“Is there a good time to have a baby during our PhD?”
I asked the professor who taught our first PhD course who had two children during her PhD student time.
She immediately said, “no.”
There is never a good time. It’s always a bad time to have a baby.
So, the questions is, “when is a better timing than other much worse time? ”
Here is what I think based on my experience…
1. Getting pregnant while preparing your comps
I think I would have quit my PhD if I had my baby when I was still working on my course work or before comps. In a way, that would have been a good life in itself cause it would have been before I spent considerable time and money for my study.
If you and your partner are contemplating on having a baby, if you can work it out so that you are writing your exams during your pregnancy that is probably one of those better timings.
But make sure you count out the months you may have morning sickness.
I couldn’t work for the first 4 months of pregnancy because of the terrible nausea and it may happen to you, too.
You probably want to avoid going in labour in the middle of comps prep or right before you write your comps. Depending on how long it takes to prepare for comps, you may want to avoid this timing at all. However, I got pregnant with my first one when I was writing my comps, and even subtracting those months I was super ill in bed (Seriously, couldn’t even look at a screen.), I made it before pushing her out.
But when I think about it, it was pretty risky cause anything can happen in any pregnancy.
2. Getting pregnant after advancing to PhD candidacy
If you and your partner can wait, probably after moving up to candidancy is a better timing to get pregnant.
Even if you are super ill, there is much less pressure to wake up and work. You can work on ethical reviews for data collection or if you got that done beforehand, you can start recruiting and collecting data during this pregnancy.
If you are not doing something like a longitudinal ethnographic study, you should be able to get majority of your data during the pregnancy period.
(I opted for an interview based data collection precisely because I knew I had limited time…)
Then, after your baby is born, you can leave your already collected data aside, let it sit and fermented (and something magical may happen), and enjoy your baby and your mat leave.
3. Getting pregnant after data collection is completed
After getting your data collected could also be a better time to get pregnant than some other time because you can basically spend time transcribing if you are feeling good enough and get started with your actual dissertation.
I really recommend you push yourself and write as much as you can during your pregnancy because after you have a baby, you will probably lose interest in your dissertation. That happened to me actually.
I got pregnant with my second one while I was working on my first draft, and I couldn’t thank myself more for having written a major bulk of my dissertation during this pregnancy period when I totally lost my interest in it after my second baby was born.
4. Getting pregnant while you are working on your second draft
This is probably the most ideal scenario…I say it because it was so hard for me to work on my second draft after I came back from my second mat leave. It felt impossible to work on the feedback while juggling with my two littles. My life has changed completely. I will write more on that in another post (about juggling household chores, motherhood, and all that) but if I had known how life became overwhelming as a mom of two, I would have opted for this timing. One of my friends worked around this timing and it seemed to me it was all under control after she had her second one.
5. Getting pregnant during your home stretch
This may seem ideal and all good…but I don’t think I was able to defend if I was feeling super sick like I did for my two pregnancies. One of my best friends who did her PhD in UK took a plastic bag with her for her viva because she was constantly throwing up…luckily, she didn’t have to use it at her viva. So yeah, it is doable but considering my nausea was much more serious than hers, I don’t think I would have been able to defend.
These 5 timings are based on my own limited experience and perspectives so you may have different opinions…but I hope this post will serve as a useful point of reference for PhD students who are thinking about having a child.
There are also many other factors that you have to consider such as your financial situation. Childcare affordability is also crucial. We had to wait for 2 years to have my first baby get in a daycare (I put her name on the wait list when I was 4 months pregnant) so that had a major impact on my productivity.
But after all, it’s not like you can get pregnant when you plan to…Especially with me entering my late 30s at that time, I felt like I shouldn’t wait for the best timing. I am perfectly happy with my two daughters despite all the challenges I had to face.
Conceiving a baby is such a wonderful blessing. Going through a safe pregnancy and labor is an act of miracle.
So yes, it is always a bad time to have a baby but it always woderful to have a baby. If you have one, you and your partner just have to work it out. So what are the things that need to be considered before having a baby? How can the baby-PhD journey become less stressful? The next few posts will be dedicated on things to work out with your partner before the baby is born.