In this country, if you’re in academia, you might meet folks who talk about and treat being pregnant as a debilitating condition. Even though times have changed, and who gets to say #ilooklikeaprofessor has changed, academia is still dominated by men, and/or women who ascribe to some outdated and unfortunate attitudes about sexism, pregnancy, motherhood, and what a woman can do when she’s pregnant or has a child. This attitude is so prevalent that expectant mothers (but not expectant fathers) in academia might face a “baby penalty” that can severely hurt their careers. Mommas in academia (shoutout to Mama, PhD) face unique challenges, especially since in the academic world, the advice regarding having a baby while pursuing a doctorate is usually the same: Don’t get pregnant.
I decided to write this post to share my story of pregnancy and the online doctorate just in case anyone else out there is going through it and wants to hear how someone else handled it. There are already a few blogs out there on pursuing a doctorate and being a parent, but I couldn’t find much on pursuing a doctorate while pregnant (or a brand new Mom), and I couldn’t find anything about being in an online doctoral program and being pregnant. (Here’s to contributing to scarce areas in literature.) If you’re interested, read on!
Like being pregnant (which is hard), having a baby (which, I’m told is even harder), or raising a baby (says my Mom: this is the hardest), getting your doctorate in the first place is already hard. Pursuing your doctorate online, of course, comes with its own unique challenges that can sometimes make it even harder. Naturally then, pursuing your doctorate online while pregnant is bound to be the hardest, right? Well, after surviving the first trimester (which is considered by many to be the worst one), while working through an entire semester of coursework, and I’d say: Yeah, that’s probably true. BUT, you can do it.
This post is in three parts. (Like trimesters!!!) First, an overview of an average day. Second, what things helped make pregnancy and the online doctorate manageable for me. Third, a bunch of links for if you’re considering or experiencing pregnancy and the online doctorate… Here we go!
Part 1: An Average Day in the Life of a Pregnant Online Doctorate Student
I got pregnant at the start of the summer semester, and I was teaching summer school. Here’s what an average day looked like for me (during most of the first trimester & working on my doctorate)…
While teaching summer school…
- Early morning (6ish) – Wake up, eat crackers immediately to stave off morning sickness, start getting ready for work, eat breakfast, have my depressingly limited amount of coffee for the day, fill up two water bottles, pack snacks, leave for work
- @work – Teach, eat snacks while teaching, drink lots of water, hold pee for as long as possible then book it to the bathroom when possible
- Afternoon – Go home while fighting off waves of nausea, cook and eat lunch, rest for an hour or two, call and catch up with my Mom
- Late afternoon – Start doing work — readings, presentations, papers, or assignments
- Early evening – Rest for a bit, hang out with husband when he gets home
- Mid evening – Do more work — readings, presentations, papers, or assignments, then have dinner
- Late evening – Work on the blog, then sleep
While on break from teaching…
(What most weekdays have looked like after break started)
- Reasonably-early morning (7 or 8ish) – Wake up, immediately make and eat breakfast and have my depressingly limited amount of coffee for the day, sit down at my computer
- Mid-morning – Work on the blog or rest
- Late morning – Have snacks, start doing work – readings, presentations, papers, or assignments
- Afternoon – Cook and eat lunch, rest for half an hour or so
- Late afternoon – Do most of my work for the day – readings, presentations, papers, or assignments
- Early evening – Continue doing work
- Mid evening – Relax, hang out with husband, rest
- Late evening – Sleep
When the school year started again…
Only the first week of the school year (pre-service week, before the kids arrived) technically fell into my first trimester… but since pretty much all my first trimester symptoms were gone, and my summer session had just ended for my doctorate program, and fall session didn’t start until the following week, this doesn’t really reflect what it’s like to be in trimester 1 and a doctoral student. But I’ll go over an average day from pre-service week anyway:
- Early morning (6ish) – Wake up, start getting ready, make breakfast and small amount of coffee, check/respond to emails while eating, drive to work
- Mid-morning – Pre-Service Week teacher meetings (department, team, staff, etc.)
