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MBA Moms: Having a Baby in Business School

Pregnant business school studentThe modern fairy tale sees the princess as CEO, calling the shots at home and the office. So, it's fitting that many graduate students are taking on motherhood and the MBA at the same time. In fact, many women plan on getting pregnant or delivering during business school, says Maria Nolan, a second year student at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

This is new for business schools, which don't have the best reputation when it comes to attracting women in general, let alone moms. For years, many speculated that one of the reasons women weren't signing up for b-school was because the timing of it and their biological clocks conflicted. Changes in the workforce and recognition of this dilemma on the part of business schools is making it easier for MBA moms, some say.

Nolan is four and a half months pregnant and consulted other pregnant women in her program before deciding to take on momhood. Nolan says many see full-time MBA programs as the perfect place to become a mother. For starters, there's flexibility in your schedule for doctor's appointments and even rest, especially in the less academically strenuous second year. But there's more to it than that.

"People at business school are excited for you to be pregnant, unlike in the workforce, where they start to think this person is going to skip out on work in a few months and we'll have to train someone else for that time," Nolan says. "B-school is a non-judgmental place to be pregnant."

In fact, some women say it's harder to be a mom out of an MBA program than in one. Preethi B. Harbuck, who graduated from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business in 2011, had her son just after the end of her first module of the second year of studies.

"Since I was in my second year, I found the timing to be far more flexible than it would've been in a full-time job," writes Harbuck in an e-mail. "Truly, there's never an 'easy' time to have a baby, but for me, having our first during business school worked surprisingly well."

Indeed, MBA students often go on to have profitable jobs that include many hours of work, pressure, and stress, all of which can get in the way of parenthood. While colleagues may resent you for taking time off and leaving work in their hands, your professors and classmates often pitch in to help, say MBA moms.

Kristina Bailey, a 2013 graduate of the EMBA program at University of Maryland's Smith School of Business, asked her professors to record sessions she missed when she delivered her twin daughters about one-third of the way through her program. They obliged and made themselves available for questions, she said.

Taking on babies and business comes with its challenges. Shaila Narang, who had her now 5-month-old baby boy in the middle of her first semester at University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, does not want to sugarcoat the situation.

Narang says she thought finding balance would be easier than it is. She has kept on a full-time nanny and gets support from the school and her spouse, she adds. Still, there's so much to do, from breastfeeding to homework.

Like most moms, Narang struggled with feeling guilty when she was at school worrying about the baby and feeling guilty at home worrying about school. Her mom advised her by saying, "Wherever you are, be in that place," says Narang. When she was feeling like a failure, unable to get everything done, a career coach at Haas told her to "just show up," even if she had only read half a case study. She's taken all the advice to heart and it's helped, she says.

But Narang wants others to recognize that the decision to take on motherhood and an MBA at the same time requires serious reflection on your priorities.

"A baby is a once in a lifetime experience. He will grow up," she says. "These precious moments will not come back."

On the other hand, Stephanie Welch, a single mom who graduated from University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in 2000, says her time in business school made her a better mom to her three kids, who were about 6,11, and 14 at the time. They spent a semester in London, gained a new perspective on the world, and learned the value of an education.

"You think business school will mean more challenges as a mom? There might be fewer because the world gets smaller and you get a support system," adds Welch. "I had to learn. When does learning become a problem?"