Having a baby while in grad school?
May 15, 2007 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Having a baby while in grad school? Yea or nay from any of you who have gone through it, especially the women... I am a woman so hearing about your first-hand experiences would be good (although there have been some great past posts from dads in grad school as well).

A little background (kind of long, but I want to dump my brain as this is anonymous and I can't answer questions as easily):

I have been one of those people who swore to the ends of the earth that I was never going to have kids and if I do, I will probably cause my mother to have a coronary simply from shock.

However, I have suddenly been struck with "the urge" (which is rather shocking to me) rather strongly. The idea doesn't cause me to cringe internally and even though I still have some reservations, they seem to be outweighed by visions of having a little tyke around the house. I look at my husband and think of what a fantastic dad he would be, how thrilled my mom would be at a grandbaby (after recovering from the coronary), and how I, even though I never saw myself as such prior, could probably be a good mom.

So, because of my past reluctance, I'm thinking I should strike while the iron is hot (I can see myself maybe cooling to the idea a bit, but, thanks to a past super-late period "scare", I know that if I were to become pregnant, I would go through with it and be fine). We do not currently have health insurance, but we will through my husband starting in June (and it is a good comprehensive plan) and I will also be covered when I start my grad program (M.A.) in July. I am debating whether it would be smarter to wait until I finish this program next summer, though, or just throw caution to the wind and start trying once the health insurance is in place.

I have already done one M.A. (yes, I am addicted to academia) so I know what the atmosphere and routine is like. I have heard arguments that grad school is actually a good time to be pregnant and have a baby because even though you are busy, your schedule can be much more flexible and the environment (depending on your program and school) can be very supportive. I also wonder if it makes more sense as well because if the baby is a few months old when I finish the degree, it might be easier to handle going back to work, etc. rather than starting a job and then getting pregnant.

There are also some obvious cons though - exhaustion, nausea, blah blah blah all while I'm trying to do some intense work.

So I could really use some first-hand knowledge of the situation as I've never done this before! Although, now that I think about it, my mom told me that I was a bit of a mistake baby while she was finishing up her master's degree and I've turned out ok.

(asked anonymously as I would like to retain the option of surprise and also because this question would cause the above-mentioned heart attacks for some of the people I know who read AskMe)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I respectfully give credit to Pater Al for this great advice.

Whenever you're called on to make up your mind.
And you're hampered by not having any.
The simplest way to solve the dilemma you'll find,
Is simply by flipping a penny.

No, not so that chance shall decide the affair;
As you're passively standing there moping.
But as soon as the penny is up in the air,
You'll suddenly know what you're hoping.

--Piet Hein
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:47 AM on April 25
posted by JujuB at 8:50 PM on May 15, 2007 [7 favorites]

Well, I'm not a woman but I'm in Grad school and I have a two month old baby (two out of three is good enough, I say). You don't say whether you'll be taking seminars (vs. being ABD) or whether you'll be teaching.

It is true that flexibility in schedules is a big advantage, but that flexibility wll be severely limited by any seminars that you will be taking and any teaching that you will be doing.

Also, you wll not get any work done (at all) for about the first month that you have the child. So, if the bundle of joy comes around the end of the semester, you need to make sure that the department is willing to give you across the board Incompletes. (I guess you could write your term papers early, but who does that?) And you need to plan for the possibility that the baby will be early or that you'll need bed rest (a real possibility if you have twins). In other words you'll need to tell the department what your plans are, so that they can help get your courses covered if the need arises.

All-in-all it's feasable, and not necessarily a bad experience but it will require some coordination with more than just your husband. I would try to aim for an early summer birth.

My e-mail is in my profile, since we don't know each other, feel free to contact me and I'll post any follow-up info for you.
posted by oddman at 9:05 PM on May 15, 2007

You might check out the blog of Bitch PhD, who has addressed this issue several times. Those links are to the two posts that spring to mind - the comments section on the second one is where the action is.

