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An apology to female academics and career mothers everywhere

My tenure process has been set in motion. (For those of you who don’t spend tons of time around academics, this is an elaborate evaluation that will determine whether or not I get to keep my job FOREVER, so it’s supposedly a big deal.) This stage of the process is not inherently stressful, but just knowing it is afoot creates some ambient anxiety. In addition, next week is spring break, and WOW, I was supposed to have accomplished A GREAT MANY THINGS before then. WHOOPS. The semester is more than halfway over and my ability to focus on my research is…nonexistent. I keep thinking it’s just a question of making a list and a plan and having a hearty go at it, but then my brain floats off and I think about babies.

Leading to an amazing revelation: I didn’t appreciate the ways in which this was going to be hard.

Just as I was an asshole about infertility before I had some personal experience, so I was blasé about the physical and psychological effects of gestating a fetus before I had some personal experience. I always imagined that when pregnant, I’d just push through the pain and work smarter. That knowing I had a Major Life Change coming would motivate me to be super productive. That I would churn out massive quantities of top quality research in this remaining semester. And importantly, that having a baby wasn’t such a hurdle in the life of an academic woman. That the life of a female academic parent isn’t that much harder than the life of a male academic parent. That women who let motherhood get in the way of their careers must not have cared too much about their careers.

I know. What an ASSHOLE I was.

I’m not sure how much infertility has skewed my perceptions. I mean, I’m coming to the experience of pregnancy with two years of depression under my belt, and it’s possible I would have operated more like my Model Lady Academic had I not felt that a certain degree of focus on my fetus was justified. Had I not been so terrified of losing him for Part 1 and so overjoyed to have him with me for Parts 2 and 3 that I felt like it was pretty much FINE to spend every moment thinking of him. But even had I not gone through IF, it would still have been exhausting to be pregnant and very, very hard to stay focused on intellectual shit when I can barely remember what words are. And I’ve had an extremely easy pregnancy. (KNOCK ON WOOD.) And pregnancy is the easy part of being a parent.

Anyway, I would like to revise my former opinions. Having a baby is a massive hurdle in the life of an academic woman. The life of a female academic parent is massively harder than the life of a male academic parent. (And I don’t even know that from personal experience yet, but as I watch some of you deal with career/family challenges, I can tell.) Women who let motherhood get in the way of their careers may or may NOT have cared about their careers. At the moment, there’s a tiny…something or other… poking out of my belly, and I can’t image caring about anything but that.

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. You are not an asshole Bunny, but your perception of things has to have been effected by IF. In my experience I spent so many years and tears on failed cycles that I couldn't see past getting pregnant. Due to the fact that it was so difficult to concieve I didn't think that my career would become difficult. I think it's normal.

    February 28, 2011
  2. cgd #

    first of all congratulations and good luck with huge accomplishment. It must be very difficult to have so many major life events happening at the time (even if they happen to be good things).Please do not be so hard on yourself, how could you possibly have known what you would feel like at this point in your life/pregnancy. I wish you tons of luck with these next steps…

    February 28, 2011
  3. Good for you for coming out and saying this, Bunny. Because I know I'm 100% (or at least 95%) wrong about a lot of my beliefs about pregnancy and what it entails/feels like, etc. I think you're super justified in having a brain full of babies. Sounds much more worthwhile to me than silly old research. Exciting about the tenure process, though! Hoping and certain it will go your way.

    February 28, 2011
  4. What a great post – seriously, just wonderful!First, congrats on starting the tenure process – you should feel very proud! What a great accomplishment!And second, I love that you wrote this. I think that many things in our lives are not at all what we were expecting. Take getting pregnant, for example! I too have thought many of the asshole-ish things that have crossed your mind. I didn't get it. And although I still don't really, I have a sneaking suspicion that when/if I ever get pregnant again, and actually get a baby in the process, I won't be thinking of my career at all – except as a means to pay for this little future baby of mine. All of our experiences shape who we are, and yes, you probably are a different kind of mother being pregnant after infertility vs. easy pregnancy, but I think that's ok. In fact, I think it's wonderful!

    February 28, 2011
  5. It's amazing how our perception of everything changes both through infertility bullshit AND then again through pregnancy. I'm with you on all fronts.Congrats on starting the tenure process – Bun Bun's got a pretty kick ass mommy!

    February 28, 2011
  6. Yes, yes, and yes.It's strange, from the outside academia looks like the perfect situation for a working mother. Summers off. Not as many hours need to be logged IN the office, and it isn't 9-to-5. But the difficulty comes in the career/publication/research area. And that can be very difficult.I think, though, that there's a time for every season. In the tenure process, you're going to be judged not just on what you're producing now, but on the work you've done previously. And, having been a part of tenure deliberations, committees take a whole lot into consideration (your being pregnant, for example) and in a sympathetic way. But it's hard to care, sometimes, I know.

    February 28, 2011
  7. Thanks for being so honest, bunny. You know I'd love to be where you are… but I have to admit, I also kind of thought it would be easier. Actually I have a book on motherhood and science or something, you know, from the times when I thought that the difficulties would start once the little one is here. Sigh. Hoping that soon you'll look on both tenure and Bun Bun with pride (or other warm fuzzy feelings of choice).

