In the spring of 2017, I received the long anticipated email from Lakehead University with an offer of admission to the Master of Public Health program. With this wonderful news, I did wonder how I would manage working casually (2-3 days a week) at Princess Margaret Cancer Center in administration while also pursuing school full time.  I managed to do what I have always done best: I got organized, scheduled and planned for the weeks ahead of me.

As the end of the first semester of my program approached, I realized that I had survived the first semester of my Masters program – with great marks to show for it. However, during the winter holidays I was offered by my manager, a permanent position at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Of course I was thrilled to receive this news, but at the back of my mind was worrying again – how was I going to manage working so many hours and continue school full time? I did what I had done the last time I was faced with the same issue, I got organized and literally planned every single day in advance to make sure I stayed on top of my exams and assignments, while also being present and proactive at work. At this time, I had also decided to begin my blog, www.fitnessandislam.com, where I was discussing health promotion in the Muslim community that were informed by both scientific articles and Islamic literature. By doing so, I knew it would allow me to further my experience in the public health field without necessarily officially taking on another form of employment (something that was definitely not feasible at the time).

As the second semester came to an end I was happy to see that I had survived another semester with great results. Yet as the saying goes, when it rains it pours. One week into my spring/summer classed I discovered that I was pregnant. Although I was ecstatic about this news, I also felt completely overwhelmed. How was I to manage work, school and pregnancy?

Having noticed that my pregnancy symptoms were becoming quite rough, and then having constant hospital visits, I knew I needed to seek out support from my professors. So, I sent them an email about my situation. Thankfully, they were very accommodating and provided flexible due dates to assignments, as well as alternative ways to participate when I wasn’t able to attend class. Even once I had delivered my baby (during my winter semester), the professors continue to be very accommodating. My son even had the opportunity to attend a few of my classes and got to know the professors and students! By providing me the accommodation I needed during this time, it limited the barriers I faced in accessing education, and even motivated me to continue with my educational pursuits.

The last step to completing my masters was my practicum placement. My practicum supervisor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) had known about my circumstances during the interview process. And when I had informed her about my breastfeeding needs on the first day of my placement (the need of a private room to pump), she was more than happy to provide that accommodation for me. I was able to successfully complete my practicum placement where I gained valuable skills and knowledge through the support of both my field supervisor and family.

As my practicum placement comes to an end, I have about 4 more months until I am expected to go back to work since I opted for the 12-month maternity leave. I opted for only 12 months because I wanted to jump right into the field without losing any of the skills or experiences I gained from my coursework and placement. Being on maternity leave while I look for a position that best suits my current educational attainment has its benefits. I have the time to job hunt without having to deal with work.

Overall these transitions have not been easy at all but it has allowed me to grow as a human being. Being privileged to be in a public health program, I feel that professors and professionals in this field are very understanding and accommodating towards soon to be mothers and new mothers. They understand the extensive health implications pregnancy and motherhood itself has on a mother and child. So for those who may be in a similar situation as mine, ask for help because you will be surprised to see the overwhelming support that the public health community will provide you during this time. Not only was the public health community supportive, but my own family (which I am forever grateful for) were equally supportive. And for those who have experienced similar transitions through school, work, and family, kudos to you for doing what at the time may have felt impossible! However, if at any point you feel that these transitions are too much for you and they are taking a toll on your mental or physical health, take a break. It is essential to take care of yourself first. It will be hard to progress if your health is depleting in the process. Consider for example, taking a semester off to recoup. And when you get back to it, you will be more present and will truly be able to enjoy the process. Last but not least, whether you are a new mom, soon to be mom, are just a really busy person, organization and time management is essential to making sure that you stay on track and achieve your goals.

About the author:

Raya is completing her Master in Public Health at Lakehead University. She is currently employed at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre as a Patient Flow Coordinator and is a blog writer on www.fitnessandislam.com where she posts numerous blogs targeting the Muslim community to increase health literacy so that individuals can make lifelong changes that will improve their overall health status. She has just completed her practicum placement at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) working on translation related projects. Her previous work experience is centered on community engagement and program planning and implementation in marginalized communities.