By Julia Blair
Last night I was sharing stories with my teenaged kids about some of my experiences of being a young/single/student mom. Below are a few (VERY FEW) excerpts from the stories I shared with them:
*I’m not sharing these for accolades (although I appreciate those who comment with support, etc. honestly); I’m sharing because I do think we need continued progress AND to remind ourselves that we haven’t progressed far enough.
Winter 1999- 1st trimester pregnancy as a community college student (living in the dorms and working full-time at a gas station while attending class full time). Getting ready to transfer to UC (accepted to UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, and (through a local transfer agreement IGETC) to UC Davis...due to said unplanned pregnancy UCD was closest and where I had to go). Community college prof called me to his office after class (I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant—honestly was afraid I’d be kicked out of the dorms) told me I’d never make it at UC, I clearly had a bad attitude and didn’t want to be in his class (I was SO SICK and EXHAUSTED). I left terrified he’d not pass me (my transfer agreement required B’s in prereq classes...funny I could go to Berkeley without his grade but needed it for UCD) and I’d lose my admission. And terrified I really WASN’T UC material. (Never told him my situation; didn’t want to make excuses).
Fall 2000- Spent the summer 2000 studying for the LSAT with my 8 month old, while taking a full load of summer classes at UCD, working as an intern at the middle school, and working 20+ hours per week at the law school. My (then) partner (these details aren’t the point) was abusive and arrested and jailed for a domestic violence related incident involving me and our child. I finished my classes, took the Fall LSAT, and took a full time load of classes, while continuing to work both at the law school and for my department. Took two late Incomplete’s that trimester. Received on-campus psych services and county victim witness services. Petitioned for incompletes to be retroactively withdrawn. Denied for lack of cause (ended up with an F ultimately. 🤷♀️ I’m still a graduate and finished law school but fuck that was unnecessary).
March 2002- Decided in 2001 to add another minor and postpone my graduation by a couple trimesters (also got married and decided to have a second child before law school). Baby was born almost end of trimester (but 15 days late). However her arrival coincided with the due date of my final. I emailed the TA from the hospital after her birth and let him know I was hospitalized (normal birth) and would need to turn my paper in 1 day late. Received a 1-full grade reduction due to late paper. (Not that it’s relevant, but because it’s unclear, I took a full trimester of classes after her birth and finished them all).
Fall 2002- Started law school with an almost 3 year old and 5 month old (both still nursing). Asked Dean of Students about any space for pumping breast milk. Was given a faculty bathroom. Colleague reached out to the Dean about getting a lock (gasp) and (us students) paying for a small refridgerator and way to separate the pumping area from the toileting area. Constitutional law professor at said law school analogized our request to faculty’s long-standing request to get bottled water in the faculty lounge (I still have the email I was inadvertently cc’d on).
Jan 2003- I was part of a group of scholars sent to the US Supreme Court to hear oral arguments and meet a Justice in chambers (due to being a recipient of said Justice’s named scholar program). I was still pumping every 4-6 hours. On the final day of our trip we had to check out of the hotel before going to court for oral arguments and then flying home. I let our coordinator know ahead of time. I ended up pumping manually in the handicap stall of the bathroom at the Supreme Court of the United States. This one is still insane to me.
Fall 2004- I was 9 months pregnant during “fall interviews” for summer law firm jobs. I was a law review editor, published, top 10 of my class, etc. Received interviews for about every firm where I applied. But was HUGELY pregnant. Didn’t get a single call back. Two national/international firms interviewed late and both gave me interviews. I’d just given birth. Left my newborn on campus elsewhere while I did both interviews. Called back to both. Hired for the summer by the international firm (whose partners were shocked to learn that I had pumped in the SF firm parking lot prior to my second interview as I left my weeks old baby at home, when I started the next summer).
Fall 2004 (continued)- a nationally known visiting education law prof came to my school. I was thrilled (I went to law school to study ed law). Gabe was born on a Monday and I was in class Thursday morning. (Missed my Wednesday night education law class). 3 weeks after birth he was admitted to the NICU for an unexplained infection. I split my time between school and the NICU (with a 2.5 and 5 year old at home). I missed most, or all, of a second Wed night class (I don’t recall, but it was a blur). I received the highest grade on the class written final. But was failed for class participation because I missed more than 1 class, which decreased my overall grade (maybe some think that’s the way it should be).
Anyways, my husband told me I should write these (and other stories) down. I think even today, 15-20 years later, we’ve shifted and are more accommodating. But honesty I still see how in so many ways, women have to prove they are enough. Can do it all. And quite frankly it’s bullshit. I am often the loudest voice in the room for working parents. Because guess what? It’s okay to do both. And it’s okay to not be expected to pretend like you aren’t.
So if you’ve read this far and care, 1. Don’t be an asshole to parents trying to make a better life for themselves (their families and society) if you are in a position of influence; 2. Speak up even if you are the one being directly impacted OR if it might be a little uncomfortable or inconvenient; 3. Don’t ASSUME the exhausted student in the back of the class is bored or has a bad attitude (I still have a big F you for that community college professor!)
And for the professors and employers that did help (hell yeah, my Poly Sci UCD prof [Nincic—she’s long retired from CSUM] that told me how awesome I was for being in class 3 days after having my first baby at 20, my evidence prof in law school who chided me for NOT bringing my newborn to class, and my con law prof who asked me about “our baby” Gabe whenever he wasn’t in class (Kelso because he had to be almost 80 and a SAINT), and my first year law instructor who was pregnant with her second when I’d started and who I shared my third pregnancy (during law school) and who in many ways was just a fellow momma), and my boss who let me bring my newborn [Joey] to work for MONTHS because I’d just started my State job and had NO leave), you all made ALL the difference.