Contrary to popular belief, becoming pregnant and transitioning to motherhood as a graduate student is a wonderful experience. I can easily say that becoming a mom has been the most rewarding part of my life!
Last January, my husband, who was also a graduate student at the time, and I found out that we were expecting. It was the most amazing yet horrifying time in my life. My pregnancy was considered a “high-risk pregnancy” due to my medical history, which just added more anxiety to the equation. I worried about being able to maintain a viable pregnancy while pursuing my Ph.D. in a highly demanding laboratory. I was also concerned about staying productive, efficient and graduating on time. Here are some tips that helped me throughout this journey.
Tell your lab:
I told my mentor and my colleagues that I was pregnant after my first trimester. I worried that being pregnant would give my mentor the impression that I would slow down and be less productive. However, the support of my colleagues and friends allowed for me to stay efficient without overexerting myself. It is impossible to do all your lab duties when you’re waddling like a balloon in the hallways, so my lab mates deserve a huge shoutout.
Plan, plan and plan some more:
As my belly grew bigger, I felt like I was on borrowed time; so I learned to be more proactive and efficient in planning and executing experiments. I gave myself specific deadlines and planned the completion of my manuscript figures accordingly. I also composed detailed protocols and trained a couple of my colleagues on how to perform a few assays before I went on maternity leave. I highly recommend getting your affairs in order as soon as possible, and meticulously label and organize your work.
It is very important to plan your doctor appointments at a convenient time. Many immunologists have long days of doing experiments, and I found that it was more convenient to schedule my doctor appointments early in the morning. That way, I was still in the lab by 9:00 a.m. and could work on my experiments without being interrupted.
Prepare for baby’s arrival:
It is never too early to start thinking about your little angel’s arrival. As you prepare the nursery, consider the arrangements that need to be made when you head back to work. Start thinking about childcare, whether you will be breastfeeding, the hours you will spend in the lab, conference attendance and so forth. It is important to be realistic in your planning. For example, I used to work 11-hour days beginning at 9:00 a.m., but once the baby arrived, I started my workday at 6:30 a.m. In this way, I still have 11 hours in the lab without missing out on my baby growing up.
Pregnancy and motherhood are wonderful experiences, so enjoy it. I believe that teamwork makes this journey much more pleasant. I am extremely blessed to have my highly supportive husband, mentors, lab mates, and friends who help me through this journey. It truly takes a village … or a lab as big as one!!! I am also very fortunate to have one of my closest friends as my lab manager. Julia Taylor not only helped me with all my mouse duties and other experiments, but she stood alongside my husband, held my hand in labor, and told me it was time to push.
This article was written by Helia N. Sanchez, a graduate student in the Infection, Inflammation & Immunity discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.