Photo: Raghad Surour
As a born and raised planner, I had my life figured out early on: Finish school; get married; establish my career; have a baby. It seemed so simple. How things actually turned out: I got married a year before a major career switch, started a new program and had a baby during my second year of journalism school.
When I found out I was pregnant in Feb. 2020, I was adamant that I wanted to continue with school. It was important to me that I could contribute equally to our family and I didn’t want to continue working minimum wage jobs; I wanted a job in my field that would provide a reliable income.
But studying, working part-time, and taking care of a baby isn’t easy. I’ve had to sacrifice sleep and time with my son and ask for extensions on assignments. I’ve relied on coffee and ginseng pills to keep me awake. But I was determined to make it through.
And so, I did what I do best: I came up with a plan. It may not be foolproof—nothing with a baby is—but here’s how I made it through.
Using a physical and digital calendar is a must for me. A quick glance at a paper planner allows me to see upcoming deadlines and commitments and schedule accordingly. For easy, shareable planning, my husband and I use Google Calendar so we can take turns working and looking after our son.
I write down everything from Ziyad’s nap time to my own appointments. I must be intentional with each minute so when Ziyad goes down for a snooze, I spend that time working on assignments, studying, and taking time for myself which is essential to maintaining stamina.
A key thing for me is to set a deadline two to three days before an assignment is due. This way if Ziyad is sick or extra clingy thanks to a growth spurt, I have buffer time to ensure my work gets done.
As soon as my fall schedule came out, I contacted my instructors and let them know that I was expecting my child right in the middle of the semester and would most likely need some flexibility.
I was nervous and expected little compassion but each one took the time to meet with me and ask how they could help. We decided to take a go-with-the-flow approach, asking for extensions and support as needed. For one class, I was able to merge the weight of my midterm to my final exam, so I only needed to focus on one big assignment. And I moved my presentation to the last week of class so I could adjust to the new routines of motherhood.
When COVID-19 shuttered in-person learning it was a relief for me. I could take on a larger course load since I no longer had to commute. I didn’t have to worry about pushing a stroller on campus, avoiding stares and questions and I didn’t have to excuse myself every time Ziyad whimpered or cried.
My mom, recently retired, stepped up in a big way. When I had a full day of class, I secluded myself to my room while she tended Ziyad. It was distracting at times but having grown up with my own grandma, I know first hand what a special relationship that is. My grandma was a pillar of knowledge and inspiration and seeing a similar bond already between my mom and son is exactly what I hoped for.
Ziyad is now a year old and goes to daycare when I have in-person classes. It’s helped us to establish a routine and I have some semblance of normalcy. Plus, it gives him the chance to interact with other kids.
I know I’m lucky to have the support of my family but there’s other resources, too. You can try a drop-in program or arrange playdates and take your laptop with you. It may be awkward at first, but I can guarantee at least one friend will understand.
My WhatsApp group with fellow moms is a lifeline. Having support at my fingertips (whether it be when Ziyad cries nonstop or I am feeling sad for reasons I don’t even know) from others who are experiencing similar situations is validating. Any question that I can’t find the answers to, any moment of self-doubt, anytime I need some compassion, I resort to the group.
Many times mothers are expected to bear the brunt of whatever parenthood throws at you—especially during the early days. But I quickly had to learn that I can’t be everything to my son. Sometimes I had to have my husband do bath time as I finished an assignment, or I missed him saying a new sound because I was on deadline. While it hurts, I try to make it up to myself and Ziyad with lots of snuggles and hugs.
The same goes for any expectations around the house. Burgers and fries are a dinner staple, and I can assure you that my house is filled with at least one pile of laundry at any given time.
One big expectation I had to leave at the door is breastfeeding. As someone with existing mental health issues, postpartum depression and a seemingly low supply of milk, it was doing me more harm than good. It lowered my self-esteem and my ability to focus on long-term goals. I would cry every time he wouldn’t latch—and Ziyad’s cries would follow. At nine weeks postpartum, I decided to stop nursing and switch to formula. Taking care of myself was paramount.
As soon as I felt anxiety building, I sought help from a perinatal psychiatrist and more recently, a perinatal social worker. She helped me to realize that I am the one putting a mental block on myself because of my inner voice saying I cannot do anything. My social worker worked me to plan out each day and made sure I was giving myself a moment to take some deep breaths. She also helped me to come up with strategies to calm myself down when I was in a high-stress situation.
If therapy is inaccessible for you, there are specialized publicly funded programs available. Talking to your family doctor is a great place to start.
Any mom of a newborn can tell you just how difficult sleep deprivation is, but when coupled with a packed schedule that included class and assignments, I felt overwhelmed, to say the least More than once, I slept through my alarms, missing class, or even joining class from the comforts of my bed with my camera off. I would be upset and frantic because I missed yet another class but I had to give myself the grace and space of being in a unique situation.
To help me out, I give myself 30 minutes to an hour every day uninterrupted. Watching a couple of episodes of The Mindy Project or listening to my favourite playlist while resting on the couch are my go-to activities. When I have the time, I’m also in the kitchen cooking or trying out new recipes. I’m also more focused on nourishing myself and my body, which is key to my wellbeing.
And I’ve had to come to the realization that I can’t be everything all the time: Being a mom will undeniably always be a part of me while my roles as a journalist, photographer, wife, friend and daughter take “rotating turns” depending on the day.
Completing the year felt like a weight off my shoulders. I spent the summer working a job at Ryerson and got a full-time, eight-week reporting internship at a small community paper. Since everything was still virtual, I was able to log-off right at 5pm to spend time with Ziyad.
Now that I am into my last year, I feel as if things are looking up. Ziyad is getting older and is settling into a routine. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that the sacrifices in time spent with my son will hopefully lead to a prosperous and safe future for my family. Plus, those big beaming smiles I get when I pick him up from daycare help to remind me that everything will be just fine.