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Revising the old self image, round 2, part 2.

So why is looking like a slob and failing to publish in top journals presenting such a problem for our hero? Well, I haven’t been to this particular conference in several years because of BABIES. (Where is Bunny? my colleagues asked. Off having babies…) And the last time I saw a lot of these people (at a different conference) I was pregnant with Bunlet. And now I will be showing up pregnant again. Some part of me feels that by showing up pregnant, I’m signaling to everyone that I’m not serious about this academia shit. And I think the paper rejection hurt extra bad because a publication in a top journal would have given me something to mitigate this feeling. Sure, I’m basically a sow, but at least a sow with a great new paper coming out! A big fat rejection compounds the feeling of being a dilettante breeder. As does the fact that I can’t wear my Professor Uniform because my fetus is bulging out all over the place.

As a graduate student, I was explicitly given the message that parenthood and academia don’t go well together. We were informed that being an academic mother is a tough gig. We were informed that simply being told a woman is a mother may make people think of her as less competent (isn’t that the BEST?). Many of my female professors, particularly older ones, had no children. That may have been a choice and it may not have been, or it may have been a shitty sort of non-choice-choice. We were warned that while men can have photos of their kids on their office doors (and people will think better of them) when women display their parenthood, people think they’re JUST MOMMIES. And I know things are a ton better than they used to be, and a ton better in my fields than in, say, STEM fields, but I do see this cycle perpetuated in my peers. Peers at high-powered institutions have marveled at the fact that I have reproduced and said they feel they can’t have kids and tenure. Peers who do have kids typically have one child. Again, that may or may not be a choice. The occasional woman has two kids. But THREE? Unheard of.

So yeah, some part of me believes that serious people don’t have children. And especially not an endless stream of them.

I should hasten to add that I don’t believe the part of me that believes that. Of course serious people have children, even an endless stream of them. And the reality is that very few of the people at the conference know how many kids I have. Those who observe my state are more likely to think Wow, she looks like a bag of various sizes of watermelon! than Wow, she can’t possibly be very committed to research if she’s having yet another BABY. My conference friends may know I have kids, but even those who know me pretty well are not keeping track of my breeding stats. (Not on facebook! Nobody knows what the fuck is going on with me!)

So there are probably other things going on here, like my sense of being an unwilling passenger in this gestating body, and blah blah blah. But before I can gaze at my navel any more (conveniently lifted to a helpful gazing position!) I have to actually GO to this conference. Wish me well!

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve always loved going to conferences pregnant because I am in a male-dominated field and I want to show that it can be done and it’s normal. It’s one way to deliver a blow against the patriarchy. I feel sorry for my friends at top schools whose departments have the sexist and incorrect beliefs that when a women has a baby she’s less capable of passing their tenure bar and thus give her a higher hurdle to jump over.

    July 16, 2015
  2. CJ #

    Yes yes yes.
    I’m on the road right now but will post a much more coherent response later.

    July 16, 2015
  3. SRB #

    The thing about you is that you have such a wonderful ability to know yourself and distill it down to a very potent shot…even if it burns your throat while you throw it back. Having your paper rejected certainly held a mirror up to that, and while I am sorry for that, I am also glad that it helped you to crystallize these feelings.

    I am not in any field (unless you count a soccer field, because my shift from SAHM to Actual Hausfrau is nigh), but I look at you and do not see JUST A MOMMY. I look at you and think “How the fuck does this woman have her shit together, have tenure, be a PhD in something/anything, be awesome, know how to sew AND have 3 kids?????” I mean, dude. I am not certain I brushed my teeth this morning.

    I think you kick all the asses, is what I am saying. I do have Thoughts about the gender inequalities you brought up, but all these many years of toddlers have rendered me Betty Draper I think.

    July 16, 2015
    • And hopefully it’s clear that for me, there’s no “just” about being “just a mommy”, because for fuck’s sake, that’s plenty. Thank you, though!

