By Andrea Welker • November 25, 2008•Other Law School Issues
Cross-posted at (Formerly) : (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!