I got pregnant in university


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I got pregnant with my first child at 21, during the summer following my first year of law-school. I remember walking to the pharmacy in a daze. The pharmacy ran pregnancy tests for $7. That was half the price of the home pregnancy kits!! I soon understood why anyone would prefer paying the extra $7 to get a pregnancy result in the privacy of their bathroom. The pharmacist said: “It’s positive.” I said: “Positive means I’m not pregnant right?” But I knew. I had seen my busty profile in the window of the pharmacy walking-in. I knew for sure.

Despite a few tell-all signs of pregnancy, I had visited a walk-in clinic a few weeks earlier asking for a throat swab. I thought I had strep throat because I was craving popsicles and I was always on the verge of throwing up. I told the doctor: “I have cramps, my periods are 2 weeks late, I’m nauseous all the time. Could this be strep throat?” So he did what any doctor with a clue about the birds and the bees would do: he took a throat swab. That test was negative.

As I was walking out of the pharmacy, I was counting the months on my fingers to see if I could finish my second year of law school. I was due April 17th, during exam week. Well, it wasn’t that bad I thought, I’ll be able to finish my year and write my exams.

I went through my second year of law school pregnant. I was sick as a dog. I have two vivid memories of doing law school pregnant: one where I am uncomfortable, sitting in the lecture hall’s plastic chairs. My regular pants are getting too small. They are riding up my legs and digging into my waist. This is after Christmas, I am almost 20 weeks pregnant and thinking I will either buy pregnancy clothes or kill someone. In the other memory, I am wriggling my way across an entire row of plastic chairs during a lecture on civil proof to go throw-up. I made it.

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I made arrangements with the Dean to write my exams after my due-date. I thought that writing exams 3 weeks postpartum would be better than 40 weeks pregnant (pro-tip: it’s not). On my last day of classes, I took the bus back home and someone asked me: “When are you due?” I said “Next week.” That evening, I went to the hospital in labour. My daughter was born with the sunrise the next morning.

What would I say to the young woman finding herself pregnant in the middle of her university education? First, you can do it. It won’t be easy but you can do it. Don’t expect understanding, a red carpet or a special parking pass. You will be facing harsh judgement coming from your peers, your teachers and the administration. Few people will give you favours unless they have to by statute or regulation. Remember those who go the extra mile for you: someday, you will extend the same generosity to someone else.

You are pregnant now, soon you will deliver. Delivering a child will give you a sense of perspective, a new understanding of what truly matters. Being a mother will empower you. This feeling of empowerment will seep through every aspect of your life and give thrust to your studies as you face the challenges at hand. You will take that Queenship of the Universe with you back to University and beat the crap out of your degree.

You will face harsh and underserved judgement. Some people think that getting knocked-up is never an accident, that you should have known better. Some people will not know what to say in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. Many people will look at you with a mix of contempt and pity and ask: “You’re not keeping it are you?” as if you would be announcing a pregnancy you were about to end. Some women, and that’s what took me the longest time to accept and understand, will be angry at you. They will shun you for putting a face on something they thought was impossible. In hindsight, I have accepted that these women were suffering more than I was. But it was so hurtful at the time, feeling like pregnancy made me a leper, an uncool, an outcast. Know that this will not last. For the community of cool that you are losing, there is an equally sleep-deprived — if less fashionable — community of parents ready to embrace you.

You will come out smarter on the other side. You will be working harder when it’s no longer just your ass on the line. You think you will have less time with a baby on your hip but don’t underestimate the time it takes your peers to manage their social life. Motherhood will focus you and give you a new appreciation for what matters: both in small and in big things. You will focus on the essential and perform with surgical precision. You will start your end-term papers as soon as you get the course outline and write 2 pages a day until it’s done. End-term all-nighter cramming sessions are a thing of the past. You will work around it and discover a better, more mature way. Baby will force you to take breaks, sometimes entire days off, and your brain will thank you in your report card.

You and your priorities will change. Don’t sweat the student stuff. I wasted so much mental energy worrying about my inability to take part in moot-court competitions, out-of-town placements, student exchanges and fancy articling jobs in the best Montreal firms. In the end, I graduated with no desire to join the law firm rat race. I oriented my career on a different path. And that’s ok.

