Does it make sense to have a kid when you’re a student? I’ve been asking myself this recently. For the record, I already have one, so this question is more about having another
while I’m a student. Children are hard. Babies have needs! If you’re a parent, you understand the extent of what I’m saying.
When I was an undergrad it was a no brainer. I wasn’t in any position to be welcoming children into my life. I was on a full athletic scholarship, so not only would kids grossly affect my academic life- they hindered my ability to earn tuition. I was living 3,000 miles away from home and a full-time student-athlete. It didn’t make sense for a number
of reasons, and I could hang my hat on that.
I got married two years after finishing my undergraduate degree. We talked about starting a family in no less
than four years. I don’t remember how we settled on that number, but at 24 years old, another four didn’t seem too irrational. I agreed, no problem. It was during that time I enrolled in a graduate program. We moved from LA to Nebraska and I began grad school. I was so enthralled in what I was learning, and consumed by my two little pups, that the idea of children didn’t really ever enter the equation. We were good where we were at, and I graduated with about one year left in that four-year holding pattern.
After my masters, life took a few more turns… we moved from Nebraska, to Los Angeles, to Wisconsin. By the time we settled in Wisconsin we were celebrating our fourth anniversary. My partner and I bought a house, both had jobs we loved at the nearby university, and were talking about expanding our brood. It seemed like as good of time as any to add children to the mix, when we received an unexpected email. Long story short, after ten months in Wisconsin we quickly sold our house, boarded our dogs with their grandparents, and moved across the planet to Singapore.
While in Asia, we traveled the world, we made good money and we worked fulfilling jobs. We were right where we wanted to be. As four years of marriage turned to five, we were grateful for the time we had for one another, and for ourselves. We soaked up adventures and said “yes” to everything. We worked hard and we played hard and we were risk-takers in the most responsible way. We enjoyed our friends on weeknights and explored new places on weekends. We exercised, we ate at fancy restaurants, we indulged in TV. We were social, creative, engaged in everything. We felt like we had really squeezed the juice out of this season of our lives, and we were ready to try out a new flavor. So as five years of marriage rotated into six, we started growing our first baby. It was during that time too that I submitted a few applications to PhD programs back in the US. I always wanted to get a doctorate degree, and I believed if I didn’t get my foot in the door at that point in my life, I may never (especially with the arrival of a new distraction).
Pregnancy was easy in so many ways, but mostly because my lifestyle at the time allowed for it. I was able to amend my previous social life to make time for the sleep I needed to grow this baby. I didn’t have financial strains or other children to contend with. I had no commitments outside of work and my partner, I was able to take the time for myself that I needed to adjust to this new tenant of mine. By the midpoint of gestation, I was going home from work at 4:30pm, and in bed by 6pm. I had overcome the nausea of the first trimester but was knocked on my butt in regard to energy. I was walking to the MRT to take public transportation to and from work, in the high humid temperatures of the equator. I was working 45 hours a week so by the time my swollen feet made it into our over-air-conditioned apartment, I was kicking them up for the night. I slept a lot
during that final trimester. Averaging 12 hours a night.
It was 3am Singapore time when I first met with faculty at A&M via Skype. My eight-week-old was being rocked by my partner in the dimly lit room behind me. I would have been awake anyway, even without the interview. At the time, I was still adapting to life with a newborn. Nights were fragmented by a hungry baby and days were preoccupied by the weight of him in my arms. My partner and I had a rhythm going, sharing the load of responsibility, so as difficult as the new normal seemed, it still felt manageable. I was given 12 weeks mat leave, and got a little extension due to some mild PPD and anxiety. After 4 months home with my son, I returned back to work. Around the same time, I committed to a doctoral program back in the US. After some serious growing pains and an increase in my figurative flexibility, I felt competent, adjusted, and excited for our promising future ahead.
