• Mon, Jan 7 2013

Quitting Grad School To Have A Baby Was The Best Decision I Ever Made

shutterstock_101835706I’m a dropout. No, not the stigmatized high school dropout. Not even the incomplete undergrad. I’m an ex-MFA candidate with little intention of completing that degree. Though this could easily be a piece criticizing the value or practicality of higher education in the arts, it’s actually about parenting.

I withdrew from grad school when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Was it a complete surprise? No, not really, since my husband and I had quit using birth control and decided to “not not try” to have a baby. From the moment I saw that little word “pregnant” on the pee stick, I knew I would finish my first semester of school, which ended when I was about 20 weeks along. I thought I’d then withdraw, take a brief hiatus for bonding with the baby, then jump back in school a few months later. I kind of figured once a newborn becomes a baby, you could just plunk that baby down with some toys and go about your adult business.

I quickly learned that however calm and content babies are when you’re cooing over them, they are equally as boisterous and demanding the second you divert your attention elsewhere. My sugary daydreams of writing short fiction for school with a sleeping baby nestled against me were, as it turns out, just daydreams. Forget going back to school anytime soon–I was still trying to figure out the basics like carrying groceries up to my second-floor apartment, how and when to take a shower, how and when to take a shit. Maybe my girl was just an unusually demanding newborn. Maybe I had stupidly high standards for motherhood. Whatever it was, it was weeks before I even attempted to write something again, and that first draft wasn’t even that great.

But being tied down with a baby just made me realize how precious my free time really was. When in my pre-parent days I would spend 15 minutes of downtime playing Spider Solitaire on my computer, I would now use that 15 minutes to research potential writing markets. When I would have spent an hour “warming up” my writing muscles by staring out the window sipping coffee, I would now wake up at five in the morning and spew sentences into a Word doc like I was staring death in the face. What has surprised me the most is that with having only one percent of the free time I used to have, I’m about 200 percent more productive.

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  • Linda Mae

    That is the definition of selfish people and it’s a shame you had to be a mother to notice that such behaviors were selfish. I’d also (as a graduate student) like to point out that I don’t sleep until noon, I couldn’t tell you the last time I drank alcohol, I’ve always known how to check the oil in my car (if you are driving you should be able to check, not necessarily change said oil) and of course I know who the political leaders from my state are. It sounds to me like you were just as selfish as your child less friends are now. Having a baby may or may not change that for them, but not everyone lives in a bubble. Not even every millenial.

    • Amanda Low

      Hi Linda Mae!

      I certainly didn’t mean this as an attack on responsible millenials. It’s simply the story of my maturation, which coincided with the birth of my first child. Everyone’s different, and I never meant to accuse all childfree twentysomethings of being selfish. This is just my experience, and my rant about some of my friends.

  • meg

    “Not not trying”? I’m glad you found your bliss, but … it’s important to remember that “not using birth control” is the exact 100% same thing as “trying.” No equivocation about it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/houde.veronique VĂ©ronique Houde

      Well… I have to say that when I had the same attitude about having a baby also! ;) Because I’m near 30, I am well aware of the difficulties some people face in having children. I know a few friends and acquaintances that are my age and struggling to get pregnant. Therefore, last year, my boyfriend and I decided to stop using birth control, but not to try actively to have a baby (like counting days to know when you’re ovulating, taking vitamins etc). I never thought I would get pregnant on the first try, but I was very happy that I did!

      Situationally, we were in a different boat than the author (stable jobs, new condo, new car, no debt), so it wasn’t a scary surprise for us. Well, I have no idea how said author is financially so there is no judgment there… However, my boyfriend is planning on going back to school in september to become an electrician, which will be a challenge, but at least we’ve built our lives so that financially and situationally, we will NOT be struggling. He won’t have to work full-time while being in school since I’ll be back at work full-time (which for me is 4 days a week). I am just happy that we have made financial decisions BEFORE getting pregnant that let us make these decisions (getting rid of debts first, buying a small condo that is affordable instead of a big one that would have choked us), cutting one of the two cell phones and getting a home phone instead, not getting cable tv, etc…). When you live on less, you realize how fortunate you are for these things.

    • Lastango

      I admire your excellent financial planning and common sense! You’ve obviously realized that, over time, big sums are wasted by small, daily spending, and that iterest payments on debt defeat stability.
      Being able to make choices in life depends on having a sound financial base. Good on you and your boyfriend for having built a foundation that allows picking a new direction like going back to school.

  • 11candlelight

    I wonder if we’ll get the other side of a story with an article titled, “waiting until I finished grad school (so I could pay off those student loans with the much better paying job I got as a result, and thereby supporting my infant in they style s/he deserves) to have a baby was the best decision I ever made”….

    • Amanda Low

      That would be great! One of my friends from grad school did exactly that…she’s pregnant now and finishing up her last semester. I’m so happy for her!

    • Anna

      That’s precisely why I still don’t have any . . . I earned my degrees in music, and will thus never have enough money to have children.

    • Kohoutek

      I’d gladly write an article entitled, “Never having children was the best decision I ever made.” I am a writer, as well as a librarian and an archivist.

