A few years ago, my husband and I made big plans. They were exciting, refreshing, and terrifying all at the same time- we were going to start having kids and I was going to start medical school. Both were important to us and both needed to happen soon. We didn’t want to prioritize one over the other. Now, I’m a 3rd year medical student with two small children who’s learned some surprising things along the way. Hopefully, these tidbits can provide a little insight for all the moms out there considering or preparing for a new degree.
When I started classes, I let people know I was a mom and it actually made our friendships develop into something very meaningful, fast. People cut to the chase about real life when they find out you’re in the thick of it. Whether or not you feel you deserve it, many people naturally trust mothers. They want to talk about parenthood because they may be parents one day too. And really, who doesn’t like to see a picture of a cute baby? Share who you are, who your kids are, and let this all be something that helps define you. Being your full and real self will always be more satisfying than trying to hide such a huge aspect of your life.
Enjoy being a novelty
You will probably be surprised at just how awesome your classmates think it is when your baby learns how to walk, or say a new word. Their Facebook and Instagram feeds haven’t yet been overflowing with baby announcements, cute photos, and milestones quite like yours has. Most of their friends are still probably graduating from college or taking their first eurotrip. Stories, pictures, and updates on your kids are usually quite welcome.
Don’t underestimate everything you learned in ‘mom school’
Sometimes it may feel that you are at a disadvantage for putting time and energy into carrying and raising your little people. All the things you learn as a parent will help you shine. Remember that rash your baby had, or the complications you had during labor? Thankfully for me that all really comes in handy during my pediatric and ob-gyn rotations. But even if you aren’t in medical school, you may be surprised by how much your parenting experiences help you with your education (or any job, for that matter). Think about how many times your patience was tested or how often you face a full day with sleep deprivation. The list of life skills gained from partnering, reproducing, and raising children can go on and on and on.
Don’t be afraid to involve your kids
They will likely be curious about what you are learning when you go away to school or work. Why not let them see you work hard? You are setting a wonderful example. I’ll never forget the time my toddler wandered over to my desk while I was studying seizure medications one night. She was fascinated by the names and started repeating them over and over again to me. It was a win-win because I never forgot those names after I heard them spoken by such a squeaky little voice. She got to take a peek into my school life and spend some extra time with me. Likewise, I let her scan through my anatomy textbooks every so often and I would quiz myself by trying to name whatever structure she was pointing to or staring at. You might actually learn better if you involve them every now and again.
Build up your support system
After a series of child-care nightmares at the beginning of my second year, we finally realized that we needed to start recruiting and using more of a ‘village’ to raise our kids. As lucky as we were to be a family with two willing parents, we learned the hard way that it takes much more than 2 adults to really make sure things run smoothly. I managed to convince my parents to move 2,000 miles away and join us in Brooklyn. We started looking more to neighbors and friends for help and advice. I have even found myself reaching out to my classmates for babysitting help on top of study tips or emotional support. For each willing hand you add to the picture, your daily routines, and peace of mind will improve exponentially.
Don’t beat yourself up over the little things
Once you’ve gathered the help you need from all the people mentioned in 5, learn to really let things go and delegate some work to them. Appreciate that your partner got the kids dressed on time in the morning instead of focusing on the outfit choice that doesn’t fit your preferences 100%. Give extra credit to the people who are sacrificing for your goal and try not to focus on the things they might be doing ‘wrong’ here or there. Chances are, your kids and your home are going to be just fine.
Take advantage of the perks of being a student
Even medical students still get far more vacation time than the average working person, and I know several degrees give even more days off than mine. As a student, you also have the benefit of having a fairly self-centered life. When you have a family emergency, you don’t leave patients dying on the operating table or a team of fellow employees left without a key project task. Sure, you might see a grade suffer, but, for the most part, the only person it really affects is you. Similarly, when it came time to have baby #2, I could simply request a semester off for my ‘maternity leave’. I didn’t leave anyone without a coworker, require a replacement, or worry about a loss of income for the 6 months I took off. It just felt like an extended summer break. Unfortunately, for most working women in this country, taking 6 months off is much more of a nightmare than it is for student mothers.
Rebecca Hughes has a background in biomedical engineering and is now attending medical school. She lives with her husband and two young children in Brooklyn.