'If we waited for everything to align, we’d never have kids.'
When Ryanne Lindberg, 31, walked into her first semester of Pacific Lutheran University’s MBA program, she says her professors both looked at her like, “What is this pregnant lady doing in my class?” Her due date: Oct. 18.
She directly addressed the confusion, letting the professors know she would only miss a week of class during the delivery and recovery period.
And that’s pretty much how it played out. Lindberg’s daughter was born Oct. 19, and Lindberg was back in class a week later (with breast-feeding visits from her daughter during classroom breaks).
“I feel like everyone always says, when stars align and everything is perfect, we’ll have kids,” Lindberg says. “If we waited for everything to align, we’d never have kids.”
Managing pregnancy and a master’s program was also a fact of life for Alexis Nelson, 34. Nelson obtained her master of education degree in June 2016 from the University of Washington, and had her first daughter, Valerie, in October 2016.
“I found that the college of education is family-friendly, and felt confident that my professors would be flexible about assignments and time frames should I run into any complications,” she says.
As a first-generation college student from a low-income background, Nelson is proud to have completed a master’s degree while having her first child. “I have photos of my very pregnant self in my robes at graduation, and look forward to sharing them with her someday,” Nelson says.
Other students combine pregnancy and advanced degrees. Kristina Neill, 24, is a year and a half into her doctorate in Seattle University’s educational leadership program. Her daughter, Adley Rae, was born Jan. 19.
She teaches part-time courses online, which allows her to work from home and care for her newborn while wrapping up her doctorate. Up until her daughter was born, Neill worked 50 hours per week in another part-time research job and tutored on weekends, plus school.
“Graduate school has been a steady constant during a year full of changes, and an amazing place to be while pregnant and going through life transitions,” Neill says. “I have felt that the reflective experience is much deeper as a result of my current life situation and I have enjoyed the support while focusing on completely changing my life and professional path.”
But what about the tiredness that goes hand-in-hand with both studying and pregnancy?
“I did face fatigue, particularly during my first trimester, but nothing that seriously threatened my productivity,” Nelson says; she even worked 35 hours per week on top of her school schedule.
Toward the end of her pregnancy, Lindberg had to force herself to care about homework or arriving to class on time. “Instinct kicked in so hard, and I was nesting. Sitting around and writing didn’t feel right,” she says. She also struggled to stay awake in her night classes, as late-pregnancy fatigue hit her.
Since the birth, Lindberg’s husband (also a full-time student) has scared for their daughter while Lindberg takes night classes. He brought the newborn by for breastfeeding visits at first, then offered a bottle when she was older.
Doing homework can be a challenge. “I do a lot of work on the couch with her laying on my chest,” Lindberg says, using an iPad or smartphone.
Support has been mixed, Neill says, and there’s a certain stigma attached to those who have kids during the doctoral program. But Neill says it won’t stop her.
“I am a big believer that I can be a mother and still find personal and professional success, something I hope my daughter inherits,” Neill says, and adds that her supportive new advisor is a single mother with two older children.
“There was never a worry that this would have a negative effect on my performance or dedication,” she says. “If anything, being pregnant has helped with focus on school. I spend a lot more time sitting than I used to.”
“A lot of people think being pregnant and having babies don’t coincide with higher ed,” Lindberg says, or think that administration or professors won’t be willing to work around a pregnancy. “They’re very encouraging, I’ve found,” she says.
Her teachers have even invited Lindberg to bring her baby to class.