Q+A: One Baby + One Doctorate


Today's Q+A comes from Megan Yinger, a 25-year-old mom going for her doctorate in a profession that doesn't see a lot of young moms. Between caring for her infant, applying to doctorate programs, and teaching at her alma mater, she found the time to share her story here on Early Mama:

1. How old were you when you got pregnant?

I was 24 years old, and about 2 months shy of my 25th birthday.


2. Was this expected/planned?

Yes and no.

My husband and I had decided that I would delay entering a Ph.D. program for one year and we would try to have a baby. We had two reasons for making this decision. First, I didn't have as much direction as one should when applying. I wanted more time to think about a focus for my course of study and to be sure this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I had a lot of doubt about my abilities and my direction. I figured if I waited a year and did something else I really wanted to do, I would truly discover where my passions were. Second, my husband was just itching to be a dad. He had supported me (emotionally) through my Masters degree, and supported me financially while I wrote my thesis and looked for work. It had been kind of all about me, and now it really needed to be about us and our mutual goals. A baby was at the top of the list.

The "no" part of my answer deals with the fact that we didn't expect to get pregnant so fast. We casually started trying in September (with a plan to start trying more actively in January or so). By October, I was pregnant. We were still living with some friends in the city (Philadelphia), going to bars and out to eat a lot. We clearly didn't think we would be successful so soon!


3. Tell me a little about the reactions to your pregnancy.

I went through the full range of emotions to being pregnant. Part of me suddenly didn't feel ready. My friends are still in their early and mid-20s and no where near starting a family. Would I be left out? What about my other interests? I was performing in a musical with a local community theatre at the time, and had already been cast in their next show (as a club dancer, no less). Could I keep doing theatre? What about after? Can I handle it all? I would love to say that I was nothing but excited, but I was truly filled with doubt, not to mention wicked morning sickness.

All of this doubt was eased quickly by my husband's enthusiasm. Jason could not have been more excited. He actually sensed that I was pregnant before I did. We told our friends and family little by little (with the exception of our roommates who figured it out on their own). Our parents, siblings, and grandparents found out Thanksgiving Day, and we told our roommates the following Sunday. Most of our other friends found out when we announced it at my 25th birthday party. Everyone was so excited and supportive. No one ever questioned it and our decision. Even my bosses were supportive.


4. So I know you're going for your PhD with an infant at home. What exactly is your career field? Is it typical to be a young mom in your industry? 

For all intents and purposes, I'm in academia. I have a Masters degree in American Studies, which is what I plan on getting my Doctorate in as well. Most likely, I will continue to teach at the college level, but hopefully with job security and benefits. Right now I'm an adjunct, which changes semester to semester and offers no benefits. Ideally though, I would love to be a consultant on matters of American culture for movies, television, or the news. American Studies provides a lot of different and unique opportunities.

It's not really typical to be a young mom in academia. First, history and American Studies are still sort of "boys clubs," although women make up a higher percentage of the American Studies population than in history. Along with that, most people put almost everything on hold to start their degrees first, then pursue a family life. I have a few friends from graduate school who defy that trend, but most of them are men as well.


5. Did you go into this wanting to be a "young" mom?

Once I graduated college, I started living at warp speed. I got my Master's degree in a year and a half, got married three months later, and we really wanted to start a family. Other than that, I didn't make the conscious choice to be a "young mom."  My own mom  had me at 26, so this age seemed normal to me.


6. What's been the biggest challenge so far?

Two things: Finding time to do ANYTHING. I feel like no matter how productive I am in a day, I didn't get anything done. I think I have to re-adjust my notion of "realistic expectations," while spreading my work out over more time.

The second is the disconnect I feel between my friends and I. People come and visit, but we don't get as many invites out. They are still in "go out three or four times a week" mode, and they are generally still dating. A few friends are married, but none of our other local friends are starting families.


7. Give us a glimpse inside of your daily life.

I don't work every day, but the days I work are truly a balancing act. I get up around 6:30 a.m. to feed Elliott (my son). It's really nice to start my day with a smile from my little guy. Afterwards, he usually falls back to sleep (I am blessed with a good sleeper). I get ready for work starting around 7 am, and my husband is then on "Daddy duty." Otherwise I'd never get out of the house on time.

I drive to work, which is about 35 minutes away, and I use this as my "me" time.  I usually listen to NPR and catch up on the world and collect my thoughts for the day. If I really need a pick-me-up, I put some showtunes and sing. My energy has to last me all day.

I hold office hours from 9 to 11 a.m., and I spend that time grading and prepping, since not a lot of students stop by. I teach from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and leave campus right away to get home. My husband has to leave for work at 2:30pm. He has always worked this second shift, and it more or less works perfectly for us. I grab lunch and Elliott usually naps from about 2 to 4. I use that time to grade, prep for class, clean, and to do other little things around the house. He wakes up and I feed him again. When he is awake, I try to give him my absolute undivided attention. Sometimes that's not possible, if I have a lot of grading to do or some other large project. I usually wait on dinner until Elliott is in bed between 8 and 9. I eat, and I grade and crochet until Jason gets home between 11 and midnight. I usually go to bed between midnight and 1 a.m., then start all over.

8. For all of those young women who feel they have to choose between a career/dreams/goals and motherhood, what do you have to say to them?

You don't have to choose, but some compromise is necessary. Yes, you may have to adjust your timetable. If you were looking to be promoted in two years, you may need to extend that a year or two. Make sure your partner is on board with your plan. I am lucky enough to have a spouse who is super supportive and willing to sacrifice so I have money to pay for applications or post-pregnancy work clothes. He is just as excited about this adventure as I am. He reminds me to work on applications and conference presentations. I don't need the reminder, but it lets me know that he is aware of the things I want to accomplish. I feel absolutely equal to him in terms of work load too.  In the middle of the night, if Elliott cries, we both tend to jump up and help each other soothe Elliott and keep each other awake and pleasant.

9. Have you developed any tips for balancing it all?

Every moment is precious. I'm not just talking about time with your kids, although that is true. Prioritize when your little one is napping. If you feel a cold coming on, use that time for a nap. You may have other things on the docket, but you are doing yourself and your family no favors if you are sick. I ask for help when I need it. My newest motto is "little bites." When I have a big project, I break it into very little pieces on my to-do list.  At the end of the day, I've always taken some bites out of the list and I feel that my time was well spent. Otherwise, the list just looks overwhelming and nothing gets done. Also, a snazzy planner doesn't hurt.

10. We've been collecting the reasons we love being younger moms on Early Mama. What's your #1 reason? 

I'm hip and cool and awesome. (Kidding, sort of.) I'm young, at least in my community, but I'm old enough to be comfy with who I am. I don't mind standing in Target making silly faces and singing to my kid. Jason and I aren't so settled that we've moved away from our passions. Therefore Elliott will get to see me in plays (and maybe be in plays with me). He'll get to see his dad work on his Masters degree in English and write stories. We'll be young and fun, and Elliott will get to experience that along with us. He gets to experience our successes along side us as well. I love imagining my graduation from my Doctoral program and having my little guy congratulate me. I'm thrilled that I get to go through the rest of my life with my "bunny" by my side.

Thank you, Megan, for sharing your story. And good luck to you!