    • meteor_echo

      DO IT.

    • Kohoutek

      Okay! For humor’s sake perhaps I should write it from the point of view of the kind of kid I was always afraid I’d have – a girly girl. No child who wants Pretty Pony birthday parties deserves as a mother a science/literature/history geek who likes science fiction and had a crush on Carl Sagan! ROFL!

      Meteror_echo, I swear if I write it I’ll sent you a link (if it has a link) via your profile for your enjoyment.

  • Sara

    1) Speaking as someone with a master’s degree, whose husband is about to finish his PhD, I cannot understand why you would start trying to have a baby, having just started grad school, if you weren’t prepared to do both. I purposely didn’t have a baby until I was finished with my master’s specifically because, as you point out, doing both is very tough and I knew I wouldn’t be prepared to. Since getting pregnant was an intentional thing for you, that seems like really careless timing, especially since an MFA doesn’t take that long if you really work at it. I finished my master’s in two years while working full-time, which wasn’t unusual.
    2) The “selfish” people you describe are just that–selfish PEOPLE, regardless of their parental status. There are lots of responsible, intelligent, socially engaged childless people, and there are plenty of parents who are equally shallow, self-absorbed and irresponsible. Frankly, I’ve found that becoming a parent really doesn’t change the essentials of who you are that much; rather, it tends to intensify it. Many people stop behaving the way you described as a process of simply growing up and it doesn’t require becoming a parent to make them snap out of it.
    3) It is the height of insanity to take out $40,000 in debt to get an MFA in writing. I seriously hope you wouldn’t actually consider doing something so foolish, child or no.

    • Lastango

      Actually, becoming a parent does help people grow up. We rise to meet our responsibilities and the demands of our environment. As someone said about the maturing process, “College perpetuates adolescence. The military truncates it.”

      I’m not surprised at all that Amanda is “200% more productive”.

      On another point, I agree people should think carefully about the degrees they pursue, and how much they pay to get them. As too many are finding out too late, college education is often a racket. Only the institutions (and their enormous web of vested and related interests) benefit. Viable, quality, on-line alternatives to traditional delivery methods of advanced education can’t come soon enough.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Ambariffic Amber Taylor

      Multiple fallacies here…

      No, parenting doesn’t make you grow up. It just exacerbates qualities that are already in a person. Producing a baby doesn’t make you mature, Case in point, I’d say a college student who studies hard and works hard is much mature than some teenager who didn’t use birth control.

      Also, college only perpetuates adolescence IF a person still relies on others to support them, I went to school and worked to support myself, and I can tell you I am more mature than many people I know with children.

    • Lastango

      Multiple failures-to-read here… I think I said being a parent HELPS people grow up, not MAKES hem grow up.

      And colleges are packed full of flakes and fools. That you didn’t happen to be one proves nothing.

    • Sara

      For some, that may be the case. Many people purposely don’t have kids until they know they’re mature and responsible enough to meet the demands of caring for them.

  • Jane

    Wow. I usually do not comment on this blog but after reading your post, I felt compelled to. I don’t know many people who have graduated college and have a job that sleep until noon and/or take “spontaneous road trips.” Just because a person is child-free doesn’t mean they have zero responsibility. Excuse me, but I still have a job I must get up for each morning and organizations I’m involved with in my community. There’s no dancing at clubs until the wee hours. The only thing I’m doing in the wee hours of the morning is answering email and working my way up the corporate ladder. Articles like this just continue to perpetuate the myth that anyone who’s not a parent is selfish, full of free-time, and without a worry in the world.

    • Lawcat

      Truth. The notion that childless people have no responsibility because they don’t have a kid is just insane.

      This article was just all over the place. What’s your point, exactly? Perhaps it’s best you didn’t pursue that MFA. In fact, I’m pretty sure you really didn’t want to pursue it in the first place and this is an “out” of sorts.

      When I went to grad school, I knew how long it was going to take and prepared accordingly with my husband. We had a son after graduation. In fact, many in my class were pregnant or were expecting soon after our last semester. It’s planning. Accidents happen, but if you’re truly committed to something, you don’t take a “not not trying” approach.

      Just because the writer didn’t use her pre-baby free time wisely doesn’t mean we all did it that way. Some of us actually have time management skills. I have no idea why you would even bring childfree people into the conversation as what you are describing are selfish people IN GENERAL.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      Yep. We recently had a kid, but even before then, my wife and I had been employed, had a mortgage, etc. It isn’t like life was totally carefree then…how do people pull that off??

    • Amanda Low

      Hi Jane!

      As I mentioned in my comment to Linda Mae above, this is just an account of my experience and circle of acquaintences — not an attack on people like you! That’s great for you that you’re responsible. Unfortunately for me, I just didn’t mature until I had to put someone else’s needs first.

    • bumbler

      The fact that these commenters were so quick to mis-use your words and take offense to complaints not directed at them leads me to believe they’re actually guilty or at least quite insecure! How silly.

    • Amanda Low

      Thank you :-)

    • Dee

      Well aren’t we perfect. There’s something on your nose, honey.

