Stanford’s Childbirth Policy for Grad Students

When I was a doctoral student at Indiana University, I was the coordinator for the Graduate & Professional Student Organization (GPSO), the governing organization for 13,000 graduate & professional students.  It was an awesome position.  I was in touch with students, professors, and administrators from across the vast campus and learned a lot about the varying conditions for graduate teaching assistants across campus.

Health insurance for graduate teaching assistants was a hot topic.  Our organization helped bring about positive changes with regard to coverage.  I think my cesarean cost me about $1500.  My daughter’s hospital care was free since we were low income.  I thought I had it pretty good!

Over at Field Notes I was made aware that Stanford now has a childbirth policy in place for its female graduate students.  Women who are pregnant and will give birth before their studies are complete will be supported through the transitions of late pregnancy, birth, post-partum, and re-entry. 

And, as stated in the Stanford Graduate Student Handbook, “it is important to acknowledge that a woman’s prime childbearing years are the same years she is likely to be in graduate school, doing postdoctoral training, and establishing herself in a career.”

“So our main goal in designing this policy was to make sure that we retain in the academic pipeline women graduate students who become pregnant and give birth,” Mahood said on Thursday.

 I find this incredibly generous but wonder what negative effect this may have especially in terms of the relationships between these women and their male colleagues and with faculty and administrators who are “forced” to go along with these concessions.  I can see holding assistantships and financial aid for women who give birth while otherwise enrolled in coursework.  Pardon me while I work this out in my head.

I was dissertating and taking exams when I was pregnant with my daughter.  I also maintained a part-time job on campus, and luckily the wonderful people that I worked with were quite accomodating.  I didn’t expect them to accomodate my needs, but they did.  My graduate advisor didn’t give me any extra time for potty breaks during my 8-hour written exam even though I was 8 months pregnant.  He should have, but he didn’t and that was his right.  My husband and I decided to have a baby at this time in our lives, when I was done with coursework and more on a DIY schedule.  It was stressful enough.  I can’t imagine why women would choose to have a baby when they are engaged in coursework. 

But I am glad that the top schools in our country are engaging the issues surrounding birth and trying to support us.  It would be wonderful to see campuses doing more to support women in academic positions during the childbearing years.  I know that if I have another baby that I will have to beg, borrow, and steal leave time.  There is no maternity policy for female professors and when we take time off, and our departments are left short-handed with no extra funds to hire in suitable replacements.  Had my last pregnancy continued to term, my applied students would likely have been taught by the voice area’s graduate assistant.  Considering that she is not my student, I was none too pleased to hear that.