language learning while pregnant

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.

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5 Responses to language learning while pregnant

  1. Chelsea says:

    Hi! My husband’s in A-100 right now, and I’m about 13 weeks pregnant right now with my 2nd baby. I just wanted to say something: never trust anyone whose last pregnancy was more than 20 years ago. Both my mom and mother-in-law insist they weren’t sick AT ALL when they were pregnant. They felt GREAT! But EVERYONE who has experienced this miraculous journey more recently can completely sympathize. It must be something about the pregnancy-induced amnesia… which probably doesn’t help your language training much. 🙂

  2. Bridget says:

    I feel for’s never easy to carry on normal life during the 1st trimester, esp if you’re as sick as you’ve been. Hope it passes quickly and the 2nd tri is great.

  3. Kristen says:

    Ugghhh, I feel (and felt) your pain too. My Mom had absolutely no morning sickness, and I had all day sickness thru most of my pregnancies. At the time of my first pregnancy, I was a business owner and in the process of opening a second location. Yikes, it was awful! I remember thinking, “Ohhh, if I could only take a sick day”. So here’s hoping it passes quickly for ya, ’cause I can’t imagine having to do language training!

  4. Daniela says:

    Here’s another “I feel for you”, Alex! Hope you feel much, much better during your second and third trimester. I had no morning sickness during my first pregnancy but ended up with all-the-time (not just morning) sickness this time around. Pregnancies are strange that way and you never know how you are going to feel. I worked full-time during my first pregnancy and though I had no sickness, I constantly stressed out about my OBGYN appointments because they always took longer than they should have. I am not working with this pregnancy and was able to just “enjoy” being pukey without worrying about how I’m doing at work, which is nice. But on the other hand, I feel bad that I am not working and contributing to the family, like I normally do, so I guess you’ll always find something to feel bad about. Try not to though – you are making a human being and that’s a miracle really, if you think about it. So try to enjoy it as much as you can. Try to focus on the things that give you the most pleasure personally and professionally. It’s good for you and for the baby! Getting Andy and your family to pamper you would help too. Best of luck!!!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve been wanting to do a French immersion course and the only time that seems to really make sense for this kind of commitment seems to be while pregnant (potentially). I’m sure dealing with classes and morning sickness is rough, but definitely a unique experience to be able to use that time to enhance your skills. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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