Becoming a parent is one of life’s most transformative experiences. When it occurs during graduate school, it brings particular considerations – especially as an international student. Articles calling for more support of graduate parents, university involvement and, more specifically, suggesting steps to address challenges faced by immigrant graduate student parents open this dialogue. Here, we reflect specifically on our lived experiences as cis-gender women who gave birth while completing our doctoral programs. Two of us were international students at the time, the other was a recent immigrant to Canada with professional experience advising international students. We offer seven points to consider we wish we had known while preparing for the transition to parenthood.
1. Citizenship and international travel implications for the child
Canadian citizenship is granted to children born in Canada. However, the citizenship laws in your country of origin may restrict dual citizenship. Research these implications in advance. If you plan to travel internationally after giving birth, confirm the logistics of obtaining a passport and/or proof of citizenship for your child. For example, a child with Canadian citizenship (even if dual) needs a valid Canadian passport to enter Canada by air.
2. Immigration implications for the parent(s)
Many academic institutions offer students up to 12 months of parental leave, although not all have official policies . Find out the details of your eligibility in advance. In practice, however, most international student parents are forced to take shorter parental leaves due to the 150-day authorized leave restriction for study permit holders, while others cannot afford to take a leave due to funding interruptions. If you do qualify for an authorized leave, remember that international students may not work unless they are studying full-time. For specific questions, discuss with an international student advisor at your institution or, if one is not available at your institution, an authorised immigration representative.
3. Financial implications
Research what services and financial support (if any) your institution offers to graduate students. Also, explore provincial and national benefits such as employment insurance maternity and parental leave and the Canada child benefit. If you have a scholarship or funding, payments could be interrupted during a leave; clarify the details with the program award officer and/or your institution. Conversely, some funding agencies provide additional parental leave funding (e.g., FRQSC, Tri-Agency research training awards).
4. Childcare implications
Childcare can be expensive and difficult to secure in Canada. Depending on where you live, licensed childcare waitlists can be well over a year, although some centres welcome children on short notice for a day or half-day on an occasional basis. If you have older children, you should also consider child care arrangements for them during your delivery. Now is a good time to connect with other parents in your community to arrange childcare “swaps” or “co-ops”.
5. Support system/extended family considerations
Many of us would love to have our family members close by to celebrate the arrival of our baby and provide much-needed postpartum support. Will your family member(s) visit you in Canada, and if so, will they need a visa? Where will they stay? How long will they visit and when will you need support the most?
Unfortunately, a family member’s visa is not guaranteed. Have a back-up plan – who else can help if your family is delayed? If you have the financial resources, hiring a doula (before, during, and/or post-birth) or working with a midwife could add to your support system. Additionally, local non-profit organizations, such as community groups and newcomer support agencies, may be able to connect you with free parenting classes, emotional and financial support, food banks, clothes, toys and furniture.
6. Health/medical insurance implications
Early on, find out what your student and provincial health insurance covers (e.g., a private or semi-private hospital room, lactation consultants, medical coverage for your child). For example, only recently have children of international students been covered by Quebec’s healthcare system. Additionally, if you decide to take a leave from your studies or live outside your province, make sure your coverage is valid during this period. If you decide to give birth at a hospital, don’t forget to install a car seat in advance – you aren’t permitted to go home without one!
7. Pursuing your studies with a baby
Combining parenthood with studies (and often work) is undoubtedly a challenge. Working through your to-do list can feel impossible when daycare is closed, your child is sick, a sleepless night impedes your mental cognition, or you face postpartum depression/anxiety. Check your institution’s student-parent accommodation policies and, if you need help, reach out early. If there are no formal policies in place, consult with your supervisor or department and student organizations. Finally, confirm how taking a leave impacts your degree progress and “graduation clock.”
Becoming a parent while in graduate school is tiring, leaving little room for other roles like being an attentive partner, friend, productive worker, or committed volunteer. In our experience, it was impossible to fulfil these competing expectations as well as we wanted, especially during the first year of parenthood. Along the way, you may experience feelings of guilt, inadequacy and even resentment or regret. Reach out to fellow parents and remember: you are never alone!