      July 28, 2015
  4. I have three kids and I am as serious as a heart attack when it comes to my job (tenured prof in the physical sciences at an R1 institution). There are a few of us, so you are not alone.

    I have been told that I instill terror in the hearts of undergrads, so I proudly display pictures of my family in my office. In part to mitigate said terror, but mostly because my family is gorgeous and I want to show them off.

    Having (an approximation of) the career you wanted and a large family are both things to be really proud of, and even more so if you have both! I have found that a) respectful people are in awe of your accomplishments and b) people who question your seriousness in work or devotion to family or whatever would find something to pick on even if you were childless and published in that tippity-top journals; there is little you can do to make someone respect you.

    Kick some a$$ at the conference!

    July 16, 2015
    • Nicky #

      Yes! All of this. (Except I only have 2 kids and am at home with them, but you definitely cannot make someone respect you and it is useless to try.) You are awesome, be proud of how awesome you are!

      July 17, 2015
    • This is quite true. Some of my similar age female colleagues believe they are duty bound to make it clear they have children, so that others will see it’s possible, and I like that point of view. Interestingly, today a colleague saw my visibly pregnant self in the bathroom and said (after some chat), “good for you!” which is a weird message it its own right (like why is having three children a GOOD thing? Because lots of people want to but don’t have my impressive courage?).

      July 28, 2015
  5. I have certainly experienced the dismissive “oh, you’re a mom?” looks and found them FUCKING DEPRESSING. Surprisingly everyone had been quite positive about the pregnancy, but once there was an actual baby to look after… Sigh. The rejection sounds like insult to injury. I’m curious how this will be now in a country where it is perfectly normal to have kids.
    I hope you enjoy the conference while your body takes care of Bunter and someone else looks after the toddlers!

    July 17, 2015
  6. As someone with small children I can assure you that their response should be “she got ANYTHING done? Awesome!!” But also I get it. It’s hard. A kind friend once reminded me that I have the next thirty years to establish a professional identity – which is true! But right now, keeping everyone alive seems like my whole identity and it kind of sucks. Knock em dead!

    July 17, 2015
  7. So much to say about this! I am just back from vacation so my brain is only partly functional but I think SRB said it – you are my hero!!!!! And I don’t want to pile anything else atop your outrageously full plate, but I am guessing that students and newbies are looking at you and seeing a healthy helping of hope.

    I spent a significant amount of time during grad school and my post-doc trying to figure out how people found balance in their lives, specifically in terms of family and my observations would make a terribly depressing report. Mine was a STEM field and the difference between men and women was alarming. I will never forget the response of a Biochemistry Professor, a very sweet, family-type guy in his 50s, when asked by undergraduate female about balancing family (during a bio-careers q&a) he responded “you would have to ask my wife about that”. As far as he could see, it wasn’t an issue that affected him!!

    I’m sorry to hear about the rejection. In my former world, taking a YEAR to review a paper would have produced suspicions of foul play. The instances of reviewers sitting on papers until their work was published were well known.

    I hope the conference is a huge success! You really do kick all of the asses.

    July 18, 2015
  8. Martha #

    I could have written this, except I am a lowly PDF and not a tenured faculty member! My peers are now passing me in terms of getting their first academic jobs… while I embark on my third maternity leave in 4 years. I am struggling a lot with weird non-sensical feelings of getting left behind or letting myself down career-wise (this 3rd baby somehow was conceived through a condom, a surprise– though now thrilled at his arrival 2 weeks ago). My new PDF job that i was going to kick ass in started weeks after finding out i was pregnant.
    I try to keep in mind that these years with babies/little kids aren’t that long and I would way rather look back and say i was a good mother and maybe a crappy post-doc than the reverse.
    Still, I know that conspicuous feeling. good luck!

