After a frustrating year on the tenure-track job hunt, my eyes are still on the prize, and I've learned that sheer will might be the most important quality required for this career track.
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There's good news in my little world - I've been given the go-ahead by my docs to do some lab work!! I still have to take it easy and "listen to my body", but the BP, while still high, is back to acceptable levels, and every other test the docs have done is coming up normal. So, for now, I'm able to continue being a scientist, so long as I don't overdo it and the BP stays where it was this morning. Even better, all plans for a natural childbirth with no induction (ie, waiting for when the Monkey decides it's time to show up) are back on...which I really want more than anything.
This past week, however, got me thinking about the guilt many of us bloggers have written about from time to time, especially the women bloggers. Not that men don't experience guilt, but it seems that work/family-related guilt hits female scientists especially hard. Sitting at home last week was torturous. Not just because I wanted to be doing experiments (and there's always one more experiment that you really want to do), and certainly not because I wanted to ignore my body or baby. No, more than anything, the guilt came from feeling like I was somehow cheating on work. I've been killing myself for the past several months to try and "make up" for the inevitable decline in my productivity once this pregnancy ends and my maternity leave begins. I only have so much paid leave I can take (just under 9 weeks, and that's only because I've taken none this past year). Since I need some of that leave after having the Monkey, I need to make sure I'm still "fulfilling my duties" up until then, even if I'm not at the bench. And I just can't help but think others will think poorly of me if I'm not maintaining my normal work load in the lab. Even worse, a part of me worries that others might look down on the choice I made to have a family at this time of my career (and, let's face it, it was a choice).
It's odd - the phrase "maternity leave" still sounds so weak to me. Maybe it's because men don't need maternity leave, at least not the same way women need the time to physically heal after childbirth. I am grateful to see more and more fathers taking paternity leave to be with their families, but so many more fathers I know of go back to work after a week or even a few days of their children being born. On top of which, some women have to start taking leave before the birth has even occurred...leading to more time away from work, more sick/annual leave used up, and less ability to "keep up" with their male colleagues. We spend so much time talking about equality in the workforce, but how does that actually happen when biology and society have the cards dealt against us?
I certainly don't want this to turn into a discussion about how women have it sooooo bad and men have it sooooo easy. Unlike Hubby, I get to feel the Monkey moving around all day, keeping me entertained, reassuring me that he's alright even when I'm not feeling my best...would I really want to trade that away for an easier time at work? Hubby feels helpless watching me go through this pregnancy, and he himself had a very difficult time this past week making any measurable progress at work. I'm sure the time that my male colleagues take to spend with their wives and newborns creates quite the tug of war for them, too; in fact, I bet the guilt they feel can be just as overpowering as what I was going through last week. I've also heard the guilt sentiment from male bloggers like PLS and PalMD. I'm so grateful for all these fathers, the time they spend with their families, and their stories.
I know this whole male/female discussion has been beaten to death, especially with regards to balancing work and family, but that doesn't mean it's done with. I don't know the answers, and I have too much on my mind right now to come up with new ideas. Besides, I'm becoming more and more convinced there's not a solution, at least not a single solution. Maybe just being aware of and sensitive to the issues is enough, or maybe we need more policies in the US to protect women in the workplace, or maybe the current cultural swing with men spending more time at home when their wives have kids will even the score some, or maybe life's just hard and we should all suck it up. I don't know.
I do know us women (and men) who are prone to guilt have to find ways to deal with it in a healthy manner. For me, right now, this means spending a few days in the lab, so long as I feel alright, to get some experiments done, then spending a few days at home to analyze data, organize my manuscript, and figure out what needs to be done next. This seems to be a good plan for me, and I think hope pray that it will make the current guilt I feel a bit more manageable. How I'll handle my work/family guilt once the Monkey shows up is another story, for another post, sometime in the future.
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I'm glad to hear your were cleared to do some work. Hopefully your plan works and you can ease your mind a little by getting something accomplished.
Great post, Dr O! It must feel great to be able to get back to work and try and get the stuff done that you wanted to before your little one arrives. I'm sure that a lot of the guilt any of us (male/female) feel is mostly self-inflicted. I'm sure that others in the lab aren't thinking half of the negative things we think they are. But it's still tough.
I definitely feel that Europe is leaps and bounds ahead of the US in respect to maternity leave and leave in general to be honest. Even within universities postdocs still get a decent maternity leave package. Within private companies it's even better. My best friend is days away from having her first child. She works in London for a French company. They have just started to implement a new 'parental leave' system, where both mother and father can take up to a year of leave and share it out amongst themselves however they see fit, even though her husband works for a different company.
Unfortunately the realities in the most competitive fields these days are still that it hurts a woman's career to take time off, it would be great to move away from that attitude and the reality of it. But, like you, I don't have any real solutions to it.
I think your last point is an important one, Jane. There are a lot of people who point to disparities in pay between genders, and I have to wonder how much of it is related to, at least in part, women taking time off for children. In science especially, research fields move very quickly. The maternity leave time could be just enough for you to be scooped and lose months or years worth of work. It's a frustrating thing to think about.
I still feel guilty about missing work for doctors appointments, etc. However, I don't have the time or energy to dwell on it the way I did when I was pregnant.
This is the scary part for me. Not that I'm too worried about getting scooped at this point, but I am worried about the science not moving forward quickly enough when I'm applying for grants, (hopefully) interviewing for jobs, etc... I don't want to have to make excuses. I want to just to do my work because I enjoy it. But a part of me worries I'll always be looking over my shoulder, wondering if somebody without kids could have done it better. Again, I just don't know what the answer is... except maybe to get over it.
Good to know that lack of sleep and time is good for something.
What you really need is a slacker in your lab. That would really help make you feel that at least you have a legitimate excuse. There were people in my old lab that came in at 10 and left at 3 and that always made me wonder why I felt guilty about leaving at 5 if I had something to get home for.
Although it would be great to not feel guilt, you have to think that it is probably what is driving you to work harder and be better. At least that is what I tell myself.
How are your bosses about the whole situation? One of my co-worker has just told my PI that she is pregnant and my PI responded very favorably to it and it being very supportive. However I have heard some really bad stories about PIs turning on the mother to be and making them feel bad for any time off they would take.
@Will - Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) our resident lab slacker was fired this summer. The only other person left in our lab now is a very motivated and productive grad student (who I trained, I might add :). My boss if actually very supportive, so I'm not too worried about getting fired or pushed to hard by him. He's even told me to take it easy several times since I came back into the lab this week (as have our lab manager and dept administrator). The biggest driver of my guilt is me...
It's good that they are being supportive.
I think that to make it in academia you have to have that guilt to drive you, although maybe it isn't really guilt but rather drive and ambition, and you feel that you are not able to meet your goals. You do need to take it easy though!