Sometimes I joke that our 18-month-old son has a master’s degree. I became pregnant at the beginning of my first year of graduate school (and the academic year is precisely nine months long!), and during the second year, my son was sitting beside me in class.
It is definitely easier to be a pregnant student than a student with a baby. If the pregnancy develops well and you feel good, going to lectures isn’t a big deal; back pain and the distractions caused by the baby moving in your belly are quite manageable. The difficulties start once the baby is born. You can’t realistically take the baby to class (although there have been photos on the internet of a professor taking a student’s crying baby in his arms during class). How do mothers with babies manage college?
Good planning is the key to success
College doesn’t have to be a big problem during motherhood if you organize things well. Of course, you can always request to take a sabbatical, but what if you don’t get permission? The following is what helped me manage studying while caring for my baby.
1. Timing the conception
I know, even with scrupulous use of natural family planning, we don’t always have a say in this. However, it’s good to think about what time would be the best for you. In reality, there isn’t a perfect time; every time has its own pluses and minuses. I gave birth in June. It was a bit crazy because my final exams almost coincided with the due date, but it all worked out, and the postpartum period was a time I could focus on myself and the baby. I also used that following summer vacation to rest and figure out our new situation. Having said that, I have friends whose babies were born in the middle of the academic year, and they still managed to finish the year with great results. Much depends on individual circumstances and the support network you have.
2. Using those 9 months to get ahead
When we are pregnant, we know, although perhaps not to the full extent, that everything will change when the baby comes. This can make those nine months a period of strong motivation to get things done. In my case, the entire period of pregnancy was very intense. Even though I was in my first year of college, I decided to take a lot of second-year classes, so I would have more time when the baby was born. I often stayed at the university well into the evening and went home very tired, but thanks to that I had fewer subjects to deal with when our son was born. It was difficult, but after his birth, it proved to have been the right decision for me.
3. Asking help from your loved ones
Every day, I thank God for my friends and family who helped and supported me during that time: for my husband, who would stay with the baby when I had to go to class; for my mom, who carried the baby, rocked him, and sang to him, and still managed to fill the fridge; for friends, who pushed the stroller around the school buildings; and sometimes for a simple “You can do it!” heard from someone close to me. Sometimes I think about how strong single mothers must be. They are real heroes!
4. Getting support from the university
Many times, I heard my friends say, “I should get pregnant too; they’ll cut me some slack.” But it really doesn’t work like that. Yes, you can get more understanding from your professors, but nothing is free. If I couldn’t attend a lecture, I had to write an additional report. If my doctor’s appointment fell at the time of the lecture, I would go to a different group’s lecture, sometimes even joining night students. Today, I’m very grateful for the people working in the department where I studied. Sometimes an honest conversation with even the most challenging professor made him or her look entirely different in my eyes.
5. Letting go
I was always a dutiful student — one of those whose goal was to have straight As. I remember, even today, when I learned the laws of physics by heart: I got an A+. (I think I learned sufficiently well; the physics teacher is now my father-in-law!) But today … I think all I remember is the law of gravity. Only in college did I mature enough to understand that I don’t have to be great at everything. Some things are more important than others.
Breastfeeding a child takes hours every day in the first few months. I often used that time to read or study. Walking with a stroller meant using headphones and audiobooks. (I studied Polish philology.)
There were some really tough days. When you spend yet another night sleeping only a few hours, with breaks for nursing, and every free moment is used to study, eventually you experience a crisis. There is no amount of coffee or cold showers that can help as well as a moment spent in quiet prayer. Even if that prayer was only the silence of an exhausted mother, it gave strength. Always.
It’s worth trying, but not at the baby’s expense
I managed to finish my studies and have a baby at the same time. All the while, I knew that if the situation called for it, I would postpone my studies for later to make sure my baby was healthy. I also knew I was doing all the hard work so I could dedicate myself to my children as soon as I could. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I’m now a happy mother with a master’s degree, and in the process I’ve become fulfilled, better organized, and more confident in my capabilities. Motherhood gives incredible strength.
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