Pregnant and a Grad Student in Healthcare Field

QUESTION

Dear Midwife,
I am a grad student in an intensive immersion program in the health care field. I just finished my first year and have another year to go...and I just found out I'm 5 weeks pregnant. I'm 30, married to a great guy, and I'm extremely excited and ready to have a baby - in most respects, such as I'm 30, all my friends are having babies, we're financially stable, have a ton of family support, etc...

However, there are a few things I'm nervous about as well...

One thing I'm nervous about is that last year I was under extreme stress in this graduate program and I can already tell this year is going to be just as stressful. By stressful I mean, massive amounts of new information to take in, hundreds of pages of reading, late nights studying, early mornings for clinicals, etc... Is this stress bad for the baby? Should I consider dropping out or deferring for a year during this time so as not to expose my child to high amounts of stress/lack of sleep?

Another thing I'm worried about is that I am in the health care field and I'm wondering if being around ill people (especially with the H1N1 scare) is something I should try to avoid - and thus yet another reason to stop the program.

I really want to finish my Master's and, despite the massive amounts of stress and time devoted to the program, I really love it and would like to finish. However, I know that I may be in for a rude awakening of morning sickness, extreme fatigue and mood swings, which may not mix well with the demands of graduate school. Any advice?

Lastly, are there discrimination laws for graduate students? For example, if it turns out I have a difficult pregnancy and am unable to continue with the program, will my school be obligated to let me return once I am able? I noticed that in addition to being a midwife, you are also an educator, so I'm wondering your opinion on this matter. Have you had any experiences with students who are pregnant while in graduate school?

Thank you SO much for your time and for answering my questions and giving me advice! I know it will be valuable and much appreciated!

Sincerely,

Olivia

ANSWER

Yes, I totally understand your concerns. And yes, we have had students who were pregnant while in our program (which sounds a lot like yours). Of course I don't recommend planning to mix pregnancy and an immersion program, but sometimes "things happen." It sounds from the tone of your post that you would prefer to drop out for a year and then re-enter. If there is a Student Handbook, it would typically address this issue and have a policy about it. I would say your choices are to either talk to your dean about it and/or wait and see how you feel.

Of course we midwives would prefer that you have a very relaxed pregnancy, with plenty of time to take care of yourself and your baby, but obviously that is not an option for many pregnant women (not just students!) and yet most women produce healthy babies. I certainly can't advise you without even knowing you, but these are a few things to think about.

-- Cynthia, CNM. PhD.

Cynthia Flynn

Cynthia Flynn, CNM. PhD, is the General Director of the Family Health and Birth Center which provides prenatal, birth, postnatal, gynecological and primary health care to underserved women and their families in Washington, D.C. Recently Cynthia served as Associate Professor of Nursing at Seattle University. There she not only taught, but remained in full scope clinical midwifery practice at Valley Medical Center where she cared for pregnant and birthing women, and practices well-woman gynecology, family planning, and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

Cynthia founded Columbia Women's Clinic and Birth Center, where she took care of pregnant women and infants up to two weeks of age and attended both birth center and hospital births. Before Cynthia earned her CNM, she worked as a registered nurse in labor and delivery and postpartum and is a certified Doula and Doula trainer.