PhD and Pregnant: The Race Against Biology


I am thrilled to announce that this week I successfully passed my PhD viva with only (very) minor amendments! It seems only yesterday that I was writing my proposal and now I can amend my CV and Linkedin profile to say DR HAYLEY STAINTON! So, what was my motivation to do so much work (seriously, have you seen the size of this thesis!?) in such little time? I wanted to start a family…

 

If you haven’t committed to a PhD yourself, be under no illusion that this is any easy feat. You will have to read A LOT. You will have to write A LOT and don’t forget about all the ‘thinking’ time we need in order to figure out what we are reading and writing. All you have to do is a bit of research on Google to find out that doing a PhD takes over your life and then if you were to Google the exact same thing about having a baby you would quickly see many parallels. Doing a PhD takes your money, so does having a baby. Doing a PhD often impacts your ability to have a good social life, so does having a baby. Doing a PhD puts you in a constant mental haze of epistemologies, statistical tests and grammatical considerations, whilst having a baby brings on a haze of nappy changes, tummy time and lactation. Both will cause lack of sleep, but for entirely different reasons, and both may well drive you to crack open that bottle of red after a long day. It was not difficult to come to the conclusion that both doing a PhD and having a baby were all life-encompassing and that to try to do a good job of both at the same time was not only not probable but may well not have been possible. So the race was on…

 

After my wedding at the end of 2015 (if you haven’t read about my amazing Thai-themed wedding yet you can find it here) I didn’t instantly start trying for a baby like many newlyweds choose to do. Instead I ramped up my workload. This time last year I had my head stuck in books all day. I spent my Sunday mornings reading up on the benefits of the Yates Continuity Correction test or rules of regression and my Friday evenings reading any new literature that had emerged that week over a glass of wine. I exchanged my chilled-out Saturdays for student research conferences and I can’t count the number of times that I used conditioner instead of shampoo in the shower because I was distracted by the sentence I was writing in my head. I did all of this in the name of love for a child that was yet to be conceived. Between November 2015 and April 2016 I had collected and analysed two phases of data. By July I had completed my first draft.

The first trimester

In the spring the finish line began to emerge in the distance so I knew that it would be safe to start trying for baby Stainton. The positive pregnancy test coincided with the completion of my first draft, which in hindsight was a very good thing. The summer brought with it extreme tiredness and mild morning sickness and whilst I was far more fortunate than many mums-to-be, this would have severely impacted on my ability to continue working at the rate I had been the previous months. Waiting for my supervisors to provide feedback on my work provided me with valuable rest time during those first few torturing weeks of pregnancy.

 

The second trimester

My corrections came mostly during my second trimester, which as many of you will know is when you feel at your best. Whilst I found it difficult not having my go-to evening glass of wine to help quiet my ever-analysing mind at the end of a long day’s work, I was able in the most part to think clearly and write productively. By the end of the second trimester I was finally in a position to submit my completed thesis.

 

The third trimester

Throughout December I enjoyed some well-needed rest. Yes, doing a part-time PhD in 3 years was exhausting, but so is growing a human! My husband and I went on our babymoon to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and concentrated on sorting out everything in my new house and preparing the nursery. My mock was at the beginning on January and my viva a few days later. Uncharacteristically, I only began to revise a few days before my mock. I instantly regretted this when I felt that I hadn’t given the best answers to my mock examiners. Have you ever heard of ‘baby brain’? Well, take it from me, IT IS REAL! I would describe it as being akin with the morning after you had one glass of wine too many, you’re not hungover but you’re not quite as sharp as you would usually be. I felt that my responses were too slow and that I couldn’t remember important parts of my research, work that I had spent so long writing only a few weeks beforehand. This was extremely frustrating, and worrisome.

Fortunately I think that the adrenaline kicked in for the real thing and coupled with some additional revision I was able to confidently answer all of the examiners questions and defend my thesis successfully subject to only a few minor amendments! Whoop whoop! As a person who normally gets very stressed about things like this I admit I was slightly concerned about the experience sending me into pre-term labour, but a couple of days have passed now and baby is still happily kicking me in the ribs! Next week I will make the amendments which include small things such as grammatical amendments and elaboration on some points (no big deal), and then I am done and dusted… from one life-encompassing project to the next!

 

My advice for the pregnant PhD

Having been working on my PhD throughout pregnancy I will tell you that it’s not easy. You might have morning sickness, you will almost definitely be down on energy, ‘baby-brain’ might impact the quality of your work or the rate at which you progress and if you’re unlucky enough to have any other pregnancy complications then you will obviously have to factor those in too. Ultimately, I have achieved what I set out to accomplish in the time restrictions that I had (providing baby holds out a few more days so that I can do my amendments!), but in hindsight I think that it was probably a bit of a close-call! I would advise you to do what you can before becoming pregnant, but if you do find yourself studying with a baby onboard then just take it easy, know that you are doing your best and that’s the best that you can do! Good luck!

Oh, a quick after-thought… what an amazing graduation photo I’ll have of my two biggest achievements- my PhD and my baby!