Anecdotally, from the people I've seen, I think grad school is actually a pretty good time to have a baby. Caveat: I'm more familiar with people who are planning to become professors, and the workload of the first years as a professor is much, much, much worse than the load of the grad school years. Your situation sounds different. You don't say what kind of job you're going to have after grad school, but I think you've nailed pros (flexible schedule, good health insurance) you describe of having the baby sooner rather than later.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:06 PM on May 15, 2007

In my grad program it is well-acknowledged that having a baby in grad school is a good idea.


- you have some freedom while you're in the later-stages
- you have good health care
- you have flexibility to take a term or 2 off
- you have cheap housing
- you might have on-campus daycare

And, more importantly, the ladies in the program and our younger professors say that it is way too tough to take off time to have a baby when you're trying to get tenure those first few years. It may hurt your career to take time off to have a baby when you're supposed to be publishing. If you come in with a toddler, it may be easier.
posted by k8t at 9:17 PM on May 15, 2007

I'd carefully distinguish between masters & Ph.D. programs as far as advice goes. It's one thing to be pregnant or care for a baby while you're writing a thesis (masters or Ph.D.) It's another to do that while in some of the busy first year of classes in a new field.
posted by salvia at 9:23 PM on May 15, 2007

I did it. It was good. During phd I finished my coursework, my comp exams and my out of country fieldwork, then had a baby. I didn't have a lot of money (3 in a small 1 bdrm apt), but that was far less important than having time. It allowed my husband and I the opportunity to learn to become parents together in a really easy way. I then worked on writing the dissertation. After 1.5 yrs. I put child in pt time day care to finish. That was good too. I got pregnant again trying to finish my dissertation, and the problem was it was twins and I had to finish before I couldn't reach the keyboard of my computer anymore!

Check to see how your dept deals with leave. Is there a certain amount of time you have to complete in? Can you get maternity leave from this so your year (or so?) doesn't count towards this total? If you do this, does it screw any funding (student loans or bursary or research money).

Another thing that is good about this is that you finish your dissertation, and go directly into the job market. I have colleagues who are trying to do the baby thing at the beginning of an academic career. It really sucks. Not enough time to prep courses, maintain research program, keep on track for tenure etc. Not recommended. You get maternity leave, but it's not better.

Also, about baby timing. I missed it by a month. Under no circumstances have a baby in March or April if you're going into academia. Birthday party time hits at the worst time. Every year, forever. It is a big deal. Really. May/June is ideal.
posted by kch at 9:29 PM on May 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

We had a baby while I was finishing my thesis (not our first) (I actually just contributed to the first cell, after that she did all the work), and it worked out great. I was able to be around to be supportive and work at times when she needed space/ felt stronger and I got lots of baby-time. Then again, I think kids rock.

I know more than one woman who, upon bearing a child in grad school, promptly decided to switch to part-time and their studies slowed down dramatically (not finished yet). I'm pretty sure they don't regret the decision, but the baby did alter their plans. I saw the same thing happen whilst in the corporate world, so that's just one of the hazards of operating your uterus, I suppose. My advisor wrote her dissertation while nursing her first child. She accounts her rapid completion with the structure that the baby demanded: she wrote during nap time and wasted none of it. The baby actually helped her finish more quickly.

I don't think you can fully predict what you'll feel after you have a baby. It's simply too big, and you have no precedent emotion to compare. It will be different than you expect: in some ways more difficult, and in other ways much more rewarding than you expect. Sound cliche? Alas, my own experience seems to validate the conventional wisdom. The practical result then is to go with your gut. If you can't accurately predict what it's going to do to you, act on emotion, intuition, and what sounds good at the time. Logic and reason won't ever get you to a satisfactory conclusion on this one.
posted by terceiro at 9:48 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Janet Stemwedel has posted about her experiences with having a kid and a graduate career over at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

Be sure to read all four parts
posted by chrisamiller at 9:51 PM on May 15, 2007

I got a positive pregnancy test the same month I got my acceptance into library school. I thought about it for about 30 seconds & decided I wanted both & I didn't want to wait (no one has ever accused me of patience). I did end up taking two quarters off, but I took classes over the summers & ended up graduating with the cohort I began with. Oh, and I worked full-time too (except for three months after the babe was born).

