Guest post: Baby vs. work - why choose?

This is a guest post from a friend who would like to remain anonymous. She is a bioinformatics post-doc and a single mom by choice, and this is her story about combining work as a post-doc with being a parent.


I am incredibly lucky.

Let’s put that first, because I’m very aware that this is the case: not only do I get paid for doing what I love, but every day I get to bring my infant son with me, too. My boss is OK with it, the department is happy to tolerate my son’s occasional shrieks echoing through the hallway, and my office mate is completely in love with him. (I totally understand that last one, by the way.) Also, I’m not working in the lab at the moment, so there is no risk of spilling acid on my brand new baby. All of this means that I don’t have to choose between work and family: I get to do both, and whichever part insists the loudest gets most of the attention at any given time. I know that not everyone has this option; I am thankful that I do.

Here’s how the logistics work out: I have a playpen in my office, where he spends most of the time gurgling and attacking his mobile while I do low-level work; assembling figures, processing images. When he nurses, I read. In fact, I feel I get a lot more mileage out of my reading time now, as there is very little incentive to multi-task. And when he naps, I get to focus properly, and code or write. (He won’t nap in the playpen, only on me — but it turns out I am perfectly able to code with a three-month-old on my chest, drooling on my shoulder and snoring in my ear.)

That’s not to say that our arrangement does not lead to the occasional conflict. When I am trying to figure out something difficult, and he’s fussy or crying — or simply wanting my attention. Fortunately there is almost always a colleague who doesn’t mind taking a baby for 10 minutes (I never realized how much work could be accomplished in 10 minutes of baby-free time! Take note, ye childless!) while I finish whatever needs doing, so I can then focus on my child.

Also surprisingly doable, I found, are meetings and seminars — provided people are aware that I am there with a baby, and OK with it (or at least not too vocal in their disapproval). Carrying him in a sling usually means he falls asleep, and if he gets fussy I can walk around a bit to calm him down. He’ll never be completely quiet, but really he’s no more disruptive than a random audience member with a cough.

In fact, the biggest barrier to success in that case is me: I once snuck in a seminar after it had already started, with my son sleeping in the sling. Sleeping babies, I found out at that moment, are actually quite noisy, and his occasional squeals made some people turn around to check the source of the sound. That — not the noise itself — made me so self-conscious I spent all my time worrying about being disruptive and trying to shush a sleeping baby.

(Yeah. That makes no sense to me, either.)

Then a few weeks later, I joined a seminar at a university I was briefly visiting. My host quickly pointed out to their colleagues that “we have a very young scientist in the audience!”, everyone smiled, and the speaker started. This time, no one was annoyed at the intermittent baby noises — they already knew he was there, and I knew they knew, so I could relax, too. My host had opened the door so I could walk in and out in case he started to cry. This worked well for me (I could actually focus on the talk!), and while I didn’t poll the audience afterwards, I would guess it worked for them, too.

No, I am not as productive as I used to be and as I would be without him. But low-level productivity is productivity still. For example, when he was 10 days old, I submitted a paper. It took me two days, assembling all the documents and filling out forms in between feeds, diaper changes, and many, many cuddles. I typed the cover letter with one hand (which was not that bad, as my brain was about as slow as my typing at that stage). Nevertheless, at the end of these two days I could tick it off my list. Point here: there is a lot of downtime in taking care of an infant, and you might as well use it. That is not to say you shouldn’t use it for Netflix or naps — I did a lot of that, too — but think of it as an IKEA workday: some assembly required.

I know his is not going to go on forever: in a few short months he’ll be mobile (I both dread and look forward to that time), which will most likely throw a wrench in the works. But I’ll worry about that later: this is precious time in a baby’s life, so every day I get to spend and bond with him is valuable. For now, this is what works for us. And I feel very lucky indeed that it does.

5 responses so far

  • Dorothea says:

    This sounds really good and I think you are indeed very lucky that it works for the two of you. I am impressed by the acceptance and support of your colleagues. I guess this is one key component in the system (besides having a baby that lets you do it and that is happy in his playpen for some time). I am wondering though, whether this support is linked to unavailability of childcare for babies where you live/work. Would the acceptance be as high if you chose voluntarily to bring your baby rather than have it start childcare so early?

  • "The Author" says:

    There is actually childcare on site! It's awful though (basically it's a dark room that smells of poop), and I really don't want to drop him off there. I told my boss. He agreed.
    So if they wanted to make a fuss about it, they could have: I have the option to take him elsewhere, at least on paper I do. Emotionally, it's a very different story — and I guess my boss/colleagues realize that I function a lot better when I know my son is OK.

  • Dorothea says:

    This is really encouraging to hear. Thank you for sharing!

  • […] my anonymous friend wrote a guest post about bringing her baby to work and how - for now - this works very well for both of them. On twitter, @crazygradmama said the […]

  • M says:

    I worked from home for the first five months of my daughter's life, and was able to get a surprising amount of work done (and by "surprising amount," I mean 2-5 hours of work/day, depending on the day. Some days were great, and between naps, babywearing, and tummy time, I could get in several hours of quality work. Some days not so much. I didn't necessarily make work a priority either, and spent plenty of time going for walks outside or doing chores, etc. If I had made work a priority, I probably could've squeezed out a bit more productivity. Once she was mobile, I had extremely little opportunity to do work while she was awake, although at that point I could pretty reliably count on solid chunks of time during naps. For me, sending her to daycare at 5 months worked really well, and I suspect a lot of other moms would agree that it gets tough to multitask once they get older. I felt a lot better being away from her once she was older and starting to get beyond the vulnerable stage of needing lots of physical touch and was ready to start working on gross motor skills and all of the sensory experiences they emphasize at her childcare center.

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