Third-year law student Joni Bodnar balanced caring for a newborn with finishing her final semester at KU Law.
The first week after having baby Kendall was a blur of visitors, along with trying to recover from surgery. I was healing well enough that I could stop taking pain killers just six days after my C-section, which allowed me time to be free of any grogginess when I returned to school the following Monday.
The school never told me how much time I was allowed to take off to recover, though I am sure they would have given me all the time I needed had I asked. I personally made the decision to only take off one week because I did not want to make it too difficult to get caught up when I finally did return. Fortunately, everything went well post-op, and the only compromise my doctor forced upon me was to have someone else drive me to school my first day back.
Aside from worrying about being physically ready to return to school, I was concerned about how to continue my choice to breast feed when I would be away from Kendall for almost nine hours every Monday, and then six hours every Tuesday and Wednesday. When I contacted KU Law about potential accommodations, they were more than willing to help me find a safe, private place to pump while I was away, and even offered to store my milk supply for me.
Once I had a plan in place for my return and how to handle pumping, my only concerns were how to stay awake during class and how to survive being away from my beautiful baby girl so soon. Surprisingly, I never had an issue staying awake in class, regardless of how little sleep I had the night before (though my mandatory morning coffee probably helped).
As for being away from Kendall, I think any new mom will tell you that as hard as it may be, one way to survive the day is to stay busy with plenty of distractions. With law school, I always had plenty to do, so I kept myself busy with schoolwork (and pumping) between classes. I was also lucky enough to have a retired father and close-to-retired mother and mother-in-law taking care of Kendall while I was at school. This allowed me to regularly check in on her, and also meant I regularly received picture messages showcasing her day at home without me.
On a couple occasions when I did not have a day care option, I was lucky enough that both Dean Mazza and Professor Yung allowed me to bring Kendall to class! I was not sure how things would go considering both times I brought her (Tax Procedure one day and Criminal Procedure the other), class was two hours long. She managed to make it through with very few issues, although she made sure Professor Yung knew when it was time for a break halfway through by announcing with a tiny shriek!
Overall, I can’t say that returning to school so soon was easy, but I think that in general, moms have this inexplicable ability to make things work, no matter what. It takes a lot of prioritization and planning, but I did not feel overwhelmed. I was able to care for my newborn, continue my final semester of law school, take care of my two older children and their daily extracurricular activities, keep up with household chores (most of the time), and even work out most days.
Without the help of the fantastic people in my life, both at school and at home, much of this would not be possible. I am truly blessed for all the help and support from not only my immediate family, but also from my law school family. Having gone through this experience over the past year, I have come to realize how truly great my decision was to attend law school at KU. The faculty, students and staff have far exceeded my expectations of what it means to be a community.
— Joni Bodnar is a third-year law student from St. Joseph, Missouri. This is her final post in a five-part series about being pregnant during law school. Previous posts recounted her reaction to finding out she was expecting a baby during law school, how she got through her summer internship during her first trimester of pregnancy, staying focused through classes and finals while pregnant, and meeting her new daughter, Kendall.
For Harmon and Mose, balancing the roles of husband, father and student proved the most challenging aspect of law school. “My wife and kids deserve a law degree of their own,” said Harmon, father of a 4-year-old, 3-year-old and 1-year-old. “They’ve made many sacrifices and are looking forward to being done. We’ve grown a lot as a family and made a lot of friends at KU Law.”
One of those friends was Mose, a husband and father of a 1-year-old from Emporia, Kansas, who says he learned about balancing multiple priorities from Harmon. “I saw how he successfully balanced having a wife, three kids, living in the country, school and church responsibilities,” Mose said. “I imagine most in my class would agree that we’ve learned far more from our classmates than any particular class.”
Paul Mose“There came a point in my second year where I was not sure if I could physically do everything,” Harmon said. “Just when I’d have that thought, I’d get another Law Review assignment.” He persevered by keeping his priorities in check, going home for dinner every night and spending time with his family on the weekends.
“My kids are small, and they’ll never be small again,” Harmon said. “I made a firm commitment at the beginning of law school never to forget that.”
For Mose, the adjustment to law school took a lot of prayer and learning from mistakes, but the big moments — like winning KU’s in-house moot court competition with Harmon – made it worth it.With the support of their families, both Harmon and Mose not only survived law school, but thrived, and found a place in the KU Law community in the process.
“When we came to Lawrence, it was the farthest east we had ever been,” said Harmon, an Orem, Utah, native. “Now we plan on staying.”
“Our ‘first date’ was when my car ran out of gas as I was driving home from class one day,” Manson said. “I decided to call Caroline, partially because I knew she had just gotten out of class, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t because I had a crush on her. After that and a few more dates, we were inseparable.”
The couple’s blossoming relationship was of special note, as Gurney’s parents also met as KU Law students. They went on to marry, have four kids, and forge two successful legal careers between them.
“I think I remind Caroline’s dad of himself when he was young,” Manson said. “His car was falling apart, he was always late to class, and he was dating a girl who was way out of his league.”
Gurney and Manson relied on each other and their classmates to handle the stress and long hours of law school. Both balanced their studies with part-time legal work, and Manson served on the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy for two years. They got through by keeping a consistent schedule, making down time with friends a priority and staying focused on the end goal.
As for the future? Gurney will join Orrick and Erskine LLP, an Overland Park firm specializing in eminent domain and condemnation, while Manson will work for Warner Robinson LLC in Kansas City, Missouri, a firm that focuses on corporate tax credits.
“My mom and dad have set a wonderful example of how two people can do good work in the Kansas City legal community and be outstanding parents at the same time,” Gurney said. “I look to them for guidance on work-life balance.”
“As long as we can continue to respect and support each other’s career and personal goals, we’ll be OK,” Manson said. “We make a great team.”