On Being A New Mom In Academia
I’m seven months in. My hair is growing back after falling out in fistfulls. I’m finally starting to lose weight. The Baby is just starting to crawl. First tooth.
We survived the winter. We survived our first flight to Puerto Rico to visit Abuela. And our second flight to Costa Rica so I could do field work. We survived the rush to the Children’s Hospital for a high fever, kidney infection, UTI. Antibiotics for months. But most importantly, we survived each other suffering our own traumatic realizations of our changed life.
My University’s maternity leave program saved me. After birth I plummeted into a sleep-deprived, physically-impaired zombie. I forgot to pay bills, forgot to brush my teeth, forgot to take care of myself. I became a desperate housewife. Running to Target during nap time. This is how I discovered that other housewives run to Target during nap time. We eye each other’s strollers. There are the Ferrari’s and the Corolla’s of strollers. Our’s is, of course, a Corolla.
Like most parents (I hope) I find bedtime to be next to unbearable. Angels become demons during (what the brochures we got at the hospital called) the ‘purple’ hours. It’s a slow and painful waltz of luring The Baby to sleep, tip-toeing away, sigh of relief, open that wine, then…start over.
I’ve come to despise all other kids. Bratty little monsters. They have no idea what their mother does for them. I’ve also come to hate all other moms. They wear makeup (who the hell has that kind of time!?) and have beautiful hair (I can’t!) and are in perfect shape (how!?). I’m a zombie in comparison. I don’t recognize my body. Athletic slim transformed into something more like a Sea World walrus — overfed and sloppy.
In the chaos and desperation I returned to swimming. That feeling of being a normal human with a beating heart found again as I drowned the world out underneath the water. The rhythmic (and quiet) sound of arms gliding through water instead of the shrill of a baby crying. I just need to be left alone for one hour every day.
But August has come rearing its head and all my fears are amplified. My maternity leave has come and gone and I must now face the same work responsibilities with a fraction of the energy. I have to learn how to work under new time and energetic constraints. Increased reproductive fitness often comes with a trade-off to survival or growth.
I am a thin, sleep-deprived thread away from crumbling. From forgetting to do something important. From losing myself.
And sadly, I am also missing opportunities. Opportunities to present at conferences, to sit on grant review panels, to participate in working groups, to write grants and publications. This is the price of a priceless decision.
If my academic career takes a hit (and it already has), I hope that my alternative career can evolve and flourish. I want to become an advocate. For academic mom’s. For breastfeeding. For working parents who can’t afford daycare. For doulas.
For women who have had to put up with the world’s bullshit for thousands of years.