I say go for it. Could be you'll decide it's too much & come back to it later, or it could be you'll cruise right through. And you know? Both options are perfectly acceptable.
posted by susanbeeswax at 9:54 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The advice I heard from female professors who had babies in grad school was to have it after finishing coursework, with the best time being while writing the dissertation. Note that this advice is based on the timetable of a Ph.D., which usually takes 5-7 years, coursework taking up the first two, and considerable flexibility in terms of schedule and deadlines after that.

From your description it sounds like you are going into a one-year M.A. program. If it's a program with a heavy courseload, where you have to take the courses in a particular sequence, think carefully of the consequences of having a baby during the semester. I had a friend who had a baby a month before the end of the semester and she had to retake at least one course, as she was not offered the option of taking an "Incomplete" and finishing up later in the year. If a required course is only offered during a particular semester you could end up in the situation of having to wait a full year to finish up your requirements.
posted by needled at 5:13 AM on May 16, 2007

Well, I'm a man, but we had two babies while in grad school, so i do have some perspective here. Although I didn't finish my PhD program, that wasn't the only reason (though it certainly contributed to my need to get out and start earning more money).

Looking back, 4 of us in our small one bedroom apartment living on my $14K stipend was incredibly difficult, and very stressful at times. But with a great deal of support from family and friends, we made it through. The kids are great, and we often look back fondly at those days, and as cliche as it is, we laugh about them.

I remember that i would often take the 2 AM feeding, then just head into the lab. For the most part, my schedule of labwork was my own, so the flexibility was great. If I had to teach, we worked it out. There's always a way to figure these things out.
posted by genefinder at 5:33 AM on May 16, 2007

As someone who advises many grad students, I've seen a few pull off having a baby and starting a family along the way. The ones who have been mature enough to start families in the first place have also been mature enough to pull of the double-lutz of parenthood and PhDhood with style, if sometimes with some compromises on the academic end (because you can't compromise on the parental end, period).

It takes extraordinary devotion and a lot of extra work. You must have a very supportive partner if you don't plan to compromise your academic work much. And a supportive adviser and program.

Many universities are just now attending to policies for pregnancy and childbirth among funded grad students. It's a trend, at last. CHeck with your grad school and department to see if there are any policies that you should be factoring in -- funded leaves, unfunded leaves that don't have any funding consequences, etc.
posted by spitbull at 6:22 AM on May 16, 2007

Or if there aren't such policies, figure out how you're going to take the time off you will probably need without damaging academic progress or funding options.
posted by spitbull at 6:23 AM on May 16, 2007

We had our first child while my wife was in grad school - MA. Our plan was for her to finish her course work & research, have the baby and have her return just to submit her thesis. The plan was fine with one hitch - they charged us an entire extra semester of tuition just to hand in her thesis. Which was not what we had understood before she left school. It wasn't a big deal in the long run, but it was annoying to scrape of a few thousand dollars on short notice at the time.

I get the impression your husband is in school too - I was working, so that make things kind of different. More money and insurance, etc.

Overall, it was a good time for her to be pregnant. Everyone at school was nice and she went swimming a lot on campus. If you're planning to work, it's probably easier to take some time out between school & starting a job, rather than starting a job, stepping out and then going back.
posted by GuyZero at 6:50 AM on May 16, 2007

I am not in grad school nor am I (a dude) a parent or expect to become one soon, but I was that baby 26 years ago when my parents were in grad school and things turned out pretty good on this end. My dad did basically take a year off from his PhD to hang out with me, while my mom kept on with her Masters but they both got their degrees and things turned out happily ever after. I would expect it to be very difficult though, but babies are a handful.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:07 AM on May 16, 2007

« Older Michael McGee/Fred C. Dobbs ?   |   Is all vanity? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.