Professors Are Mamas Too

April 24, 2008 | Blog

I’ve had a Superwoman complex ever since I was little. There was early evidence when as a five-year-old playing Memory with my grandfather for the umpteenth time, I left the table and went over to my grandma, quite upset, and said “Grandma, I don’t know what to do. Poppa wants to win, and I don’t know how to lose!”

Getting pregnant in my third-year on the tenure track at a top tier research university, with only a half-dozen publications under my belt and in the second year of my marriage was the ultimate act of faith in my superpowers. My annual reviews had gone well and I’d been told I was ‘overproducing’ and could ‘relax’ and ‘slow down.’ Plus, I’d recently been awarded a prestigious fellowship, allowing me to focus on research for the next year. Which, I took as code to mean: “Cool– You can have a baby and don’t even need to ask for maternity leave.”

Translation: I was clueless.

Fast forward approximately nine months when my husband and I found ourselves in the presence of a very tiny (4 lb 3 oz), very fragile baby boy, born after 36 hours of hard labor following a five-week period of flat-on-my-back bedrest. At home with our infant, who required a two-pronged feeding of breast and formula supplementation (plus pumping milk) every two hours ‘round the clock, we were a bit bewildered. The home office upstairs, which we shared, sat ready with a pack-n-play placed between our two desks. All we thought we had to do was put our kid in the bassinet and sit down at our laptops to work. We’d take turn changing diapers occasionally, and cuddle him when he needed it. No babysitter required, careers fully on-track.

Oh, please.

Three months later we were delirious, having enjoyed no more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep on any given night, unable to eat a hot meal, usually unshowered, and hopelessly confused about how life would ever become “normal” again. Me, the unusually bright capable assistant professor, found myself sitting in the parking lot of our local drug store, too sleep-deprived to figure out that I was stuck in my seatbelt because I’d unwittingly jammed my coat zipper into it. Totally, and completely stuck.

But also, completely and irrefutably in love. Our son was a gorgeous gem. His big bright eyes, tiny little fingers, pouty lower lip– he more than “had us at hello.” There was no question, we were the proudest parents in the world. Wouldn’t change a thing. But no idea what to do next…

Well, we’re still figuring it out. But given that I am far from alone in the world of profs as mamas and dadas, I’m going to occasionally use this opportunity to let you in on how it’s going. Not because I have ANY secrets to success– heck, I don’t even have tenure (yet)–but because I’m hoping that giving a nuanced, and once in awhile pretty detailed, view of life as it is, will help others figure out what they want to do.

So consider it a series of sorts. With episodes only when I have “free time.” Ha!

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