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Having Babies at Business School: Moms Who Are Making It Work

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Wendy Xiao Schadeck, who will graduate from Columbia Business School (CBS) next week, started her MBA program with a baby. “When I did it, basically people were kind of shocked,” she says. “They thought I was a little crazy because the actual time demands of an MBA are quite intense.”

Schadeck didn’t set out to start business school with a baby. “I was originally planning to have a baby in my second year, because I heard the first year would be a little insane,” she says. But then she learned she was pregnant just before getting into CBS. Originally scheduled to start in fall 2014, she postponed to January 2015 to take advantage of CBS’s J-term program, a 16-month accelerated program in which students skip the traditional summer internship. “It worked out really well,” she says. An entrepreneur, she didn’t need a summer internship the way some business school students do—although she ended up finding time for a couple of part-time internships during school anyway.

having babies at business school
Wendy Xiao Schadeck (CBS MBA ’16) with husband Rodrigo and son Tyler

Before J-term started, as she was getting the hang of being mom to Tyler, Schadeck met up with some friends who had started the MBA program in the fall. “They were like, ‘I literally don’t know how you are going to do it,’” she recalls. “Thanks. Thanks for the words of encouragement,” she thought.

Not only did she do it, she made the Dean’s List each semester, served in a leadership role for the Columbia Entrepreneurship Organization, served as community chair for her cluster and was a member of the Wine Society, the Retail/Luxury Goods Club, the PE/VC Club and the Real Estate Association. Oh, and she also co-founded her own startup—CoHatchery—a co-working space for parents in New York City.

Moms Having Babies at Business School Is Becoming a Thing

Now, before you dismiss Schadeck as a freak of nature, get this: Mothers having babies at business school is becoming a thing. “I would say yes, that is certainly the trend,” says Kerry Pace, associate dean for MBA programs at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Though the school doesn’t have statistics on how many students are choosing to become parents while in school, the number is definitely up. We spoke with three current McDonough women MBA students who all gave birth while in school—and between them they knew of at least five more.

In response to the growing number of nursing mothers, McDonough has now established a lactation room. There had been a room for women to pump breast milk on the Georgetown University campus, but it was halfway across campus from the business school. “It was an hour by the time you got there and back—just not realistic,” Pace says. She pushed hard for a nursing mom’s room within the business school, and it finally came through this past fall. “That was a big, big win,” she says. Keeper of the keys to the room, Pace gives each mom her own copy so she can come and go whenever she wants.

Brooke Carroll Raybould (MBA ’16) made frequent use of that room to nurse her son, Rhett, who will turn one on May 16th, the day before Raybould graduates. Raybould and her husband were married the July before she began school, but having a baby wasn’t on the immediate agenda. “I found out I was pregnant in opening term, and we weren’t necessarily planning on it,” she says. “Originally I thought I would do school and maybe work a few years and then start a family, but sometimes you’re just not in control of everything.”

“It ended up being the perfect scenario for me personally,” Raybould continues. She had a pretty easy pregnancy, despite some nausea and fatigue. “For the most part, it wasn’t a big deal at all to balance school with pregnancy,” she says. She also was lucky enough to deliver right after her first-year finals. She wasn’t able to do a summer internship, but instead she got to spend those three and a half months with her newborn son and then felt ready to dive back into classes when they started up again in the fall.

“Georgetown has been amazing,” Raybould says, noting the opening of the lactation room, the support provided by Dean Pace and the community of other mothers she found herself a part of. “There were quite a few of us going through the whole pumping thing, going through the challenges of having a new kiddo, balancing work and school,” she says. In her class alone she thinks there were seven new moms. “It was a crazy amount, and in total I think there were about 12 of us that I know expected new children during my time here. Everywhere you turned someone was getting pregnant.”

For Raybould’s classmate, Gabriela Prudencio, also Class of 2016, getting pregnant while in business school was very much according to plan. Having worked in the international development field, she had been traveling for a decade before business school, often in the developing world. “I am a little older—36—and business school for me presented a time when I was in the States, I had just gotten married and I didn’t want to wait any longer because of fertility reasons,” she says. “It was now or never.”

That said, she was under no illusion that having a baby during business school would be easy. “I knew that I was in a very rigorous program, but I just had to make choices,” she says. “This was more reasonable than being pregnant
in a foreign country, away from my family,” which is often where she found herself as a project manager for Mercy Corps.

Not Just an American Phenomenon

Having babies during business school in not just an American phenomenon. Eva Meeuwis, a second-year MBA student at London Business School (LBS), knows four other women who became moms during the program while she was there. Meeuwis, who is from the Netherlands, started at LBS with an eight-week-old daughter and then had a second daughter a year into the program, very much by design.

having babies in business school
Eva Meeuwis (LBS MBA ’16) with daughters Faye (6 months) and Kate (22 months)

“Basically, I had been working for a while already and my partner and I both wanted to have children,” she says. “I didn’t want to become a stay-at-home mom, but I wanted babies and personally, I would rather have them when I am younger,” says the 31-year-old. “A lot of professional women put their career first and then are older before they start having babies.”

