Pregnancy in the lab…

I don’t have any topics that I’m currently hot under the collar about (which is a good thing right now), so I thought in the spirit of the family friendliness discussion that we have been having, I would share with you my own experience about having a child as a grad student.

DrMrA met while he was in grad school and I was a technician, and he stuck with me through two years of vet school and several years of graduate school before we got married (now he is stuck with me for the duration!). We got married in the mid 90s- I was a second year graduate student. Near the end of my project I found out I was pregnant. This news wasn’t completely unexpected- I was 29… and waiting for a ‘good’ time for this would have been 5 or 6 more years… that wasn’t happening. Anyway,- I remember distinctly the day I went to the grocery store to buy the pregnancy test,- excited and strangely feeling scared of telling the grown-ups (as a 16 year old unwed mother is to tell her dad this kind of news)… knowing that this meant I was going to have to tell my thesis advisor. I was terrified of having to tell him- not because of any fault of his- just because he was an unknown entity where these topics were concerned. No previous grad students in the lab had been pregnant, or even married.

Anyway- you already know the test was positive.. and I waited as long as I could to say anything. About 15 weeks we had a scare, I was shortly to have an amniocentesis, and so I had to tell him. I worked up all my courage, walked into his office, made sure everyone was sitting down, and dropped the bomb made the big announcement. Turns out ALL my fear and anticipation of this moment was for nothing. GradAdvisor reacted spectacularly well to the news…. I believe the first words out of his mouth were ‘Congratulations! you will have to take 3 months off!’. You can not imagine my immense relief at his reaction.

I worked until the day I went into labor. I was spectacularly productive during this time- knowing that I was going to be out for a while and wanting to get things to a state where I could sit and do some writing independent of doing experiments. The day that I went into labor I was running protein gels and doing a few Western blots. I had my weekly appointment with the OB/GYN that morning- and being a week over my due date we scheduled an induction for the following week. She (the OB) said I looked like I wasn’t going to need the induction though- she thought I looked ‘ready’- I remember going home and telling DrMrA how odd that was- and what kind of a doctor was she anyway??? That night I was in labor.

Because I am a data junkie and never like to leave an experiment hanging- I had prepared and labeled all the solutions for developing the Western the following day. The hospital where I was laboring is directly across the street from my grad lab… so …. once I had that epidural… DrMrA got instructions to go over and develop my Western blots. I was in labor for a very long time- plenty of time to develop a blot and not miss a thing… that evening the Western blot failed, but our healthy daughter was born.

GradAdvisor was just awesome. Even organized a surprise baby-gift from himself and the lab, which I had not expected. Came to visit us in the hospital- left me alone during my maternity time to deal with the wholesale change in my life that was now upon me. This time was a difficult adjustment for me as I was used to going to work every day and having adult conversation,… and getting things done. Now, if I got the chance to take a shower, it was a big day. GradAdvisor patiently allowed me to start back in the lab 1/2 time- to allow a gradual separation from the little one. I hope it is obvious from what I have written here- that GradAdvisor handled this situation perfectly from my perspective.

In fact, these days when I return to the grad lab- I often hear a tally of how many children have been born to grad students and postdocs since I have gone…. and I know that he has a reputation for family friendliness among his employees and the wider community of our field.

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9 thoughts on “Pregnancy in the lab…

  1. Glad you had such a positive experience with pregnancy and your grad lab.

    If you are looking for a post topic, I would be curious to have your take as a PI on the whole letter of recommendation thing (see today’s post)- how you handle them, writing good ones, writing bad ones (?), having to write your own / asking someone to write their own, etc, etc. My experience has been largely one-sided (I’ve only been the receiver, not the giver, of recommendations).

  2. Kudos to you, and kudos to GradAdvisor. If a retirement party is in his future you can go and tell the other GradAdvisors who attend, how much of a mensch your GradAdvisor is and was!

  3. Your adviser sounds wonderful!

    In my experience, the first pregnancy in a lab usually predicts a veritable flood. I’ve known of two labs and one office where it seemed as if all the female staff were getting pregnant within a few months of each other. One lab even put a sign above the door saying “warning: entering this room increases the chance of pregnancy”, and started to refer to their PI as the fertility god.

