Toward the end of my pregnancies, my brain was mush. Just the idea of sitting for a 90-minute test would be enough to give me varicose veins. Which is why I was so impressed when I heard about Brianna Hill, the mom who just gave birth in the middle of the Bar Exam and still finished the test.
Like any sensible mom-to-be, Hill was planning to have her testing finished before her third trimester — well, almost. She was slated to take the Bar during her 28th week of pregnancy. But then, 2020 did its thing and Hill’s date for the exam was pushed back ten weeks.
“I joked about taking the test from my hospital bed,” Hill told CNN. “Lesson learned!”
That’s right — you just don’t tempt anything in 2020.
During the pandemic, the bar exam is being done virtually. However, it’s monitored by artificial intelligence. If test-takers leave their seat, they’re booted from the exam because it’s possible they were cheating. So, Hill sat down to take the first 90-minute portion of the test. Her baby, however, had other plans.
“I thought I felt something about 30 minutes into the test and actually thought, ‘I really hope my water didn’t just break.’ But I couldn’t go check and so I finished the first section. As soon as I stood up when I finished, I knew my water had broken,” said Hill, who graduated in May from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
As you probably remember, having your water break is the moment you start panicking, double-checking your hospital bag and scarfing down a quick snack before the real labor kicks in. Hill ate some chicken, according to The New York Times, but otherwise couldn’t focus on preparing for labor. She still had another 90 minute section of the bar to finish that day and two more sections the following day. And she wasn’t about to miss out on her chance to officially become a lawyer.
“I took my break, got myself cleaned up, called my husband, midwife, and mom, cried because I was a little panicked, then sat down to take the second part because my midwife told me I had time before I needed to go to the hospital.”
After the second portion was done, Hill was free to head to the hospital, with contractions in full swing. Her son cooperated by coming relatively quickly. He was born by 10 p.m., and Hill still wanted to take the final half of the bar the next day.
“The whole time my husband and I were talking about how we wanted me to finish the test and my midwife and nurses were so on board,” she said. “There just wasn’t another option in my mind.”
So, less than 24 hours after giving birth, Hill got set up in a private room at the hospital and finished the test while her husband watched their baby, Cassius Phillip Hill Andrew. She’s not yet sure whether she passed or not, but with that determination I don’t doubt it.
Hill said that she had the support she needed to accomplish birth and the bar on the same day.
“The midwives and nurses were so invested in helping me not only become a mom but also a lawyer,” she said. “My husband and law school friends provided me with so much encouragement so I could push through the finish line even under less than ideal circumstances. And my family, especially my sister, just kept reminding me how I could do it even when I wasn’t so sure myself.”
Hill’s focus is really amazing — but some legal professionals are saying that it highlights the need for more accommodations during the bar. Although Hill was hoping her water wouldn’t break, she knew that she’d likely need extra toilet breaks during the exam. She asked for extra break times, but was denied.
“This is a story of heroism absolutely, but heroism in the face of extreme structural inequality in the legal profession and general apathy to those of us who are about to enter it,” said Pilar M.H. Escontrías, co-founder of United for Diploma Privilege, an organization that is trying to change how the bar is administered.
Some women with disabilities have even skipped the virtual bar exam, opting instead to wait until in-person testing resumes.
“The reality is that requesting accommodations (as I know firsthand) is an extremely grueling, exposing and expensive process,” recent law school grad Elizabeth Gil said in an email to the New York Times.
Yet, until society starts to value women’s careers more, many of us are left making impossible choices, like Hill did. She said she credits her adrenaline for getting her through the test, adding, “I have no regrets.”