There is never a good time to have a baby. I got pregnant with my first child during my first semester of graduate school, while I was still working full-time as an attorney, having not quite committed to the concept of a complete career change (which is a story for another time). By second semester, I had dropped the whole lawyer thing to focus on school and the impending birth of my son. My due date was in early July and, because of course sequencing and the requirements of my graduate program, getting through the summer semester was essential.
I can make it. I can make it. I thought to myself all of June, sweating profusely in the D.C. humidity in a tiny chair with a built-in desk, reminiscent of seventh grade. My son was kind enough to arrive on his due date, four days after I turned in my final paper. Whew.
I had made it through my first year of grad school, but then I became that person. That person asking for accommodations to balance work (or in my case, the path to get back to work) and family. That person, who is usually a mother, scuttling endlessly between these roles–both important, both demanding, and both central to her self-identity. I became a master of memos, as every departure from the traditional course required a written request to be reviewed by the department.
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“Dear Department Heads: Although the rest of my cohort will begin their clinical training working with patients in July, might it be possible for me to begin my rotation in October instead? It will be difficult for me to begin in July since I am due to give birth.”
“Dear Department Heads: Although students usually take Part Two of this particular class after having taken Part One, might it be possible for me to skip Part One in the fall since I will have a newborn and take Part Two first the following spring?”
“Dear Department Heads: Although we cannot expect to have our own offices as lowly graduate students, might it be possible to secure a private pumping space so I need not have to do so standing up in a bathroom stall?”
And so it went on. There were two other moms in my class, but most of my classmates–as lovely as they were–just had no clue. It was impossible to explain why I couldn’t work on a group project at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night, or why my class schedule had to be limited to my childcare schedule. I could only silently chuckle when listening to them complain about having to wake up “early” to make it to a 10 a.m. class. If only!
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At the end of my third year of graduate school, I became pregnant with my second child. Well done on the timing, I thought (as if I could really control when I would get pregnant)! I had very few requirements left, and I could focus on clinical training and accrue more hours–which were necessary to move on to the next level of training. This time around, I had already been granted approval to leave my clinical placement early, although it was relatively unheard of to do so mid-year.
I can make it. I can make it. I thought yet again. I had given my patients an end date to our work together that was a week before my due date. I felt I needed to prove that I was not that person and be there as long as possible. As I grew bigger and more uncomfortable sitting all day in my therapist’s chair, my patients appeared wary each week that I would still be there the following session. I saw my last patient on a Friday, and my daughter was born the following Monday. Whew.
My graduate program still insisted that I attend a weekly case conference at school for the entirety of that final semester. So I did, with my 5-week-old daughter in tow, nursing her during class and thankful to those aforementioned lovely classmates who enjoyed holding her.
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Finally, I started my residency program at a college counseling center. It was a welcome change to be in the same place all day every day again. Surely, it would be easier there to balance my parenting needs with the training requirements when I didn’t have to juggle so many logistics. Alas, on my first day, the training director sat us down to explain that the hours would be shifting slightly from the previous year due to certification requirements. Rather than ending the day at 5 p.m., we would be required to be there until 6 p.m. Sigh. My childcare arrangement ended at 5:30 p.m. I became that person yet again.
“Dear Training Director: Although the rest of my cohort will be working until 6 p.m. every day, might it be possible to come in early and leave at 5 p.m. instead?”
“Dear Training Director: Although we are only given a certain number of leave days for this year, which I completely understand given the stringent requirements necessary for this training program to be accredited, might it be possible to take additional days off because undoubtedly I will use all of the leave for sick days this winter for my kids?”
I do not mean to imply that my training programs were not accommodating. Every step of the way, my requests were accommodated–it just wasn’t easy always having to advocate for myself and be that person.
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Again, I managed to make it through and finally, FINALLY, I started my private practice. No more worries about being that person! Or so I thought, until I became pregnant for the third time. Sure, now I work for myself and can set my own schedule, but going on maternity leave meant a complete loss of income.
I can make it. I can make it. Just one more week so I could see my clients for one more session. After a year of building my private practice, I had to stop taking on new clients several months before my due date and refer most of my existing clients to colleagues so the therapy could continue in my absence. Now I am back and rebuilding my practice virtually from scratch. While I didn’t have to ask anybody else for accommodations, I had to be accommodating.
There is no good time to have a baby. But, had I waited until there was a good time, there surely never would have been one. I have learned to accept that being a mom and having a career means allowing for accommodations in one direction or the other, a moving seesaw of priorities. Somehow, it has always worked out and the alternative would have been life without my three little ones. And I knew I didn’t want to be that person.