For students who are hoping to grow their family while in seminary, it can be hard to know where to turn for advice, or to find out how a specific school can support you. So to give you some candid information about family life at PTS, I met for coffee with Erika Tate, MDiv ’17, and her young daughter Fiona, to ask some questions about her experience. Erika is an MDiv senior, and her husband Ryan is a PhD student at Rutgers University. Erika and Ryan moved to Princeton from Minnesota, and they live at the Charlotte Rachel Wilson (CRW) apartments. Erika is Catholic, and she is passionate about working with women and children in poverty.
—Lauren Calvin Cooke, MDiv ’17
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
A: There are so many favorites! I just love watching Fiona grow, and watching her explore the world…I love the connection that I have with her, and seeing who she is and who she’s becoming. I can already tell her personality.
Q: What is it like having a child in seminary? Where did you find support?
A: Well, I’m not going to sugarcoat it—it’s definitely hard to be pregnant, to have a young child, and to be a nursing mother. I feel like that would be hard at any school. When you’re pregnant, you’re going through all these different things—morning sickness, being extremely tired—while you’re growing a miracle, of course, but it does take a toll on your body! It was hard to go through that while taking classes, but I actually have really supportive professors who are very understanding, especially when kids get sick and things happen. Last semester, a lot of crazy things happened all at once with my husband traveling for research, and Fiona got sick, and then I got sick, and I had so many professors who told me, “Don’t worry about it; if you need an extension, I’ll give you an extension.” PTS has a lot of families [living together at CRW], so that’s a big support system if you need anything—from help with childcare, to picking up extra diapers. It’s also a big blessing to have the daycare [Dupree Center for Children, located on the CRW campus] onsite. That has really, really helped me, especially this semester—last semester I took 9 credits, and this semester I’m taking a full course load.
Q: Is the daycare affordable?
A: It is! It’s subsidized by the Seminary, so it’s really affordable and really helpful.
Q: At what point in the school year did you have Fiona?
A: I found out I was pregnant in October of 2015, and she was born in June. So I had morning sickness through the fall, and then was just…really huge…in the spring! Because she was born in June, I had almost three months to be at home with her, which was really wonderful—and really important to me. If it had been any less, I don’t think I could have gone back to school [right away], it would have been too early for me. The Seminary does have a new parent plan, where you will be able to keep your housing, and if you’re on any sort of scholarship, you’re able to keep that—you won’t lose your benefits. So I went back last semester, but I didn’t have to be full-time, and I still got to keep my insurance and everything.
Q: Did PTS’s Student Health Insurance cover your costs?
A: I was covered for my prenatal visits, and when I added Fiona, all of her routine check-ups are covered.
Q: What could PTS do better to support new parents?
A: Because I’m a nursing mother, it was really frustrating to me that there weren’t any lactation rooms on campus. So I had to lobby for one, and PTS is now in the process of creating a space in the library and one on the main campus.
Q: How do you balance school and work and family?
A: It’s definitely hard. You really have to figure out what to prioritize, and be good at planning and know your deadlines so that you can manage your time. But also realize you may need that time if your baby gets sick or something, because crazy things happen all the time. I just have to make that effort to stay on a schedule…kind of.
Q: Is there a way you take care of yourself in all this?
A: I’d like to say yes, but I might be lying! My husband does help out a lot, so I like to go to the gym or something, or—honestly, I treat myself to Starbucks way too much! Fiona is my first, so I’m still learning!
Q: Do you have any advice for students who might want to have children while in seminary?
A: PTS is a great place to have kids while you’re a student. My advice would be, find a support system, and bank on that. It can feel like you have to be Superwoman and do everything—be the best in classes, and be the best mother, and entertain at your home, and somehow keep up this façade that you shower every day, and it’s totally not true. So find a support system and actually rely on them! If you already have a family and you’re looking at seminaries, it’s important to ask these questions about insurance and family life. We have a really great community here at PTS; everyone is really loving and supportive, and I have a core group of people I can reach out to for help when I need it.