My Bar Exam Journey: From Pregnant to Pissed to Passing

It felt good to have the Bar Exam on the calendar, even if it was four months away. Lilli was nine months old; she had slept through the night about three times. I looked forward to using my brain to master legal subjects I never learned in law school.

And then I discovered I was pregnant again.

So began the winter of endless, excruciating, pregnant drudgery. I pulled myself out of bed and spread Cheerios on the high chair so I could get dressed. I schlepped to the conference room on the second floor of a beige building next to Target. I armed myself with snacks to stave off hunger pains, and watched a guy on a video tell me what constitutes a will and who qualifies as an intestate heir.  After six hours of class, I went to the café, ordered a decaf vanilla latte and watched life go by, trying to study community property and contracts. Home for dinner: pureed spaghetti, maybe applesauce for dessert. I gave Lilli a bath, another bottle, three readings of Goodnight Moon and off to bed. Then I practiced exams, three or four made-up fact patterns that I outlined and wrote out the answers to, long hand. I fell in bed by 10 pm.

Repeat. Repeat and repeat and repeat, every day until the exam.  I was desperate to pass and to become a lawyer in California. To become something more than a mom.

A few months later, I typed my social security number into the California State Bar’s website. It returned a simple sentence: “Your name does not appear on the pass list.”

Feeling myself begin to sink, the pressure of my growing mid-section almost unbearable, my head became light and dizzy. I focused enough to type in my number again.  Again the words appeared: “Your name does not appear on the pass list.”

I tried it again and again. I entered the nine digits twenty-seven more times. Twenty-seven more times the computer told me, “You are a fat pregnant lady with baby brain. You did not, nor will you ever, pass the California Bar Exam.”

I cried all the way to our weekend get-a-way to Carmel and all the way home.  Lilli was 17 months old and in two months I would have a newborn. The new baby was due at beginning of July, right before the July Bar. I couldn’t re-take the exam with a newborn. Passing statistics were bad enough. Demoralized, humiliated, and defeated, I decided I would never take the Bar again.

Desperate hope made me check again first thing Monday morning.  The State Bar publishes the pass list on Mondays, this time by name not just number. I scrolled down to the B’s. 

And there it was: Shanti Brien.

Holy shit. I was ecstatic. And I was pissed. I was a very-pregnant woman and I was pissed.

“Hello. State Bar of California.” An unassuming receptionist answered the phone.

“On Friday I typed my number into the website and nothing came up. Today my name is on the pass list.”


“Can you check to make sure I passed?”

After a few seconds she confirmed that I had indeed passed. “Congratulations.”

“I don’t think you understand. Do you realize the kind of weekend I’ve had?  I am seven months pregnant. I have gained more than 40 pounds – already! I’m miserable. I cried all weekend. I thought I would never pass the bar. Ever.”

“Uh, well. I’m sorry?”

“Sorry?! This was massive infliction of emotional distress.”

“Mistakes happen.”

Little consolation, I thought as I plopped down in a chair, considering the first beer of my pregnancy.  There was no apology, no one concerned for the health of my unborn child, or my mental health (which was clearly deteriorating) just me, pregnant, pissed, shocked and relieved.  Finally, I was a lawyer. 

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