Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pregnancy & graduate school at Columbia University

A new post today on A Penned Point entitled, "Give yourself a break–Don’t have a baby during residency," inspires me to chime in on this parenting issue as I recall how my pregnancy during graduate school was handled 29 years ago.
Dr. Sibert writes about the stresses on residents when they take on pregnancy and parenting an infant during their demanding years of residency.  I can only imagine how difficult giving birth during residency must be.  But reading her post reminded me of my situation during my first pregnancy.

Now when I look back on the events of this pregnancy and how Columbia handled this, I am appalled.  And I am glad for how far we have progressed. 
Subway station in NYC for Culmbia

I was in my first semester of graduate school at Columbia University in the Writing Program working on an MFA in fiction when I discovered that I was expecting my first child.

I was sick as a dog and scared.  Commuting in from Westchester, where we had recently moved from Brooklyn to be nearer to the Columbia and because we had just been held up at gunpoint in Brooklyn, I rented a parking spot on 125th St. in Harlem.  I was still apprehensive walking in this neighborhood, concerned that I couldn't run fast enough being pregnant if I was mugged or robbed again.

Being pregnant at Columbia in 1981

But I attended my writing workshop classes faithfully, never missing a class, despite vomiting in public places daily.  Now granted, I did not fit into the social network of the other Dunhill cigarette smoking students in the MFA program.  I was counting daily protein grams and calcium consumed.  I ate in the undergraduate cafeteria because they served a wealth of steamed veggies and good protein options.

When it came time to discuss the timing of my spring semester with the impending birth in April with the administration, they were less than helpful.
Columbia University Low Memorial Library
They forced me to take a leave of absence for the spring semester because "another student could be in my spot for that three weeks of missed classes" at the end of April.  Then when my daughter was born on April 28, they attempted to contact me via phone but never actually reached me (remember this is pre email and pre cell phone days) to tell me that I needed to produce a huge volume of work in a very short period of time.  They gave a hideously short deadline and never actually spoke to me or informed me in person--just left a voice mail with an ultimatum (that I never got).

So I ended up taking a year off and finishing my Masters at LSU in Baton Rouge.   But Columbia was a huge disappointment to me and it took years to pay off the student loans for my time there. 

Nowadays, women and (men) have more rights concerning their treatment when giving birth and parenting.  

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