Tag Archive for pregnancy

Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my rou­tine doc­tor appoint­ments last year, preg­nant with Levi. After hear­ing the baby’s heart­beat and fin­ish­ing the exam, my doc­tor, who was now see­ing me through my third (and final) preg­nancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feel­ing about life and moth­er­hood and work and all the other com­mit­ments I have.

She has known me for sev­eral years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doc­tor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doc­tor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emo­tions came gush­ing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my chil­dren: about being a work­ing mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not tak­ing them to or pick­ing them up from school because I have an hour com­mute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my com­puter too much; about work­ing too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or scream­ing or being unforgiving.


Guilt in regards to my job: about hav­ing a fam­ily; about hav­ing chil­dren that pre­vent me from being as pro­duc­tive as some other of my col­leagues; about liv­ing so far away.


Guilt in regards to my hus­band: about him hav­ing to fill so many of the typ­i­cal “moth­er­hood” roles, such as doing the laun­dry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or cart­ing the kids to and from school each day, par­tic­u­larly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is won­der­ful!); about every con­ver­sa­tion we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep dur­ing a movie we’re watch­ing together; about him being the go-to par­ent so much of the time; about not hav­ing time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.


Guilt in regards to my sis­ters, fam­ily, and friends: about not keep­ing in touch bet­ter; about not being there more when I want to be; about tak­ing for­ever to send thank-you cards, or not even send­ing them at all; about not see­ing them as often as I like; about not notic­ing when they are strug­gling or going through a hard time; about not call­ing to say hi.


Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.


Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cook­ing a home­made meal each week for potluck; about not sign­ing up for nurs­ery duty because my hus­band needs me to be in there lis­ten­ing and sup­port­ing him as he preaches; about not fit­ting the typ­i­cal preacher’s wife role (what­ever that is); about being shy.


Guilt in regards to my body: about being over­weight; about using food to sti­fle my emo­tions; about not hav­ing time to exer­cise; about my body chang­ing through 3 preg­nan­cies and 2 c-sections.


Guilt in regards to my rela­tion­ship with God: about not pray­ing or read­ing the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks with­out even talk­ing to God; about won­der­ing who God is; about doubt, doubt­ing cer­tain things I grew up believ­ing but that I now question.


About every­thing.

Think­ing and talk­ing through many of the ways I was feel­ing guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doc­tor after all). When I was done, she said she under­stood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feel­ing so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feel­ing guilty about not liv­ing up to my own or society’s  expec­ta­tions of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Super­woman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words res­onated with me. I went home from the doc­tor feel­ing bet­ter. I resolved not to feel guilty. My chil­dren love me, my hus­band loves me, my par­ents love me, my friends and fam­ily love me.

I can give up my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies. I can­not do it all; I am not Super­woman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In acad­e­mia, talk abounds about grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion, tenure, get­ting a job, low wages and poor work­ing con­di­tions, and bal­anc­ing per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. One recent arti­cle in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Edu­ca­tion by Berke­ley Pro­fes­sor Mary Ann Mason is par­tic­u­larly sober­ing. Mason’s arti­cle, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses sev­eral inter­est­ing points about the over­abun­dance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how dif­fi­cult it is to have a fam­ily and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provoca­tive (if you are inter­ested, you should also read through the com­ments sec­tion of her arti­cle; so many heart­felt, reveal­ing and per­sonal responses that pro­vide their own form of mentoring):

In a sur­vey we con­ducted of all doc­toral stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, more than 70 per­cent of women and over half of all men said they con­sid­ered a career at a research uni­ver­sity to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to fam­ily life.

A male Ph.D. stu­dent in the sur­vey char­ac­ter­ized the com­mon sen­ti­ment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of sup­pos­edly intel­li­gent peo­ple who are largely worka­holic and expect oth­ers to be so as well’.”

A female stu­dent wrote, ‘Since begin­ning my doc­toral work, I have become con­vinced that very few, if any, female pro­fes­sors are able to have sta­ble, ful­fill­ing fam­ily lives of the sort that I wish for (a sta­ble mar­riage and children)’.”

Female grad­u­ate stu­dents who do become moth­ers dur­ing their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few uni­ver­si­ties are pay­ing atten­tion to the needs of graduate-student par­ents, or pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing on how to bal­ance fam­ily and career in a stress­ful pro­fes­sion in which, arguably, the most seri­ous stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs dur­ing the years when women will have children.”

These find­ings do not come as a shock to me as a pro­fes­sor. I have now expe­ri­enced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is dif­fi­cult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stress­ful job.

But as a grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ing on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so dif­fi­cult to “have it all” and find bal­ance between work and home.  I even had won­der­ful men­tors through­out grad­u­ate school, but we never really talked about mar­riage and chil­dren or what it would be like to have a fam­ily and work in academia.

With results and out­comes like these–where women are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (moth­ers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of grad­u­ate stu­dents are women, if we do not deal with the inter­sec­tion of a woman’s per­sonal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in acad­e­mia. We might still have unmar­ried women or women with­out chil­dren, but we may lose a large per­cent­age of women who can teach and men­tor oth­ers about what it means to have a fam­ily and a career in academia.

