Archive for the 'motherhood' category
Motherhood has changed my perspective on my career. (gasp!)
During graduate school, everyone told me that this would be a bad thing. It would be a sign of failure if growing a family altered my career objectives. I have decided (embarrassingly late) that this is yet another very unfortunate stigma. On the contrary, the psychological adjustments that I have made are major improvements to my mental and physical health, and likely also my career path.
It has been – far and away — the hardest thing I have ever done to start a new postdoc in a new field as a new mom. But I have learned some things about myself:
- I am a badass. I have never been more proud of myself as a human than when I realized that I had figured out how to coordinate pumping, training fellowship meetings, learning the lay of the lab from my colleagues when THEY had free time, juggling my son’s 2-3 weekly medical appointments and actually getting to be his mother for an hour a day. And by the way, I made actual science happen during windows between these obligations. It has all failed so far because none of my projects are as developed as I was told they were, but I have been a badass investigator and problem solver.
- It is possible that I am mentally moving away from a career at the bench. Becoming a mother has made me an even more organized and punctual person than I was prior (which is really saying something!). This includes a diminished patience with the snail-paced progress, general inefficiency and overwhelming failure rate of scientific experiments. I adore trouble-shooting; it is where I shine as a scientist. But I do not enjoy trouble-shooting that is never-ending. I used to compensate for this onerous progress by working 60+ hour weeks (as many do), but right now I refuse to miss my son’s bedtime more than twice a week, so I’m working much closer to 40 hours. Admitting that may I no longer have the patience to be the operator at the bench has given me the peace of mind I need to continue figuring it out.
- My Science Careers IDP match has always listed “Principal investigator in a research-intensive institution” as my top career path*. This is because I enjoy all the components related to being a PI – asking questions, writing grants, managing projects, mentoring scientists, networking at conferences, giving seminars, teaching science, scientific outreach. However, I don’t necessarily want my job to require ALL of these activities together. I would likely be perfectly happy with a career focusing on 2-3 of these things! What I now know that I definitely do NOT want out of my career – at least for the next few years while my son in young – is a 60+ hour work week. And that is a major change for me. I think I like it.
So now what? What do I do with this new perspective? My current plan is to reassess my position and objectives at 6 months and 1 year into my postdoc**. I do not think that 3 months in is the right time to reassess or act on a job change. But it is absolutely on my mind. And so is getting to go home to my sweet happy baby.
*As an aside, the ImaginePhD IDP matches me best to a writing/editing/publishing career. Fascinating.
**A bigger subject for another post!
I just got back from my favorite conference. It’s always a great mixture of science, inspiration and networking. Oh and great food, the food is awesome. This was my first conference since I had my baby and my husband and I decided that we would all go since it was semi-local, I’m still nursing and the hotel looked fabulous. I was pretty nervous about bringing the family. Since we were local we brought LOTS of baby gear, toys and finger food. Overall, it was a good, but tough, experience.
The conference program was great. The schedule was planned such that if I had needed to pump there would have actually been time to do so. I was staying at the same hotel as the conference so, to nurse, I just went up to our room but I’m sure a place would have been provided. Speaking of food, the wonderful/kind organizers were so understanding they even told me that they were sure no one would notice if my husband popped over for some of the meals.
Hubby had a few meetings each day that he needed to call in for and we actually did pretty well with the handoffs. He and Baby had a lot of fun and Baby even got to see snow for the first time! I felt a little sad that I’d missed out on these adventures, but it’s just something I’m going to have to get used to.
The main issue for us was, as sweetscience mentioned in her post, SLEEP! Our baby is not a good sleeper, he hasn’t been since about 4-months old. We called ahead and the hotel had a crib placed in our room and we tried to keep to as many of our sleep routines as possible, but the baby basically did not sleep at night. Since we were in a hotel room there was no place to go (I did consider the bathtub) so I basically didn’t sleep. This general lack of sleep led to some fuzziness on day 1, crankiness on day 2, by day 3 I was a bordering on becoming a zombie, and on day 4 my body just gave up and I got sick. Thanks to coffee (maybe a contributor to the nausea and dizziness) and great talks I didn’t fall asleep in any of the lectures, learned a lot, and was inspired with the cool new ideas and techniques, but I do know I didn’t get as much out of the week, scientifically, as I could have. My brain felt slippery, like I knew I should be able to latch on to some of the concepts but they were just sliding by.
