AndreaKWelker

Ask a Mom in Law School: The Possibility of Pregnancy

Cross-posted at (Formerly) Knocked Up (and in Law School):

A new reader asks:

I just found your blog after googling "taking the bar exam while pregnant." I'm not in law school, but I am in the dead middle of a PhD. What is your take on the possibility of being pregnant during a major exam (in my case my "orals"). Terrible idea? Disaster? Not as bad as it sounds?

Just reading these comments on your blog makes me feel better about the prospect of pregnancy - so nice to see a bunch of women thinking about families and careers happening at the same time!

Congratulations on being a PhD candidate and not a law student! You obviously make better life decisions than I do. (I'm only half-kidding.) But I certainly understand the hard work involved in pursuing advanced degrees, in both graduate school and law school. To choose to become pregnant during such a time takes a special kind of determination, a special kind of insanity, and keeping a balance between the two.

The most important thing to realize is that your pregnancy could be a breeze, or it could be the most horrific experience of your life and you opt for immediate sterilization after it's over. Mine was somewhere in the middle, I think, although there was certainly emotional turmoil aplenty. Even the healthiest, lowest-risk women can have bad pregnancies, whether it's "morning" sickness the entire pregnancy, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or a random congenital defect in the fetus that requires prenatal surgical intervention and modified bedrest for the remainder of the pregnancy, and results in delivering four weeks early right in the middle of final exams. Yeah, sometimes things just don't work out like you plan.

Also, during the later stages of pregnancy, I ended up with random baby parts shoved into my lungs. (I believe they were feet. Anyway.) I was incapable of standing up and speaking in front of a group of people without literally gasping for air from about seven months on. So, the timing of your pregnancy should also be a concern. You will likely feel your best between 16 weeks and 26 weeks. After that, you will likely feel like a beached whale. But again, every pregnancy is different, so you might feel like ass the whole pregnancy, or be one of those annoying people who "glows," still runs 5 miles every day up to delivery and leaves the hospital in their skinny jeans. You just never know. I certainly could have completed my oral exams for my master's degree during the later stages of my pregnancy, but it would not have been good. On the other hand, I'm sure my program would have taken my physical condition into consideration, and it wouldn't have made a difference.

It's important to have flexibility and a back-up plan. If the pregnancy goes awry, can you postpone your exams? If the answer is no, I wouldn't take the chance. Do you have a job lined up that depends on you completing your degree requirements by a certain date? Yes? I wouldn't risk it. But what I've found with graduate programs (at least mine), and even with the law school, is that they will work with you if there are circumstances beyond your control. Personally, I do not plan to be pregnant during the bar exam. I'm a huge slacker as it is, and I don't need anymore distractions than I already have to study for that nightmare. I also can't afford to wait six months to take it on the next date if something were to happen. So, we're waiting awhile for the next kid. And personally I'm in no hurry to be pregnant ever again.

Overall though, I think having a baby while still completing your degree is a better alternative than doing it as you're just starting out in your profession. The legal profession, in particular, is not pregnant-woman friendly. It can be outright hostile, in fact. I've seen several women pushed out of jobs after having a baby. (Oh wait, I was one of them.) Especially in this time of recession, places will cut, or at least marginalize, the weakest link. And in the legal profession, that's going to be the lawyer who didn't bill for two months because she was on maternity leave. It's wrong, sexist, discriminatory, and even illegal, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still happen. And it happens frequently.

Also, depending on your situation, you might have the flexibility to take more time off or spend more time with your child. Although I didn't get much of a "maternity leave" after my daughter was born, I was able to spend a lot more time with her than I would have if I'd been working instead. The timing was really good.

So, yeah, it's definitely possible, and honestly, it's very unlikely to be disastrous. I'm one of those quot;worst-case scenario" survival people who has to have a back-up plan for everything that could possibly go wrong, so that's what I recommend doing before you make a decision. Most likely though, you'll go through the pregnancy with no hiccups, take your exams, and at the end you'll have a baby and a PhD. Which makes you totally awesome.

Hope this helps! I'm happy to answer any other questions!

 

3 Comments

Manamana

As another formerly pregnant while in law school person, I have to say that this might be my favorite Ms. JD post.  I got pregnant the fall of my 3L year and gave birth to a big, healthy boy about three weeks after graduation.  I think I might fall closer on the spectrum to "easy pregnancy" than Andrea (although I’m pretty sure my skin wasn’t glowing the whole time and I still can’t fit into my skinny jeans):  I was lucky enough to have no morning sickness, hide my pregnancy until a few weeks into second semester, and did not have to dial down my law school life while preggers. 
But!  Andrea is absolutely right that every pregnancy is different, and I think I took a big chance cutting everything so close.  For instance, I had a major paper that I needed to write to graduate, which I completed during the last few months (alright, weeks) of school, and even ended up getting a two-week extension for.  This was admittedly poor planning on my part, since this wasn’t the kind of thing you could whip out in a week.  It involved months of research, and I had had it hanging over my head for about three semesters (not knowing during the first two that I’d be pregnant in the future).  Now, part of the reason I got the extension was that I didn’t actually need to graduate in May because I wasn’t taking the bar until February, and I was therefore totally okay with a September graduation date on my diploma.  Had I needed my degree sooner for a job or other, that would have been a big problem.  
Still, I was a lucky duck, and I think that I’d be reluctant to play so fast and loose when it comes to timing pregnancy and really important things.  Thankfully I’ve finished school, so I will probably not face this kind of quandary again.  I’m not sure when the next kid will come, but I will be working so there is not quite the same lockstep timetable to negotiate as there was with school. 
I would second the sentiment, however, that graduate programs tend to be a little more accommodating towards students for whom curves in the road appear  (see, e.g., my extension—I used the pregnancy card, and it’s what made the whole thing possible, even though I was physically fine and more a victim of my own poor planning).  I mean, we’re adults and life happens—people get married, they get pregnant, and I think it’s unhealthy to expect that all to stop while you complete your higher degree.  The most important thing is to have a good attitude about everything.  And remember that graduation robes are huge, so even though you may be 9.5 months pregnant when you wear them, you look about the same as everyone else.

mariabean

Hello, I am new to this forum, but felt the need to reach out to others who have been in my shoes.  I just graduated, and am a mere 18 days from the bar exam, and just found out I am pregnant.  My husband and I have been trying for about seven months, so we are thrilled, but now I am utterly exhausted.  I can barely make it through the day without napping.  Advice? Thanks so much.

jessie

First of all congratualtions on conceiving!
I’ve never been pregnant, but I have taken the bar. I’ll offer my recollections for what they’re worth.
I was worried about mental stamina - I’m the kind of person who would leave tests early rather than do a really good job going back and checking my work because I just got mentally exhausted. I did not have this problem during the bar. I found I had a lot of adrenaline throughout each test period that kept me focused and working. And, at least in the case of the CA exam, you’re working for three hours at a clip with a fair amount of downtime in between.
Maybe one thing to do on test days is to try and stay really chilled out during those dowtimes to conserve energy for when it counts?

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Join Us

Contribute to our blog and join the discussion.

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

Newsletter

Enter your email address to receive regular updates, news, and events.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe