A baby and PhD?

I recorded a video on my YouTube channel on this topic, if you’d rather watch there, here you go:

I started my PhD in Microbiology and Immunology in 2009.

In 2011 I got married and in 2013, I had my first child.

Balancing a baby with a PhD in any field is no walk in the park but I did it and I lived to tell the story.

I want to start off this post by saying that everybody’s experience is going to be different. When I share my personal stories of how I got through grad school, it also takes into account that I am a Black woman and an African immigrant. While I was in grad school, I was also an international student.

So some of these may vary for you and may or may not sound familiar.

It is important that you do what is right for your family.

What I am sharing are my experiences that I hope will inspire and encourage you if you find yourself pregnant and in graduate school.

Now that I got those caveats out of the way, let’s talk about how I (realistically) balanced a PhD program with having a baby.

Baby and PhD: How I handled it

I had a supportive PI

I will never stop thanking Dr. Cagla Tukel – my graduate school advisor.

She was key to my survival as a PhD student who also got pregnant and had a baby.

My PI was a mom herself. She understood what I was going through physiologically and emotionally.

She still expected me to do my work but I got time off to go to my doctor’s appointments for instance.

I still came into lab until the very week I gave birth!

Having a supportive PI is crucial. If you plan on having a family while in grad school, make sure you find out from your PI or advisor what their take on childbearing or family life is and choose accordingly.

Rally your support system

Listen, I know that us PhD types, we are self-starters.

Many of us like to work in reclusive environments and sometimes you might find yourself extending this to your personal life.

This doesn’t have to be the case.

Thankfully, I have an incredibly supportive husband.

Both my mother and mother-in-law travelled from Ghana to the US to live with me for a total of nine months after I had my son to help me. I don’t know how we would have survived without them.

Do you have friends and family close by?

Can someone help you with your baby for a few hours a day?

Eventually, after my mom and mom-in-law left, we paid to put my son in daycare.

Whatever you do, find a way to get a support system around you.

It will be crucial to your success.

Plan Ahead

I am not the most organized person in the world. But I realized a long time ago that even just a little planning ahead can save you time and emotional stress.

I plan meals ahead by cooking pots of stew or soup that can be consumed with various accompaniments.

When I was breastfeeding, I pumped my milk when I had an extra supply and stored the rest so my son would have breastmilk when I was not home.

I did my best to plan out my experiments and performed a lot of them while I was still pregnant.

I had a lot of useful data by the time I had my baby and that formed the basis of a first-author paper for my PhD.

By just doing a little bit of planning ahead of time, you can set yourself up for success as a mom juggling a baby and a PhD.

Whatever you do, do not overthink it

You are not the first person to get pregnant during a rigorous PhD and you will not be the last.

Even when hard things are happening, realize that others before you have been through that and survived and so you can survive too.

If you need to speak with a counselor to get tools to help you cope, do that.

Even though I am not an exercise junkie, I walked a lot during my pregnancy. It was therapeutic. No matter how hard my day was, I knew if I took a walk, I would feel better.

So don’t be hard on yourself.

You will get through this and live to tell the story too!

So that is how I balanced having a baby in the middle of my PhD.

It was not easy.

People might look at you funny even.

Ignore them and enjoy that beautiful life growing inside of you!

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