Doubling Down: Becoming a Parent During your MLIS

Many of us pursuing graduate studies are at the stage of planning growing families as well. If
you’ve considered adding a child to the mix while doing your MLIS, and are wondering how
possible it is to ‘do it all’ read on!

First off, nobody is doing it all. Life is a series of tradeoffs for everyone. If you are seriously
considering adding a child to your family, consider how you’re finding grad school, what
limitations you’re feeling, and where you can lower expectations of yourself. If you are planning
with a partner, discuss the impact together, they will need to step up their contributions to
household and emotional labour.

We are writing this from the perspective of welcoming children through pregnancy, but want to
acknowledge that there are many ways to build families, and all of them are both beautiful and
hard.

On Being Pregnant

Recognize you will have some mental load dedicated to preparing to welcome a family member.
Pregnancy and childbirth are a big change even when everything goes smoothly. If you are
considering the time available to you in any semester you are pregnant, make sure you count
time needed for taking care of your body and mind.

If you are working a job while in school and pregnant, be aware of what health benefits and sick
leave you have access to. More and more, people are coming to understand that mental and
physical health both need our active care, and if you need to take sick leave to feel less
mentally overwhelmed, that’s perfectly normal. Alison had carpal tunnel pain due to pregnancy,
but kept working through it, trying to modify duties. She regrets not taking sick leave before the
pain got severe. When you get home from work you should still have the capacity to live your
life. And if you can’t do that, then say no to the paid labour! (Ideally if you have paid leave).
Don’t feel guilty for keeping your body healthy. In Alison’s case, it affected her ability to hold and
feed the baby, not optimal!

On Parental Leave

What to Expect…
Some people have the idea that parental leave is basically a “break” from work, and that parents
of infants have plenty of spare time throughout the day. This is simply not the case. Although it is
most definitely possible to work on your MLIS while on parental leave, it isn’t a walk in the park.
Expect that you will be very busy, and have little personal time to yourself. Babies are very
unpredictable, and while one week they may decide to nap for hours on end, the next week they
may not nap at all. You need to plan for this, and take advantage of every moment you do have
to work on your degree, or to mindfully recharge.

You also need to expect, and accept, that the work you produce may not be to the caliber you
are used to. This isn’t to say you should no longer try your best, but more that your best may
change along with this very big lifestyle change. You may be sleep-deprived, hormonal, and
simply unable to focus as well as you could before. Alyssa found this to be the case, especially
when her baby was first born. She still managed to get good grades, but could no longer takehours on end perfecting discussion posts or assignments. Alison found the same, needing to
lower personal standards in order to not be too hard on herself. And that’s okay. As long as you
are still learning, participating, and growing throughout the program that’s what’s most important.

Challenges…
One of the biggest challenges with babies is sleep (or lack thereof). Nighttime is one thing, but if
you have a bad napper, this can really impact the time you have during the day to work on
school work. You may also have a stage five clinger, who will only nap on you. This was Alyssa’s
experience, as she spent many days holding her baby while trying to type on her laptop. Not
ideal, but possible!

When babies get sick, teethe, or get immunizations, times will be tougher. Those may be weeks
that you need a friend to drop off snacks or dinner, or to allow for an extra night of take-out food.
When challenges arise, it’s nice to have some essential books on hand already so that you have
a resource to turn to (Alison recommends Precious Little Sleep). Call your parent friends if you
need to hear that someone else has been through the same thing, so much infant
acetaminophen!

Tips…
It’s imperative for you to have both a mental and physical break regularly, in order to recharge
and connect with your partner and friends, so that you can be the healthiest version of yourself.
This will only make it easier to focus on your MLIS and what you wish to accomplish.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Alyssa and Alison both faced the unique hurdle of dealing with
COVID-19 while being on maternity leave. Sometimes, help wasn’t an option due to lockdowns
and restrictions, and this made it all even more difficult. If you can, always accept help. Try not
to feel guilty or worried and just focus on the task at hand.

If you had an extra tough day, and couldn’t find time to work on school, accept that and move
on. It’s often worse to force yourself to work on something when you aren’t in the right state of
mind.

Positives…
Although some of these anecdotes may seem discouraging, there are a lot of positives to
working on your MLIS while being on parental leave. Despite all of the challenges that come
with it, Alyssa was able to take two courses at once, something she didn’t feel she could handle
while working full time. This will allow her to graduate much earlier than initially anticipated.
Alison found pregnancy and child development to be topics that could have crossover with
classwork, creating LibGuides on evidence-based practices and writing about the information
challenges of new parents. Drawing on current experiences made writing prompts easier to
tackle and helped develop a new facet of empathy for the everyday information seeking that
parents bring to the public library environment.

Getting a degree while on parental leave can also help keep your brain stimulated, so that you
aren’t only learning what board books rock or how to make your best animal noises. As students
we have access to amazing library resources, all the better to learn about how our little people
are developing and why libraries are such critical learning spaces for the future.

This is a guest post from Alyssa Pappalardo and Alison Smedley. Alison and Alyssa are both working on their Master of Library and Information Studies online at the University of Alberta.

Alison is counting courses to finish her degree in 2023, and plans to be a public librarian. When
procrastinating she can most often be found researching the best ways to bring kids on
outdoors adventures. E-mail her at smedley@ualberta.ca to connect about parenting in grad school or for her top wool
sock recommendations for toddlers.

Alyssa is one course away from finishing her MLIS degree, with expected graduation in the
spring of 2022. She is hoping to get a job at her current place of employment, Thunder Bay
Public Library, where she has worked for half of her life. If you would like to ask her some
questions about what it’s like to be both pregnant and/or on parental leave while doing online
learning, email her at pappalar@ualberta.ca.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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