Recognizing that business school is an intense period, Meeuwis nonetheless felt that having babies while there would, in fact, mean that she would have more time with them in their earliest years than if she were working. “If I had continued working, I wouldn’t have seen my babies this much—I maybe wouldn’t have seen them that many times a week at all,” she says. In the Netherlands, standard maternity leave is 12 weeks, four weeks of which you are mandated to take before giving birth. “That time period is super, super small,” she says. “You don’t want to leave them and go back to work that quickly.”

Now that she is interviewing for a range of positions post-graduation, Meeuwis is even more convinced she made the right choice. “I love being a mom—I have had two, and I really wanted a second one, so I think that says enough,” she says. “But I am also very, very much looking forward to going back to work now. Because I have had more time with my children, I think I am even more motivated and ready to go back, knowing that I haven’t missed the initial first years.”

An Opportune Time to Fit in Motherhood

Back in the States, Lindsey Auriemma also saw the MBA as an opportune time to fit in motherhood. “I actually had a bit of a plan going into things,” says the McDonough second-year. “I have always been a pretty driven person in terms of my career goals and aspirations for myself, but at the same time wanted to have a family. I want to have my cake and eat it, too.”

As she thought through the next steps of her career in the pharmaceutical industry, she realized that advancement would require some level of graduate education. Faced with decisions between school, work and family, she decided that she could probably juggle two but not three. “I decided to put my career on hold and focus on school and family life and come back to working at a later date after I finished getting my MBA,” she says. Now, with her MBA all but complete and her 15-month-old son, Blake, thriving, she’s got a great job waiting for her as the project manager for a global product launch at a pharmaceutical company. “I was able get a great career jump after graduation, and I’m pretty excited about that,” she says.

Choices, Juggling and Sacrifice

Make no mistake. Every mom we spoke to conceded that there are sacrifices that come with having a baby in business school. “You absolutely have to sacrifice—you only have that many hours in a day or a week,” Meeuwis says. “If you have a young baby, you don’t necessarily party every night—I sacrificed going to a club every night of the week, but I am not sorry about that,” she says. “I really enjoyed my time, I went to the parties I wanted to go to and I made the friends I wanted to make.”

having babies at business school
Gabriela Prudencio (McDonough MBA’ 16) with her baby

McDonough’s Prudencio, too, gave up things as a result of choosing to have her baby while in school. “The main sacrifice was that I really wanted to have an internship—that was part of why I opted to do a full-time MBA program,” she says. But when she realized her baby would be due during the summer, she chose not to seek out a full-time internship. Fortunately, though, she found a McDonough professor who was organizing part-time internships for students who for one reason or another couldn’t pursue full-time opportunities. “So I was lucky to get to do a part-time internship in consulting that let me fill that gap,” she says. It will also help her in goal of changing careers—she’s looking to move from heavily field-based international development work to a role with an NGO or perhaps in consulting.

For Raybould, one of the biggest challenges has been being fully present wherever she is. “When I get home, it’s still hard for me to turn off,” she says, acknowledging that in a world of smartphones people expect you to be responsive around the clock. “At the same time, when you have a little kid it’s the best time of their lives and they require so much attention,” she says. “I will catch myself on my phone when I’m with my son—I try not to do it but I also want to be competitive with my peers and involved and responsive.”

She also finds she has far less patience for frivolous chit chat at school. “For me it has definitely been different having a kid because it costs money to have a babysitter,” she says. “People might be having an idle conversation about something social, and my mind would be racing,” she says. “I am kind of on the clock right now, my nanny is getting paid and if we’re not working on school stuff I might as well go home,” she’d find herself thinking. “In the beginning, I became a little bit bossy,” she concedes. “But when you have kids, you learn to respect time.”

CBS’s Schadeck concurs. “People who are both new moms and MBA students are literally the hardest people to track down,” she says. “We need to find pieces of time here and there, and we’ve gotten very good at squeezing more into a day than you think is possible.” She is friends with another mom also in J-term, but finding time to get together with their babies can be a challenge for this reason.

To Breastfeed or Not?

For McDonough mom Auriemma, one choice she made was deciding not to breastfeed. “Just knowing everything I was trying to take on, my tolerance for stress and my need for sleep—it didn’t seem like something I wanted to add into the mix,” she says. “We have a mother’s room, which is wonderful, and people make it work, but it was very liberating for me personally not to have that added layer of scheduling into my already over-scheduled day,” she says.

