Motherhood And Career Disruption
You see, I have leaned towards leaning out since having my first baby. First of all, there are those glaring absences in my CV. Any lay person could tell me all the reasons why I’ve only been to one conference and published one paper over the past five years. Duh! Let’s start with maternity leave for 7 months, during which time sleep was non-existent, much of my time was spend breastfeeding and then pureeing vegetables. Then there is the part-time work, during which I juggled raising a toddler and running a clinical trial. Just seeing my 300+ participant trial through to its completion was enough of a challenge, without the added pressure of writing papers. Conferences? Long gone are the days when I could fly off at the drop of a hat, or a click of the mouse; any conference travel now is carefully debated for weeks – is it a child-friendly country? Will we have to cross time zones?
So I begin to address my career disruption by writing “Despite taking a total of fourteen months maternity leave and converting to a part-time PhD for three years, I have managed to…” But why the Despite? Do I have to excuse my shortcomings? Will they give me a sympathy vote? Or do my deficiencies clearly indicate that my life circumstances are not conducive to competitive research activities, that I am the lesser candidate because of the realities of my personal life? That if I am not publishing frequently and presenting at numerous conferences that I am of lesser calibre than my counterparts? And what of the parents who do manage to keep up this hectic academic life, with all its travel and late-night and weekend writing bouts, how do I compare to them? (Not very well, obviously). Does becoming a parent necessarily mean that you are less competitive, less worthy because of your other commitments, and ergo, are all successful academics childless?
Clearly this is not so, although my current role models, as much as I admire and respect them, do not juggle parenthood and academic life the way I do. One is childless. The other, bless his heart, told me that when he did his PhD, he locked himself in his study for 12 hours a day writing, while his wife brought him his meals and cared for their children.
I refuse to believe that one can only be successful if childless or lucky enough to have a stay-at-home spouse. I value my husband’s career aspirations along with mine, and we are trying very hard to “make it” simultaneously. But, if we have few examples to follow, few trail-blazing couples to show us the way, how will we make it? We do not want to compromise on quality time with our young children any more than we currently are (they go to daycare four days a week). We share childcare and domestic duties as equally as we can, and heaven knows there are SO many domestic duties. At the end of every day, I am tired. I feel as though I have two careers – being a mother and being an academic – ok, let’s make that three, because I am also still a practising GP. And yet I chose all of this – even parenthood. And I am so so lucky to be able to do all three, don’t get me wrong – I just wish it wasn’t quite so hard to be perfect at any one of them, let alone all three. I overheard myself say to a colleague that I wasn’t going to take on a new activity because it would be “another thing that I suck at”. Yes, those words came out of my mouth.
So, as I battle on, trying to pad out my CV (it’s actually much fuller than I ever thought… I do say yes to stuff that I can do from home, I mainly “lean out” of the stuff that needs me to be somewhere after hours or travel), I am also contemplating what my CV really should look like.
My skills include:
Dealing with toddler tantrums while planning the week’s meals on my iPad, responding to my four-year-old’s repeated requests for ice-cream with a firm “No” and NOT LOSING IT. Ie. I can multitask AND have enormous control over my emotions. (Sometimes).
Being able to re-arrange schedules, dropoffs, pickups, within 90 seconds after getting the phone call about a sick child. A complex algorithm of how long the expected recovery will be, who is working from home on which day, and the criteria for exclusion from daycare, is automatically computed in my neuronal networks, yes, within 90 seconds.
And a realistic, no bs description of career disruption:
I have had not one, but two children. One did not sleep for almost twelve months. The other did not sleep for six. I breastfed both, until 12 months and 8 1/2 months respectively. Both have food allergies. One has a heart condition. I have spent many a day “off” ferrying them to specialist appointments, caring for them while sick at home, and many nights comforting them. Yes I have not published many papers over the past five years. But for many months, getting through the day was my only priority. I have managed to balance raising my beautiful children with a decent amount of academic work. I just don’t work the hours I used to – I am a lot more efficient with my time. I have learned to appreciate the value of a good nights’ sleep. I am also more passionate about my career than ever before. I have a daughter and I want to be a role model for her. I want my son to learn that women can have careers and still be present in the home. I have learned a lot about work-life balance and this is still a work in progress. I have determination (I have sleep-trained two children…) and grit (I didn’t quit the PhD even when my eyeballs were hanging out of my head with fatigue. Things are better now). I am a mother. You should know what that means – I’ve survived the toughest test of all.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you experienced a major career disruption? Did you find your way back? Have you leaned out, or leaned in?