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No Maternity Leave for You

A PhD Candidate's Experience in Childbearing in Academia

The world of academia is a really weird one. I apologize to anyone who loves it, you may not like the rest of my story. Academia can be lonely, safe, overwhelming, supportive, challenging, and the best years of your life all looped into one. My cousin and I have done the math…I’ve been in school for the better part of 23 years if you count kindergarten up to this moment, 6 of which have now been at the graduate level. I’m close to the finish but its a surreal feeling at the moment. I almost feel like I am living an out of body experience at the moment – knowing that I am going to witness a crash, but like watching a scary movie, I do not know how to make my suggestions to the characters (do NOT go into that un-lite basement) manifest into reality.
The first time I crashed I was young, just out of college. I knew I wanted to go back to graduate school, but I took the advice of one of my professors and took some time off to just be in the world. It was before the recession and people had extra money to spend. That extra money meant that they were more inclined to spend on things like a personal training and going to a studio for classes vs their gym. I had made the switch to follow my heart and not continue with a physical therapy doctorate, and I immersed myself in the fitness industry. At the time of my undergraduate graduation I was working at a studio in the city and was hired as a personal trainer at a gym in the area two days after I sent in my application. Teaching and training became my life from 5am – 7pm, with a few short breaks mixed in, Monday through Friday and I either taught or trained 2-3 times on both Saturdays and Sundays. I controlled, yes controlled, this schedule for a little over a year before I was feeling run down and needed to physically change my location to make things “stop.” It wasn’t until I was tapering down my clients that I came to realize how exhausted I was. When I made my move I had about 2 weeks before I started my new job, and I crashed. I hadn’t saved enough for my move, within days my car was towed, one of my new roommates had to loan me my first month’s rent (it was only $450, and thankfully I knew I had my last paycheck from my old job coming in to pay him back immediately, but I was low). How could I have been so successful the whole past year and have nothing monetarily to show for it. I refused to ask my parents for money, opened up a credit card, thankfully only got $5000 in debt and pulled myself out. I slept, ate right, re-found yoga, walked around the new city that brought me back to life…and ended up meeting the love of my life.
Now, a good 10 years later, I feel the spiral beginning again and I do not know how to pull back up. I am in a PhD program and have a few jobs on the side in order to keep financially afloat (its rather amusing what my university deems an adequate stipend and because I am married we do not qualify for low income housing…oh my stipend is less that 20K/year). I have been able to fuel what seems like a hectic life with sleep and meditation and gratitude…but now I’m feeling lost. 

We found out we were pregnant with my son about two years ago now, I was just about to take my qualifying exams and finish my course work so it seemed like it was a perfect time (my husband and I had been married for 5 years and were in our 30s it wasn’t like we were teenagers in high school, we made the conscience decision to expand our family) but my university didn’t feel that way. I was literally asked whether I “did this on purpose.” So to put it bluntly, they handled it poorly: forced me to take a semester off after the baby without the pay of my stipend, refused to have me work part-time that semester for them because they couldn’t figure out the financials, my university does not have a policy on paid maternity leave for funded PhD students, the Title IX Coordinator at the school was no help at all, and since returning my progress has been stalemated. My advisor overly critiques anything I write (yes I understand this is par for the course), gets upset when others in my committee helps and lends their expertise, and has an overall demeaning attitude particularly towards things like childcare, last minute pediatric visits, etc (of which I am fairly confident I could launch a Title IX case and win solely using emails that have been written to me). With the negative energy coming from her, the need to make deadlines, and the pressure of recovering from the lost income from my forced semester off (oh and the economical childcare that was provided at the university was dissolved due to budget cuts, we now have to pay 4x as much at another facility); the work that use to fuel me and bring balance is now bringing me out of it. I am lost.

In the midst of all this…we just received joyous news that I am pregnant again, which only makes my drive to defend on time (28 weeks away) that much more of a “hard date” rather than just a “goal.” I have made the decision to finish the semester this Spring and not tell my university that I am with child again, they can figure it out when I step through the doors in September. I want to finish this for my family and I know it will set us up for a very family focused future, but the race is on…36 weeks until baby. Being pregnant while in the analysis/writing phase has one perk…my sleep is even more precious to me, so my working sessions feel that much more productive and for that I am grateful. Perhaps the first gift this little one is giving to their mama is stirring her away from that unlit basement. 
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