, i risk having to start the process all over again. This baby is probably not any harder than most babies. This will continue for a couple more months.

My point? Do grad school, but not for the first 10-12 weeks. Newborns are hard. Thinking is hard when you sleep in short bursts. Don't add the major adjustment of grad school to the already major adjustment of newborn care.
posted by smalls at 8:42 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did a one year Masters degree first half pregnant, second half (my son was born in the mid-year break) with a newborn. First half was coursework on campus, second half I did three subjects by distance, one was an intensive - 4 hour lecture per week plus work at home for six weeks. For the intensive my husband did babycare sometimes, when he was away my mother came and did it. The first of those lectures was when my son was about 8 weeks old. Oh, did I mention my husband was away for at least half of the time?.... And all family was out of state (except for two weeks when my mother came to stay).

But it worked. Admittedly the kid was born at an advantageous time, but I let all my lecturers know there was a chance I would have to end the semester early, and they all understood. I had a neighbour who would babysit my son when I really had to punch out a paper or some piece of work. You can make it work if you are realistic about how much you can get done, how much of a priority this degree is to you and your parenting style - if you are in to attachment parenting it might be a bit more difficult (but not insurmountable) for example.
posted by Megami at 9:14 AM on September 26, 2012

I think you are getting great advice here -- don't plan anything for the first 3 months, and if you can, avoid doing work + school + baby all at the same time. In fact, while you are trying to conceive (if you're having trouble) or while you are pregnant, I think doing either work or school but not both would be ideal. You're going to be tired.

I had my first child while going to law school full-time. It was perfect -- I had plenty of time with him and plenty of time to get my work done, since I had full-time daycare (about 9 a.m.-4 p.m.). Since you are doing distance education, you might be able to get away with less than full-time care because your schedule may be more flexible. But I would plan on getting some childcare whether you are working or going to school.

You might want to check whether going to school full-time would affect your paid maternity leave. Your employer might consider it the equivalent of leaving and getting another job.

If I were you, I think I'd start trying now (if you want to), while continuing with work and part-time school. I'd take a break from school if it got to be too much, and resume part-time school during the year of maternity leave. Then if possible, slow down the school schedule when the baby is little (especially the first year when you may be exhausted from lack of sleep and nursing) and start again later. (Alternatively, leave the job after maternity leave and finish up the degree full-time.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:20 AM on September 26, 2012

I have a good friend who had a baby in during the break between her first and second semesters of a full time graduate program. She describes this as the hardest thing she has ever done, and here's how she's been making it work:

* Her husband is also in graduate school, and has a flexible schedule as well.
* She has relatives in the area who provide some childcare
* She has many supportive friends in the area who will do things like play with the baby for an hour or two while she studies in the next room, or cook dinner and bring over leftovers
* She has accepted that her goal is to finish the program, not stand out academically
* She has the happiest baby in the entire world (seriously...from what she describes and I've seen of him, he is exceptionally even-tempered for a baby)
* She's getting a bit of financial assistance from both sides of the family, so she's not stressed about money on top of everything
posted by psycheslamp at 10:10 AM on September 26, 2012

I had my first in my last year in grad school, during which I was researching, TAing, and had a second job as a lecturer at another college (for the second half of the pregnancy), and then I tried to "take maternity leave but be available to do some work". It was crazy. I was crazy busy and stressed while pregnant trying to do all that, and then trying to work the 3 months after giving birth? That was just stupid, made me stressed and unhappy continuously and was the worst idea ever. For my second I was in my post-doc and that was all I was trying to do and I took about 3 months off afterwards. And thank goodness, because I was so sick with the second I couldn't work at all for the first 3 months, but my boss understood, and afterwards, while coming back was still hard, I was much saner having the time off without work pressures.

So I think, from my point of view, you should choose either pregnancy + work or pregnancy + school or school + work, but not all 3, and you should give yourself realistic time off after delivering, and that at least for the first couple years of the kids life, school + work + kids is going to be very hard and you will probably need school and work to both be part time to make it work.
posted by katers890 at 12:07 PM on September 26, 2012

This is good advice that you're getting. Another data point: my experience was part time work (teaching) + full time grad school coursework while pregnant (I gave birth one week after my qualifying exams.), then 6 weeks maternity leave, then full time grad school research + baby for 5 months, then part time work (teaching) + full time grad school research + baby. My baby is almost two, and I'm on track to finish my degree on time, but it has been incredibly difficult. We had a great plan, but we didn't account for the following: recovering from a c-section, post-partum depression, breast-feeding problems, baby's health problems, my health problems, conflict with family we had been counting on for childcare, and my husband losing his job and becoming self-employed.