    July 19, 2015
  9. I am commenting on this ridiculously late – I hope that you are off enjoying yourself immensely at your conference – but wanted to say that this, as always, further strengthened the depth of my conviction that you are THE SHIT. But fuck, I’m really sorry about that paper. And 1 year to review? WTF is that? That is wrong. This being a female in academia, wow – it’s a rife topic for further perusal. I’m reaching out looking for anchors and role models, and you, my dear, are one of them. Your wise commenters point out that there is little you can do to make someone respect you – so just keep doing what you are doing.

    July 23, 2015
  10. I hope the conference went/is going/will go well. This post hit a nerve with me because I feel much of this, too. Academia is one of those very funny tracks for women, I think, where it appears as though it will be easier to maintain a work-life balance (Anne-Marie Slaughter’s observations on this subject…though, I think it does depend entirely on the type of institution/department in which you find yourself). But the reality is that it is so much more complicated than that. And because we need to keep our head above water professionally in two ways (teaching AND publishing, research or – as in my case – continuing to produce art while caring for the needs of two little and occasionally wailing humans), it is almost impossible not to feel as if one (I) is (am) slipping behind. I look at male colleagues or colleagues without children, and it is a stark difference. A difference in where they find themselves professionally, in their own work, in the amount they have contributed to “service” (my faves) and, as a result, a big difference in salary. Isn’t supposed to be that way but is, entirely, that way.

    Like you, I had very few professors who were balancing work with small children. As you say, not sure if this was a choice, or a non-choice-choice. I sometimes console myself by thinking that I have the chance to offer younger women a different scenario, one in which family and tenure and finding time to do the thing that lights your head on fire is possible, even if it’s hard.

    But that’s from someone who has not been to a conference in four years, and for whom search parties have been dispatched and returned empty-handed.

    July 23, 2015
  11. theurbanjunglegym #

    Wow, it has been a looooong time since I commented on your blog. (Not so much commenting or blogging happening here anymore). So first…congratulations! Three baby bunnies in the warren!

    Second, so I am (still) a grad student, though rapidly and finally approaching my defense, but I oscillate between feeling All The Shame and embarrassment about pregnant bellies, babies, etc. and then feeling righteously pissed off and militant and doing things like bringing my entire family to conferences because I’m still breastfeeding and fuck everyone and the profession they rode in on if they can’t handle the fact that a woman in her mid-thirties decided she wanted to procreate and write about Jane Austen at the same time. You’d think those things would go together better, wouldn’t you?

    Anyway, I now have people, including my advisor, telling me how smart it was to have le bebes in grad school, and some of them seem to think I’m done because I have two, and maybe I am, but I really don’t want to be, but I don’t tell anyone that. But I know I’d rather have the babies than the awesome job or scholarly respect, so I’m pretty at peace with it all. Which is also good, since I have babies and none of the other things (yet), so I might as well love what I have.

    July 28, 2015
  12. Late in commenting. I’ve been thinking of you at your conference, wearing clothes you don’t feel like wearing and feeling judged. I sure wish you could have had a glass of wine to counter all that self-doubt and sense of being an outcast.
    Seriously, this post made me realize that it’s not just the pregnancy and the third child (and accompanying exhaustion: as if these weren’t enough), but the tectonic shift in self-perception that is making it a huge challenge. I’m sorry I didn’t clue in to that sooner, my friend (I blame it on my own navel gazing).
    I read this post soon after you wrote it and read it again today, and as I was reading it today, I kept thinking of what I’ve had to consider for myself as of late: Some of our dreams come true and some of our dreams don’t, and the outcome shapes our lives in a way we had not expected. And that’s the way it is (and how the fuck you accept that is a mystery to me, but I’ll let you know if I find out). It is our own wild and precious live (thanks, Mary Oliver). Why wouldn’t your life with kids and academia not be ok? Because old women professors who didn’t have kids said you couldn’t? Fuck them. You’re allowed to have it all.

    July 28, 2015

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