In this post I talk about planning to have children around study/work and I know for many, many women this choice is not a luxury they have. I really hope not to upset or offend any women who struggle with infertility, miscarriage or who have experienced the crushing grief of losing a child. Please know that even as I write this I am thinking of your experience, and acknowledge the privileged position from which this conversation comes.
When to have a baby?
A question I am often asked by women who read my blog is
“When should I have a baby?”
“Is it a good time to have another baby?”
This question is an important one because our child-bearing years typically coincide with our ‘career-building years’. For women, trying to figure out how to manage the two can feel like an impossible task. Finding the balance, without proper thought and consideration, is like trying to find the pot of gold at the bottom of the rainbow.
We actually tried to find the bottom of the rainbow last week and every time we drove near where we thought it was, it was gone. We could still see it but it was just never where we looked for it. I consider trying to achieve the mother/student/worker balance to be the same as the chase for the bottom of the rainbow. You think you can see it but it is never quite within reach…
However, I do think there are a few pointers that can help with the decision. These are the questions that I would be asking myself (and indeed did, and still do, ask myself) so I hope they are of some value to those of you grappling with these decisions and choices. I might add this is of course assuming you have all the other bits and pieces in order (house, financial capacity, ability to get pregnant and so on…)
Do you constantly think about having a baby? By this I mean beyond just normal pondering, like you might do about trying a new hobby or joining a gym. I am not being flippant with this comparison. I have had my share of young babysitters or au pairs who think that because they love kids they might like to have a baby. I would love a bum that I could rest my handbag on, but, am not prepared to spend my days at the gym doing squats.
Is this something you constantly think about? Do you plan your future around having children – where you live, what work you do, that type of thing. I do think people either know if they want children or not, so if you do want to be a mother then believe it or not that is the easy decision made, the next part of deciding when is somewhat trickier…
If you are planning to study you might be asking yourself: how can I do both?
Or when would be the best time to get pregnant?
Readers often ask me if they should wait until they have finished their course before getting pregnant or whether I would recommend waiting until they have finished studying before having another child.
I get asked this question so often that I decided to write this post.
When I used to listen to law lectures at my local swimming pool whilst my first baby was in their crèche for an hour, I used to wish I could have done this before I had children. I imagined how much easier it would have been to just wake up and go, with only myself to organise. LIKE I DID WHEN I WAS AN UNDERGRADUATE! You know, the grass is always greener…however, with more years and children under my belt, geez am I glad of everything I have done and the order I have done it.
Were there times when I was doing my PhD when I wanted to chuck it all in?
Of course! But the important thing is, I never did and in my heart it was never an option. It was something I wanted to do and that in the long term I knew would benefit my children.
Here are the reasons why I would recommend studying whilst pregnant/raising children:
Start your course, you might find it’s not actually what you want to do. That’s always good to know sooner rather than later especially when you have spent years dreaming about ‘when I study xyz…‘
Some courses are hard to get into. If you need to do further study or meet pre-requisites, again, it is better to find this out sooner rather than later. Another argument towards making a start now.
Sadly, getting pregnant when we chose isn’t something we can guarantee so life must go on whilst you are trying for children.
Studying offers a more flexible option for mums than the labour market does – a fact that was supported by my own research. You will have the occasional issue around childcare and your own timetable but on the whole, universities follow the semester-semester structure (depending on your course) so you will be able to have ‘free’ time throughout the year.
This for me is a HUGE reason…if Mum is studying at the same time as the kids are learning/observing/at school themselves, the role modelling opportunity is enormous. Children will see the value and joy of education played out in their own home and family. True, they will also see the difficulties and the struggles but with that comes the lesson that anything worth doing is never without challenge. Equally, nothing motivates a mum more than her children do so this goes both ways.
I would never suggest that if you want a child you put it off to study…but I would never suggest either that if you want to study you put it off to have a child.
It can be done.
Back to the hunt for the bottom of the rainbow… we didn’t actually need to find it. Looking for it and imagining what we would find was fun enough. It was the driving, the shared goal and the adventure that was important, not the pot of gold.