PhD and Pregnant

Pregnant Christine looking out window

As I write this, I am currently 6 months postpartum. I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on my time when I was pregnant and trying to move forward with my PhD. At the time of pregnancy, I wasn’t up for much reflection, it was mostly survival. I struggled with morning sickness for most my pregnancy, but otherwise it was a fairly smooth ride in terms of the baby’s health (for that I am so grateful). Despite the morning sickness and general exhaustion, I was still able to accomplish some work.  But this post is not meant to promote productivity during pregnancy, rather to share what was realistic for me during the ups and downs of my own unique pregnancy.

It is still pretty rare to find a PhD student who is also pregnant – likely due to financial strains (I would imagine), which is particularly why I wanted to write this post. I also wanted to write it for those who are questioning whether they want to pursue pregnancy while completing grad school. And if you are pregnant and trying to finish your PhD, although your experience will be different from mine, you might also find some solace in this post.

I begin this blog post sharing an overview of my experience in each trimester, outlining my personal experience and my PhD work in each phase. As well as my response to the most commonly asked question I received while being a pregnant PhD student. Wrapping up, I share some overall reflections on my experience during pregnant, while pursing my PhD.  

Trying to conceive (TTC)

I thought it was apt to start with sharing my journey pre-pregnancy, while trying to conceive. This is ultimately the first step in the process, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. I felt ready to become a mother, and it was something that I always wanted. I didn’t know if it would be possible or what the journey would look like to get there. This was part of the dilemma when deciding “when” to get pregnant. But if this PhD, as well as the pandemic has taught me anything… it is that any plans you make can quickly go out the window.

We decided to start TTC in my 5th year of my PhD, when I was 31 years old. Ultimately what it came down to was me wanting to be a mother more than anything. To me, there was never going to be a right time and I desperately didn’t want to miss “my chance”. It took us an average length to get pregnant and for that I am very grateful. I know this can be a very difficult time for many folks trying to start a family, whether it be naturally, IVF, through adoption and my heart goes out to you wherever you are at in the process. But it is also something to think about before pursuing TTC. In addition to the financial strain, I had to make sure I was prepared for a possibly turbulent ride of fertility. These are all things my partner and I considered before trying. Despite these challenges, I felt a strong sense of peace with our decision and we moved forward with our decision and found out we were pregnant in May 2021.

First Trimester  

The first trimester for me was extremely rough. I was lucky if I was able to get an hour of work in on any given day. Some days I wasn’t able to achieve anything. I was in the process of my data collection and before beginning my interviews I usually started with “I am currently pregnant and experiencing really bad nausea so we may have to pause the interview at any point”. Everyone was so understanding about it and shared in my excitement of being pregnant. I was also teaching a Statistics course for my first time. I loved the challenge of statistics and overcoming its difficulty as a student. It was a dream course for me to be able to teach it, but it took a lot out of me. On top of it all, I was distracted. I was pregnant! My dream. And I wanted to research EVERYTHING BABY. A lot of the PhD and pregnant blogs I read and mentioned to get as much work done as you can before baby comes because after, you will be busy. I felt super down about this because I could hardly get work done on a good day.  So, all this is to say, if you are pregnant and tired, or nauseous, or just soaking it all up, do what feels right to you. Work if you can and when you can. Or don’t. Just try your best and producing anything on top of growing a baby is extremely impressive in my eyes.  

Second Trimester

The morning sickness followed me into August and the second trimester. During this time, I was finishing up my data collection, starting my analysis and I prepared for another course I was teaching starting September. Again, it was a course I had never taught before, Research Methods. Another dream course, that took a lot of energy for me to prepare and conduct, but it was worth it. Luckily, I started feeling a bit more energized and less sick around 22 months. But for me, nesting came early, and I was yet again distracted with what to buy and how to prepare for baby. I found what helped was to set aside a distinct time in my day to spend time reading, dreaming and planning baby things (so that I didn’t get sidetracked in my work hours) you can read more about how I stayed motivated here.

Third Trimester

My final trimester was probably my “easiest”.  But the extra weight sure put a strain on my sleep and general movement throughout my days. I napped a lot. I continued my analysis and prepared as much as I could for my maternity leave and eagerly awaited my labour and delivery. We also decide to move during my last trimester… so that was fun… you can read more about that here.

Overall reflections

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to touch on a question I commonly receive on Instagram which is “when is the best time to have a baby while pursuing academia?” and here is my response:

There is no “best time”. The best time is when is best for YOU.

Most people (and I might be one of them) would say that having a baby during a PhD is not the best time. In some ways it was a great time for it – I was able to rest when I needed to, if I had to be at work 9-5 everyday, I am not sure I would have been able to make that happen. But it is hard to say because I haven’t experienced the other phases – postdoc, pre-tenure etc. I think any stage presents its own challenges but also benefits. It’s up to you to weight the pros and cons of these and to decide what is right for you.

I am not sure what the rest of my journey of academic and motherhood will look like, defending my thesis, navigating the job market and hopefully having more children but I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable with out having such a set plan for my life.

Final Thoughts

1. I was not as productive as I would have been if not pregnant, and that is okay because I was growing a baby.

2. I rested when I felt like I needed it, and that is okay because I was growing a baby.

3. Everyone’s journey is unique, so provide empathy to others, as well as yourself.

4. Unfortunately, there is not “right time” to have a baby in academia. I believe there would be hurdles no matter what stage of your academic career while starting a family. And that is not okay. But the silver lining is that if you have the privilege to start a family, that is a wonderful gift.

So, to all the pregnant scholars, please remind yourself that whatever you are going through and whatever you are able to accomplish or not accomplish – it is okay because you are growing a baby. This takes effort, time, rest, care and love.

My thoughts are with all of you whatever stage you are at in this journey.

Until next time,

Christine xo

P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.

P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2022/23 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.

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