Try not to get caught-up in the latest baby gear must-have and other parenting fads. They are costly and unnecessary. A baby’s needs are simple: babies need care and affection. Breastfeed, sleep in the same room, buy a second-hand stroller and a good baby carrier. At some point you will need a second-hand high chair. Financially-speaking, I was fortunate to have a boyfriend-now-husband who had a stable job as a junior military officer: our income was small but reliable and my parents were taking care of my tuition. It will be difficult enough to make ends meet without trying to keep-up with the older, richer, Joneses.

Finally, don’t get angry if academia doesn’t give you any freebies. Just deal. Be a honey badger. The workplace won’t give you any freebies, so you might as well get used to it early.

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Just sayin’


I am lucky enough to have a wide variety of Facebook friends yielding a wide variety of status updates. I’m an easy going kind of girl. I don’t preach on Facebook, I’m more the kind who plays well with others. I use my Facebook page as my own little joke with mixed results. I come across as a bit of a clown. Which is fine until I post an update about spearmint toilet cleaner making my toilet smell like it
just went to the dentist at the same time a friend posts a very moving tribute to Holocaust victims. Both posts appear side-by-side and I look like an idiot. I avoid getting into debate or heated exchanges on Facebook because the format leads too easily to misinterpretation. It’s like email on steroids. Everybody doesn’t share my good Facebook manners unfortunately. Recently, I have been submitted to a few rants on Quebec’s protesting students. I have so far kept my resolve to remain uninvolved but please allow me to use my own little piece of Internet real estate to vent a little. I won’t cross post this entry on my Facebook page…

The province of Quebec has been in the throws of massive student protest for the last month or two (or three) in response to a government proposal to increase tuition fees by 75% over 5 years. Quebec students pay the lowest tuition fees in Canada thanks to generous subsidies from the Quebec government. Even after the tuition hike, Quebec students will only pay 17% of the value of their post-secondary education. I don’t think I’m going on too much of a limb by saying that the province of Quebec is heavily indebted and badly governed. Whereas choice among political parties span the left-right continuum in the rest of Canada, in Quebec you choose between independentist and federalist options. If you feel, as most Quebecquers do, that the federalist party needs a time-out, your only option is to vote for the independentist party. 40-odd year of sovereignty politics has left good governance in the province of Quebec in shambles, assuming it was good to start with (it wasn’t).

As I was explaining to my oldest daughter, Quebec students are well within their rights to protest the fee increase. Quebec residents may have the lowest tuition fees in the land, they also pay the highest taxes. Sure it spends more than it rakes in but I have some sympathy for those who balk at getting less bang for the same fiscal buck.

On the other hand, no matter how much wishful thinking you can squeeze, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Whether your high income tax is paying for services you are getting today or for those your parents got on credit over the last 40 years, a day of reckoning is unavoidable. You may feel it’s unfair but the money spent by your parents was also spent on you. I have great memories of growing-up attending free nature walks, free museum visits, learn in classes with 15 children and so forth. And every time I cut a $800 monthly cheque to my daycare provider, I have a moment of wistfulness for $5 $7-a-day daycare. But you can afford it or or you can’t. The Quebec government (along just every Western democracy) couldn’t.

I believe that there is room for government support of higher education as long as the numbers add up. The argument that the state has a duty to fund higher education because it leads to higher earnings leading to higher tax revenues sounds good in theory but look where it got Quebec. In spite of massive government investments in education and learning since the 70’s, it still spends way more than its highly educated citizens pay in taxes. What is lacking then from the debate on tuition fees is not arguments in favour of higher education — by now we know what they are — but a debate on the realignment of Quebec’s spending priorities. For once, I’d like to hear students chant about what they would like the government to cut in favour of funding their post-secondary education. Give it your best shot: there is plenty of inefficiencies, face-palms and head-desks in the Quebec spending portfolio. Daycares? Pensions? Healthcare? All of the above? Why not raise your parents’ taxes?

Which brings me back to my Facebook friends. If you want to post status updates about the egregiousness of raising tuition fees from lowest to lower, you should make sure that your updates are grammatically correct and do not contain too many spelling mistakes. Because it makes you look like you need a better education not a cheaper one.

Just sayin’