Guest Post: On being productive and reproductive at the same time

Today’s guest post is by Megan Rivers-Moore, Assistant Professor at the Pauline Jewett Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University

  1. PhD, Post-doc, someone give me a job please

When I’m about to go start fieldwork for my PhD, my academic advisor says “why don’t you have a baby? Everyone trusts a pregnant woman.” Now, I’m not saying I know for sure, but this seems like pretty terrible advice.

When I’m in the field, the women I’m interviewing find it baffling that I am in a long-term, happy relationship but don’t have a baby yet. As we get to know each other, as the mutual trust develops, I am regularly asked if there is something “wrong” with me, if I can’t get pregnant. They cannot conceive of any other reason that I wouldn’t have a baby. I say something vague about trying to finish school first, get a job, and then we have many long conversations about the complexities of work-life balance in the Costa Rican sex industry.

I get a post-doc in Toronto, the point of which, I’m told by several people, is to have a baby and get a tenure track job. Well, ok then.

I’m pregnant. I actually eat soda biscuits while I’m lecturing so that I won’t retch. I’m pregnant, but I’m also bleeding. I use the bathroom before class and then I realize there is the possibility that I will actually have a miscarriage at the front of the room while my eight-five students watch. I get my first cell phone, because my partner insists that I need to be able to call someone if this happens. I think about what the order of the calls would be: first my partner (guess what, honey?), but who would be next? The department administrator (I’ll be ending class a little early today)? Maintenance (there’s a bit of a mess in my classroom, sorry! Do you have any of that sawdust, like when kids barf at school)?  This is not at all funny, but the only way I can face the possibility of my body coming apart while I teach Feminist Studies in Sexuality is by making myself laugh, imagining trying to make it into a teachable moment. I haven’t included a section in the course on reproduction, but I imagine announcing “one aspect of sexuality we haven’t discussed is pregnancy. Many, many, many pregnancies end in miscarriage, as you can see. We don’t tend to talk about it, it’s not supposed to be a big deal, so people often feel isolated. And deeply heartbroken. You know how important it is to relate our academic theorizing to the real world? Well, this is me unravelling before your very eyes! Don’t forget this when you fill out your course evaluations.”

As it turns out, this time around I don’t have a miscarriage. I am seven months pregnant and travelling to Texas to interview for a tenure-track job. Right after I arrive, I’m taken out for tacos by a lovely couple who spend the whole dinner trying to get me to drink. “This place is famous for its margaritas. Why don’t you try one? Are you sure you don’t want a cold beer to wash that down? Irish coffee for dessert?” Either they haven’t noticed I’m pregnant or else things are really relaxed in the south. As the epic marathon of a multi-day interview goes on, there seems to be an unspoken agreement not to mention my pregnancy. I am seriously out of breath during my job talk, gasping a few times as the fetus decides to push my internal organs up into my lungs. I avoid touching my belly at all, I watch people avoid looking at it. We all pretend it isn’t there, except for the head of department who says “I’ll put you on the waiting list for the campus daycare.” When I finally waddle back to the hotel room at night, my fetus and I spend a long time poking each other. Hello, you. Sorry I ignored you. How’s it going in there? Do you want to move to Texas? I’m killing this interview, I think I’m going to get this job.

I don’t get the job. I can’t help but notice that the guy who does get the job may well have triplets on the way, but he didn’t wear them under his sweater at the interview.

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Guest Post: Navigating graduate school and postdoc years while having a family

I was listening to the news a few months ago and heard a segment on gender inequality in the biological sciences. In my graduate school, we had 28 students, 5 of which were men, but almost every full professor is male. Some of this has to do with age and the fact that fewer women pursued careers in the 1970s when my mentor went to graduate school, but women seem to disappear from science during their postdoc years. They go on to teaching, go back to school, quit and be stay at home moms, or choose another career entirely. While the news show did not speculate as to why the postdoc women disappeared, having lived life as an academic woman in the biological sciences I am certain it has to do with postdoc years coinciding with childbearing years. Continue reading

The strange duality of being a pregnant professor

Alternatively: The spirit is willing, but the body is busy making other plans

This semester, I’ve prepped a new class, advised students, written papers and proposals, attended two international conferences, and served on committees. In short, I’ve done all the things that an academic usually does. I’ve also put on twenty pounds, had heartburn so bad it made think I was going to throw up, lacked the lung capacity to get from my parking lot to my office, and had nights where I was so uncomfortable I got barely three hours of sleep. In short, I’ve done all the things that second & third trimester pregnant woman usually does. The tension between the daily work which engages my mind and the unmistakable physical changes which are taking place in my body have given this semester a strange duality – a sense of occupying two spaces at once, in a way that neither was meant to be occupied.

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Breastmilk isn’t free: high points and challenges as a Professor + Mother

During pregnancy, I heard a lot of scary stories: scary delivery stories, scary stories about in-laws visiting after the baby arrives, scary stories about allergies in small children. When I was visibly pregnant, I got advice from strangers, especially in public restrooms (most often I was told “get the epidural”). Parents with small children are founts of advice: “see lots of movies now, because you won’t later”, “sleep now, because you won’t later”. One coworker told me pregnant women are like lambs heading to slaughter (“they don’t know what horror awaits them”). Something about our culture leads us to focus on the negative, and so I felt confused while pregnant. I wondered a lot about how my life would change, and my biggest question was “Will I have to give up having the career I worked so hard for to be the mom I want to be?”

Being a parent has been so much more fun than I imagined it could be. I often said the beauty of the natural world motivates my research, but my eight-month-old daughter has shown me more about the magic of the world and life than I knew before. I am also much happier as a professor and researcher than I was before I became pregnant. Taking after drmsscientist, I want to write a positive piece about being a female professor with a baby, and discuss the biggest challenges I have experienced on this journey thus far.  Continue reading

Motherhood Won and Lost: One Woman’s Story of Miscarriage

For today’s post, we’re cross-posting a deeply moving guest piece by “Grace,” a fellow tenure-track academic, who shares her experience of a recent miscarriage. She wished to share her story of miscarriage, because reading the stories of others comforted and guided her as she experienced her own. This post originally appeared last week on Kate Clancy’s blog Context & Variation. Please feel free to share supportive comments for Grace, or to tell your own stories. We also recommend Kate Clancy’s science post on miscarriage, When a Beginning is Not a Beginning

At 27, getting pregnant was hard, but staying pregnant was easy. It took 17 months before I got a positive pregnancy test, but from that time on the baby developed perfectly on schedule and arrived one day before the due date. Seven years on, the child is happy and healthy. This is the motherhood story we like to hear and which is told millions of times over by delighted parents.

At 34, getting pregnant was easy, but staying pregnant was hard. We got pregnant the very first month off of birth control, but staying pregnant was… unsuccessful. At my first ultrasound, at 8 weeks, there was an embryo with no heartbeat. This is the motherhood story that we don’t often hear or tell, but happens with approximately 30% of all pregnancies. This is the story that I want to tell, because reading the few stories I could find was a key source of information and solace for me as I responded to the shock of the terrible ultrasound.  Continue reading