While not sleeping in the middle of the night I did recall my coworker telling me I was crazy to bring the family, that I should just take the hotel room and get a few nights of real sleep. I’ll be honest, at that point I totally agreed with her. But in the morning I looked over and got to see my son and my husband snuggling while I read the abstracts for the day, and I realized that I kind of got to have the best of both worlds. Minus the vomiting.
I had no idea what to expect during my first week back to work after maternity leave at a brand new job. Just before my son was born, I landed a new academic postdoc position after being ousted from my first*. The subject matter, though generally enthralling to me, is way outside the scope of my technical/intellectual expertise. And though I knew that I would be starting over and had been looking forward to it, I could not have known how that would feel once the time came.
The first few days, all of my willpower went toward the following:
— Getting my son to daycare intact
— Figuring out where/when/how to park on a campus that sells far more parking passes than it has spaces
— Figuring out where/when/how to pump in a place with no designated facilities, and in several different buildings across the campus
— Adjusting to having zero immediate colleagues who are moms**
— Relearning material that I had sort of let slip from my mind since high school
— Between a mother and son with chronic medical needs, juggling way too many medical appointments with my husband
— Learning the schedule of outside-of-lab obligations including lab-mandated seminars/dinners and fellowship-mandated meetings/workshops
— Getting home in time to feed and see my son for 5 minutes before putting him to bed
The first few days, I cried alone in the bathroom more than I expected. I absentmindedly missed turns on my way to daycare and work. I missed kissing my son goodnight twice***. I freaked out about my milk supply dropping. I put WAY too much pressure on myself to figure it all out and be productive too quickly.
Now, three weeks in, things have not calmed down much. However, I’m more familiar with my surroundings and the personalities of my colleagues. I am very slowly getting used to not seeing my baby all day every day. I am giving myself a little leeway, having kicked so much butt at everything so far (several glitches notwithstanding). It all still feels very messy and exhausting and hit-or-miss, but I’m not crying every day anymore.
*Though the timing felt awful, it could not have been better in the long run to leave my previous position ASAFP without burning bridges.
**Being able to talk to other moms versus dads DOES make a huge difference. Especially moms who have experienced pumping breast milk at work. This will improve as I meet people through my fellowship and in different labs.
***Since my sweet boy was sleeping through the night at that time, this absolutely broke me.
Whose idea was it to start baby’s daycare and mom’s new job on the same day?
I have been a mom for 4 months. My son has been through two surgeries, chronic issues with cranial helmet therapy, gone from remarkably low to average growth percentile, and is the happiest smilin’est kid you will ever meet.
The fourth trimester was, for me, deeply harrowing. I have new-mom PTSD. Only in the last few weeks have I begun to forget how intensely off-putting some of the struggles of new motherhood have been. Only now have I begun to find my groove as a parent, and be able to thoroughly treasure every waking moment with my tiny human. This is the worst time to hand the love of my life off to a caretaker as I attempt to unearth my scientist brain and return to work.
While I was pregnant, I participated in a marathon of job interviews. I was grateful and humbled to find a new postdoctoral position, fellowship and mentor with whom I looked forward to starting fresh following maternity leave/unemployment.
My first few days have been crazy, emotional and messy. I was: late dropping off my son, later getting to work, proud to have found a place and method for pumping and storing milk (neither intuitive nor straightforward), only mildly uncomfortable around my new colleagues (none of whom have children), grateful for the kind and supportive welcome of my new mentor (who does have grown children), thrown off by already juggling my son’s and my medical appointments during the day, saved by text messages of support from a few working scientist-mom friends, exhausted and lovesick by the time I picked up my son from daycare.
My son’s first few days were long, hot and exhausting. He was: too warm in our caretaker’s home, totally happy in her arms, able to nap less than half of his usual amount (yikes), somewhat afraid of the two slightly older babies who wanted to play with him, disrupted by medical appointments on several days, and smiling sweetly when I came to pick him up. He was a champion.
I am thrilled to be once again in a laboratory environment (I think), read a few papers (with my newly altered brain) and even attend a couple seminars. In time, I hope to be able to do scientific research again. I have resolved to not let the overwhelm of my first few days determine how I feel about being a working mom. I will let myself figure that out in time.
