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Unexpectedly Expecting in Graduate School

by Grattan Brown, STD, and Megan Blum, PA

Some women seek elective abortions because they decide the time is not right to start raising a child. If they become pregnant while working on a graduate degree, they are still looking at a lot of hard work in school and a workplace to establish a career. They and their partners may want to have children, perhaps even more than they want their careers, but want to pursue both and see no path forward without an abortion.

For those who do find a path forward, the culture of abortion has become so strong that women who become pregnant in graduate school inevitably encounter a number of people who judge them for not getting an abortion. Those people are a minority, but they can have an outsized impact on a pregnant woman’s morale, even when she is surrounded by supporters.

Megan and her husband, Michael, figured out how to navigate an early career in women’s health while starting a family.

Here’s how they did it, in Megan‘s words.

The Pregnancy and the New Plan

It was the third semester of my Masters program in Physician Assistant Studies at Gardner-Webb University when I found out we were expecting. We had married on August 5, 2017, and had taken our honeymoon during a break from school.

I had been having some cycle abnormalities and was using natural family planning (NFP) methods and a local doctor to diagnose the problem. Our NFP teacher advised us to do a pregnancy test because the clinic would probably require it anyway at our next appointment. It was September 11, 2017, and since my husband was in Atlanta for work, we ended up doing the pregnancy test over Skype. I remember being super nervous waiting for him to come online, and he flipped when he saw that it was positive.

We were very surprised. We had been using NFP for three or four years and felt really confident. We knew we had to approach the PA program about the pregnancy but waited a few weeks to confirm it. The interim program director was a very devout Christian and a mom as well. I remember feeling so relieved that she was the one that I had to tell first and not somebody else.

When I told her the news, she was quite excited and very sweet and kind. I remember her telling me that it can be hard to navigate being pregnant in a graduate program. She said that some people might have strong opinions, but I should never let anyone rob my joy about expecting and entering motherhood. I always remembered those words when things got really tough.

We laid out a rough plan. The baby was due in May, the weekend after final exams. We thought I should be able to finish up exams, go out on maternity leave for the summer, and hop back into clinical rotations with my classmates in the fall. We would use holidays to make up any lost time so that I could walk with my classmates at graduation.

People Responded

I went to some professors one on one and shared the news. Most of them had young kids and were happy for me. At one point, a professor used ultrasound to show my classmates our baby's heartbeat. It was a powerful pro-life moment for many of them, who were not married and didn’t have children. I did have one professor who quipped “Don’t you guys know how to prevent pregnancy while you're in school?” There was a really long, awkward pause. Then I explained to him that our Catholic faith helps us see problems with contraception, and we do not consider it an option.

I shared the pregnancy with my classmates during a weekly prayer time when we would ask for prayers or share good news of God working in our lives. I remember talking with another professor who had a baby in medical school back in the 1980s. She talked about how it wasn't done in those days. She became my cheerleader and always encouraged me to keep at it, like she had done when people told her that she couldn't do it.

Most people were excited and happy for me, but some were clearly taken aback by how we were open to pregnancy. Some people simply avoided talking about it. Some friends and family had expected us to postpone having kids until our mid 30s and took it a bit personally that we started a family during graduate school. Some said I would have to drop out. They seemed to think that it is the mark of highly educated people to abort when the time is not right. But we didn’t think that, even though my husband and I both have graduate degrees. Through our prayer and all the doors God opened, we never discerned that I would need to stop.

Working the New Plan

PA school really wasn't physically taxing. It felt really good to be sitting down most of the day, taking notes on lectures or studying for exams. For most of the pregnancy, I was more mentally than physically tired. I studied pretty much every day from nine to five and when necessary after hours and early in the morning. When I wasn't studying, I was working out with my classmates in the gym. I really felt I was doing what I should be doing during pregnancy.

The morning sickness in the first trimester was rough. Fatigue really maxed me out during those few weeks. It was hard to focus. I remember struggling with cardiology, which didn't come naturally to me. Some members of the family were not being supportive, but it just stoked a more intense drive in me. By my third trimester, I was super pregnant going through our obstetrics module. It was tough, but to this day I believe that God had a plan in mind and wouldn't have sent us a child if he didn't think I would also complete the program and graduate.

After exams, we had a two-week break, which I spent waiting to go into labor. I eventually chose to be induced, and after a 30-hour delivery, we discovered we had a daughter. We named her Eleanor Grace after St. Helena and Our Lady of Grace. Eleanor also means light. We really felt like she was a bright, bright light that God interjected into our best laid plans. Eleanor surprised us and forced us to change our plans and live differently. But through her, God gave us the opportunity to show what pro-life, pro-family decision making can be.

At the end of the summer, my clinical professors helped me schedule rotations when I would have babysitters. My husband and my mother in law helped out, and sometimes even my brother in law took a turn when I was stuck at a clinic site pretty late, which happened a few times. I was working in the mountains in rural western North Carolina at a hospital with emergency medicine and lots of family medicine and internal medicine clinics. Sometimes I had to drive up to an hour away, but I was able to get a sense of the health needs in those rural communities.

I would not trade my graduate school experience for anything. It might look a little bit different to navigate graduate school or medical school while pregnant, but can be an advantage and not something to be afraid of. I got to experience OB care as a patient and a practitioner. It just drove me even more to want to practice in women's health. I feel like those lessons carry over into my patients’ struggles whether they have a baby or a miscarriage or infertility. I can really stand with them through those difficult spiritual moments and tell them from experience that God really does have a plan for them. Looking back, our best laid plans were not bad, just not the best plans. It always shocks me to think that if we had not become pregnant or had aborted, we'd only have one child at this point. Now we have three because God sent us some so early.

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Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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