I realize that not every mother recovers so quickly from childbirth. Some have extenuating circumstances that prevent them from physically attending school, have a longer recovery time because of X, Y, or Z, have postpartum depression, etc. and I understand that completely. I have to admit that I was really lucky with a quick and healthy labor and recovery. I'm also really lucky that I work from home and both my boss and my professors are on my team and want me to graduate just as much as I do.
With that said, as I was preparing to publish this post I was researching what advice other people have on this particular subject. A lot of my experience echoes that of Katie's so I know that what I'm doing works for others as well. I know you can do it, too!
Now that I only have one semester left, and after surviving (yes, surviving) this past semester with a newborn while maintaining an "A" average in college, I'm confident that I can give some sort of advice and support to those in similar situations.
Here's how I did it:
1. Coordinate schedules & Pass the baby
My husband and I worked together to come up with a class schedule where I could be home when he was gone and vice versa. He took lunch from work so I could attend my history class, or he would attend for me and record the lecture so I could listen on my own time. He would stay home when he could so I could go to the school and work in the labs. Eventually we took out a student loan and bought a computer with the same software and makeup as the ones on campus so I could stay home more often. Tuesdays were our hardest days, with my class block going from 1-5:30 and his going from 2:30-5:30. Usually I would pass the baby to him at 1, and he'd pass him back at 2:30, where either I'd leave class early or keep Beckham in class with me if he was quietly sleeping. Because I was (and still am) exclusively breastfeeding and pumping, I had to be able to come home every 3 hours or so which is a whole different deal. (If I wasn't so darn stubborn I would have just done formula and made it easier on myself, but that's not what happened and I'm happy with the way things turned out.) During the time that we couldn't work it out between us, I solicited help from friends and family which brings me to my next point.
2. Ask for help and support
YOU CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. Despite what you think and despite how independent you are, you need help. Ask people in your ward or neighborhood who are stay at home moms if you can drop the baby off for an hour while you attend class. Allow grandparents to watch him. Have your sister come visit for a couple days. Bake your friends cookies in exchange for an hour or two of babysitting. I'm lucky that I have so many people who were and are willing to help us out, but look into campus daycare if you have to because there are always options available. My husband has always been my biggest supporter, and there is no way on any earth that I could have done this without him. My mom enthusiastically tells me all the time that I can do it. So make sure that you have some sort of support system, because it truly makes a difference.
3. Talk with Professors
If you know you're going to be going to school with a new baby, let your professors know. I'm fortunate enough to have professors that are on my team and are willing to work with me. Chances are, you do too! Talk with them and let them know what you're situation is. They're more than likely willing to help. I talked with my printmaking professor, and although the studio was 3 hours long she knew I was going to leave early almost every day so I could go home and feed my baby in between classes. Although this accounted for many extra hours outside of class after Beckham was asleep, as long as I saw all the demonstrations and got my work done on time I was fine. Another one of my professors allowed me to do a senior seminar class so I could do an independent study and maybe miss class time if I had to. Another professor understood that I had to bring the baby to class sometimes, and he was okay with it as long as Beckham was quiet (which he normally was) and when he started to fuss I promptly took him out. As long as you're communicating with your professors, chances are they will understand and everything will work out. But you'll never know unless you ask!
4. Condense your Schedule and take Online Classes
My job also counts as internship credit which also counts as a class. My outside-of-school publication will count as a class and credit. Next semester I will only have 2 classes to physically attend per week, but I will still be taking 16.5 credits. If you can take it online, do it. If something can count as two things, I make sure I'm taking advantage of it. And honestly, online classes are much easier than real classes in my opinion. Plus you can work on them while trying to keep yourself awake during those inevitable middle-of-the-night feedings. ;) As a side note, I've also mastered how to use a computer with one hand, so in the early days he would fall asleep in my arms (and only stay asleep in my arms) and I could still do a little work while enjoying motherhood.
5. Be Willing to Work
Oftentimes before I went to sleep I'd tell Nick that I was quitting and that I wouldn't be going to my classes the next day. And then I'd wake up and tell myself, "Okay, just one more day. I can do one more day." I've had to sacrifice a lot of early bedtimes, free time, and nap times to get things done. I've had to dedicate myself to a level of self discipline that I imagine people who go to the gym at 5 a.m. every morning have, but for everything that I need to do. Schedule things, and write them down. Sometimes if I don't write down that I need to eat, I forget. I had a friend who told me that I can do anything for 15 weeks, so I tell myself that all the time. Which kind of leads me to my next point:
6. Accept that it's going to be HARD
If you're thinking to yourself, "That seems so hard!" Well, it is. I'm not going to lie. It's hard. Right out of the gate, accept that nothing about this is going to be easy. I've sobbed in the early days because I felt like I was missing out on my son's childhood. I've come home early from class, frantic because he was crying and nobody could console him. I've cried because instead of having a clean home and being a master homemaker and mom and wife that I'm sitting on my computer during all my free time trying to get things done. If you accept that things are going to be difficult for awhile, however hard it may be, you'll buck up and do it. If you can say to yourself, "I know it's hard, but this is what I want and I'm just going to have to do it." then you will. And of course, my motto is, "If it has to be done, why not enjoy it?" Or at least try to. There's no point in being miserable during this time, or you'll be robbing yourself of the joy that comes with being a mom and getting an education.
* Bonus *
I always put being a mom first. If I have to choose between going to class or feeding my hungry child, I feed my child. Lucky for me, every time I've had to make the choice between being a mommy and getting an education something has happened that has allowed me to do both. Whether that's a class being cancelled, Beckham taking an extra long nap, a deadline being lengthened, Nick randomly coming home early, or a professor understanding and saying, "Okay, see you when you come in!" I set my priorities straight, and everything magically falls into place. And while I am super busy, I've made sure that at the end of the day I don't feel that I'm being less of a mother or missing out on experiences. I also take my faith very seriously and pray constantly for the strength to carry on. I ask all the time that if this is what I'm supposed to be doing that I'll be able to do both (mommying and studying) to the best of my abilities. So far so good. + +
I hope that is inspires someone to keep going, if nothing else. While a formal education may not always be attainable, it's definitely worth it if you have the opportunity to squeeze it into your life. I'm a firm believer that motherhood and raising children is the most important thing I can do, and all that I've really ever wanted to do, but I also feel that getting my degree and having this particular skill set will bless and set a good example for my family in the future.
I for one can't wait to take a photo in my cap and gown with my degree in one hand and my baby on my hip! Hooray for women and education!