So, you want to know what it’s like getting an Executive MBA from a top business school, navigating a career pivot, juggling family and friends, all while growing an entire human being in one’s belly? I’ll keep it simple. It’s hard. Really, really hard. 

During the past few months, I’ve started and stopped writing this blog post so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve deleted multiple copies and pushed back the completion date probably five times. I’m certain the writing staff is questioning if I truly graduated from Fuqua. The procrastination has been absurd, to say the least. But in my defense, this is not an easy topic to write about. It takes vulnerability and transparency to re-live my time taking 8-hour exams while drinking ginger shots to try to relieve my 7 p.m. “morning” sickness. But I’ll give it a shot. 

Let me start by telling you upfront that I’m going to take a personal liberty by sharing not only what it’s like being pregnant at Fuqua, but what it’s like being pregnant, birthing a child, and taking care of a newborn while at Fuqua. Today is truly your lucky day. If you will recall, I’ve already explained what it’s like at a high level. (Hard. Really, really hard.) But for you, I’ll go into a bit more detail. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Unexpected Support 

When I first learned I was pregnant it was a wonderful and welcome surprise. I personally believe children are a blessing. On a good day, I would define a blessing as “a gift from God that brings joy.” On a day with opportunity for improvement, I would define a blessing as “something that tests your limits mentally, physically, and emotionally, thus helping you grow.” So yes, children are a major blessing. And my blessing was due roughly six months before graduation.

Layered in with my joy of being a first-time mom was a slight concern regarding one of the most important aspects of business school. Networking. Many times, networking at Fuqua takes place around a swanky bar in the JB Duke Hotel next door to the main building, on the lush greens of the Washington Duke Inn down the street after a full day of classes, or late-night in downtown Durham at a rowdy western-themed nightclub with a mechanical bull to ride. Not super pregnant woman-friendly from my perspective. 

I was also a bit concerned that I may not be taken seriously amongst my peers and teammates. I wanted to be viewed as someone who gave my full effort to my team and classmates to help bring varied perspectives to assist in us all becoming stronger leaders. But much to my surprise my pregnancy was not a hindrance to my ability to network. Many of my classmates had children of their own, and they were quite interested in helping me to successfully navigate this journey. In fact, I got some of my best pregnancy advice from members of my cohort. Perceived problem, checked off the list.

Zakiya pregnant in Fuqua's hallway with 3 other expecting moms from her cohort

Managing the Workload 

Another concern I had, which may be the most obvious concern, is how to get the actual work done. Zaniya was born Tuesday, October 5. I was released from the hospital Friday, October 8. And I had an assignment due in my Decision Models class on Saturday, October 9. I’m going to let that sink in…

With two terms left and a new baby, I was unsure if I could complete the program. Taking a break and finishing with the next graduating class was a viable option. But not one that I was particularly interested in pursuing. By this point, my Fuqua colleagues and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite being someone who loves finding creative solutions to complex problems, I was out of ideas on how to tackle this task alone. 

As I brainstormed solutions, I leaned into some advice I received from a trusted colleague who assisted me through my time at Fuqua and was integral to my success. He shared some of his experiences as a teaching assistant while obtaining his master’s from Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and suggested that I lean into being a bit more vulnerable and trusting. Essentially, he suggested I ask for help when I need support. I’m sure I was blinking very slowly as Martez Hill provided this solicited feedback. But due to the relationship we’d built—as my fiancé and father of my daughter—I decided to consider it. 

My Village

So, I leaned into this whole Team Fuqua concept we speak of so frequently. Anyone who knows me knows when I lean in, I LEAN IN! From coordinating breast pumping schedules and class times with professors to depending on our class managers to advocate for me if I was a few minutes late for class, I tested the limits of Team Fuqua. 

One incident that really illuminated the strength of the Fuqua community happened nine days post-partum. I was having problems with my laptop and needed the help of our technology team to repair the computer. Reese (from our IT team) informed me that he physically needed my laptop to repair it. The only issue was my daughter had an appointment with her pediatrician that day. I needed my laptop immediately so I wouldn’t get behind on assignments. Once Reese heard my dilemma, he volunteered to meet me at the doctor’s office, service the computer in his car, and return it after my appointment. He literally sat in the parking deck with my computer plugged into his adaptor repairing my device. On top of everything, Reese’s car battery died during this process. Oh well, he tried right? WRONG! His colleague Gordon came to the parking deck, gave Reese a jump, and waited for him while he finished working on my laptop. I was blown away by the team effort to ensure I had the tools I needed to succeed.

Zakiya, her infant daughter and Reese and Gordon from Fuqua's tech support team in the parking deck

That sums up my experience of getting an Executive MBA while being pregnant and having a child. I honestly can’t speak about any other educational institutions, but at The Fuqua School of Business, you will have access to everything you need to successfully manage and navigate whatever life may present during your MBA process. I fostered great friendships, graduated on time, and landed the career opportunity I pursued. Life is fantastic and my daughter is thriving. Oh, that’s the last perk I should mention. During the nine months Zaniya was developing, she took classes at Duke for free! 

Zakiya in Fuqua's hallway wearing her graduation cap