Starting a Family During PA School

On the first day of orientation for PA school, our program director stood in front of the class and presented a PowerPoint presentation on what to expect and how to succeed during PA school. About halfway through the presentation, there was a slide titled “Don’ts.” Underneath was a long list that included buy a house, get a puppy, get married, or have a baby. 

I understand their intentions. I really believe my faculty simply wanted us to be successful. But looking back with a little life under my belt, including some years where a pretty strong headway was made on equality for women, it really doesn’t seem right to lecture to a group of young adults in their mid 20’s about when it’s appropriate to start a family. 

This issue isn’t new. Medical students and residents likely feel the weight of this issue even more, given the length of their training. And as Dr. Laura Forese, VP and COO of New York Presbyterian hospital, said: “Expecting women to delay pregnancy until after medical school and residency — which can take more than eight years — isn’t reasonable or moral, given the increased risk of infertility and pregnancy complications among older women.” 

During our first breakout session we introduced ourselves to classmates at our table. One  sitting across from me told me his wife had a baby yesterday, and here he was at orientation. In his defense, he hadn’t seen the list of “don’ts” yet. 

Two male classmates and three female classmates would have a baby before my cohort graduated, and two of my female classmates were pregnant when we graduated. Two others got married the summer between our didactic and clinical year. I’m not sure if anyone got a puppy, but I’m sure someone probably did. 

And guess what? We all made it. We all graduated and have had successful careers as PAs. 

I got married at 23, and knew I wanted a big family. I also very much wanted to be a PA. My husband and I discussed a timeline, but by the time I finished the first year of PA school, my longing to be a mother was almost unbearable. My parents had always told me that if you wait for the perfect time to have kids, you’ll never have them. And while I think it’s totally fine to have a loose plan, I completely agree with them. 

We didn’t have a ton of money, but people with far less money still have kids. Yes I was in school, but how would that be much different than if I was working? And the big question that always lingered in my mind… What if getting pregnant took months or even years? I had friends who were struggling with fertility, and I knew plans don’t always work out the way you want. 

So we decided to “not try not to have a baby.” 3 weeks later, I was pregnant. This was right before my clinical year started. I honestly don’t even remember the conversation I had with my faculty. Maybe it was through email? I’m not sure. The fact that I don’t remember it tells you how uneventful it really was. I don’t know what kind of discussions happened behind the scenes, but they were nothing but supportive and understanding to my face. 

I was very blessed to have a healthy and uneventful pregnancy. I had women’s health during the month of December when I was about 32 weeks pregnant, and my preceptor thought I was a patient on my first day. I had never seen a live birth or really even been around a newborn for very long. I remember on my first or second day,  we rushed over to the hospital for a birth. I was hobbling along when my preceptor looked back and said “Can you move any faster?” He was only half joking, and we made it to the room right as the mom was beginning to push. 

She had chosen to have an unmedicated birth so it was a little intense. I remember the nurses helping me gown up because I couldn’t reach my feet to put my boot covers on very well. The baby came out fast and furious. I’m not super emotional in front of people, but the whole event of seeing my first birth (which was unmediated and quick), and knowing I as only weeks away from having my baby, hit me really hard. Before I knew it tears were welling up in my eyes. My preceptor looked at me and said “I bet you hope your baby comes that fast don’t you!” 

Deliveries can be kind of busy, and I felt in the way (this would get better as the rotation went on). But I saw the dad trying to film himself cutting the umbilical cord, so I asked if he wanted me to take the camera and film it for him. He was thankful for the offer. So I actually filmed the first few minutes of the newborn’s life, dad cutting the cord, and took a few pictures of the family for them. I will remember that as one of the highlights of PA school.

All that to say I was able to remain on clinicals right up until I went into labor. I finished women’s health and started my pediatric rotation. I went home after one shift during the second week, and my water broke that night. So I literally worked up until the day I had him.

Our school had a medical leave policy that included up to three months off if needed. I decided to take 8 weeks off, but when the time came to return my pediatric site wasn’t able to accommodate me. So I ended up taking 10 total weeks off. I went back and added 2 weeks of pediatrics at the end of my program to complete that rotation. My class graduated in May, and I finished in August. Other than a few months of being jealous they were all finished and passing boards, it really didn’t affect me much. 

My husband and I decided to move back home, around three hours from where I attended PA school. I arranged to have an away rotation near our new home for my last clinical. I did end up having to go back for two weeks and stay with a friend to finish up my pediatric rotation at the very end. 

I was also able to breastfeed and pump through the reminder of school. This was something that always made me a little anxious because with each new rotation I had to let my preceptors know I was pumping. But they were all nothing but extremely supportive. I would usually use an empty exam room, or in one case the hospital I was in actually had a nice lactation room. 

My son was 6 months old when I finished PA school, and I wouldn’t trade how I did any of it. I ended up interviewing for a job around the time I was finishing school. I took a month off to study for and pass the PANCE, then started my new job. I would find out I was actually pregnant again (my first two are 16 months apart), so I ended up having to start a new job and tell them I was pregnant shortly after. So I have experience with that too, but the bottom line is everything is figure-out-able. It really just is. 

So if you’re considering having a baby during PA school, I want to let you know it is possible. It’s also completely fine if you choose to wait. My advice is, do what is best for you and your family. Fear of what others think (i.e. your faculty) should not be a factor in the equation. It’s not their lane, it’s yours. 

I would be familiar with the medical leave policy for both your program and your school. Know your rights under Title IX when it comes to protection around pregnancy and parenting. You should also consider the possibility that your pregnancy may be complicated and require more time off than you plan for. All of these things are possibilities, but I simply don’t believe in making decisions out of fear. 

I hope this is helpful to some who may be in the same shoes I was in. Feel free to email me with any questions, I’m  happy to help if I can. 

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