To be or not to be [a mother during grad school]

posted 3 years ago in Babies
  • poll: What would you do re: having kids if you were to finish grad school at age 36?
    Try for kids during the quietest/most flexible point during grad school (if there is such a thing!) : (47 votes)
    55 %
    Wait till I graduate, even if I'm in my late thirties : (26 votes)
    30 %
    I DID have kids during grad school and I would not change that decision/it was manageable : (3 votes)
    3 %
    I DID have kids during grad school and I would not recommend it at all! : (5 votes)
    6 %
    Other (please explain) : (5 votes)
    6 %
  • Post # 2
    577 posts
    Busy bee
    • Wedding: April 2012

    I had a baby during grad school and I ended up quitting my program when she was a few months old because I couldn’t handle it. But I had a unique set of circumstances that made it very difficult– we had no help from family, my husband travels a lot for his job and wasn’t home most nights, our baby had colic, and my research had a strict deadline that didn’t allow for any time off. I know most people don’t have all of those difficulties and a lot of people have kids while finishing grad school successfully. But I was in a demanding program in the sciences and all of the other women I knew who had babies while in school also didn’t end up finishing.

    If I could do it over again, I would have had kids before starting grad school. School will always be there, and there’s no age limit to when you can start, while the same isn’t true for having children. (36/37 isn’t that old, but if you do have trouble conceiving then, you may always wonder.) At the stage I was in when I left school, I had put in 3 years of work but had very little to show for it, and I would have to start over practically from the beginning if I wanted to go back. After your child is born you will have a much better idea of how much you can handle and whether you want to stay home for a certain period of time. I decided to be a SAHM for a few years, which is the only thing that makes sense for our family, and I decided not to return to the same career field/track when I do look for a job again. 

    If you do have kids while in school, I would do it before starting any work on your dissertation/thesis (or whatever the equivalent is for your program). Make sure that any work you’ve done is easily transferrable (i.e., classes instead of research) and doesn’t “expire” any time soon, just in case you do decide to take time off.

    Post # 3
    2173 posts
    Buzzing bee
    • Wedding: June 2017

    This is very tricky.  A lot of it depends on the program.

    Mine is a little more intensive- people generally get in and out in under 5 years with their PhDs.  It’s very intensive.  There’s also this weird experiment scheduling we have to deal with- we’re basically told when our main thesis experiment will run, and there is pretty much no chance to change it.  Obviously they try to work with you, but I know people who have skipped a cousin’s wedding or a funeral because rescheduling would have pushed them back at least a year.

    There are people who get pregnant while in grad school here, but usually they take a lot of time off.  Some don’t come back.  Others actually time their pregnancy to be during their thesis writing, since at that point they’re pretty much done with the actual experiment and are just doing analysis.

    You’re also going to need a lot of support from your FI.  Just a couple years ago there was a couple who were both in the program.  The wife was so close to finishing…  She had her baby two months before she was supposed to defend.  She defended and “Passed,” but needed major edits to her thesis before her degree.  Her husband also finished around the same time and got a job out of state.  They went to his new job with her intention to do the edits out there.  Two and a half years later and they aren’t done- she doesn’t have as much time as she thought she would.

    I just don’t want to sugar coat it for you.  It will be incredibly hard, from what I’ve seen others go through.  You should really talk to people from that specific program (including advisors) to see how it would work.  I would also take another look at the timeline.  Like I said, for my program a kid would pretty much automatically extend the program.  It might not be the same, but you might need to prepare for this taking 7 or 8 years in that case.

    Good luck.

    Post # 4
    7281 posts
    Busy Beekeeper
    • Wedding: October 2011 - Bed & Breakfast

    I had a kid while in undergrad, and that was HARD. I can only imagine how much harder it would have been to have a kid while in grad school.

    As someone who is 34 and will likely be 35 by the time we TTC for #2, I vote to wait. It’s really not that “old” and it’s so much nicer to be stable and done with school before taking on the challenge of a LO.

    Post # 5
    1893 posts
    Buzzing bee
    • Wedding: September 2014 - Dallas, TX

    My FI is in a Clinical Psychology PhD program and looking at the amount of time and work they have to do, I think having a child and keeping up with the program would be extremely difficult for you. If you do decide to do it, I agree with your idea of waiting a couple of years. The course load for first and second year are very heavy, and after that it changes to doing rotations and working on dissertation.

    We will TTC after he graduates, or at the very end of his program, because we know he won’t have the time to help me take care of a newborn.

    Post # 6
    3360 posts
    Sugar bee
    • Wedding: December 2011

    Jezika:  Personally, I’ve been in a place to make the same decision, and I chose to wait until a point where I’ll be done by the time a baby is actually born (I’m working on my dissertation now, and my DH and I have agreed to start trying in July – I anticipate defending my diss during the fall).  However, I’m also younger – I’m only 28 now.  If I were in your shoes (starting a program later, expecting graduation around 36), I would try earlier.  Yes, it will be difficult, but you can make it work.  I’ve known a couple of women in my program who had a baby (or babies!) during their time in grad school. I think the biggest things are having support and help from your husband/family, and being able to afford the childcare you need.  DH and I have both been grad students for the last 5 years, so figuring out the extra costs of a baby on two grad student incomes was just too much – so we’re waiting until my DH starts a real “big boy job” 🙂

    Post # 7
    6788 posts
    Busy Beekeeper
    • Wedding: March 2014 - A castle!

    Jezika:  I’m in grad school and post-poning TTC until I graduate (3 more years, I’ll be 30). My advisor told me “I hope you don’t plan on getting pregnant” literally the second I told him I got engaged. Yay! So… we wait. In your position, I would start TTC now if you really want to be a mom. I’m worried that my fertility will drop off in my 30s. If you think you can multitask, you won’t be upset by a delayed graduation, and that a baby won’t cause you to lose focus, then by all means don’t put your family plans on hold.

