Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Notes From the Trenches: Pregnant in Law School, The Rest of the Story

This is a guest post from Leigh, a second-year law school mom.

My second trimester progressed relatively smoothly. Sure, I may have started to outgrow my regular pants and I may have been regularly eating eat bizarre foods (cream cheese and green olive sandwiches, anyone?), but no major issues with my pregnancy arose. However, this was the point when I began to tell classmates that I was expecting and I first spoke with my school about how they handled pregnant law students in the past. This brings me to two more essential points.

You need to have thick skin. Ladies, you need to understand that people may say things about your pregnancy – particularly its timing – that you find offensive. I certainly received some off-hand comments and shameful looks I would prefer not to relive. Trust me, the raised eyebrows and awkward comments will continue well after your child is born, especially when someone finds out you actually had your child during law school. Be prepared, and let the comments roll off your shoulders.

In addition to thick skin, you need to speak with your school. Find out how they have dealt with pregnant students in the past. Check on their policy for pregnancy-related absences. If you plan to nurse, see if your school is willing to set up a private space for you to do so. Ask if your school can connect you with any other law student moms or those who recently went through a pregnancy while in school. You get the idea.

And then came the third trimester. Oh joy. At this point, my pants really didn’t fit – despite my desperate attempts to unbutton and hold them up with belly bands – and I had officially adopted the pregnant waddle as my signature swagger. I couldn’t sit in a chair for more than 10 minutes without my back screaming at me to get up and walk around. My legs were so swollen and bloated that an indentation mark would appear if you pressed on them. While I was worried about getting through the rest of the semester without going in to a coma due to sheer exhaustion, something else happened that had never even crossed our minds. My daughter decided to make her entrance at the beginning of April – nearly two months before my due date and only a few weeks before finals. This brings me to my last two points.

You need to know that you can’t plan how your pregnancy will go. While premature births aren’t exactly commonplace, the point is that you can’t plan what your pregnancy will be like. You can’t plan to forgo awful morning sickness, avoid being put on bed rest, or prevent your feet from getting so swollen you can’t wear your shoes anymore. And, I know this is hard, but you can’t plan if there will be any serious pregnancy complications with the bun in your oven.

Finally, you need all types of support from all types of people. This is the most important point. My husband was there every step of the way with emotional and physical support, especially when our daughter was born prematurely. What made this particularly crucial is that we have no immediate family near us. While emotional support from families is wonderful, you also need support with day-to-day things... and with law school things. I had amazing law school friends who shared notes, helped co-ordinate class recordings, and were incredibly supportive throughout my pregnancy and while we went through our daughter’s prematurity complications. Without this support system, I would have certainly floundered.

People often ask if I’m glad we had a child during law school, or if I feel we should have waited. I truly think that if we had waited to have children, we would have kept on waiting to have children. By that I mean we likely wouldn’t have gone down the road to parenthood until much later in our lives. And while I believe this the right choice for many couples, I don’t think it would have been the right choice for us. Looking back at what my pregnancy experience was like, I now feel that I would have rather been pregnant and had those difficulties during school versus during my first few years in my law career. Other moms may tell you differently, and I can only comment on my experience. But I can tell you that I am completely happy with my life as a law school mom.

I am also often asked if I feel I should have waited until my 2L or 3L year to have a child. I will tell you that waiting until you are finished with your 1L year is certainly advisable. 1L year, and the grades that go along with it, are so incredibly important. There’s a steep learning curve and a substantial amount of lawyering development that go along with your first year in law school. However, we found ourselves in a situation where I was pregnant and we weren’t sure if I should postpone law school until the birth of our daughter. For me, being in law school with a young child has been on the same par of difficulty as being in law school while pregnant. Again, every pregnancy and parenthood experience is different, so other women may depart from that thought.

While it was difficult to be pregnant during my 1L year, I would not have postponed my law school start date. Yes, pregnancy during law school has its difficulties. But it is not impossible and I’m a firm believer that you can make anything work if it’s something you truly want. In the end, what matters is what path you want to go down. To those of you about to embark on this adventure: congratulations, and have faith when I say you’ll be just fine.

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