I defended 7 years ago this month…. and I’m still a Research Scientist 1. I had hoped to be up for a promotion last year because I felt like I kicked butt all year. When I had my year end review, my supervisor said I did great and was up for the top merit bonus… but no mention of a promotion. I mustered up the guts to ask how I was doing “in terms of career development” and he said “Great! You’ve only been with us for 2 years and it usually takes ~5 to get a promotion so you are right on track.” I was bummed but I was also 5 months pregnant (and sick as a dog) so I had other things on my mind and I let it go.
It took me a little time to get back into the swing of things once I came back from leave in September. But now I feel like I’m back and ready to take on really juicy interesting projects. I’m also looking around and seeing that other people in other departments are getting promoted and I feel like I am getting left behind. I’m starting to worry about my ability to transfer to a new company… will it be held against me that I’m still a Research Scientist 1?
Some days these thoughts/worries motivate me, make me work harder and try more. I skip pumping sessions and pick up the baby late so I can squeeze more data out or be at a meeting hoping my presence and input might be the little bit extra to push me over the edge into an “early” promotion. Other days not getting a promotion makes me question my ability and value as a scientist. Should I just quit and stay home with my new baby? Open an Etsy shop? Paint?
I recently started talking with a new mentor in the Contracts and Alliances group who suggested I might be able to try out her group or Project Management. I thought about it long and hard (and after some twists and turns) I talked to my supervisor about it. He was supportive but also encouraged me to stay the course if I wanted to stay a scientist. I decided not to pursue it at this time but I still feel torn. It’s hard to move forward when I can see so many interesting options and feel under appreciated (sometimes). I think the idea of not being a scientist anymore is also really sad/scary to me… who would I be? Would I be happier in a different profession? For now I’m just trying my best at work and sorting through the options hoping for the patience to take the time to see how things go in the new year.
Oh my goodness it’s so hard to be a working mom! I always respected working moms but it is so much harder than everyone else makes it look! First off, leaving my little man at daycare was really hard at first… and then it got hard again when we all got sick… and just today I got scared again because another mom in my son’s class told me that they wrap the babies in muslin and put them on their stomachs for naps-that’s not normal right???!!! Secondly, because of where we work and where the daycare is, I get to/have to do both drop off and pick up for our little guy. It really makes me evaluate how I use my time at work because I don’t want him to stay at daycare for too long (and we have a 10hour max each day). Lastly… pumping… oh man, trying to make time to pump even twice a day (30mins with set up and clean up each time) is really hard. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE being a mom and I still get so much satisfaction from work. It is all worth it and I’m figuring out how to juggle everything, but it is hard. So here’s a look at a day in my life.
12am-6am wake up a million times to flip the baby back over (he can roll onto his belly but it freaks him out and he wakes up crying), or put his pacifier back in, or feed him.
6:15 wake up and give the baby his reflux medicine. Then get up and get ready for the day.
6:45 get the baby ready and feed him again.
7:15 kiss my husband goodbye and wave to the puppies (he takes care of them in the mornings) and get going
7:45 drop the baby off at daycare
8:00 get to work and get some breakfast, check and respond to emails
8:15 prep solutions etc for my experiment for the day (I’m setting up a new assay so I’m excited to get going)
9:30 stop everything to head down to the “mother’s room” to pump/read papers/email/zone out. When I first got back to work I was able to pump enough for my little guy easily in 2x/15min sessions each day. Then I got sick and my supply tanked. I was pumping 25mins 2x/day and getting only half of what he needed. Luckily I had a good sized freezer stash to hold us over (we tried to get him to take formula but wasn’t having it). I realized last week that I had also stopped eating enough for two so I’ve upped my caloric intake and voila! My supply is back, fingers crossed I can keep it up. Ps a pumping bra is essential!
10:00 head back to the lab and start my assay
12:30 finish up and head down to lunch and relax with friends
1:00 pump again.
1:30 sort through and analyze my images from the histology core
3:30 meet with a new mentor in another department – I can’t wait to tell you guys more about it in my next post!
