EastBay Today

Posted May 12, 2020

A Pregnancy, a Degree and a Determination

Cal State East Bay graduate, armed with MFT degree, aims to break down stigma of mental health in Pakistani-American community

On her first day of class at Cal State East Bay, graduate Rabia Khan found out she was pregnant. Nine months and several midterms, research papers and projects later, she went into labor in class. 

Rabia Khan, pictured here with her son, found out she was pregnant the day she started at Cal State East Bay. Being a mother motivated her to push for her degree and this fall, she'll begin working as a mental health therapist at Kaiser in Walnut Creek.
Courtesy of Rabia Khan

Days after her son was born, she completed a final, and now, just a month after his first birthday, she will graduate. 

“My teachers helped me a lot, they were amazing and treated me like their family member,” Khan said. “Classes were very intense because it’s mental health, but I would bring my problems and get therapy in class.” 

An immigrant from Pakistan, Khan moved to California four years ago, in part to pursue her dream of receiving a second master’s from an institution in the U.S. And she wasn’t going to let motherhood responsibilities stop her from that. 

“I love going to school,” Khan said. “Even though it was a one hour drive to and from, I was breastfeeding and pumping during breaks in my car, it was my dream to go to school in the U.S., and I didn’t want to leave, so I didn’t give up, and now I’m finally here.” 

Khan said over the past year, her cohort of just 10 MFT candidates became a tight-knit group, and while she had reservations at first, she fit right in. 

“My overall experience is beyond academics,” she said. “I was expecting that I’d be treated differently, but we had a lot of diversity in our group and three moms who supported me a lot. They were a very inclusive group and respected my diversity and perspective,” she said. 

And when California's shelter-in-place orders required all classes move online, Khan said her professors all reached out personally to make sure she was OK. 

Prior to attending Cal State East Bay, Khan graduated from the University of Punjab in Pakistan and was a mental health therapist there, working to reduce stigma around therapy. This fall, with her new Masters of Science, Counseling degree, she’ll start working at Kaiser in Walnut Creek. In her new role, she plans to continue trying to break down barriers to mental health services for the Pakistani-American community.  

“I grew up learning that my mother used to complain about depression without having a lot of help available,” Khan said “It’s still a stigma in my community … but I’ve learned that I am and should be open-minded and that mental health is just like any other disease, people should get help as soon as they are aware.” 

And while the COVID-19 pandemic means her chance to walk across a stage is postponed, Khan is celebrating and says she hopes her son is proud. 

“I did this for him, I wanted to set a good example for him, and we both did this together,” she said adding gratitude for her husband as well. “I also want to thank my husband Moazzam for making me dinners and waking up at night multiple times for baby.”

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