    February 28, 2011
  8. anyone who doesn't give you tenure is a dipshit. that, i feel strongly about. so, unless you work for dipshits, i think you're all good!!! i couldn't give a shit about anything else aside from baby girl right now. rightfully so!! glad you're doing well and even though i know you're saying "he" as an easy way to refer to baby, me thinks you are having a boy. i know i was wrong about the triplets part (although, there is *next time*), me thinks you're having a boy :o) xoxo.

    February 28, 2011
  9. Ditto Sienna, they would be total idiots not to give our Bunny tenure! I thought I would be freaking out about letting work down when I got the bedrest order. It turns out that I don't freaking care….ALL I care about is these babies. THIS is more important than work, end of story.My hubs is working on his dissertation right now and I will say that the pre-term labor hospital stay was not at all ideal considering he was in the process of submitting his latest paper to a couple of conferences and a journal and had a big presentation to give at school. The safety of the babies and me f-ed some stuff up. (But it's not even remotely the same as it would be for a female academic, who probably would've not been able to execute any of those tasks in the situation I was in.) This is not at all to detract from what you're saying….guess just offering my perspective as the woman behind the academic and how our pregnancy has effected his research, dissertation writing, job market aspirations, etc etc etc. xoxo

    February 28, 2011
  10. 🙂

    February 28, 2011
  11. Let me cut right to the most important part of this post: YOU HAVE SPRING BREAK NEXT WEEK? MOTHERF—ER! I don't get off until mid-April. It's soooooo faaaaaaaar awaaaaaaaaaay.I'm obviously still just a lowly grad student, but I'm already finding it immensely difficult to concentrate on studying for my quals in May with all that's going on. And I can't (or won't) tell my advisors that there's this small matter of pregnancy after loss/IF that's occupying all my mental real estate, so I think they've all decided I'm a complete flake. I hope I can pull it together soon.

    February 28, 2011
  12. So funny! It's crazy how a little personal experience with something changes our perspective. I think it's good! It allows insight and personal growth. You aren't an asshole 🙂 Just ignorant. Now you aren't'! We've all been there. Thanks for sharing. Congrats and good luck (with the delivery AND tenure)!

    March 1, 2011
  13. A woman after my own heart! All this talk about transformation, about how experiencing life changes a person, I eat that shit for breakfast. I'm not really kidding, despite my jovial tone. I love that this experience is challenging your assumptions. Wouldn't it be boring if we were never surprised. As for tenure, I'm not really worried about that for you. As you said about my defense, I get the sense that this will be a bit of a formality for you, Prof. Superstar. Just a hunch.

    March 1, 2011
  14. Like Egg said, it's incredible how easy it is to let work slip when you've got a baby in your belly! I worked from home the last two months of my pregnancy and had to work very hard to keep working hard. Now that I'm officially on maternity leave, I haven't thought of work once! I thought I would be stressed, but letting go has been surprisingly easy. I don't envy a female academic and the tenure process while having a baby, but if anyone can handle it, you can!

    March 1, 2011
  15. You will absolutely get tenure Bunny. I know the process is probably hard and it would it would induce stomach-turning anxiety, but I am sure that Mediocre Instution would be lost without you. Besides, I live in the future, so I know. Although I can't speak from experience, I am one hundred per certain that I would find it very hard to care about my career while pregnant.

    March 1, 2011
  16. I admit that I am already starting to not care too much AND I am finding it decidedly easy to not care… I look at it this way… I'm just kindly preparing them for what life will be like when I'm away on leave. I'm trying to be a considerate coworker, see? (Anybody buying this??)Anyway, I think it's totally understandable to have a hard time focusing on anything but Bun Bun, especially given the journey to get here. I know nothing about tenure but second (or third or fourth) the above sentiments. Surely you're a shoe-in!!

    March 1, 2011
  17. It's true that work concerns take up a lot less headspace when there's a behbeh in the belleh. But I just had an interesting experience. I just did the last edits on the fifth chapter of a textbook I'm writing. The other four chapters took me 2-3 weeks to get through each. This one, with a newborn in the house, took two days. Years ago an academic mother said to me that "whatever little precious issues" she had about writing went totally out the window as soon as she had her first baby. When she has time to write, she writes a lot more and frets about it a lot less. I think I just got my first taste of that dynamic. Best of luck with the tenure process!

    March 1, 2011
  18. We were all know-it-all assholes at some point. Good luck on getting through all of this with images of Bun Bun dancing in your head!

    March 1, 2011
  19. AL #

    It all seemed so simple and cut and dry from a distance didn't it? I really wonder how different this whole pregnancy and work thing would have been for me if it weren't for IF and loss. I was reminded of those simple idealistic views of pregnancy and parenthood by my 23 yr old female cousin and 24 yo SIL over Christmas – both were spouting off how THEY planned to juggle work and family and would never give up on their careers and hard won gov positions in any case. We were all idealistic and stupid once, Bunny. You're not a asshole.

    March 1, 2011
  20. Great post. You are not an asshole, perhaps a former ass, but that stage has passed.My dear Bunny, the shit really hits that fan when the baby comes home. It is wonderful business but the lack of achievement just gets worse. The good part is, you dont care anymore.Congrats on your tenure. I wish I knew what University sweatshirt to send you…. Ohioan to Ohioan.

    March 2, 2011
  21. Oh yes. I am on year three of writing my dissertation proposal. NOT the dissertation. The proposal. Academia and motherhood are not the best bedmates. It can be done but not without a lot of gnashing of the teeth and guilt. At least, that has been my experience.

    March 2, 2011

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