4:15 grab my pumped milk and head out
4:30 pick up my little one
5:00 get home, give the baby meds, feed dogs, start dinner and to get some errands done while baby plays
5:15 hubby gets home and we tag team – playing with baby/dogs and getting dinner ready
5:30 eat dinner
6:00 the whole family walks the dogs up to the park and watch the sunset. 6:45 get home, get little one in the bath
7:15 all snuggle in the baby’s room, feed him while hubby reads him to sleep
7:45 pump and watch tv
8:15 prep for tomorrow. I’ve started showering at night, pulling my clothes for the next day, preping lunch and getting everything I can put by the front door, this seems to help everything go smoothly in the mornings. Get ready for bed
9:00 get into bed and unwind. Try to get some sleep before the little one wakes up, usually around 1am.
Most of us here at Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman have had some very awkward interactions at work before and after having a baby, which shows us that many people are not comfortable speaking with a reproductively active woman. Since being pregnant is such a physically obvious state, and very exciting for most people, others somehow feel compelled and permitted to talk about it in a way they would never get personal with anyone else. You’ll want to avoid situations like these, which actually happened to us:
Student: *looks at belly* *giggles*
Me: Hi, how are you?
Student: *looks at belly, giggles* Um, good! *giggles*
Female co-worker I’ve met briefly twice: You’re pregnant! *rubs baby belly*
Me: *eyebrow raise death glare*
Male colleague: Are you going to be breastfeeding? Where are you going to pump?
Me: Well, there’s a lactation room, so probably there.
Him: You can use my office if you want.
Me: …No, thanks. The lactation room is fine.
Colleague: Have you and your husband been watching birthing videos? Because you need to watch them.
Me: Um, yes, a few.
Colleague: Have you watched any up close? Because there is a lot of gross stuff that comes up when the baby is born, you both need to be prepared.
Colleague: I was right behind you walking to work today.
Colleague: You don’t look pregnant at all from the back. But you definitely waddle.
Male colleague, after complaining about how unfair it is that I am taking maternity leave: I know I’m not supposed to say stuff like this but I think it might be better if women just took 5 years off to focus and raise their kids.
Male colleague: You look… *stares at belly* less…
Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!
Colleague: Weren’t you… pregnant?
Me: Yes, I had the baby, she’s 3 months old now!
Here are some tips for more comfortable interactions and avoiding getting too personal – feel free to use, share, or add your own in the comments!
- Take a cue from her. If she doesn’t bring up her pregnancy, maybe you shouldn’t either. It’s usually not relevant for most work situations.
- If you must say something, make sure you’re 100% certain she is in fact pregnant. Otherwise she may not have told her boss or coworkers yet, she may not be ready to talk about it with you, and she may be offended.
- Don’t even mention her body. Unless it’s to say “You look great!” and nothing more. Why would you do this with a co-worker under any other circumstance? And certainly don’t touch her belly. Just don’t.
- Do not assume or suggest that your pregnant colleague is disabled. She very likely knows what she can or cannot continue to do in the workplace as her physical condition changes. If you see her in a meeting or at the lab bench, she belongs there. An offer of assistance is generally welcomed by anyone; suggestions that she should not or cannot are unwelcome.
- Unless you are in a professional role where you can make accommodations for pregnant or lactating women in general, there is no need to ask about her plans and preparations, especially where or whether she will be breastfeeding/pumping. If you are her direct boss or genuinely think you can help, simply say, “I am here for you if you need help making accommodations during pregnancy or for lactation. You can talk to [health and safety, HR, etc.] about this as well.”
- Family leave time is an important time for all new mothers (giving birth or otherwise), as well as fathers. You have no idea how she feels about the length of her leave or her personal struggles surrounding working and spending time with her child, so please keep your opinions about appropriate leave time to yourself.
- Maybe people are worried that something bad happened during delivery or with the baby medically and are afraid to ask specific questions. Just keep it general: “I haven’t seen you since you were out on family leave – how is everything?” She’ll probably be happy to tell you exactly as much as she wants to about her baby.
- Do not ask for any details regarding the birthing process. Hopefully you would not do this for any other medical procedure a colleague went through, and birth is typically even more personal.
- Again, no comment on her body is needed beyond, “You look great!”
- If she is pumping at work, it can be very difficult physically, emotionally, and disruptive to her work schedule. Trust that she is doing the best she can to work out her schedule, it is not a “break”, and anyone mentioning or complaining about it will not improve things and only make her feel worse about an already difficult situation. If she needs to schedule something with you around her pumping time, simply work with her like you would with any other colleague with a scheduling conflict.