- Late morning – Continue with meetings or work on planning and prep for school, and snack every hour or so
- Afternoon – Heat up lunch (packed night before) and eat
- Late afternoon – Finish with any remaining meetings or planning and prep for the day, then head home and catch up with my Mom on drive home
- Early evening -Relax, hang out with husband, rest
- Mid evening – Eat dinner, pack lunch for next day
- Late evening – Work on blog, then sleep
As demonstrated in the above schedule, being pregnant and just working, even while maintaining a blog or other hobby, is clearly much more manageable and much less packed than being pregnant, working, and being a doctoral student.
Part 2: What Makes Pregnancy and the Online Doctorate Work
Before I continue, here are three ways pregnancy and the online doctorate work together perfectly!
Now, here are some things I did that made pregnancy while being a doctoral student work well for me, and feel manageable. Your mileage may vary…
#1) I drank a lot of water – This one might not seem particularly relevant to my summer semester success, but it was. I never realized it but before pregnancy, I really wasn’t drinking enough water. When we found out I was pregnant, this was probably the biggest thing I made an effort to fix right away. Hydration is good for a developing fetus (duh), but it’s also really good for your your brain. I don’t think I truly understood this though until I was pregnant; my increased intake of water, I think, helped improve my attention and cognition, and even memory, when studying.
#2) I leaned on my partner a lot – I accepted my partner’s offers to help with… pretty much everything. Yes, you can absolutely cook me dinner/pack me lunch/give me a foot rub/run all our errands.
I’m really fortunate to have an incredibly supportive partner who looks out for me and has stepped it up even more since we found out we’re going to be parents. We knew I planned to continue giving my doctorate program 100% through my pregnancy and through raising our new lil family member, and he was on board with doing whatever he needed to do to facilitate that.
Side note: I actually asked him if he would consider writing something about ‘how to support your partner as they pursue their online doctorate’ or something, since he does it so well, but he said he couldn’t, because he had no strategies (ha). He said that as a general rule, all he does to support me (and to successfully live life) is this:
“Assess the situation, and react accordingly.”
That’s been his approach to being a good partner, and his approach to supporting me through being pregnant and being a doctorate student so far. He just steps in and helps however, and whenever, he can. Sometimes that just means picking up tacos on the way home (that’s love), taking the lion’s share of household tasks and errands, or microwaving something for me so I can keep typing or laying in bed immobilized by nausea and exhaustion. He also has unshakable confidence that I can do this.
#3) I leaned on family – When my Mom offered to bring me food, I said yes. When she asked if I wanted to chat, I said yes. (I’m also really lucky that my phenomenal parents live nearby, and my Mom sometimes brings over tupperware containers of mouthwatering homemade Indian food for me to eat. This is not only wildly convenient, but also makes me feel supported in the best way possible: through food.)
And, like my husband, my parents are also confident, without a shadow of a doubt, that I absolutely can do this. That really, really matters.
#4) I remembered how amazing I am – Seriously. Sometimes, I would feel a little bit overwhelmed, especially when I was teaching summer school, and was dealing with some of my worst early pregnancy symptoms. I’d start to let myself think how am I going to handle all of this?
And then I’d remember something really important and really empowering:
I’m already handling it, and I’m doing it while growing a tiny person inside of me. And if I can handle teaching kids in a building with poor air conditioning on a 95 degree day while growing a tiny person inside of me, then come home and study for hours on end while growing a tiny person inside of me, and manage all that while struggling through the absolute hardest and most symptom-laden period in my first trimester, then I can definitely handle succeeding in my online doctoral program as this tiny person becomes less tiny, and when he or she is no longer inside of me.
Part 3: Links!
Here are some links that might be of interest to you if you’re either pregnant while pursuing your doctorate, or thinking about it…
- How to Decide if you should get pregnant while doing your doctorate
- Three Ways Pregnancy and the Online Doctorate Are a Perfect Match
- If you’re a teacher — Pregnant Teacher Problems
- The reality of “Pregnancy Brain”
- What Makes you Happy While Pregnant?