My husband and I went back to college as non-traditional students. We were grown adults with little people of our own to take care of. We’ve juggled work and school and family life since the inception of our family. To say it hasn’t been easy would be an understatement, but, somehow, we’ve made it all work.
The one time it almost didn’t work.
There was one semester I wasn’t so sure it would work, though. In fact, I was terrified that all of my hard work would come crumbling down. It was my final semester of school, and I had an internship on top of three other classes. I was also expecting, and due two weeks into the scheduled internship.
I cried a lot. The pregnancy was something I wanted, but I was in a small program, so the internships wouldn’t be offered again for another two years without special exception. And I wasn’t sure if I could get special exception. Not participating would keep me from graduation.
I scheduled two classes online. It was the only way I was going to achieve my goals, but I was nervous as all get out. I had tried online courses when they were in their infancy, and the experience hadn’t gone well for me. I felt confident in the classroom, but online learning was terrifying.
For the last class, I had no option. It was offered only in person, and only once-a-week. I prayed the professor would have some sympathy on the pregnant woman.
That’s not quite right. I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want an easy degree. But I did need flexibility. So with every nerve I had, I pulled aside my program supervisor.
I felt the blood rush out of my face as I told her what was going on. When I finished my sentence, I took a deep breath and held it. This woman held the fate of my studies, and potential return to the workforce, in her hands.
I’m a mother. And I’m capable.
You know what she said? “THAT’S WONDERFUL!” I let my breath out slowly as she told me that they would find a way to make it work for me. The other coordinating professor was equally as enthused, and they were able to move my start date up. I’d be nine months pregnant, but I’d be able to fulfill my requirement, and get some hands-on experience before I graduated.
When I scheduled those online courses, I reached out to a friend who had actually had success with them. She recommended professors that let you work ahead so I could frontload my tests and homework, leaving me with little to worry about during my postpartum period.
All of the fears I had surrounding my in-person class were baseless. I emailed the professor before the semester started, and she said it would be no problem to move the work around while I was recovering. She only stressed that I must complete the work by our agreed-upon due dates. I did, and we actually got on quite well after the semester started. It turns out she had a child the same age as my oldest, and had the experience of an employer who did not practice gender discrimination with her pregnancy, giving her the flexibility she needed.
If I had been pregnant the last semester of my husband’s schooling, we likely wouldn’t have had as many concerns because of biology and sexism. But I wasn’t. I was pregnant the last semester of my own education. I worked hard. No one gave me pity points. I was ahead of all of my classmates on work, and wrapped up loose assignments a full two weeks after I had predicted I would return, because my body needed the extra time. While I didn’t receive pity points, I was the beneficiary of flexibility.
I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be surrounded by people that supported me. These women were luminaries of greatness in their respective fields, and recognized that just because I was giving birth, it didn’t mean that I was incapable. It didn’t reduce the value of my work, and with reasonable accommodations, I could meet or exceed course expectations while still allowing my body to recover.
Removing Gender Discrimination Through Flexibility
Employers that help women be both amazing mothers and amazing employees are rewarded with the retention, rather than loss, of talent. Unfortunately, those companies are hard to come by. I ended up working for the organization that helped coordinate my unconventional internship. They are one of those employers.
Another organization I know of that holds the same mindset is Northwood Realty. I heard the owner speak on the issue back in May; it was both surprising and encouraging to hear recognition of mothers as talented and over-achieving workers come out of the mouth of a man.
When you find an employer or educator that not only recognizes your value, but is willing to give you flexibility, empowering you to do your best work, shout it from the rooftops. Other women need to know that these opportunities aren’t mythical unicorns, and they need to stop allowing themselves to become willing victims of internalized sexism.
On top of it all, other companies need to see that it can be done. They also need to see that it is appreciated, and that they’re losing out on talent when they fail to retain skilled, capable mothers.
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*This post is part of the Northwood for Moms campaign through the Motherhood. Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.*