    Did you have any issues with altering your work patterns, e.g. avoiding solvents and radioisotopes? Different people seem to handle this differently, with some refusing to go anywhere near anything other than salt solutions, and others carrying on with everything except radiation work as before. Every woman that I know of was allowed to make her own decisions in this regard with no evident pressure, but with varying amounts of grumbling about it from the PI…

  4. Candid Engineer- Sure- I’ll cover letters of recommendation… shortly…

    gingerale- Oh, I didn’t do anything extraordinary- I know GradAdvisor is a good heart, and knows the importance of family. His own first child was born not so long before my own older daughter.

    VWXYnot? Yes, with the pregnancy issue GradAdvisor is quite remarkable. I was quite like a rebellious teenager to all authority while in grad school (you know, lots of drama, disliked all authority, had an attitude at times)- and not usually appreciative of all various people in positions of authority did for me during that time. I see many things that GradAdvisor did in a different light now.

    As for your question- I wasn’t working with radioactivity and although I was handling some noxious chemicals at the time- I always do this in a fume hood anyway. During my second pregnancy I avoided participating in procedures where inhalant anesthesia was being used – mostly because the large amount and long nature of these procedures that we do. If these had been small laboratory animals I don’t think it would have been an issue- but we do these procedures on a much grander scale…so I thought it was best just to be cautious…

  5. That is how it is supposed to be!
    My story in short: got unexpectantly pregnant second year in grad school, felt just like you:
    excited and strangely feeling scared of telling the grown-ups (as a 16 year old unwed mother is to tell her dad this kind of news)… knowing that this meant I was going to have to tell my thesis advisor.

    I thought he’d be politically correct, but annoyed, because the general mood of many of his friends around him were extremely anti-children. Anyways, I showed up, told him, he said: congratulations! How nice.
    And then we started discussing when I would be gone and what consequences this would have for my data acquisition (seasonal, for my topic). Lucky enough, my due date was scheduled best, and I was most productive just after our daughter was born, – just too bad my supervisors would not have review anything I wrote that time, – they wanted me to take the time off.

    Two years later I told him I was pregnant again. His sole reaction was: Congratulations. I hope it will work as perfect as last time!

    This time they did review my papers (I made it very clear that I wanted that), and I my thesis goes well and I will finish in time.

    And, yes, my first pregnancy did cause a wave of others in our departement… But up to now, noone quit because of this, too!

  6. Your graduate advisor sounds absolutely awesome! Glad to hear you had such a great experience.

    Yup, Cae, my pregnancy in my postdoc lab also started a chain reaction of pregnancies amongst labmates or their partners. We also had jokes about something in the lab water. My postdoctoral supervisor is a generally fair man, but ahem, a bit awkward and weird when it comes to social niceties. He avoids the personal like the plaque, speaking only of science and sports. When I made an appointment with him and told him I was pregnant, he said, “Uh, okay. Congratulations.” Then he immediately switched subjects and talking about my research project. He didn’t mention my pregnancy again until I asked for six (unpaid,naturally) months off, and he said fine.

    When the second postdoc in the lab told him (a few months later) that she was pregnant, he apparently put his head in his hands and groaned, “Oh, no.”

    He never gave either of us any hassle about maternity leave and family responsibilities, even if he wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy about it all. I do think he assumed that we weren’t (couldn’t be) really dedicated to science since we had children, but that’s another post… (

  7. How refreshing! I am currently finishing my 4th year of grad school, and currently pregnant with my first child. I am also the only woman in my lab. Nobody else is married, nobody else has children, and that includes my advisor (in his late 50s, never been married). I was extremely nervous announcing my pregnancy, but so far, it has gone very smoothly. I’ve had a few bumps along the way recently when I’ve had to turn down projects that would require me to be in the lab immediately after my due date, but I think that we’re finally done with the “what maternity leave means to me” discussions.

    I can only hope that things go smoothly during my actual leave, and after I return….

  8. Pingback: Gettin’ a Reputation… « Blue Lab Coats

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