    • Elle

      Way to bash your friends there. While striving to come across as mature and show how you have grown as a person, you just come across as judgemental and holier than thou. If the issue isn’t child free people, don’t bring up the term! If the issue is that you and your friends used to sleep in until noon, take spontaneous road trips and go clubbing until the wee hours and you no longer do, just say so. BTW, spontaneous road trips are still allowed once you have a baby; you just bring baby along. Sleeping late and going out also aren’t necessarily signs of immaturity unless you are doing those things at the expense of your responsibilities. They also aren’t mutually exclusive with volunteering, caring about politics or being knowledgeable about basic auto maintenance.

    • AP

      I was offended by that too. I graduated into this less-than-cuddly economy, and I’ve spent a lot of my “young and carefree!” years working crazy hours and doing without to make ends meet. You don’t get “spontaneous road trips!!!” when you can’t afford a car and don’t have Flexible Paid Time Off. You don’t get to party all night and sleep until noon when you have to be at work at 6:45 am…on a Saturday.

      It’s great that you had the money to be so carefree as a young person and to have children when the whims of biology grace your body. But for most of us, this isn’t remotely the case. We’re too busy busting our rear ends to keep ourselves fed and clothed.

    • Vikky

      Actually, when I was in grad school getting my MFA, I slept in late (my classes tended to be late afternoon/evening) and I took lots of “spontaneous road trips” (usually semi-degree related.) So… I took this to mean that she would have been doing these things IN GRAD SCHOOL.

  • Blueathena623

    It doesn’t seem like quitting grad school was that important for you (since its just hipsters talking about writing, and you started knowing full well you could have a baby at any time) so shouldn’t this just be how having a baby was the best thing that ever happened to you?

  • lesuze

    I don’t know, a gift with so many conditions doesn’t really seem like a gift… If anything I’d say that if you need to set so many rules and regulations, your kid is too young/not ready for a smartphone.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    So tomorrow will we get an article about how “Quitting My Pregnancy to Finish Grad School Was the Best Decision I Ever Made”?

  • Valerie

    The curious thing about the internet is how everyone seems to “take offense” to EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF RANDOM CRAP ARTICLE that they stumble upon. When someone writes, typically, they are writing from their personal experiences. One of the first lessons in writing is to “write what you know.” Does this mean that every thing that a person does not write about or comment on or include in their piece is something that they are against? Does that mean that every comment about THEIR FRIENDS is intended to criticize the entire universe of people in general? Reading comprehension, reading critically and reading analytically seem to be in short supply. I fail to see where the author wrote, “All child-free people are irresponsible.” As this seems to be the ultimate conclusion of all who took the five minutes to read this. Again. This is the author’s experience, the author’s friends, the author’s life she is writing about. However trivial and ineffectual it is, it is about HER background not about YOUR life, YOUR friends, YOUR circumstances. If you want to read something along those lines, write your own damn article/column/blog. But really, do yourself a favor and stop taking yourself so seriously.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cecilly.dunbar Cecilly Dunbar

      Ok Amanda

    • Amanda Low

      Preach it, sister :-)

    • jessica

      Truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

    Grad school or baby, either way you lose sleep and deal with a lot of shit to get through it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592188905 Bran Chesterton

      And they are both outrageously expensive. :)

  • j

    As a mom with a PhD and tenure-track professor position in the humanities, I’m shocked you would have even considered going into that much debt for a MFA. If you were meant for the academic route it would have worked out. I write articles with my son asleep on my lap or running around my office, or on a laptop in the car. We find ways for all our passions to coexist, looks like grad school wasn’t one of yours.

  • Natalie

    Having a baby while in grad school was the best decision I ever made. Flexible schedule, paid my stipend no matter what (so no worrying about paid time off from a job), and if I waited until after grad school, I would have kids on the tenure track or wait until my late thirties, both not thrilling options. Right back to writing a dissertation with baby sleeping or in daycare, so it didn’t slow me down at all. If you dropped out, at least be honest that grad school was never for you in the first place, don’t blame the baby.

  • Alise

    I am one of the “hipsters talking about writing” in the stuffy room! For the record, I graduated with much, much more than “some bolstered sense of my worth as a writer.” To each their own, but please don’t jab at those that make a different choice.

  • rog

    It is a fallacy that becoming a parent makes you more caring. People who are parents might appear more caring where their own progeny is concerned. Anyone can be that way to their own biological offspring, it is not really an accurate measurement of what they are like generally, nor does it make them terribly mature or responsible in other areas of their lives where their emotional self interest in looking after their offspring is no longer a factor.

  • Laura

    It sounds a though the author is trying to justify her exit from graduate school. I am at the end of a Ph.D and can tell you that it wasn’t full of free time, if any. Experiments and research are always there to remind you that you aren’t free. I realise that it isn’t like having children, an experience which I don’t know and don’t really want to know. However, why did you start a masters and leave it immediately after? Anyone can have a baby, but not everyone can finish graduate school. I hope you choose to go back and finish what you started one day.

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