It’s that time of year again. No – I’m not talking about the time of year for shiny things, happy hymns, frantic shopping sprees, and that fat old guy in the red suit. I’m talking about two hour sleep cycles, caffeine induced delirium, and computer vision syndrome. Also known as – FINALS.
On Thursday, The Star (Kenya) printed this story about a 16-year-old pupil who completed the examination for the Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education, while she was in labor. Last month, The Monitor (Uganda) reported a similar story, about a 14-year-old who “endured two days of due labour to sit this year’s Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).” Meanwhile, Tanzania Daily News reported in September that a 14-year-old pupil was forced to leave her Standard Seven exam due to severe labor pains. She promptly gave birth to a baby boy and then returned to finish her exam.
Of course, we can’t isolate this phenomenon to just East Africa. Last year, a woman in Illinois finished the state bar exam while in labor. As the Huffington Post reports, “Remarkably, the recent grad actually finished the bar… and gave birth to a healthy baby boy two hours later.”
My first response to all of these stories is amazement. As I am writing final exams for my first semester as a PhD student, I can’t help but use the thought of these women as an inspiration. In all of these situations, they faced much more stressful exams that would determine the course of their lives, all while at the same time experiencing the pain of labor and real mortal fear. These women are total badasses.
At the same time, I also can’t help but criticize the institutions that made these events possible. The situation is abhorrent – that a woman would feel as though she must risk her health and the health of her unborn child because the systems in place would penalize her for missing or leaving an important qualifying exam. Labor should definitely be a legitimate excuse for postponing an important exam without penalty.