"Can't believe you got it done with children! Good for you!" an old friend told me.
I received similar remarks from other people as they learned that I had applied, enrolled and now attend graduate school with two young toddlers; they applaud my ability to do so DESPITE motherhood. However, as I reflect on my journey to grad school, I know it is BECAUSE OF motherhood I am here today.
Two years ago, if you had told me that I would be moving cross-country with my two toddlers and spouse to attend a rigorous graduate program at MIT, I would probably say it would be highly unlikely (in your dreams, girl.)
But here I am. Having moved cross country to the beautiful MIT campus with said toddlers and spouse, I realize the dream has become reality.
I think the common presumption is that motherhood is a roadblock, maybe even a weakness, as you pursue grad school. Maybe so, if you are referring to the amount of actual productive time we have in a day to focus on preparing for entrance exams or drafting our application. However, since grad school is interested in your whole self, motherhood is part of our story and identity as women.
To all my grad school hopeful moms out there, I wanted to share how motherhood has helped me and motivated me to apply for and get into grad school.
Finding my reason
A major part of the grad school search and application process is understanding why you want to do it. Thanks to motherhood, I was able to hone in on what I care about and how that will shape what I wanted to do.
A turning point in my life was in January 2019. I remember sitting in the back seat of a cab in the coldest capital of the world, 8 months pregnant, on my way to the hospital because of severe abdominal pain and barely able to breathe because of the smog that enveloped my city - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Smog created by the fire from the “ger districts”, equivalent to slums, that are increasing day by day as more people from the country are forced to move to the city to find work. Statistically, one in ten pregnancies is lost because of air pollution and I remember feeling very scared for my child’s life. My baby made it out, but I remember going back that day and for the first time, caring enough to look for answers that could help alleviate this problem.
One of the key answers was simple and yet complex - folks in the country lacked the proper logistics and supply chain management know-how to take full advantage of their opportunities in growing and selling their local businesses and resources. I realized how integral supply chain management is to prevent mass urbanization and sustain life in the countryside for mothers and their children.
Ultimately, this experience as a mother gave me a newfound perspective and mission on the environmental problems as well as the supply chain solutions back home. Motherhood helped me realize why I needed to pursue a graduate degree in this field.
The graduate school search and application process is daunting and can increase self-doubt. I remember peering through the class profiles of graduate schools and feeling like I may not be good enough.
After giving birth to my second born, I remember feeling the strongest I have ever been. The constant chaos of my life wearing many hats, including the caregiver of two tiny humans helped me realize the strength, ability and capacity to grow and stretch myself. I am a fighter, problem solver, taskmaster, protector, chef, teacher, nurse, coach, driver, friend and so much more. I truly believe that motherhood helped me believe in myself and realize my potential. I now know that Mother is synonymous with Superwoman.
Oftentimes, it’s not because we are not good enough but because we cannot imagine ourselves in situations we deem unreachable. Motherhood gave me the confidence to apply and picture myself at MIT. I found the confidence to say yes, I am going to apply and realize this dream.
Sometimes we don’t start because we are scared we won’t be able to finish or get our desired outcomes. We define success as the final result: getting into your dream program. We can be so fixated on this success that we shy away from doing anything that can be deemed a failure (not getting in).
During one parents’ meeting at a community class, the instructor reminded us (parents) about success as parents that stuck with me throughout my best, and especially, worst days: “When your child grows up and remembers you, they will not be recounting the time you “failed” to arrive in time for pickup because a work call went over, but rather the times you encouraged them or re-read that book for the 100th time.” The point was that if you know you are giving your all, the failures you deem as “failures” don’t matter, but the process does.
The true joy of parenting comes from the process of the day to day struggles and triumphs. The stuff we see as failures does not always translate that way when we look at the big picture. My children will not remember the mistakes I recount in my head at the end of day. But they will remember how much I loved them.
We often ask ourselves, what if I fail as a parent? What if I am not good enough? But motherhood has taught me to trust in the process and not fear the daily, weekly, or sometimes monthly mistakes. I have learned (slowly, but surely) that the process IS the success. If you have gone through the process, you haven't failed. You may have just achieved a different outcome that is equally successful.
So much thought and introspection goes into a grad school application. You also reconnect with old colleagues and friends. You learn more about who you are, what you want and where you want to go. Knowing that no matter what, I succeed, I realized I do not need to fear and put my best foot forward as I applied to grad school.
The same lesson and perspective can be applied to how we respond to other challenges (ahem, grad school!) in our lives. Do we want to shy away from challenges because we are so focused on preconceived notions of failure, or do we take them head on? I am learning to do the latter.
So, my fellow mothers, know that you are stronger because of motherhood and go ahead, send in that application.