Being Pregnant in Law School

BY PIA OWENS

Before deciding to come to law school, I needed to resolve two pressing concerns: first, would becoming a lawyer mean that I would end up a miserable, divorced (but rich) alcoholic? And second, would I have to put off motherhood indefinitely? If the answer to either question had been “yes,” I wouldn’t be here.

I discussed the possibility of having a baby during law school with professors, HLS students with kids, and women at other schools. Turns out it’s not such a novel idea, and in fact, many of the people I talked to were enthusiastic. In school, I would have plenty of flexibility in my schedule. I could take time off easily without having a gap in my resume and facing questions about my priorities. I wouldn’t have to worry about losing credibility or assignments at work. I was still a little worried about how pregnancy would affect my performance in school and how we would manage to afford child care along with mounting student loans. But there’s no perfect time to start a family, unless you happen to be independently wealthy with no career goals, and I didn’t want to put my life on hold for too long. (I did delay my childbearing plans until I finished 1L year, a decision I recommend.)

So we took the plunge. During my first trimester, that magical time of morning sickness, exhaustion, and constant nausea, I worked as a law firm summer associate. I began to understand why having kids during school was a good idea – I would have loved an afternoon break with a couch to curl up on. I missed the Hark.

My second trimester began just before school started. That’s the good trimester, the one where you have more energy and you start to show but you’re not so huge that you become immobile. Still, it was harder than I expected. I was tired, my feet hurt, my pants didn’t fit. OCI was brutal, forcing me to squeeze myself into a suit and race between classes and various hotels in unexpectedly hot weather with only minutes between appointments. The long trips back and forth to my clinical took a lot out of me. I fell asleep in class more than once. As my pregnancy wore on, even cramming myself on to the bus every day with my heavy backpack and dragging myself through the halls became a major effort. I kept reminding myself that plenty of other women had done this, and at least I didn’t have a full-time job.

I looked at the men in my class with envy. My 1L year, two of the men in my section had their first child. They were back in school days later. Most of the HLS fathers I knew had wives who stayed home and cared for their children. I confided in one 3L, a father of two, that the semester was taking its toll on me. He laughed and said, “Pregnancy is nothing compared to a newborn.” I refrained from hitting him.

Despite the stray comment about the ease of pregnancy or how huge I had become, support from other students and from the administration made life much easier. Sure, I’d get the occasional look of horror in the hallway, making me feel like a cautionary tale for birth control. More often, though, women would approach and tell me that they had thought about having kids during law school too, or parents of young children would offer advice. Faculty members treated me no differently than any other student in their classes, with one exception: on my way out of office hours, when I apologized for having fallen asleep in class yet again, my professor simply replied, “Be well.” I’m still grateful.

The Dean of Students office in particular was a constant source of support, repeatedly checking in throughout the semester to make sure I was doing okay. They even set up a small reception for the mothers-to-be – usually there are one or two per year, but this year brought a bumper crop – and gave us each a little gift of Harvard booties. Even though I could manage, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t on my own.

Now that my baby is due in about two weeks, I’m done with school for the year. I’m taking the semester off and spending a few months at home. I won’t graduate with my class; I was a little sad when people would ask me what I was taking this semester and I’d have to reply, “I’m not.” When I return to school in the fall, everything will be different – I’ll think twice before making commitments, I’ll worry about feeding my son in between classes, and I’m sure I will show up to class with spit-up on my shirt more than once. But it’ll be worth it to join the ranks of the HLS parents.

Pia Owens, 2L, is almost ready for parenthood. Just don’t ask her how much weight she’s gained.

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