I’m at my second conference for the year, which is also my 5 month old baby’s second conference! Luckily my partner is in the same field and understands how this works, and we could all come together. Unfortunately though there are a lot of things at this conference we both want to see, or, more often, we want to go to different sessions at the same time, so we try to trade baby duty, which essentially leads to me seeing half as much as I normally would at a conference. This experience will be different for every parent, every baby, and indeed every day, but here’s what today was like for me.
12 – 5am – I’m awoken every hour or so by baby noises – Baby is congested and I think having a harder time than normal sleeping straight through. Most wake-ups we both just go right back to sleep but about every three hours we do a feeding just to make sure hunger isn’t the issue.
5:23am – Baby has been making noises for a few minutes now, so I think this is the real wake-up for the day. I’ve been waking up all night and have my presentation today so I ask my partner to wake up and take care of Baby for now.
5:30-6:30am – Wake periodically to noises from Partner and Baby until my alarm goes off at 6:30, at which time of course they are silent.
7:10am – Wake up, unsure how I fell asleep (if I had to guess I’d say 5 months of sleep deprivation), go to the sitting area of the hotel room to find Baby sleeping on Partner, who is also sleeping on the couch. Get dressed.
7:30-8am – Play ‘pass the baby’ as Partner and I get ready for the day. Nurse and dress Baby, taking care not to get any bodily fluids on my presentation outfit (but I did bring backup clothes, as the 5 months sleep deprivation has not prevented me from learning a thing or two).
8am – We decide to forgo the Plenary session and get breakfast at the conference.
8:30am – I put up my poster and take photos of Baby in adorably nerdy onesie with me at the poster. I walk Baby through my poster, but Baby just likes the scratching noises on the poster material.
8:40am – We wonder why none of our friends showed up for breakfast. (We find out later they were out late drinking. I was in bed at 9:30 and loving it. I am not even a little bit jealous of them.) We plan who will have baby duty when and when to do the hand-off so we can both see the talks we want in the morning sessions.
8:45am – Run into a few people, catch up with a previous mentor who recalls taking her 3 month old to a big conference over 30 years ago!
9am – Partner notices that Baby seems to have an odor and quickly recalls that I’m on baby duty, so passes the baby and I head up to the hotel room.
9:10am – We’re locked out of the hotel room! The door is ajar but I can’t open it! No response to my banging on the door (like the neighbors didn’t already hate us, we have a baby!), no sign of housekeeping anywhere… I go back to the elevator to call the front desk as Baby starts complaining – they transfer me at least 3 times and finally say they’ll send someone up.
9:20am – In the room! Don’t know what was wrong with the door but I just messed with it more and it finally opened. Baby is still upset (it’s naptime) but what should I do? I don’t want to be in the middle of nursing, or diaper change, or putting Baby down for a nap when security comes by about the door… Decide changing first is the best option. Security comes at the perfect time in between events so it’s all good… except Baby, who was so tired a minute ago, now doesn’t want to sleep!
9:50am – Baby is finally asleep – but it’s terrible timing because our hand-off is supposed to be in 25 minutes, so I let Baby sleep on me and just grab my stuff and go.
10:15 – Unsuccessful hand-off wakes Baby up. I have to just get to the one talk I want to see and try not to think that I should be doing something better for Baby – Partner can handle it.
10:20am – I see an interesting talk I thought might be about a method I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to use, but actually it uses other techniques which I was unfamiliar with so now I have more to think about.
10:50am – I meet up with Partner who claims to have successfully taken awake Baby to a talk as well, but I am skeptical since I only had mild success trying that yesterday. Head back up to the hotel room, text friends about lunch plans, get Baby ready to go out.
11:30am – We meet friend from grad school for lunch. Friend has already eaten, so can hold Baby while we eat, ahhhh! We discuss everything I like – science, friends, dogs, baby stuff!
12:30pm – Back at the hotel I nurse Baby, play a little, and make plans for later. We decide to skip the next session of the conference since we weren’t too thrilled with the potential topics and have friends/colleagues to see.
1:30pm – Meet Partner’s friend/collaborator and his wife for drinks and dessert (isn’t lunchtime dessert the best?!) while Baby naps part of the time. I leave Baby with Partner so I can do my poster presentation.
2:45pm – Pump breast milk in hotel room* so Partner can come back and feed Baby during my presentation.
3:10pm – I arrive at my poster session but no one is at my poster and my assigned presentation time is later so I stop by a couple others I wanted to see first. I spend most of the rest of the time at my poster, busy almost the whole time. One researcher made my day when she came by and said she’d been having some of the same problems and could commiserate with me. Mostly it was people I knew coming by my poster but I did get some good feedback and people seemed interested in the general questions I was asking, which is where I want to take my research in the future, so that was good! I also found out that a colleague here is traveling with her 5 month old baby as well, so maybe we can get together tomorrow.
5pm – Partner hands off Baby for me to go to lab dinner with my grad school lab past and present. It’s fun to catch up and get to know the new people a little better. Baby is getting tired and a little shrieky (it’s bedtime!) but one friend who loves babies does the entertaining for me.
7pm – Baby starts scream-crying (luckily a rare occurrence these days) on the way back to the hotel but falls asleep in one minute. Now back at the hotel, how can I wake this precious sleeping baby just to get ready for bed?!
7:30pm – Partner comes back from the evening conference session so I suggest dinner with the friends I ran into on the way into the hotel. Nurse and get Baby ready for bed. I have a small bottle of extra milk from the afternoon pumping so I try to top off Baby but as I remove the cap there is a milk explosion all over me and the rug so I swear and scare Baby and run to the bathroom but I’m holding Baby awkwardly in one arm and the dripping bottle in the other and do the best I can to clean up. Baby doesn’t like this at all and is still mad about the swearing I guess, or being awoken from the nice sleep.
8pm – I put Baby to bed, scarf down my chocolate in case Baby decides to resist sleeping and needs to be put to sleep, and start blogging.
9pm – Debate showering or sleeping, decide on sleeping since Partner is still out and I want to be able to hear Baby. Get ready for tomorrow and I’m in bed around 10 (this never happens at home and feels so good)!
What I notice when I think about this day is that really not a lot of science happened. But a lot of networking happened, mostly through catching up with people I already know. I think this is the most important part of attending a conference, so my distribution of my time seems relatively in line with my priorities – lots of family time, plenty of friend/network/career building time, and a enough science to get me thinking critically about my own work and thinking about new possibilities connected to other work.
So that was my day at a conference with a nursing 5 month old infant!
*When I emailed the conference organizer a couple months ago to inquire about a lactation room, I was told I could book a room in the conference hotel, and if I didn’t have that, I could find someone who did have one who would let me pump there. I haven’t responded to this because I don’t even know what to say. This was in stark contrast to the other conference I was attending of a similar size, which went to great lengths to provide a private space for multiple people, at a location that did not have a facility already set up for such a purpose.