My first year of graduate school involved many big life changes. I moved from my hometown in Michigan to California to attend a college of pharmacy. In my first month of school, on top of adjusting to the heavy workload, my husband and I got married. As newlyweds, having children seemed to be something of the distant future to us. My husband had moved from Southern California to Sacramento, a seven hour drive away from his whole family, to be with me and was tirelessly searching for a new job. I had the next few years of my life planned out and I thought I knew exactly where I was headed. But as John Lennon put it: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
I remember passing by upperclassmen on campus that were pregnant and I wondered how they coping with pregnancy while in college. How were they taking care of a baby when the workload of pharmacy school is so overwhelming? I admired them for how well they were managing a family and college. Little did I know that I would soon walk in their shoes — I was about to experience a situation that they knew all too well.
I became very ill during the second week of my second semester of pharmacy school. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with me. I was incredibly lethargic and could barely get out of bed but I didn’t have the flu or even cold symptoms. I emailed my professors to let them know that I may not make it to class for the upcoming exams and was planning on scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Well, that doctor’s appointment became unnecessary when I woke up at 3 am with extreme nausea and vomiting. My husband took me to the emergency room. While explaining my symptoms to the triage nurse, she asked, “Well, don’t you think you’re pregnant?” I explained to her that was impossible because I was taking birth control, I couldn’t be pregnant. Sure, I missed a couple pills but I would just double up the next day. She wanted a urine sample to rule out an unplanned pregnancy. I remember standing in the bathroom, thinking I can’t be pregnant. Please, God, I can’t be pregnant. It was only a few minutes later that the nurse enthusiastically called my husband and I over and excitedly shouted “You’re definitely pregnant!”
I immediately began to cry, sob actually, which really confused the nurse. She attempted to comfort me and tell me there were options if I didn’t want the baby, which I refused. My husband’s reaction was quite the opposite. He was incredibly calm and felt that we would find a way to make it work. The next few hours were a daze. I found out I was six weeks pregnant and heard the baby’s heart beat, which made everything even more surreal to me.
It’s not that I didn’t want kids. I love children and was excited at the idea of becoming a mom when the time was right. An unplanned pregnancy in my second semester of pharmacy school just didn’t seem like the right time. I had just gotten married, could barely handle the burden of pharmacy school, I had no family around to help, and my husband was still searching for a job. I spent the next couple of weeks just crying and continuing to be sick. I couldn’t sleep through the night. All I could think about was a baby will be keeping me up all night soon. After those two weeks of wallowing in negativity and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to pull myself together. My husband was offered a job after many interviews, which seemed to be one step in the right direction for us. I focused on the positive aspects of my pregnancy. The fact that I was able to carry a baby at all was something to be thankful for. So many women have great difficulty conceiving and some may never be able to carry their own child. I also knew I wasn’t in this alone. I thought about all the mothers who have to raise children on their own. That would be especially difficult but I knew I was lucky enough not to have to go through that. My husband was extremely supportive and I knew he would do everything he could to relieve the burden on me and that is one thing I was incredibly fortunate to have. I have always been very dedicated to my studies. As I became more excited about my pregnancy, I also grew more confident in my ability to manage school while raising a child. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it also wasn’t impossible.
The last few years of pharmacy school with a baby have had their share of challenges, but they have genuinely been the happiest years for me. One of my favorite quotes by Steve Jobs is “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Having a child while being in school has taught me lessons that I will forever be grateful for — I am more mature, patient, and humble.
Here are some tips that I learned to help me balance life as a mom and a student. I admit that I haven’t mastered all of them, but I strive to be better everyday.
Focus on the positive instead of the negative and be as optimistic as you can be. When you have a lot on your plate you have to learn to let go of the things that are out of your control. Whether it’s being stuck in traffic for a ridiculous amount of time or someone getting your order wrong, it shouldn’t take up the energy you have left that day. You have to focus your time and energy on what really matters. Spending quality time with your family and being efficient in your schoolwork should be priority because your time is so limited and valuable.
Create a schedule
Prior to having a baby it was so easy to just wake up and not have every second of my day planned out. Meeting a friend for lunch at the last minute or stopping by the grocery store on the way home certainly didn’t seem like stressful tasks. Add a child to that picture and it can be complete chaos. In order for you to stay focused and meet deadlines it is important to have a schedule. In the beginning of the semester I would write down all my test and project dates so I could coordinate my schedule with my husband’s schedule. I also had to find a study schedule that worked for me, which was studying after my baby went to sleep on the weekdays. Luckily, she fell asleep relatively early. I would do more studying on the weekends when necessary. However, each individual and their circumstances may be different. Maybe staying at school to study everyday is more efficient for others. Whatever it may be, find a schedule that works for you.
Learn to accept help
The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” isn’t something to roll your eyes at. It is hard to accept help and I admittedly still struggle with this today. Learning to accept all the help you can get from any support system you have is essential. I still have difficulty letting my husband take care of my daughter when I have to get work done because I feel like she needs her mom. But I have learned that her dad, who loves her as much as I do, will take just as great care and I need to learn to let go. Along with this, when friends and family offer their help, you should take it if you know that you need it. We are human and we can’t do it all. Whether it is for a break or to study, take advantage of help when you need it. Raising children is exhausting both mentally and physically, and it takes team effort.
Find a balance
It’s hard work having a family, going to school, working a part-time job, and being involved in extracurricular activities. You are only human and can handle only so much. Don’t feel as though you have to burden yourself with the same things your peers are doing. Sure, it’s important to be involved in extracurricular activities but find a balance. If you can only be involved in a couple organizations that is completely okay. Being a good parent is more important than being active in any professional organization and you have to embrace that. Be proud of what you have accomplished. Try your best not to compare yourself to others. Everyone has different circumstances and you can only do your best within those circumstances.
Go after what you want in your career
Just because your resume is not as long as the resumes of your peers doesn’t mean you will not get the job you want or that you are not as knowledgeable. Do not let certain stigmas or opinions get in the way of doing what you want to do. Too often, people will not even apply for a job or residency because they do not think they have a chance. You will not know the outcome of anything unless you try — there is absolutely no harm in trying. Remember that many employers have children and an applicant who balanced college responsibilities and raising a child demonstrates desirable qualities that may transfer to job performance. They see that you can handle stressful situations well and you know how to prioritize your life. Be confident in your abilities, regardless of what other people may say. Having confidence will get you far.
These were just some tips that I found beneficial based on my circumstances. Everybody has different situations and circumstances and should find a balance that works for them. Don’t live your life day by day waiting for graduation or for things to be easier; doing this will rob you of your everyday happiness. Change your routine or schedule for something more manageable If you feel that every day is challenging. Remember that most situations are based off your perspective and how your react to it. Believe in yourself, have confidence, and know that it is absolutely not impossible to raise a child while in graduate school.