“A baby is bad for your career”, they say. “With a baby you don’t get any work done.”
I was scared of the baby. Should I have had it after the tenure review, like, when I’m 65?
Eos was born January 30, 2015. She started nursery and I returned to work on June 1. So: what happened to work during my leave?
Here are some numbers from my “sent email” folder, which I last emptied in February 2014, and my calendar.
The number of my emails halved in the first month after the birth (red). But I still sent 118 work emails that month.
And they were not about answering congratulations. 76 of them were for research. 33 were admin, 3 about teaching. Of the research emails, 13 were reviewing and supervising Research Assistants. 19 were for one single revision.
That’s a lot of emails if you don’t get any sleep and spend so much time nursing that you hardly eat. Each email felt like I’m climbing the Mt. Everest. Each email meant time that I could not sleep. Time I could not spend with my daughter. Every 5 emails I cried. But I wrote them.
After two months the email quantity was back to normal, far before the end of my leave. Quality came back to normal really in the month after the leave.
I also had a lot of (mostly Skype) meetings, half of the normal hours in the first month and back to normal after another. The baby cried during those meetings, she drank during those meetings, I changed her diaper during those meetings. We used to joke that she cried most when she heard the word “endogeneity”. Or perhaps “referee”.
Those meeting numbers are excluding conferences and seminars. I did a lot of conferences during the pregnancy, on average two per month, so the numbers are hard to compare. I gave the first seminar two months after giving birth, and attended two conferences the month after. That’s a lot of pumping breast milk in First-Aid-Rooms or sneaking to my husband’s hotel room to nurse Eos. I was so happy to be among adults, I loved every single minute.
What was hard
In the first month, everything was hard. My scar hurt so much, I cried when I had to leave home to go to A&E with Eos 4 days after the birth. I cried when I received the first email from a co-author asking a question, 3 days after the birth. It was a simple question. I had to think for 2 days and nights about what to answer. In the meetings, I could hardly make a coherent sentence.
And yet I answered, and I took time to review work that I outsourced. But I could not focus. I could not see what was right or wrong. I could not prove anything. That’s because I didn’t sleep enough.
At least I knew, as opposed to the last month of pregnancy, when all my papers suddenly looked beautiful and I wanted to submit them immediately.
I had to learn how to be honest to my co-authors, to tell them that I didn’t have time to do certain tasks. I was so surprised that they understood and that it was ok.
I assumed that practitioners wouldn’t be so supportive, so I spent a lot of time with them, but none of those projects worked out. Partly that was because I was still too slow in the end, my contacts changed jobs, the replacements didn’t care etc. That was frustrating.
Timing submissions is tricky. I submitted three papers before the due date (one long before). It was good to have them out of the way. Yet.
I regret the last one as I was so full of harmony hormones that I did not have the necessary scepticism.
I regret the second one as I received a rejection when I was quite emotional.
The third one came back as a revision and I spent a lot of time with a crying baby meeting the co-authors of that one.
What worked well
During the pregnancy I was full of ideas and started good projects to work on.
When the time constraint started to bind I thought hard about my priorities. As a consequence I ended up with a better set of co-authors, a better set of projects, and a clearer set of objectives.
I also thought about my relationship to colleagues and came back from my leave as the person I want to be. For example, I used to be quite intimidated by senior colleagues and now made an effort to connect to them. I’m more likely to ask questions now when I’m confused etc etc.
I outsourced a lot, and that worked best when I started the process a long time before the birth. Outsourcing was not so great when the RAs needed a lot of non-standard input to move on.
It was suddenly so easy to fire all RAs but the very, very best.
It was suddenly so easy to see which co-authors I wanted to work with and which ones not.
I still can’t believe how much support I received from my co-authors, most of them, that is. How much patience to wait for a week for an answer, a month sometimes. And to understand when I could not answer, when I could not follow, when I could not see the mistakes.
Other co-authors suggested that it was a bad decision to have a baby when working on a paper. (I think they meant that to be for women only, otherwise none of us would ever reproduce.) That was 5 days before the due date and I was quite emotional. I never talked to them again.
Was the baby a bad decision (workwise)? My tenure clock was frozen for one year. That feels about right. Work did suffer. Volume-wise, and quality-wise. But it did not stand still.
That’s all only about me, it is bound to be quite different for others. I just wanted sharing my experience because there are so few women in academia to ask what it is like. (In my department I was the first.)