Friday, March 11, 2011

Planning a professional pregnancy, part 1: when's the right time?

In this two-part post, I'd like to talk a little bit about the factors that I considered when deciding when to get pregnant (part 1), and then turn to a discussion of some of the aspects of conception, pregnancy, and the postpartum period that you may want to consider in planning how your own pregnancy might fit into your professional life (part 2).

When is the right time?
My husband and I were married at a relatively young age for our social milieu and Reform Jewish/Buddhist backgrounds--we were 23 and 24.  At the time, I remember thinking how very odd it was that the act of marriage was in some way, at that age, rebellious--or at least sorta fringe!  I'm quite sure that a lot of people thought we were too young.

5 years later,  I think we can say that our "early" marriage has worked quite well for us, including for one reason that I hadn't considered when we were planning our wedding.  Namely, if you want to avoid having to get pregnant during the 35-and-up years of dwindling fertility and increasing chances of developmental problems, then getting married a little sooner makes sense.  Getting married at 23 meant that we had a few years to settle into life as adults together: we both tried a career path or two, we learned to run a household, we lived abroad and traveled...and having done all that, we were still just hitting our late twenties when we felt ready to start a family.

Of course, starting a family in your mid-to-late thirties also has its advantages.  You are even more settled in your career and you probably also have greater financial resources.  But these days, having a baby in your mid-thirties is the more expected choice (for educated professionals, anyway), so I wanted to present the other side of the coin here.

Contrary to the popular wisdom that "there's no good time" to have a baby, in fact I think that there are more good times to have a baby than we really allow ourselves to consider.  I even think that for a particularly emotionally mature young woman, with a committed partner, college could be a pretty great time to have a baby.  Just think--by the time you're getting serious about your career, your kids could already be in school!  I know this sounds crazy.  But I think that for the right couple, it could work.

In my opinion, school in general, and medical school in particular, is a pretty great time to have a baby.  You probably have more control over your schedule than you will once you've entered the workforce, and you can often take a really sizeable maternity leave without leaving a telltale "baby gap" in your C.V.  When I entered medical school, I knew that I wanted to start a family during school.  We felt ready, we had family nearby, and there is a natural break after the first 2 years of medical school during which it would be relatively easy to take a maternity leave.

With that in mind, I set about planning my pregnancy very purposefully, with an academic calendar for my medical school in one hand, and a menstrual cycle calendar in the other.  I doesn't sound very romantic, does it?  But having once determined the starting date for trying to conceive, you can throw the calendars out the window.  Everything worked out well for me and for our family--I had an astonishingly easy pregnancy and birth.

But there were still plenty of surprises along the way.  There were times when the popular knowledge I'd absorbed about pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period turned out to be dead wrong.  In the second part of this post, I'll discuss some of the factors to consider as you think about weaving the experience of your pregnancy and birth into your professional life.

[Postscript:  Although this post is about planned pregnancy, it's important to note that about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.  Education and access to affordable birth control can help women avoid becoming pregnant when they don't want to be; Planned Parenthood is an organization that provides such education and access, as well as counseling and access to abortions.  Medical Students For Choice is another organization I've been involved with, which advocates for and supports reproductive health education in medical training.  Please support these organizations if you have the means!]


  1. looking forward to this very much -- i also married young (21) and am now 23 and a first-year med student, and we're hoping to have our first kid next summer. it'll be great to have your been-there-very-recently perspective. =)


  2. I love what you've written! These are our thoughts on starting a family during school too. Sounds like we have a lot in common - young marriage, I'm taking time off in my 2nd yr of med school to spend with my son (he's 5 months right now), interracial marriage... It's good to see my husband and I are not the only 'crazy' ones out there!

  3. I'm really glad this resonated with both of you! Still working on the follow-up post...

  4. This is an incredible resource. Thank you for your service, Rachel. I'm going to send this link to all my friends who are agonizing with these issues.

  5. Megan: it's a big decision...but sometimes I think the better-educated you are, the less likely you are to be able to make a fully-informed decision (because, for one thing, you're less likely to have ever spent a lot of time around pregnant mamas and young babies...).

  6. People have their own ideal age for settling down. But you and your partner must be ready for anything, regardless of what age you want to get married or raise a family. Settling down entails many responsilities. You will need time to make preparations, especially if you want a baby.

    Chelsea Leis