LBS’s Meewuis found the question of whether there was anything she would do differently a very difficult one to answer. Though she opted to breastfeed both of her babies, it did compromise her time, especially on very full days. “I would literally have to run to the lactation room to pump and run back, and there were definitely days I would have rather hung out with my friends,” she says. “Breastfeeding is something you need to think about because your schedule is very intense. It is something that I really wanted to do so I just persisted and did it, but it did make me miss out on some things.”

Raybould left her breastfeeding son, Rhett, for a week to do McDonough’s global residency, traveling to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a consulting project. “It was a great experience, but I did have some trouble when I came back,” she says. Rhett refused to resume nursing. “It was really hard on me, and for a moment I thought ‘What if I hadn’t gone?’” she says. But she was relieved when he started up again three days later.

Columbia’s Schadeck also spent a lot of her time running to the breast pump room, which was always full, she says. Though there is a lactation room in the business school, it seemed to be one of only a few on Columbia’s campus, so women from other schools would also be waiting to use it. “I had to schedule my time slot, and sometimes it would mean I had to run out of class or miss the beginning of the next class,” she says. “’Hey—I was just pumping,’” she would say if she got strange looks. “Some people were a little weirded out, but then they got over it.” But a few months into school, while on a trip, her breast pump broke. “That’s how my breastfeeding time ended,” she says matter-of-factly.

Supportive Classmates Abound

Another common theme we heard echoed from mom to mom was how supportive their MBA classmates have been. “All of my cluster loves him,” says Schadeck of one-year-old Tyler. “Twenty of them have already babysat for him—they call him our cluster baby.”

At McDonough, Prudencio also found lots of support. “My classmates were very supportive and very excited for me,” she says. “I had to still be a team member—and a good team member—that was expected for obvious reasons.” But classmates were open to working on group projects via Google hangouts, Skype and conference calls when it was necessary—something they also did for classmates when they were traveling for recruiting. She did once have to miss a meeting because her child was in a minor accident and she had to take him to the doctor, but her classmates were understanding and helped pick up the slack. And one classmate jumped in to take over organizing a Net Impact conference when the commitment proved too much. “It wasn’t wise for me to sign up for it—I didn’t realize how much it would take from me,” she says. “But someone else jumped in and filled that gap, and I moved to organizing career treks for Net Impact,” she says. In that way, she could still make a significant contribution that didn’t require as much coordination with other people’s schedules.

But though classmates may occasionally be willing to pick up some slack, the moms she knows at McDonough are far from slackers, says Dean Pace. “When people evaluate each other, I guarantee you the women with young children are at the top of the evaluations,” she says. “I am blown away knowing how they juggle and how they manage,” she continues. “And they are not just doing the work—they are thriving,” she says, adding that their grades are well above average and one mom is even in the top five of her class.

Pace thinks having new parents in the classrooms at McDonough adds a great deal of value. “It’s so easy to get wrapped up in a bubble during the MBA, and I think that the value these young women and men bring to the classroom and the teams is so refreshing.” She says. “As a new parent, you really take stock of why are you doing what you’re doing—their perspective has to be different from some of their peers, and it’s a learning opportunity for everyone.”

The Debut of the McDonough Sippy Cup

Beyond championing the addition of a lactation room at McDonough, Pace also added a new event to the McDonough Cup, an annual week-long competition between the school’s various MBA classes. Historically, it has included field events, trivia and bar games and service hours, with the winning class claiming the McDonough Cup trophy and bragging rights. But for the first time this year, it also included an event called the McDonough Sippy Cup.

McDonough Assistant Dean Kerry Pace’s two-year-old daughter, Ella, at Sippy Cup event

“I will remember that event for the rest of my life,” says Auriemma enthusiastically. In addition to all the kid-friendly entertainment, Pace also made sure there were mini-muffins and juice boxes and snack pouches a plenty—as well as branded sippy cups that read “McDonough School of Business Little Hoya.” “It was really nice to have an event that was centered around the kids instead of ‘Oh, there’s this event that you can bring your kids to,” Auriemma added.

Raybould also raved about the event. “It was very well thought out and a great way to make us feel involved,” she says. “There are so many events that cater to drinking and networking, and you can’t make those if you don’t have daycare after six.”

“I met new people, I met people I didn’t know were parents, I met people I was surprised were parents,” says Prudencio. “I hope my school continues to offer events like this and that other schools do such events also.”

It’s definitely in the plans at McDonough, says Pace. She’s even allocated more of her budget for next year toward additional events. Mom to a toddler herself, Pace’s commitment to making balancing the MBA and motherhood more manageable is both personal and professional, she says. “I would like McDonough to be a leader among business schools in supporting moms and helping them know this is possible.”

Happy Mother’s Day from Clear Admit to all the MBA moms out there making it work!

*Pictured above: Pace with daughter, Ella; Raybould with son, Rhett; and Auriemma with son, Blake