I started back as a full-time student last September. Frankie was nine months old. We had just traveled half the world from Singapore to the States, with a pit stop in Kenya. I was exhausted from the travel and 6 weeks of suitcases, and ready to hit the books. Along with my new status of full-time student, was also the title of Graduate Assistant. I am working 20 hours a week in the College of Education and Human Development in addition to carrying three courses a semester. The first few weeks were brutal. I was no longer spending daylight hours with my baby, something I had become accustomed to over the summer months. Three nights a week I was in class late and would miss our bedtime routine; some days I would leave in the morning and not get to kiss his sweet face until the following breakfast. It was hard. On campus, I was navigating a whole new world. I had to learn a new academic language and fine-tune some rusty skills. There were days I felt inept and insecure about my qualifications as a doctoral student. I remember the first week of work and classes, a professor referred to me as “drinking from the fire hose”. Her words were so spot on, I teared up when she spoke them. It felt like everything was coming at me at once. And don’t get me started on Statistics.
As the semester unfolded, so did my reservations. The fears and doubts I entered with turned into sources of strength. I recalled the reasons I was accepted into the program, the experiences I had until that point which made me an asset to the college. I cherished the days I spent at home with my boy, rocking him a little longer before bed on those nights. The appreciation for the man I fell in love with seven years prior swelled. I found a new routine, which included exercise, and studying, work, school, and fun. I grew more able, more capable, and really settled into a comfortable school/work/life balance. Now, this isn’t without sacrifice. We don’t travel the way we used to, and we don’t have the same household budget nor time. A lot of what was free time is now expended doing things like meal prep and laundry. My floors are always dirty and there are constantly clothes in the dryer. We’ve only gone on maybe four dates in the past nine months.
My partner does a lot of the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively. There’s no way I’d be able to juggle motherhood and school and work and life without him and still have peace. My hat’s off to those who do it solo, raising a child is no joke.
So, what am I doing considering having another?
Well, recently I was at a conference with colleagues when one of them asked when I planned to have a second child. Many of my friends, particularly those who have children around my babe’s age, are working on or have already welcomed number two. The idea of a second child while in grad school was something I already swore off back in the Fall. I knew how hard it was with just the one, I knew how tired I had been when I was pregnant, there was no way I could add another baby to the mix. I told her “after I graduate”, but her question got me thinking.
I began worrying about things -- a big age gap between my two children if I wait too long, hire-ability if I’m pregnant and searching for jobs (I had an uncomfortable experience with my previous employers), future fertility, c’mon the clock is ticking!
I started to find solutions to all the challenges my logical mind had once offered.
I know I will need time to focus on schoolwork- but I’ve already completed a year as a mother, why couldn’t I do the same with a second child
? I will be so tired during pregnancy- better get knocked up well before it’s dissertation time
. Oh, and what about the early months? Well that’s what grandmas are for
! I’ve known people who have juggled pregnancy and school, motherhood and defenses, why shouldn’t I join their ranks?
I shared these new thoughts with my partner and he was unsurprisingly opposed. I wasn’t shocked though because this is the same guy who suggested those initial four years sans offspring. I revisited the topic regularly for about a week or so. Not nagging, or pushing or anything, just throwing it out there, hoping maybe it would stick. I wasn’t completely convinced it was the right time for number two either, but if he gave the green light I would for sure go!
Around the same time as all these new ideas surfaced in my mind, our once easygoing and nap loving son began resisting sleep! He went from a 16 hour a day kid to more of a 13 hour a day kid. His 3 hour naps became hour-long rests and he started waking up several times during the night. He went from a piece of cake to a piece of work. (One I still love and adore as much as before, but now find myself chasing after and exhaling about more frequently than ever). Maybe he overheard us talking about adding a younger sibling, or maybe this is just par for the course. Regardless, it was the wakeup call (pun intended) I needed. Babies are a blessing. My joy has multiplied since becoming a mother. But I just can’t make sense of adding to our crew just yet*. Not while we have all this going on. Not while I’m a student, earning a graduate assistant salary, with just enough hours of the day to get the essentials done, but not nearly enough to scrub toilets.
*All of this may change at any time. I love parenthood, and I’m a firm believer in making the most out of whatever situation you may find yourself in. If you are a student and thinking about having a baby, it might just be the perfect timing for you. I think there’s going to be a learning curve no matter what stage of life you’re in, no matter how many children you have. There will be sacrifices, undoubtedly, and I’ve got to believe the juice is worth the squeeze!
Billy is a Ph.D. student in the College of Education and Human Development