    Post # 8
    2661 posts
    Sugar bee
    • Wedding: May 2014

    I had a baby very easily at 37, for what that’s worth.  I went to law school.  No way I’d have had a baby during school.  Of course, I have 2 now.  It’s hard with a career too!

    Post # 9
    2696 posts
    Sugar bee
    • Wedding: June 2012

    On top of all the great advice you’ve got so far, I would also take into consideration what you might do if you experienced complications during your pregnancy. that can really throw a wrench in things.

    I’m a healthy, healthy person, but experienced complications with both of my pregnancies so far that have required me to do nothing but bed rest.

    Personally, I know I couldn’t handle the stress of being in grad school and being a mama. Those a both very demanding!

    Post # 10
    3280 posts
    Sugar bee
    • Wedding: June 2014

    We’re planning to start TTC during my last year of grad school so the baby will be due around graduation for grad school. I’m only going to be 23 when I finish grad school and that is already too long! I can’t even imagine 36! I don’t think I would everr wait until 30 to have a child, since that is the number one priority for me and FI. We want 3 kids and to be done by 30. My mom stays at home so she will be taking care of the baby, FI has a great job so I can stay home as long as I want after having the baby, he has great insurance that baby will be on and I’m also on my parents. We could wait until I’m done with school and have a job to start trying, but I think we’d both go crazy and it’s just not at all worth it for us. Raising a family is a million times more important than a career to me. I’d stay at home in a heartbeat if I could, and still may, but I will have my master’s degree if I want to work. It wouldn’t be easy to have a baby in grad school, but it’s never easy to have a baby so I’d go for it. 

    Post # 11
    444 posts
    Helper bee

    Congrats on starting your PhD in clinical!  I’m currently working on a psychology PhD, too (developmental) and know I may face this decision closer to the end of my program, as well.

    My understanding is that it is doable, but really tough.  Someone in my lab had a baby during her dissertation year, and she made it work.  However… that wasn’t in clinical.  My understanding is that there is a reason that a clinical psych PhD is the toughest type of program to get into.  From what I hear, it is extremely work-intensive, due to classes, running studies, and clinical work.  I know I’m super busy as it is now, and that’s without having clinicals to worry about.  I would keep that in mind when you look at people’s responses.  Their programs may involve less work than your program will.

    I think that ultimately, it won’t be an easy decision to make until you start the program.  I think that will give you a better idea of what you can handle.  Then, you will also see what people in your program are going through in the later years of the program.

    Then again, as a PP said, I don’t know if having a child is ever easy in academia or as a clinical psychologist.  Sadly, being a mother is really tough if you want to take a career path that happens to be demanding.  It might just be something that, if you want to do it, you just have to go for it.


    Good luck either way!  

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by  qwerty2k1.
    Post # 12
    2620 posts
    Sugar bee

    I had kids when I started grad school and I am still in grad school and I am 36 years old. I will be done at the end of the year. Not only am I a mom of two young kids, but I am currently a divorced (so single) mother of two young kids. If I can do it, you can do

    Of course it is very hard but it is also very doable like anything else. I would suggest however that your child gets out of the baby stage before starting IF you can at least manage that.  With most babies, you will have tons of sleepless nights and the dependency of a baby would make it very difficult.

    Post # 13
    1446 posts
    Bumble bee
    • Wedding: September 2013

    It won’t be easy, but if I were in your shoes, I would try to time a pregnancy/birth for a “quieter” time of your program, or a time when it’s easier to take a few months off.  I wouldn’t want to wait (though I certainly feel like having kids in grad school is challenging).

    A friend of mine had a baby just before we started our grad program in clinical social work.  She was originally going to start earlier, found out she was pregnant, and pushed it back a little.  So she had a brand new baby in our first year.  She said it was challenging, of course, but that it was also kind of a nice break to be in school and think about adult things.

    I think as long as you have good support from your husband, you’d be able to juggle it.  One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have a significant amount of reading/papers/etc…. so there may be times when you’re home but you need your husband to pick up more of the housework/child care so that you can get your schoolwork done.

    Post # 14
    6067 posts
    Bee Keeper
    • Wedding: January 2012

    I’m sorry if this doesn’t exactly correspond to your question, but I thought I’d share my experience.

    I decided putting off/delaying a big documentary project that would have been all consuming with lots of travel involved, in order to TTC. I got pregnant in 5 cycles and I’m due in August. I plan on returning to this project in a couple years.

    I personally am very pleased with the decision. PP’s are right that you may have no problem at all getting pregnant after 36! But I just didn’t want to take the risk and I feared regretting it later. I happened to have lots of friends and family members around me with fertility problems which I think impacted me.

    I don’t think decisions should be made from fear, but rather from a pragmatic assessement of reality and your wants/needs.

    It’s kind of a gamble either way…you can’t know how long it will take, or if you’d have any problems or not after 36…

    Post # 15
    4762 posts
    Honey bee
    • Wedding: September 2013

    I have a PhD and I didn’t think it was that much work (especially compared to a real job!), but it definitely would have taken me well over 5 years if I had gotten pregnant during school. I would definitely wait until you’ve been there for a while, like maybe after you get your master’s. In most programs, you stop taking classes at that point. Also, by then you will know if you want to stick around for the PhD and your professors will all know you and try to help you. You would probably need to take a leave of absense for a semester, so it will also help if people have your back on that. You don’t need to decide yet, wait until you are married and settled in the program.

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