After Giving Birth on the Way to the Hospital, Doctoral Student Defends Dissertation the Same Day

Tamiah Brevard-Rodriguez is the director of the Aresty undergraduate research center and Rutgers-New Brunswick Graduate School of Education student who defend her dissertation hours after delivering her son Enzo on March 25.
Tamiah Brevard-Rodriguez is the director of the Aresty Undergraduate Research Center and a Rutgers-New Brunswick Graduate School of Education student who defended her dissertation hours after delivering her son Enzo on March 25.
Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

The director of the Aresty Research Center gave birth to her second child a month early, then decided to complete her second milestone of the day from her hospital bed

Tamiah Brevard-Rodriguez, at the time 8-months pregnant, felt off as she was fine-tuning her doctoral dissertation presentation the night before she was set to defend it. Then at 2:15 a.m. on March 25, her water broke and panic set in.

She had spent the last year channeling her energy into these two major milestones – delivering her doctoral dissertation and her second child – which she planned to complete in that order.

“Both were my 40th birthday presents to myself,” said Brevard-Rodriguez, Aresty undergraduate research center director and Rutgers-New Brunswick Graduate School of Education student who was scheduled to defend her dissertation on March 25. “I said, I need to finish this doctorate, and I need to have my last baby.”

But baby Enzo had a different plan.

“My wife is trying to keep me calm, and telling me that maybe we have time, because now I'm physically shaking. I'm about to have a baby on the biggest day,” she said. “I tried to lay down. And then I was like, no, I'm in active labor. This baby's coming today.”

Thinking she had some time before delivery, she labored at home while her wife messaged her academic mentor and arranged childcare for their 4-year-old daughter. But just a few hours later, Brevard-Rodriguez was rocked by a sensation she knew all too well: the baby was crowning.

At 5:55 a.m., while barreling down the Parkway to the hospital from their home in North Jersey, Brevard-Rodriguez delivered her own son in the front seat of her wife’s Maserati Levante.

“My wife’s nickname is Danica because she drives fast. She's going like 120 mph and didn’t get a chance to pull over. In three pushes, he was in my arms,” she said. “I was telling her, OK, now you have to slow down. It's done. The baby is here. He’s fine. He's breathing. But it was, ‘Oh my God, you just had this baby in the car!’”

A few minutes later, the couple arrived at the hospital with newborn Enzo to the shock of the awaiting staff. Despite slight jaundice, the 5-pound 12-ounce, 19-inch infant was in perfect health for a baby born four weeks early. And mom was in good condition as well.

“I always had a plan to have my baby naturally, both of them,” Brevard-Rodriguez said of her unconventional delivery. “I think being a more experienced mom, I was less anxious. My doula wasn't there. She was so upset about that. But at the same time, she said, ‘You were prepared. You knew what to do.’”

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A few hours later, once she and Enzo had been evaluated, Brevard-Rodriguez’s mind returned to the dissertation she was scheduled to defend at 1 p.m. Her wife was communicating with her mentor, James Whitney III, who was about to reach out to the committee members to reschedule. But empowered by Enzo’s birth, Brevard-Rodriguez told her wife not to reschedule. She was going to stick to her original plan and defend her dissertation – from her hospital bed.

“My doula said, it would be such a bad-ass move. You just had your baby and will do the dissertation at the same time. And I thought, yeah, I think I got it,” she said. “I told my wife, go get me some clothes, my laptop, and bring the charger.”

After a shower, change of clothes, meal and power nap, Brevard-Rodriguez logged onto her Zoom call, fired up her Rutgers background and delivered her Power Point presentation. No one on the call, except Whitney, knew she’d just given birth until the meeting ended and she removed her background to reveal her maternity ward surroundings. Brevard-Rodriguez said she declined to share the news until after her defense to make sure the committee wasn’t swayed by what she’d just been through.

Her defense story is one for the books, said Melina Mangin, professor and chair of the Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Administration at the Graduate School of Education.

“When she said the baby had arrived earlier that morning, I was completely astounded,” said Mangin. “Tamiah had delivered a flawless defense with zero indication that she had just given birth. She really took the idea of productivity to the next level! The fact that Tamiah went forward with the defense is yet another reflection of her tenacity. We are so proud of Tamiah and thrilled for her family.”

The brand-new doctor of education’s research topic examined beauty standards for Black college women on a historically white campus.

“There’s a lot of nitpicking of Black girls and their bodies.There’s this cultural policing and grooming that happens in the Black community where we tell people, ‘Pull your pants up,’ or ‘Your shirt's too short,’” she said. “In my study, a lot of Black girls said, ‘I cannot go to school in pajamas though I see my other peers go to school in pajamas or in sweatshirts and baggy clothes.’ They always have to be presentable, because for them being presentable equates to them being capable.”

Brevard-Rodriguez earned her bachelor’s degree in communication from the Rutgers School of Communication and Information and a master’s in higher education administration from New York University. Now a double Rutgers alumna, she is looking forward to showing off her newly expanded family at commencement before settling back into her much-deserved maternity leave.

“I told myself, this baby will be your hard stop for school. It will be your hard stop for work, and then you can dedicate yourself to you and your family,” she said. “So, will I get back to my career and what it could be? Absolutely. But for right now, it's all about focusing on what really matters.”