You don't say what kind of work you do, only that it is supportive. What has made my situation so hard, in a nutshell, is that nothing has any boundaries: grad school (particularly distance programs), parenting (particularly while nursing - COUNTLESS HOURS OF NURSING/PUMPING), and working as a TA are all things that take as many hours as I let them. My husband has the same problem with his business. I never really feel like I'm doing a great job in all my roles, but the thing that has made it possible for me to feel like I'm doing a good enough job at any of them is full time daycare. And therapy!

That said, I know other women who have juggled full time grad school with pregnancy/baby and part-time work. Do you know what the policy is for a leave of absence from grad school? If I were you, I might try work+school while trying to get pregnant, then depending on how the pregnancy goes, just work+pregnancy, taking a leave of absence from school until your baby is 3-4 months old. Then school, with baby in daycare, until your maternity leave runs out.
posted by phisbe at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2012

OP here. Thanks everybody! This is super helpful. I agree - I'd *try* to time it to coincide delivery with the end/beg of a semester, and take that semester off (or time it for summer break). I have a government job in Sydney... part of why we moved back here from CA was for the health insurance, paid leave, etc. We don't really have family nearby, but childcare here is priced on a sliding scale as long as your income isn't too high (higher than ours!). My mother-in-law babysits my nephews (from 2 brothers-in-law) one day a week each, and has said she'd do the same for us - but she's already stretched thin so I'm not holding my breath. It's also highly likely I'd have family come visit and stay with us (preferably once schools resumes, I take it?).

It's a distance education MLIS course - so I won't have any teaching/research responsibilities. I need to have another look at what their leave policies are - I looked when I got in, and it's been a few months.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:47 PM on September 26, 2012

I don't think any of the other commenters have any experience with an MLIS, so let me comment from that angle. It's an easy degree to get, from discussions with others and personal experience. There are individual classes which are harder than others but overall, the MLIS is not known as an intellectually rigorous degree. I did know women who got pregnant during our program and they mostly finished on time or one semester behind.

I would second the 'start the first semester and see how things go' advice but you may find that things go easily; while balancing pregnancy+grad school+work is no doubt always a bit of a juggle, the MLIS is one of the easier grad degrees to get while doing that juggle.

On the other hand, the fact that you're doing an easy-to-earn-for-many-people (and therefore, popular) degree at a distance (and therefore, not tapping into the essential networking and internship sphere) does make me murmur the 'do you have solid post-MLIS plans?' question because jobs are hard to come by and taking a second and third glance at the degree may help you make your decision.
posted by librarylis at 8:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP Here again. Thanks for that librarylis. =) There was another comment in another post by someone who did work+baby+library school and sounded like no problem.

For everyone else: an MLIS is coursework only. I'm not teaching, not writing a thesis, not conducting research etc. It's a asynchronous and online, so I don't really have to be anywhere at regular specific times. It's pretty low-key, comparatively. Also, I like school - I'm good at it and it's easy for me (reading, writing papers, tech stuff, etc.).

Yes - I'm the Right to Information (Information Ethics and Policy) Officer for a local government bordering City of Sydney. They've offered to pay part of my tuition, and I have VERY supportive bosses and lots of opportunity to network, both within my current specialization and within Council (we run the libraries, city archives etc, and people often shift laterally). We're building a brand new huge main branch public library set to open about the time I finish, too... although I'm not focusing on Public librarianship. I have a friend who's an Academic Librarian at a nearby university as well; and I also used to work at the internal circulation desk/tech services for the ABC (like PBS). I feel pretty good about going for the degree... in Australia! I agree, MLIS should be thought out *carefully*, esp in the States.

If I were still in the US, on my $10/hr freelance job with catastrophic health insurance I wouldn't be going to grad school OR having kids.... yikes. I miss California, but I'm so glad we moved back to Oz. We are so lucky we had the option at all.

Thanks everyone... this has been VERY helpful! If I don't get the laparoscopy, I'll probably hold off 'till I'm halfway through (do the last half pregnant and on leave); but if I do have surgery and need to go for it, that sounds do-able too. We'll see what the doc says at the end of the month!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:48 AM on September 27, 2012

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