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Becoming a mom while doing a PhD (Part 2)

Becoming a mom while doing a PhD (Part 2)
Jun 04, 2019 555 views

It was fairly easy going back to the lab one day a week, knowing my husband was at home spending quality time with our daughter. It was a somewhat a larger leap to deposit her in daycare when I started my first “real” job, working as an RA in our lab three days a week while I waited for my thesis to be marked.

It was also very stressful trying to find a childcare centre that would fit in with when I wanted to start work, and this took several tries to get right. The first place I accepted was close to home, but was very inflexible, requiring that we start on 8th January and only guaranteeing us three days a week, refusing to hold a five-day place for us for when I moved up to full time work in March. Starting daycare in January meant beginning work a month or two earlier than I would have liked (my daughter was only 10 months old and still breastfeeding) in order to pay the daycare fees. After one month, we moved to a daycare centre that was on my way to work and was flexible enough to allow us to attend for three days a week in February, then five in March.

Having Sophie closer to work sounded good in theory – I would get to spend more time with her as I could bring her on my commute, and I could pick her up within 30 min if she was sick. However, I soon realised the downsides of this arrangement.

Firstly, the trip to daycare, which would take about an hour sans baby, took 1h 15 with Sophie, and drop-offs and pick-ups added at least another 15 min each way. This meant that my usual 1.5h commute became a 2h commute, totalling 4h a day of travel.

Secondly, having Sophie close to my work rather than close to home meant my husband couldn’t help with pick-ups and drop-offs. The centre’s hours were also short, meaning I could physically only work 7 hours a day without being late to pick her up – a challenge when our standard cell treatment time is often 8 hours!

And finally, while I had had a romantic image of spending an extra 2.5h a day with Sophie by being able to bring her on my commute, the reality was that she hated being dragged 1 1/4h each way across the city, and we didn’t get home until 6:30 pm, tired and grumpy. This was not quality time. To make matters worse, after taking so long to fall pregnant the first time, we decided to start trying again when Sophie turned one, anticipating that it could take another year to get anywhere. Well, you never can plan these things, because I fell pregnant straight away, meaning I now had to drag my morning-sickness-ridden body and a 1-year-old across the city and back each day, as well as working full time. I tried various combinations of public transport to reduce the amount of walking I had to do, but each option seemed worse than the last, and trying to fit a pram onto a crowded bus/train in peak hour, with a baby that doesn’t like public transport (or cars for that matter), is not something I would recommend.

After several months of this, it seems the gods must have taken pity on us. I received a call from a daycare centre I thought I’d never hear back from, offering us a 5-day place, and it was a 10-minute walk from our house.

It was a hard decision to uproot Sophie again, but turned out to be the right decision. Sophie now spends about 10h a day at daycare instead of 8, but she is happy playing and socialising in those extra two hours instead of being miserable, while carted across the city. And, she loves the new place, winning the hearts of educators and admin staff throughout the centre with her giant smile and friendly personality. I think her social nature and willingness to explore helped make it easy to move her around so much. Oh well, at least we’ve figured out what works now, and for the next baby won’t have so many disruptions…

Now I’m in my final weeks of work before baby #2 is due, once again working hard to finish addressing reviewers’ comments for a new manuscript. Time will tell how it is sciencing and mumming with two kids. For now, the future is very unclear. As is the norm for postdocs, I am on a one-year, fixed-term contract, which expires at the end of June 2019. This means that I don’t know if I have a job to come back to and won’t know until we find out if we will get a grant this year or next. For the moment, I’m allowing for taking the whole of next year off, and by then, I should know if I can return to our lab or if I need to look elsewhere.

While I don’t plan on staying in our lab forever, it’s certainly the easy option right now. It’s much easier than venturing into the unknown; I have an understanding boss with whom I get along, I know the lab and know the projects, I’m good at what I do here, and at least some of the same people will be there when I get back (certainly our awesome senior postdoc and fellow mum-buddy). We will have to wait and see what happens.

Being a mom while doing a PhD (Part 3)

So, how is it having kids and working full time in science? Do I feel like a bad parent? Does it work? Did I pick the “right” time to have kids?

Do I feel like a bad parent?

Well, to be honest, it’s much easier leaving Sophie at daycare and heading off to work each day, rather than spending the day looking after a toddler, especially while pregnant. I felt really guilty at first, thinking she was too young to be away from her mum and that I was the best person to care for her. But, we don’t have family nearby, and no nearby friends with kids, so it was actually quite a lonely life at home with Sophie before I went back to work. And Sophie is a very social person. She’s much happier surrounded by other children at daycare, and educators that aren’t trying to get housework done, than hanging around with me at home. I think kids are meant to be raised in a community, and in the absence of nearby relatives or friends, daycare provides this community. So, no, I don’t feel like a bad parent. It makes me better appreciate time spent with Sophie in the evenings and on weekends, and it means I also have more energy for her at those times.

Does it work?

It’s important to me to be home nice and early for Sophie so both me and my husband can feed her, bathe her, and get her ready for bed. This means leaving work by 4:30 pm to meet my husband and Sophie at home by 5:30 pm. As I do morning drop-offs, I usually get to work at 8:30 or 9 am. Consequently, I need to work efficiently to get my hours in for the day, which usually means lunch in front of my computer. Unless I have an 8-hour treatment, I’ve found no problem getting everything done in the time I have, and this means I’m rarely bored. And 8-hour treatment days are uncommon with my current project, so I can easily manage the few days where I have to get in early and leave late. So, yes, it works.

Did I pick the “right” time to have kids?

Well, there’s never really a perfect time to have kids, but I think we’ve done alright. The more I hear from other people, the more I feel it’s better to have kids earlier in your career than later. Hearing from lab heads who’ve had to try and juggle honours and PhD students and submit grants before and during maternity leave makes me very grateful that, as a junior postdoc, I don’t have to worry about anything like that!

It’s true, there are also disadvantages. While the timing of my first child worked perfectly for finishing my PhD, as a student I didn’t qualify for government maternity leave payments and only received 12 weeks of maternity leave on my PhD scholarship. This time around, I thankfully get 26 weeks of paid maternity leave from the university and also qualify for government payments, which is just as well, as we have a mortgage to pay now! But then, I don’t know if I have a job to return to. Being more senior means more to juggle, but possibly more job security. Still, I have no regrets for our timing.

Well, that’s probably all the musing on mumming and sciencing I can think of right now, so stay tuned for mumming and sciencing with 2x kiddies!


Dr Vicky Howe (@DrVickyHowe) is a researcher in biochemistry and molecular biology. This story was published on November 21, 2018, on Confessions of the Brown Lab Researchers (available here), and has been republished here with permission.

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