Since joining the Foreign Service, I’ve been casually polling FS moms about when’s a good time, career-wise, to get pregnant. The consensus seemed to be that no time is perfect, so you should do it whenever works best for your family. However, over and over I heard that if you could manage to coordinate a pregnancy with a long-term stint at FSI — say, during language training — then that would be a pretty sweet deal.
It wasn’t that advice alone that made this seem like good time for us, but alas, here we are. And now I’ll let you in on a secret: being pregnant during language training isn’t necessarily all that sweet of a deal. Admittedly, I haven’t experienced pregnancy under any other circumstances, and I’m sure there are always challenges, but still, I think this must be especially rough. Let me explain.
Pro: The hours are good. You spend 4-5 hours a day in class (depending on the language) and then so some homework and lab work whenever it’s convenient for you. Not too shabby. This works especially well for doctors appointments and such.
Con: This schedule requires a great deal of initiative, which can be hard to come by if you’re not feeling well.
Admittedly, it’s probably a wonderful arrangement if you’re one of those lucky people who feels more or less normal during your pregnancy. Like my mom. She had absolutely no morning sickness whatsoever while carrying either my sister or me, so I naively assumed I’d be the same. Well, unfortunately, the maternity gods had something else in mind. Darn them.
From week 5 to 13 I felt nauseous and dizzy and tired pretty much constantly, and threw up several times many days too, even though I was able to eat basically nothing. Despite this, I managed to miss only 1/2 day of French class in body, as hard as that was to pull off. Knowing that any sick time I took now subtracted from the amount of (paid) maternity leave I could take later was good motivation.
So, I showed up. I went through the motions of what I was supposed to be doing. And I think if I had been working a normal job, while I clearly wouldn’t have done my finest work ever, I would have at least gotten by. But with language learning, showing up and going through the motions doesn’t cut it. Even though I was at FSI physically, I was definitely not there mentally. My body was in triage mode: focusing on keeping crackers in my stomach instead of hurling them on my classmates took precedence over the nuances between lequel and dont. (Dear classmates, you’re welcome.) In language training, if you’re not able to absorb the information, you’re not getting by; you’re getting nowhere.
Before I started feeling bad, I was also doing a fair amount of studying on my own too, but these last two months I’ve spent the majority of my non-class hours sleeping. (And bossing around my husband, Andy insists that I add.)
From week 13 until now, week 17, I’m definitely feeling better, but I’m still not 100%. As much as I’d love to give the same amount of effort to my French studies as I did the first few months after I started, it’s just not possible.
Come to think of it, language training during pregnancy might not be so bad if I were the sort of person who was able to alter my expectations of myself accordingly. Unfortunately I am not that person, which I guess is the real problem. (And, I’m sure very few of you fellow FSOs out there are that sort of person either.) So, I’ve been feeling horrible physically. And on top of that, I’ve been feeling guilty for not being able to study very much. And as a result of that, I’ve been feeling frustrated about not making as much progress as I’d like.
Yes, there are definitely certain advantages to being pregnant during language training (being in DC rather than some far-flung country for medical care is another of them), but it’s not a completely painless journey. I just thought you should know.