While idly surfing the web on my iPhone during a Graduate Research orientation day I came across some great blogs including this wonderful blog by a fellow PhD Mum. In it she talks about blogging while her child sleeps in the car, doing the “baby dance” with her child in the baby carrier… how familiar this sounds! And I decided to finally publish this post, written five months ago while I was in the car with a sleeping baby. Here it is…

I’m a working, studying mum. This calls for what i call extreme multitasking. as i write this i am holding my 16 mth old, who is fast asleep, with my left arm. we are in the car and have been here for the last hour. When she fell asleep on the way home from a meeting at the university (my work/study place) I pulled into our garage, parked the car, left the radio on and climbed into the back seat with my laptop. I’ve read two papers. When she stirred after half an hr, which i was anticipating, i unclipped her from the car seat, popped her over my shoulder and patted her bottom, a surefire way to get her back to sleep. She’s a poor sleeper and needs all the help she can get.

I worked from home for six months before I officially started my PhD. In reality this meant i spent all her waking hours with the laptop open, grabbing the opportunity to do a tiny packet of work whenever she was distracted by a cardboard box, the tv, or lunch. Each day as i crept out of her room after she finally went down for a nap, I’d make a cup of tea and work frantically for 29 minutes before she woke up. (One day though i just decided to lie on the couch. I felt guilty but I didn’t care). Each night, at 8:30pm, my workday really started. As can be expected i found this absolutely exhausting and threw in the towel after 6 months.

I’ve run meetings while she slept in the baby carrier. I’ve typed emails while singing nursery rhymes. I’ve used children’s tv a whole lot more than I ever thought I would. and there have been many occasions like this where the car has turned into a makeshift office while I wait for her to finish soaking up her precious sleep. Life might have been a little easier if she had been a better sleeper. L imagine other mums carrying their toddlers, still asleep, into the house after falling asleep in the car. Mine would have just woken up and been ready to play. but gosh dang it, life would have been so boring and I wouldnt have been able to recall such priceless hours of my favourite sport – extreme multitasking.

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I am in a position where I can compare the experience of being a graduate research student pre and post children. Star was born three weeks after I submitted my Masters thesis. She was eight months when I returned to research. Undoubtedly, the experience is different this time around. Here’s how I spent my time before becoming a mummy:

  • Sleeping in on research days, and having a hot beverage as I leisurely checked my emails
  • Then onto it – a good six hours of solid uninterrupted work
  • Followed by a relaxing run in the park, and a civilised dinner at 7pm

Here’s how I spend it now:

  • Wake up at 7:30am to the cries of “Mummy! Mummy!” (I know, 7:30am is a sleep-in for parents! We’re lucky!)
  • Feed toddler, remember to feed self, chase toddler around, find clean clothes for toddler (everything has food or crayon stains on it…) Clean up the mess after breakfast, remember to pack the comfort toys for naptime, walk toddler to childcare centre, try not to hurry toddler as she investigates the leaves on the bushes, the gumnuts on the ground, the rocks and the gravel as we walk there – I should be smelling the roses too but I have an appointment to get to so hurry up darling…
  • Travel to Uni, work like a maniac for 7 hrs, no Facebook time – time is so precious
  • Pick up toddler from childcare, dinner at 5:30pm during which she refuses everything except steamed carrots, throws food on the floor (often deliberately). Bathe toddler, read “Goodnight Moon”, into bed at 7:30pm.
  • Work from 7:30-10pm

I must add, things are really quite cruisy with Star’s sleep now, but most of last year was also spent managing her multiple wakings at night.

Different, much? Having a child has introduced new pressures – and she isn’t even in school yet. Childcare, mother guilt, keeping to a routine, not attending overseas conferences, crayon scrawls on my laptop. And yet it’s made coming home all the more rewarding. It’s made me want to work hard to be a role model. And it’s presented me with the greatest challenge of all – the enigma, the Holy grail, the thing we call “work/life balance”. And I formally accept the challenge. Bring it on.

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My dear husband always tells me I’m too “by the books.” If there is a piece of paper with “Rules and Regulations” written on it, I’ll follow them to the letter. Let’s just say I don’t have a problem with authority. However, this doesn’t always serve me well, as I’ll illustrate.

Case 1: My supervisor, Post graduate students manager, and Research Manager, keep telling me I should apply for a NHMRC scholarship. I read the rules and it says¬† you can’t do it part-time, and don’t proceed any further. Two weeks before the application is due, my Research Manager tells me I should ask if I can do it part-time and the answer is “Yes you can – we often have this situation” (ie when students have carer responsibilities at home). Hence the one whole week spent putting the application together, at breakneck speed.

Case 2: An Ethics application to put up posters advertising the Acupause study at a hospital. The application involves three checklists, two giant forms which threaten to eclipse my thesis in word length, and about ten various other forms including one that I fronted up with to my Research Manager’s office begging for help with. She called our Ethics committee member who said “Hmm sounds like a bit of overkill for a poster!” One phone call later, and I am told “Just send us the poster!” To which I reacted with a curious mixture of relief and an overwhelming sense of being the daftest person in the world.

Watch out world, here comes a new improved rebellious me, who plans to ask everyone in an annoying voice “but are you sure I really need to do that?”

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That is what I am presumably spending the next six years finding out, though I don’t think I can really claim to answer the question after doing a mere PhD on the topic – but I will hopefully be adding to the “body of evidence”.

For the past eight months I’ve slaved away and written protocols, trained acupuncturists, designed surveys, and seen to every tiny detail that will make this come together. “This” being a large clinical trial, to the tune of 360 women, and requiring more than half a million dollars to run. (Before you get too heated up, very little of that loot is coming to me. In fact, as most academics know, it would be a very sad thing if I was doing this for the money).

The lovely people at the Human Research Ethics Committee (aka HREC – there’s a lot of acronyms in University bureaucracy) at the University of Melbourne have rubber-stamped my application to post on my blog about the trial. So here is the link to our official website.

This project really is “my baby”, being something I conceived in 2008 and gestated as a pilot study (my Masters project). I’m an acupuncturist, and we often see dramatic results in practice, but it can be difficult to know if it was due to our skill and expertise or if it was all a “placebo effect”. (Which some people argue is a large part of the acupuncture experience – and they are probably right).

Women in midlife are probably my largest clientele, and I would be overjoyed if we discovered acupuncture works for hot flushes, because it may just ease the burden that these wonderful women carry – they work, look after partners, look after ageing parents, stepchildren, children, sometimes grandchildren, and they just don’t need the bother of hot flushes.

If you know any women who are postmenopausal, suffering from hot flushes, and who have not had acupuncture in the past, and who live in Melbourne, please point them to my website.

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