Each month we’re interviewing parents who inspire us by taking on new challenges, this month that is new-mom and recent Grad School alum, Angela Gelatt. We talked about a hectic last two years and how she and her husband manage the roller coaster.

So you just recently earned your Masters in Public Health. Why did you decide to go back to school?

I had an administrative and managerial background but wasn’t enjoying the work, mostly in customer service. Thought I could use my skillset for a better cause like a career in health and well being, and La Crosse is a health-conscious town anyway so I thought I’d be able to find a career in a smaller pond, make more of an impact and that it would ultimately be more rewarding for me.

You also are just about to celebrate your son Julian’s first birthday. We’re you planning to take on motherhood and a Master’s at the same time?

Well… it wasn’t exactly the plan. We were sort of trying but not trying, thinking it would take a while and if we didn’t get pregnant after a while we’d give it more of a focused effort. So it was like an anticipated surprise. And happened a lot sooner than I expected.

How soon?

I started school in September 2016 and found out I was pregnant in mid-October 2016.

Oh wow, that’s quick! Was there added pressure since you were just starting school?

Well, we had just moved, just bought a house, just adopted two dogs so I was concerned that it would all overwhelm us emotionally. And I figured for school it would probably interrupt my timeline and push me back.

And did it push your timeline back?

Well, I was lucky. Everything just kind of synced up. Julian was born in June and school finished up for me in May the first year so I had a good three to four weeks without obligations to get ready for the birth and was well positioned for his arrival. There’s one course I needed to take that was only available during summer so I’m taking it this summer, but I did already walk. But I thought it was going to push me back a few semesters.

And then after Julian was born, you’re back in school. How did you guys handle it?

The first few months after the baby came, as any parent can attest, is a blur. There was no set schedule for anything, and we were basically at the mercy of the baby’s feeding and nap times. We went into it with the expectation that we were both going to lose sleep, taking turns getting up, and willing to take over when the other one of us started losing our minds.

Tell me a bit more about that, how you and your husband Jon work together to manage your schedules?

I am lucky enough to have a partner who wants to share parenting responsibilities 50/50, and many times that ratio would fluctuate. There are/were so many instances, especially when I started back at school and my internship, where he was responsible for the bulk of parenting. And vise versa when he had obligations to tend to.

I feel like I’m talking as if the baby is a burden, haha. To be clear, we love being with our son! Our relationship with him is magnetic; both my husband and I wish we could hang out with him 100% of the time (well, almost). But there’s gotta be a balance. Each parent deserves a break; and being a good partner, in my opinion, is being willing to give more than receive.

But it’s hard work, especially when you have school, or work, or both! I’m in a unique position as a student because my schedule is fairly flexible, and my husband works from home. It’s a blessing and a curse. Yes, it’s convenient because we are both physically home more often, but it’s extremely challenging to self-manage our time. You gotta juggle. Communication is the most important tool.

At this point, after nearly a year, we are in the routine of reviewing our respective agendas together, both daily and weekly. It sounds administrative, but it’s super necessary! Straight up, we’ll be like “what is your schedule tomorrow? What appointments do you have? What are your objectives? Do we have anything going on at 4? Who should pick Julian up from school? What should we make for dinner?” I’ve always been a planner so I’m comfortable with this, but I think all parents, working or not, ultimately have to operate this way. For the sake of their own productivity, and the sake of their partner’s. Funny side note: I literally just installed one of those big dry erase monthly calendars on my fridge just yesterday! Now we have a visual to work with too!

Do you have any tips for new moms going back to school?

Honestly, there are some perks to going back to grad school if you’re pregnant or a new mom. For one, most of the classes are in the evening, which frees up the day to take care of the little one. Also, going to school keeps your mind and body active. As a new mom life can be hectic and overwhelming. I’m not one bit surprised that many women experience depression or feel socially isolated. The opportunity to learn new things and stay busy with peers is scientifically proven to keep your thinking skills sharp — and to improve cognitive and social engagement. As a student, I can say I benefited from these factors, which lent to my development as a parent.

Being a student has it’s downsides too. As mentioned, managing time is probably my biggest challenge. Grad students get a LOT of homework (and not just small assignments. I’m talking comprehensive time-consuming, professional-level responsibilities); and you come home with work every day. Being in school full time feels like a full-time job (because it basically is), and quite honestly, you need to treat it like one.

The key to being a good student AND a good parent is dedicating time to each, respectively. If that means staying on campus and treating the library like your office (like I did) then so be it. Don’t try to multi-task!! It doesn’t work! (just try to write an epidemiological case study while a toddler crawls around the room, I dare you…ha!) It’s important to give full attention to your work when you’re working, and full attention to the family when it’s family time — be present. This is part of the whole planning-ahead bit.

And, if you can afford it, find a good daycare or caregiver. Don’t feel guilty about it. Just because you are physically home doesn’t mean you are always mentally home. Allow yourself to be productive, and allow your child to get the full-time attention they need — even if it’s just for a few hours a day. We’ve been sending our son to a nursery school three days a week since he was about 8 months old, and it has made such a difference. Plus, he’s learning new social skills of his own!

So what’s next for you guys, I know you have one more semester to finish up but do you have plans for after that?

Well, our little guy turns ONE (!) in about a week. And I’ll be finished with my Masters by the end of July. My husband is also wrapping up a few big projects. As a family, we are embarking on a whole new chapter.

I am starting a new career as a site coordinator for a new program that I’m launching in my community, called PATCH (Providers and Teens Communicating for Health). It’s a youth-driven program working to improve adolescent health and well-being. You can learn more about it here: http://www.wipatch.org/

I look forward to applying my skills in the workforce and making a positive impact on the health of teens in my area.