- Nothing gets older than hearing “Are you getting any sleep?” Because of course she’s not, and this goes for non-birthing parents as well. Sleep is a sensitive issue for parents of newborns. Tired doesn’t begin to explain how one feels with a brand new baby (or two babies in my case). Don’t tell a new parent that they look tired. And don’t mention to a new parent how tired you are, or on the flip side that you got to sleep in or take a nap on the weekend.
As with any colleague, try to be warm open, and understanding, and you will go far!
Having it all can be a bit controversial. You can have it, or you can’t have it, you should have it or you shouldn’t.
I’m pretty sure I don’t want it all, but I do want a little bit of everything. Which brings us to a recent development in my career, part time work.
I personally feel that the current standard for work, either 40 hours a week or work as much as you can fit in without completely losing it, is for the most part unnecessary, unhelpful, and unsustainable for a happy and productive life. In the 1930s John Maynard Keynes predicted that by now we would be working much shorter weeks, perhaps as low as 15 hour work weeks*. Studies have shown that a 6 hour work day increases health without decreasing productivity **. So why do we continue to do it? There are a number of practical reasons and a number of cultural reasons. Universal healthcare would go a long way toward changing the practical reasons, though of course there are other hurdles. What about the cultural reasons? How does one change a culture? What if we ignore the societal pressures and find a way to make it work for ourselves?
My interest in part time doesn’t mean that I am not interested in working. It just means that there are only so many hours in a day and in a week and I’d like to spend more of those with my children. They grow so fast and I am afraid I am going to regret having spent so much time at work when they’re older. I also need time to maintain my health and make sure I’m sane enough to enjoy my time with them and be patient with myself and my family.
So after talking myself out of it for over a year, I recently took the plunge. I realized (with some help from a University provided therapist – definitely something every school should have and promote) that nothing was ever going to feel like the perfect decision and sometimes you just have to treat life as an experiment and try things. So I ignored all of my doubts, summoned my courage, and walked into my PI’s office.
“I’d like to request to work 4 days a week 80% time,” I said. “Can I think about it?” he replied.
I waited anxiously from the morning until I saw him leave for the day at 5pm. All night I stressed. Is he going to fire me? Is he going to say yes? What will I do if he says no?
I got summoned to his office the next morning. “I’ve thought about this a lot,” he told me. He proceeded to explain how he knew many of the most prominent women-in-science thought leaders in the country. The thing they’d ask, he said, was what I want for my career. So before he would give me his answer he wanted me to answer this question.
“Why,” I asked, “have you not asked me this before? I have been a postdoc for over four years. Why is it important now when it hasn’t been before?” He said some things about how he’s talked about it with other people in the lab*** but did not answer the question. He told me he that he had an answer that he thought I’d like but he didn’t want to tell me until after we had the discussion about my future. He said not to tell him now but to think about it. So off I went. To think about my future. Because that’s something that had never occurred to me to do until he asked. Obviously.
The next day, despite my fears of him not taking me seriously, I admitted that I did not think that the amount of time I wanted to commit to my family was compatible with being a PI. To my relief, and my chagrin, he agreed. He commented that when he was a young father he spent no time with his children. He questioned how the only person in the lab still considering tenure track, a woman with a young child, does it.
My mind revolted and split in two. I am pro women in science! I am as passionate about that as I am about science! Mothers should be able to be successful professors! Am I living up to a terrible stereotype? What am I doing? But…thank goodness he isn’t rejecting me for not being on the path to tenure track.
Once we got this discussion out of the way he told me his plan, a 3 month trial of the 80% schedule. If everything goes well, if I am productive, we will continue that way. So that is where I am. Three weeks in I am loving the arrangement.
I want to have a positive impact on the next generation of scientists. I do not, however, want to be a successful principal investigator at the cost of my quality of life. I hope instead I can help to make part-time science more mainstream in my own little way. When the goal is not “freedom at any cost” but instead “reasonable flexibility” the gains are smaller and the precise definition of “a win” is more vague. If I can be productive at this level and go on to have a successful career in something, I hope I can provide a positive example of of a balance that works for me.
***How is this relevant to me?