In short, we need men­tors. We need moth­ers who are will­ing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sac­ri­fices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in acad­e­mia might still be worth it. We need moth­ers who talk frankly about hav­ing chil­dren in grad­u­ate school, about hav­ing chil­dren on the tenure-track, about not hav­ing chil­dren at all. We need moth­ers to share their sto­ries, for it is their stories–our stories–that will edu­cate oth­ers and bet­ter inform female grad­u­ate stu­dents about the real­i­ties of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.

Women, Mothers, and Tenure: Why Babies Complicate Academic Work

I men­tioned in my last post that I was going to write about moth­er­hood and acad­e­mia. Many of you sensed the dilemma I was push­ing against in that post. How can one be both a mother and an academic?

Women have tra­di­tion­ally been dis­crim­i­nated against in the acad­emy (see this arti­cle in the Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed for an overview):

  • Women receive tenure at a lesser rate than men.
  • Women are paid sig­nif­i­cantly less than men.
  • Women’s raises are sig­nif­i­cantly less than men’s raises are.
  • Women are more likely to quit their tenure-track jobs than men because of exter­nal factors.
  • Women are far more likely to vol­un­teer their ser­vice to their depart­ment (or uni­ver­sity) by fill­ing labor-intensive but-not-really-related-to-tenure-and-promotion-and-prestige admin­is­tra­tive posi­tions that their male coun­ter­parts will not hold.

When you add a fam­ily to an already dis­crim­i­nated against gen­der, the results are even more stag­ger­ing. A recent arti­cle by Mary Ann Mason titled, “Women, Tenure, and the Law,” finds that women with chil­dren are sig­nif­i­cantly less likely to achieve tenure than men or than women with­out chil­dren. So, whereas all women are dis­crim­i­nated against in terms of pay, women with chil­dren face even more dis­crim­i­na­tion. In short, Mason writes, “For women, a crit­i­cal fac­tor in tenure denial is their gen­der and fam­ily responsibilities.”

Women with chil­dren are also much more likely to become lec­tur­ers or adjuncts, posi­tions that typ­i­cally hold sig­nif­i­cantly less pay than tenure-track posi­tions, are noto­ri­ous for hav­ing poor work­ing con­di­tions, do not offer much job secu­rity, and are much less pres­ti­gious than tenure-track positions.

What’s more is the stress that tenure and pro­mo­tion takes–probably on all women (and men, too), but espe­cially on women with chil­dren. Not only are you hav­ing and rais­ing chil­dren, cook­ing, doing laun­dry, wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night for years, but you are also work­ing to estab­lish your­self in the field, write and pub­lish, plan and design new courses, read as much as you can, and serve your depart­ment, uni­ver­sity, and dis­ci­pline. One his­tory pro­fes­sor argues that women with chil­dren are “pro­fes­sion­ally infe­rior to men” dur­ing the child-bearing and child-rearing days because women are “sim­ply unable to work as hard, as long, or as well as child­less pro­fes­sors or aca­d­e­mic fathers.” While I wouldn’t go so far to say women are “pro­fes­sion­ally infe­rior,” I do rec­og­nize that moth­ers, lit­er­ally, can­not work as much as child­less pro­fes­sors (men or women) or even aca­d­e­mic fathers (who although they are par­ents, too, are not often the des­ig­nated care­taker when it comes to their chil­dren. There was even a recent study about how when par­ents are home at the same time, the woman is still the pri­mary parent–even when both peo­ple work. See this arti­cle for more infor­ma­tion about dif­fer­ences between aca­d­e­mic moth­ers and fathers).

Finally, women who are, or who are to become, moth­ers also face dis­crim­i­na­tion when they become preg­nant. Per­haps it is this way in most jobs for women. I don’t know. But in the acad­emy, moth­er­hood car­ries with it a lot of bag­gage. And preg­nancy is even seen, by some, as a lia­bil­ity. Preg­nancy marks the body. Preg­nancy marks the woman. Peo­ple make assump­tions about preg­nant women. About moth­ers. About being a mother and an academic.

Again the dilemma.

What about me? I had one child as a grad­u­ate stu­dent. I was ABD (All But Dis­ser­ta­tion) when my daugh­ter Eliz­a­beth was born. I wrote my dis­ser­ta­tion dur­ing her first year of life (I still don’t know how I did that–a sup­port­ive fam­ily was a big part of that).

I went on the job mar­ket when she was 4 months old. She had just turned one when I took a tenure-track position.

Since being in acad­e­mia, I’ve had two chil­dren on the tenure-track. Am I bold or what? Three kids. It’s unheard of in acad­e­mia. At least if you’re a woman.

*Update (2 hours after orig­i­nal post): As I was dri­ving home today, I was reflect­ing on this post, and I wanted to add one last com­ment. One of the things I hope for is that women in acad­e­mia (and other jobs) can find men­tors, oth­ers who have paved the way for newer fac­ulty like me to suc­ceed by get­ting tenure. I go up for tenure next year. Not only do I hope to get it, but I also hope that, one day, I can be one of these mentors.