The Legal Beat
Babies And The Bar Exam: A Balancing Act
Posted on Tuesday July 09, 2019
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Tiffany Hendrix Blackmon to our pages.
As I walked into the first day of the bar exam, a wave of nausea hit. It was not test anxiety. It was morning sickness. At 9 weeks pregnant, I was as concerned about managing my first trimester symptoms as I was with remembering anything about the rule against perpetuities.
Law school prepared me to take the bar. Nothing had prepared me for breaking into the legal field while becoming a mother. I was not close with anyone who had been pregnant while taking the bar. I looked online and found minimal resources. There were occasional articles about women who were pregnant or had a baby during their 3L year, but most of the time the articles focused on why women felt pressured to have a baby before they began their career. The articles didn’t talk about the logistics — how did these women actually manage their symptoms, balance appointments and studying, etc.?
I read through message boards, and found women who shared stories about their time preparing for and taking the bar while pregnant or with a young child. These message boards were the only resource I found that gave any concrete examples and ideas. I learned that you can request accommodations for the bar, but it required completing paperwork and waiting for approval.
Since I was so early on in pregnancy, I didn’t know what symptoms I may have or what accommodations I may need. I wondered, why is no one talking about this topic? Why is there not more assistance available to help women excel in their career while also building the life they want at home? It seemed that I was supposed to strive for the elusive work-life balance without ever being able to talk about my actual life.
Taking the bar while pregnant is not unheard of, it is just not commonly talked about. Studying for the bar (the first time), likely looked a lot like most people’s schedules who were studying while working. I listened to lectures on an app during my commute to and from work. I used flash cards and outlines to study during my breaks. After work and on weekends, I watched lecture videos and took practice tests. It also included naps when I got too tired, and breaks when I was too nauseous. I kept peppermint candies and crackers with my study materials, to try to keep the nausea at bay.
I made it through the first day of the bar without any issues. The second day, my nausea was too much to handle. My “morning sickness” had never confined itself to a specific time of day, and by the afternoon I had to call it quits. I answered every question, but couldn’t focus at the end, and didn’t look over my answers. I left, feeling defeated.
When I looked online and saw that I had not passed, I wasn’t shocked. When I got the letter that I had failed by one point, I was extremely frustrated. Yet, I also knew I could pass. I made the choice to retake in February, since our son was due right before the exam. I enjoyed maternity leave with our son, but also began studying part-time during my leave. I continued studying part-time until July 1, when I made the choice to quit my job. I studied full-time until the exam.
This time, I didn’t just blindly follow the schedule given to me by a bar prep company. I took a critical look at what I could do to use my time most effectively, so I could spend time with my family, study, and pass the bar. I’m a visual learner, and not an auditory learner. Instead of listening to audio lectures and videos, I made color-coded outlines. I created and used charts to study. I spent far more time taking practice tests, and focusing in on the subjects where I was testing poorly. I fit the studying in during our son’s naps, and while he spent time with family members. Best of all, he happily snuggled with me while I read him my outlines. There were certainly challenges, when it was hard to balance caring for a baby who didn’t want to sleep or was fussy, and I worried I would fail again due to time I lost studying. But during my study breaks, I also had the joy of seeing him roll for the first time. He started smiling and laughing. I knew that the sleep deprivation, countless hours studying, and wonderful study breaks would be worth it.
Finding out that I had passed the bar was an amazing moment. I look forward to hearing stories from moms who studied for the bar while cradling their baby bump or cuddling their baby. I don’t want the only stories we hear about to be when women go into labor while taking exams. I hope that we can begin more conversations about how we can support women in building their legal careers as well as supporting them in building the life they want at home.
Tiffany Hendrix Blackmon practices law in Portland, Oregon. She is the Co-Chair of the Oregon Bar’s Pro Bono Committee, and enjoys volunteering in the community. She is married with two sons, a three-year-old and a six-month-old. In her free time, she can be found baking, having family dance parties, trying new restaurants and watching medical dramas. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.